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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 just or of good report,” he thinks, speaks, and acts, adorning the gospel of God our Saviour in alí things.'
These are the very words in which I largely declared, for the first time, my sentiments on Christian Perfection. And is it not easy to see, 1. That this is the very point at which I aimed all along from the year 1725 ? And more determinately from the year 1730, when I began to be, homo unius libri; a man of one Book, regarding none (comparatively) but the Bible? Is it not easy to see, 2. That this is the very same doctrine which I believe and teach at this day; not adding one point, either to that inward or outward boliness, which I maintained eight and thirty years ago ? And it is the same, which, by the grace of God, I have continued to teach from that time till now: as will appear to every impartial person, from the extracts subjoined below.
11. I do not know, that any writer has made any objection against that tract to this day. And for some time, I did not find much opposition upon that head; at least, not from serious persons. But after a time, a cry arose, and (what a little surprised me,) among religious men, who affirmed, not that I stated Perfection wrong, but that there is no perfection on earth ;” nay, and fell vehemently on my Brother and me, for affirming the contrary. We scarce expected so rough an attack from these: especially, as we are clear on Justification by Faith, and careful to ascribe the whole of salvation to the mere grace of God. But what most surprised us was, that we are said to “dishonour Christ,” by asserting that he saveth to the uttermost; by maintaining he will reign in our hearts alone, and subdue all things to himself!
12. I think it was in the latter end of the year 1740, that I had a conversation with Dr. Gibson, then Bishop of London, at Whitehall. He asked me what I meant by perfection. I told him without any disguise or reserve. When I ceased speaking, he said, “ Mr. Wesley, if this be all you mean, publish it to all the world. If any one then can confute what you say, he may have free leave.” I answered, “ My Lord, I will :” and aceordingly wrote and published the Sermon on Christian Perfection.
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.
II. In what sense then are they perfect? Observe, we are not now to speak 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 sevev 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, · he 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. xii. 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 far us at this day.
“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 hath 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 these many offences. Nay, thirdly, the verse itself proves, that the words, 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 contradistinguished, 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." »
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 no 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.
This is the glorious privilege of every Christian, yea, though he be but a babe in Christ. But it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed, they are in such a sense perfect, as, secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers. First, from evil or sinful thoughts. Indeed whence should they spring? Out of the heart of man,' if at all, proceed evil thoughts. If therefore, the heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts no longer proceed out of it. For a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.'
And as they are freed from evil thoughts, so likewise from evil tempers. Every one of these can say with St. Paul, I am crucified with Christ: Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: Words that manifestly describe a deliverance from inward, as well as from outward sin. This is expressed both negatively, I live not;' my evil nature, the body of sin is destroyed; and positively,
Christ liveth in me, and therefore all that is holy, and just, and good. Indeed both these, Christ liveth in me,' and I live not,' are inseparably connected. For what communion hath light with darkness, or Christ with Belial?
He, therefore, who liveth in these Christians, hath purified their hearts by faith ; insomuch that every one, who has Christ in him, the hope of glory, purifieth himself even as he is pure. He is purified from pride; for Christ was lowly in heart. He is pure from evildesire and self-will; for Christ desired only to do the will of his Father. And he is pure from anger, in the common sense of the word; for Christ was meek and gentle. I say in the com
sense of the word; for he is angry at sin, while he is grieved for the sinner. He feels a displacency at every offence against God, but only tender compassion to the offender.
Thus doth Jesus save his people from their sins, not only from outward sins, but from the sins of their hearts. “True," say some, “but not till death; not in this world.” Nay, St. John says, Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he was, so are we in this world.' The Apostle here, beyond all contradiction, speaks of himself and other living Christians, of whom he flatly affirins, that not only at or after death, but in this world, they are as their Master.
Exactly agreeable to this are his words in the first chapter: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.' And again: • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Now it is evident, the Apostle here speaks of a deliverance wrought in this world. For he saith not, The blood of Christ will cleanse, (at the hour of death, or in the day of judgment,) but it cleanseth at the time present, us living Christians, from all sin. And it is equally evident, that if any sin remain, we are not cleansed from all sin. If any unrighteousness remain in the soul, it is not cleansed from all unrighteousness. Neither let any say, that this relates to justification only, or cleansing us from the guilt of sin: First, because this is confounding together what the Apostle clearly distinguishes, who mentions first, to forgive us our sins, and then, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness :' Secondly, because this is asserting justification by works in the strongest sense possible. It is making all inward as well as all outward holiness, necessarily previous to justification. For if the cleansing here spoken of be no more than cleansing us from the guilt of sin, then we are not cleansed from guilt; that is, not justified, unless on condition of walking in the light as he is in the light. It remains then, that Christians are saved in this world from all sin, from all unrighteousness; that they are now in such a sense perfect as not to commit sin, and to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers."
It could not be but that a discourse of this kind, which directly contradicted the favourite opinion of many, who were esteemed by others, and possibly esteemed themselves, some of the best Christians, (whereas, if these things were so, they were not Christians at all,) should give no small offence. Many answers or animadversions therefore were expected; but I was agreeably disappointed. I do not know that any appeared: so I went quietly on my way.
13. Not long after, I think in the spring, 1741, we published a second volume of Hymns. As the doctrine was still much misun. derstood, and consequently misrepresented, I judged it needful to explain yet farther upon the head, which was done in the preface to it as follows:
“ This great gift of God, the salvation of our souls, is no other than the image of God fresh stamped on our hearts. It is 'a renewal in the spirit of our minds, after the likeness of him that created them. God hath now laid the axe unto the root of the tree, purifying their hearts by faith, and cleansing all the thoughts of their hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.' Having this hope, that they shall see God as he is, they purify themselves even as he is pure; and are holy, as he that hath called them is holy, in all manner of conversation. Not that they have already attained all that they shall attain, either are already (in this sense) perfect. But they daily 'go on from strength to strength;' beholding now, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.'
“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. They feel, that it is not they that speak, but the Spirit of their Father who speaketh in them, and that whatsoever is done by their hands, the Father who is in them, he doeth the works. So that God is to them all in all, and they are nothing in his sight. They are freed from self-will, as desiring nothing but the holy and perfect will of God: not supplies in want, not ease* in pain, nor life, or death, or any creature, but continually crying in their inmost soul, · Father, thy Will be done.' They are freed from evil thoughts, so that they cannot enter into them; no, not for a moment. A foretime, when an evil thought came in, they looked up, and it vanished away. But now it does not come in, there being no room for this, in a soul which is full of God. They are free from wanderings in prayer. Whensoever they pour out their hearts in a more immediate manner before God, they havet no thought of any thing past, or absent, or to come, but of God alone. In times past they had wandering thoughts darted in, which yet fled away like smoke: but now that smoke does not rise at all. They have no fear or doubt, either as to their state in general, or as to any particular action. The unction from the Holy One teacheth them every hour, what they shall do, and what they shall speak. Nor,
This is too strong. Our Lord himself desired ease in pain. He asked for it, only wi:b resignation; Not as I will, I desire, but as thou wilt. † This is far too strong. See the Sermon on Wandering Thoughts. Frequently this is the case ; but only for a time. For a time it may be so; but not always.