A PLAIN ACCOUNT OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION, AS BELIEVED AND TAUGHT BY THE REVEREND MR. JOHN WESLEY, FROM THE YEAR 1725, TO THE YEAR 1777.
What I purpose in the following papers is, to give a plain and distinct account of the steps by which I was led, during a course of many years, to embrace the doctrine of Christian perfection. This I owe to the serious part of mankind, those who desire to know all "the truth as it is in Jesus." And these only are concerned in questions of this kind. To these I would nakedly declare the thing as it is, endeavoring all along to show, from one period to another, both what I thought, and why I thought so.
In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor's "Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying." In reading several parts of this book, I was exceedingly affected; that part in particular which relates to purity of intention. Instantly I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, all my thoughts, and words, and actions; being thoroughly convinced, there was no medium; but that every part of my life (not some only) must either be a sacrifice to God, or myself, that is, in effect, to the devil.
In the year 1729, I began not only to read, but to study, the Bible, as the one, the only standard of truth, and the only model of pure religion. Hence I saw, in a clearer and clearer light, the indispensable necessity of having "the mind which was in Christ," and of "walking as Christ also walked;" even of having, not some part only, but all the mind which was in him; and of walking as he walked, not only in many or in most respects, but in all things. And this was the light, wherein at this time I generally considered religion, as an uniform following of Christ, an entire inward and outward conformity to our Master. Nor was I afraid of anything more, than of bending this rule to the experience of myself; or of other men; of allowing myself in any the least dis-conformity to our grand Exemplar.
On January 1, 1733, I preached before the University in St. Mary's church, on "the Circumcision of the Heart;" an account of which I gave in these words: "It is that habitual disposition of soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed' holiness; and which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin `from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit;' and, by consequence the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus the being so `renewed in the image of our mind,' as to be `perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect."' (Vol. V., p. 203.)
In the same sermon I observed, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment.' It is not only `the first and great' command, but all the commandments in one. ‘Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,' they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: The royal law of heaven and earth is this, 'Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.' The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall ye desire for its own sake, -- the fruition of Him who is all in all. One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even an union with Him that made them, the having `fellowship with the Father and the Son,' the being 'joined to the Lord in one spirit.' One design ye are to pursue to the end of time, -- the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.
"A Methodist is one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth whom I desire besides thee.' My God and my all! ‘Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.' He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy, as having in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and over-flowing his soul with peace and joy. Perfect love living now cast out fear, he rejoices evermore. Yea, his joy is full, and all his bones cry out, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten me again unto a living hope of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for me.'
This is the way wherein those children of God once walked, who being dead still speak to us: `Desire not to live but to praise his name; let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to his glory.' ‘Let your soul be filled with so entire a love to Him that you may love nothing but for his sake.' ‘Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to his glory in all you actions.' For then, and not till then, is that `mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus,' when in every motion of our heart, in every word of our tongue, in every work of our hands, we `pursue nothing but in relation to him, and in subordination to his plea sure;' when we too neither think, nor speak, nor act, to fulfill ‘our own will, but the will of Him that sent us;' when, ‘whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do,' we do it all ‘to the glory of God."
"For indeed he `prays without ceasing;' at all times the language of his heart is this, `Unto thee is my mouth, though without a voice; and my silence speaketh unto thee.' His heart is lifted up to God at all times, and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down, or rise up, `God is in all his thoughts:' He walks with God continually; having the loving eye of his soul fixed on him, and everywhere `seeing Him that is invisible.'
"And loving God, he ‘loves his neighbour as himself;' he loves every man as his own soul. He loves his enemies, yea, and the enemies of God. And if it be not in his power to ‘do good to them that hate' him, yet he ceases not to ‘pray for them,' though they spurn his love, and still `despite. fully use him, and persecute him.
He cannot speak evil of his neighbour, any more than he can lie either for God or man. He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot ‘speak idle words; no corrupt conversation' ever ‘comes out of his mouth;' as is all that is not ‘good to the use of edifying,' not fit to ‘minister grace to the hearers.' But `whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are' justly ‘of good report,' he thinks, speaks, and acts, ‘adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
"For he is ‘pure in heart.' Love has purified his heart from envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper. It has cleansed him from pride, whereof `only cometh contention;' and he hath now `put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.' And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is cut off. For none can take from him what he desires, seeing he ‘loves not the world, nor any of the things of the world;' but ‘all his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name.'
"Agreeable to this his one desire, is this one design of his life; namely, `to do, not his own will, but the will of Him that sent him.' His one intention at all times and in all places is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He hath a single eye; and because his `eye is single, his whole body is full of light. The whole is light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten the house.' God reigns alone; all that is in the soul is ‘holiness to the Lord.' There is not a motion in his heart but is according to his will. Every thought that arises points to him, and is in ‘obedience to the law of Christ.'
"And the tree is known by its fruits. For, as he loves God, so he `keeps his commandments;' not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to `keep the whole law and offend in one point,' but has iii all points `a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards man.' Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God has enjoined, he does. ‘He runs the way of God's commandments,' now He bath set his heart at liberty. It is his glory and joy so to do; it is his daily crown of rejoicing, to ‘do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven.'
"All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might; for his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength; he continually presents his soul and ‘body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God;' entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, all he is, to his glory. All the talents he has, he constantly employs according to his Master's will; every power and faculty of his soul, every member of his body.
"By consequence, ‘whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God.' In all his employments of every kind, he not only aims at this, which is implied in having a single eye, but actually attains it; his business and his refreshments, as well as his prayers, all serve to this great end. Whether he `sit in the house, or walk by the way,' whether he lie down, or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life. Whether he put on his apparel, or labor, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labor, it all tends to advance the glory of God, by peace and good-will among men. His one invariable rule is this: ‘Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, even the Father, through him.'
In this I endeavoured to show, (1.) In what sense Christians are not, (2.) In what sense they are, perfect.
"(1.) In what sense they are not. They are not perfect in knowledge. They are not free from ignorance, no, nor from mistake. We are no more to expect any living man to be infallible, than to be omniscient. They are not free from infirmities, such as weakness or slowness of understanding, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination. Such in another kind are impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation; to which one- might add a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behaviour. From such infirmities as these none are perfectly freed till their spirits return to God; neither can we expect till then to be wholly freed from temptation; for `the servant is not above his master.' But neither in this sense is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, none which does not admit of a continual increase.
"(2.) In what sense then are they perfect? Observe, we are not now speaking of babes in Christ, but adult Christians But even babes in Christ are so far perfect as not to commit sin. This St. John affirms expressly; and it cannot be disproved by the examples of the Old Testament. For what, if the holiest of the ancient Jews did sometimes commit sin? We cannot infer from hence, that `all Christians do and must commit sin as long as they live.'
"But does not the Scripture say, `A just man sinneth seven times a day?' It does not. Indeed it says, `A just man falleth seven times.' But this is quite another thing; for, First, the words, a day, are not in the text. Secondly, here is no mention of falling into sin at all. What is here mentioned, is, falling into temporal affliction.
"But elsewhere Solomon says, `There is no man that sinneth not.' Doubtless thus it was in the days of Solomon; yea, and from Solomon to Christ there was then no man that sinned not. But whatever was the case of those under the law, we may safely affirm, with St. John, that, since the gospel was given, `lie that is born of God sinneth not.'
"The privileges of Christians are in nowise to be measured by what the Old Testament records concerning those who were under the Jewish dispensation; seeing the fulness of time is now come, the Holy Ghost is now given, the great salvation of God is now brought to men by the revelation of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth, concerning which the Spirit of God declared of old time, (so far is David from being the pattern or standard of Christian perfection,) `He that is feeble among them, at that day, shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as the angel of the Lord before them.' (Zech. 12:8.)
“But the Apostles themselves committed sin; Peter by dissembling, Paul by his sharp contention with Barnabas. Suppose they did, will you argue thus: `If two of the Apostles once committed sin, then all other Christians, in all ages, do and must commit sin as long as they live ?' Nay, God forbid we should thus speak. No necessity of sin was laid upon them; the grace of God was surely sufficient for them. And it is sufficient for us at this day.
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"But St. James says, `In many things we offend all.' True; but who are the persons here spoken of? Why, those `many masters' or teachers whom God had not sent; not the Apostle himself, nor any real Christian. That in the word we, used by a figure of speech, common in all other as well as the inspired writings, the Apostle could not possibly include himself, or any other true believer, appears, First, from the ninth verse, ‘Therewith bless we God, and therewith curse we men.' Surely not we Apostles! not we believers! Secondly, from the words preceding the text: ‘My brethren, be not many masters,' or teachers, `knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all.' +We!+ Who? Not the Apostles nor true believers, but they who were to ‘receive the greater condemnation,' because of those many offenses. Nay, Thirdly, the verse itself proves, that `we offend all,' cannot be spoken either of all men or all Christians. For in it immediately follows the mention of a man who ‘offends not,' as the +we+ first mentioned did; from whom therefore he is professedly contra distinguished, and pronounced a `perfect man.'
"But St. John himself says, `If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves;' and, ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.'
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"I answer, (1.) The tenth verse fixes the sense of the eighth: `If we say we have no sin,' in the former, being explained by, ‘If we say we have not sinned,' in the latter, verse. (2.) The point under consideration is not, whether we have or have not sinned heretofore; and neither of these verses asserts that we do sin, or commit sin now. (3.) The ninth verse explains both the eighth and tenth: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' As if he had said, ‘I have before affirmed, The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.' And no man can say, ‘I need it not; I have 110 sin to be cleansed, from.' ‘If we say, we have no sin, that ‘we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves,' and make God a liar: But ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just,' not only `to forgive us our sins,' but also `to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,' that we may `go and sin no more.' In conformity, therefore, both to the doctrine of St. John, and the whole tenor of the New Testament, we fix this conclusion: A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin.
Description: This book is an account of John Wesley's journey to understanding the doctrine of Christian perfection. Perfection is, according to Wesley, "purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God,"
In this book, he gives a numbered list, in chronological order, of the steps he took toward grasping the doctrine. He concludes that the belief is based on Matthew 22.36-40 ("'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'"). Perfect love is the basis of Wesley's perfection doctrine, and it comes only through sanctification by grace alone. Any reader interested in delving into the doctrine or desiring to live a more Christ-like life should start with this Methodist classic by John Wesley.
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1. Thou shalt Love the Lord Thy God with all thy Heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.
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