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Holiness Texts: John 8:34-36

This series of posts highlights the primary Scripture texts cited by John Wesley and his earliest followers in defense and explanation of the doctrine of Christian Perfection. These are posted (as always) for information and possible discussion. It is not assumed that because Wesley or his followers said a certain thing, everyone else is somehow obligated to agree. The Scriptures are quoted below from the New American Standard Version of the Bible. They are followed by comments from Wesley himself, as well as some of his early followers: John Fletcher, Adam Clarke and Joseph Benson.

An introduction to this series is here:
The Holiness Texts of John Wesley. Links to the other posts in this series may be found on the Wesleyan Theology Page or on the Bible Studies page, listed as “The Holiness Texts of John Wesley.”

"Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed'." (John 8:34-36, NASB.)

John Wesley said:

"'And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; such liberty from the law of sin and death, as the children of this world will not believe, though a man declare it unto them. The Son hath made them free who are thus born of God, from that great root of sin and bitterness, pride. They feel that all their sufficiency is of God, that it is He alone who is in all their thoughts, and worketh in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

— Preface to the List of Poetical Works and in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

Verse 34.
Jesus answered — Each branch of their objection, first concerning freedom, then concerning their being Abraham’s offspring, ver. 37, &c.

He that committeth sin, is, in fact, the slave of sin.

Verse 35.
And the slave abideth not in the house — All sinners shall be cast out of God’s house, as the slave was out of Abraham’s: but I, the Son, abide therein for ever.

Verse 36.
If I therefore make you free, ye — shall partake of the same privilege: being made free from all guilt and sin, ye shall abide in the house of God for ever.

Explanatory Notes on the New Testament: John 8:34-36.

Adam Clarke says:

"Verse 34.
Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.. Or, δουλος εστι, &c., is the slave of sin. This was the slavery of which Christ spoke; and deliverance from it, was the liberty which he promised.

— Clarke’s Commentary.

John Fletcher said:

"When [Jesus] recommends his disciples to his Father, he says, 'Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.' Hence it appears that the truth and the word are terms of the same import; that the word of truth is a sanctifying emanation from God, and the ordinary vehicle of the Divine power; and that our Lord uttered a rational mystery when he said, 'He that receiveth you [the witnesses of my truth and the sowers of my word] receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.' But 'whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father.' And imperfect believers he encouraged thus: 'If ye continue in my word, &c, ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, &c. If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.' Important scriptures these, which show the connection of the truth with the Son of God! Blessed scriptures, which St. Paul sums up in the following words: 'Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above;) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith the righteousness which is of faith? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faiths which we preach.'"

— An Essay on Truth: Being a Rational Vindication of the doctrine of Salvation by Faith, Section 3.

"The excruciating thorn of indwelling sin sticks in your hearts [you say]; we assert that Christ can and will extract it, if ye plead his promise of 'sanctifying you wholly in soul, body, and spirit.' But ye say, 'This cannot be; the thorn must stay in till death extract it; and the leprosy shall cleave to the walls till the house is demolished.' Just as if Christ, by radically cleansing the lepers in the days of his flesh, had not given repeated proofs of the absurdity of your argument! Just as if part of the Gospel were not, 'The lepers are cleansed,' and, 'if the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed!'

— The Last Check to Antinomianism: A Polemical Essay on the Twin Doctrines of Christian Imperfection and a Death Purgatory, Section 13.

Joseph Benson writes:

Verses 33-36.
They answered him — Namely, the other Jews that were present, not those that believed, as appears by the whole tenor of the conversation; We be Abraham’s seed — A person always free, and a peculiar favourite of Heaven; and were never in bondage to any man — A bold, notorious untruth. At that very time they were in bondage to the Romans, and their ancestors had been slaves, first in Egypt, and afterward in Assyria and Babylon. How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free — Upon becoming thy disciples? Jesus answered, Whosoever committeth sin — Greek, ποιν μαρτίαν, worketh, or acteth known sin; is the servant — δολός, the slave; of sin — Namely, as far as he knowingly commits it. And the servant — Or slave; abideth not in the house for ever — That is, as a person who is only a slave in a family, does not abide always in the house of his master, but is liable to be dismissed at his lord’s pleasure, or transferred to another; much less can you, who are the servants, not of God, but of sin, promise yourselves, that ye shall still, on account of your descent from Abraham, continue in the possession of those privileges, which, by undeserved mercy, you hitherto enjoy; but the Son abideth ever — The eldest son and heir of the family continually abides in his Father’s house: and his power and influence there are always increasing. The casting out of Ishmael, though a son of Abraham by the bond-woman, beautifully illustrates this exposition of the passage, and the connection. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the verse thus: “As a slave cannot be so assured of his master’s favour as to depend upon it, that he shall never be turned out of the family, since it is always his master’s right, and in his power, to sell or keep him, as he shall think fit, so my Father can, when he pleases, turn you, who are habitual sinners, out of his family, and deprive you of the outward economy of religion, in which you glory, because through sin you have made yourselves bondmen to his justice. Whereas, if you will become God’s children, you shall be sure of remaining in his family for ever. And the only way to arrive at the blessed relation, is to submit to the authority of his Son, in which case the Son will adopt you as co-heirs with himself.” If, therefore, I, who am the only-begotten Son of God, and the heir of all things, and who have power of receiving whom I will into the family, shall make you freeYou, claiming in virtue of my right and authority, will be free indeed — Free from the slavery of sin, the tyranny of Satan, and the bondage of corruption; free to do good, free in respect of your right to the inheritance, and free in your possession of present privileges, remaining in the house of God without danger of being ever thrust out."

— Benson's Commentary.

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