Both Gradual and Instantaneous

by | Oct 1, 2010

Let us strongly and explicitly exhort all believers on to perfection. That we may all speak the same thing, we ask once for all, shall we defend this perfection or give it up? We all agree to defend it, meaning thereby (as we did from the beginning) salvation from all sin, properly so-called, by the love of God and man filling our heart.

  • Some say, “This cannot be attained till we have been refined by the fire of purgatory.”
  • Others, “Nay, it will be attained as soon as the soul and the body part.”
  • But others say, “It may be attained before we die; a moment after is too late.”

Is it so or not? We are all agreed we may be saved from all sin before death—that is, from all sinful tempers and desires. The substance, then is settled. But as to the circumstances, is the change gradual or instantaneous? It is both the one and the other. “But should we in preaching insist both on one and the other?”

Certainly we should insist on the gradual change, and that earnestly and continually. And are there not reasons why we should insist on the instantaneous change? 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 souls, the more careful are they to grow in grace, the more zealous of good works and the more punctual in their attendance on all the ordinances of God.

Whereas, 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 that salvation stands still, or rather decreases daily. Therefore, whoever would advance the gradual change in believers should strongly insist on the instantaneous.

In the year 1764, upon a review of the whole subject, I wrote down the sum of what I had observed in the following short propositions:

  1. There is such a thing as Christian perfection, for it is again and again mentioned in Scripture.
  2. It is not so early as justification; for justified persons are to “go on to perfection” (Heb 6:1).
  3. It is not so late as death, for St. Paul speaks of living men that were perfect (Phil. 3:15).
  4. It is not absolute. Absolute perfection belongs not to man nor to angels, but to God alone.
  5. It does not make a man infallible. None is infallible while he remains in the body.
  6. It is perfect love (I John 4:18). This is the essence of it. Its properties or inseparable fruits are rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks (I Thes. 5:16, etc.).
  7. It is improvable. It is so far from being incapable of increase that one perfected in love may grow in grace far swifter than he did before.
  8. It is capable of being lost, of which we have had instances.
  9. It is constantly both preceded and followed by a gradual work.
  10. But is it instantaneous? It is often difficult to perceive the instant when a man dies, yet there is an instant in which life ceases; and if ever sin ceases, there must be a last moment of its existence, and a first moment of our deliverance from it.

Therefore all our preachers should make a point of preaching Christian perfection to all believers constantly, strong, and explicitly; and all believers should mind this one thing and continually seek for it.

The Rev. John Wesley (1703–1781) was the leader of the great Evangelical Revival and the founder of Methodism. This is an extract, slightly edited, from his famous treatise A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.