Page images
[ocr errors]

“ 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 iny 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 overflowing his soul with peace and joy. l'erfect love having now cast out fear, he rejoices evermore. Yea, his joy is fuil, 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 undetiled, reserved in heaven for me.”

“ And he, who hath this hope, thus full of immortality, in every thing giveth thanks, as knowing this (whatsoever it is) is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning him. From him therefore he cheerfully receives all, saying, 'Good is the will of the Lord;' and whether he giveth or taketh away, equally blessing the name of the Lord. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he giveth thanks from the ground of the heart to Him who orders it for good; into whose hands he hath wholly committed his body and soul, “as into the hands of a faithful Creator.' 'He is therefore anxiously .careful for nothing,' as having cast all his care on Him that careth for him;' and in all things' resting on him, after making his * request known to him with thanksgiving.'

· 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 every where seeing Himn 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 · despitefully use him, and persecute him.'

“ 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 mereies, kind. ness, 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 the one design of his life; nainely, 'to do not his own will, but the will of Him that sent him.' His one inten. tion 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 a'), from the least to the greatest. He is not content to • keep the whole law and offend in one point,' but has in all points “a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.' Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God has enjoined, he does. He runs the way of God's commandments,' now he hath

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 Hows. 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 ihe 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 labour, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labour, 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 Jesis, giving thanks to God, even the Father, through him.'

“ Nor do the customis of the world at all hinder his running the race which is set before him.' He cannot therefore • lay up treasures upon earth,' no more than he can take fire into his bosom. 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.''

These are the very words wherein I largely declared, for the first time, my sentiments of 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 holiness 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 the 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; espe cially as we were 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 were said to “disho our Christ,” by asserting ihat he “ saveth to the uttermost ;" by maintaining he will reign in our hcarts 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 accordingly 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 perfecuon 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.' Doubt. less 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 no wise to be measured by what the Old Testainent 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 shouid 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.

“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 offences. 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 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 unrighteous. ness,' 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 connrcted. For what communion hath light with dark. ness, or Christ with Belial?

“ He, therefore, who liveth in these Christians hath · purified their hearts by faith ;' insomuch that every one that 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 desire 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 common 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 is, so are we in this world.' The Apostle here, beyond all contradiction, speaks of himself and other living Christians, of whom he flatly affirms, 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 unrightcousness remain in the soul, it is not cleansed from all unrighteousness. Neither let any say that this relates to justification only, or the 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 is no other than the 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 pe:fect, 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 con tradicted the favourite opinion of many, who were esteemed by others, and possibly esteemed themselves, some of the best of 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 misunderstood, 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 of believers in the spirit of their 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 be. lieve, 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 thein, he doeth the works.' So that God is to

« PreviousContinue »