An Overarching View of Christian Holiness
We Need Always to “Grow in Grace.”
Christian perfection…does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing.
Thus, every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect. Yet we may…observe, that neither in this respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase.
So that how much soever any man has attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to “grow in grace,” and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour.
Sermon on Christian Perfection (Works, VI, 5-6)
“Saved by Faith”: Justification and Sanctification.
Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace [prevenient grace]; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.
All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.
Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from a heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby, “through grace,” we “are saved by faith”; consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification.
By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin and restored to the favor of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God.
All experience, as well as Scripture, show this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “a grain of mustard-seed, which at first, is the least of all seeds,” but afterwards puts forth large branches, and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man.
But even that love increases more and more, till we “grow up in all things into Him that is our Head”; till we attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Sermon on “Working Out Our Own Salvation” (Works, VI, 509)
Sanctification Both Gradual and Instantaneous.
From the moment we are justified, there may be a gradual sanctification, a growing in grace, a daily advance in the knowledge and love of God. And if sin cease before death, there must, in the nature of the thing, be an instantaneous change; there must be a last moment wherein it does exist, and a first moment wherein it does not.
“But should we in preaching insist both on one and the other?”
Certainly we must insist on the gradual change; and that earnestly and continually. And are there not reasons why we should insist on the instantaneous also?
If there be such a blessed change before death, should we not encourage all believers to expect it? and the rather, because constant experience shows, the more earnestly they expect this, the more swiftly and steadily does the gradual work of God go on in their soul; the more watchful they are against all sin, the more careful to grow in grace, the more zealous of good works, and the more punctual in their attendance on all the ordinances of God.
Wherein, just the contrary effects are observed whenever this expectation ceases. They are “saved by hope,” by this hope of a total change, with a gradually increasing salvation. Destroy this hope, and the salvation stands still, or, rather, decreases daily.
Therefore whoever would advance the gradual change in believers should strongly insist on the instantaneous.
“Minutes of Several Conversations” (Works, VIII, 329)
Wesley is not remembered as a “systematic theologian” who wrote scholarly volumes setting forth and explaining a carefully-nuanced structure of Christian dogmatics.
Yet his constant attention to theological truth underscored his entire life and ministry, and he was careful to put his movement on a Biblical foundation.
Wesley was concerned first about the souls of needy men and women, but he was also concerned about their bodies. His culture generally ignored the misery of the poor and disenfranchised, a group which was quickly growing due to the inequities and dislocation of the Industrial Revolution.
Wesley’s chapels often served as community centers, including schools, free medical dispensaries, and food and clothing distribution. He operated prison ministries, a “poor house,” a widow’s home, a hospital for unwed and destitute mothers, and a small business loan fund.
The poor always had a true friend in John Wesley.