THE FINAL OBJECTION THAT SANCTIFICATION IS NOT A METHODIST DOCTRINE CONSIDERED AND TRIUMPHANTLY ANSWERED
On many sides we have heard the objection gravely urged that sanctification is not a Methodist doctrine. As the Church becomes more worldly we may expect to hear this strange utterance more frequently. In one sense, however, it is true. I thank God that sanctification is longer and broader and older than Methodism. It is Biblical, celestial, and eternal. Moreover, all denominations have recognized it, and Christians in all Churches have enjoyed and taught the doctrine.
Cardinal Fenelon, of the Catholic Church, had this blessing and preached it, and wrote book after book on the subject. Dr. Upham, of the Presbyterian church, enjoyed the blessing, and wrote concerning it: “I was then redeemed by a mighty power and filled with the blessing of perfect love. There was no intellectual excitement, no marked joys when I reached this great rock of practical salvation, but I was distinctly conscious when I reached it.” Time would fail to give the experiences of individuals outside of our denomination who have rejoiced in this blessing, showing thereby it is broader and older than Methodism. And yet, viewing the matter in a certain light, the doctrine is peculiarly Methodistic. It is ours from the reason that, as a Church, we were called forth providentially to proclaim the truth; and have, as a people, advocated and lived the experience as no other branch of Christ’s Church has done.
It shows an ignorance, dense and amazing, on the part of a Methodist preacher or layman to say that the doctrine and experience of sanctification is un-Methodistic. And when Methodist congregations, on the presentation of the subject, affect surprise, and affirm that we are introducing some strange or new doctrine, it is equal to a young girl who has been absent a few months at a fashionable boarding-school requiring an introduction to her mother. In either case we are puzzled for diagnostic words. Here, we say, is a marvelous case of unnaturalness, or one of remarkably short memory. Let us take a swift glance at history, and see if this doctrine of instantaneous sanctification by faith belongs to the Methodist Church or not. In the Conference of 1765 Mr. Wesley asked the question: “What was the rise of Methodism ? ” The following is the answer given: “In 1729 my brother Charles and I, reading the Bible, saw we could not be saved without holiness; followed after it, and incited others so to do. In 1737 we saw that this holiness comes by faith. In 1738 we saw likewise that men are justified before they are sanctified; but still holiness was our object, inward and outward holiness. God then thrust us out to raise up a holy people.” Let me ask the reader here what he thinks of this statement given by the founder of the Methodist Church. Ought not the father of our Church know the essential features of Methodism better than some of its sons born over one hundred years later? Look at the italicized words above, and see that the very two things now being denied by Methodist people were solemnly affirmed by Mr. Wesley. Turn now to Stevens’s “History of Methodism” (page 270), and read as follows: “The Holy Club was formed at Oxford in 1729, for the sanctification of its members. The Wesleys there sought purification, and Whitefield joined them for that purpose.” So we see that Methodism was born in a Holiness Association. We turn next to Bangs’s “History of the Methodist Episcopal Church” (page 195) “The doctrine more especially urged upon believers in early Methodism was that of sanctification, or holiness of heart and life, and this was pressed upon them as their present privilege, depending for its accomplishment now on the faithfulness of God, who had promised to do it. It was the baptism of the Holy Ghost which fired and filled the hearts of God’s ministers at that time.” In 1766 Mr. Wesley wrote to his brother Charles: “Insist everywhere on full salvation received now by faith. Press the instantaneous blessing.” In 1768 he wrote to the same: “I am at my wit’s end with regard to two things–the Church and Christian perfection. Unless both you and I stand in the gap in good earnest, the Methodists will drop them both.” Some people have affected to believe that Mr. Wesley was at his wit’s end because of the doctrine being preached; but read the letter, and see that his trouble arose from the fact that he feared the truth would be lost.
Again, other people have asserted that Mr. Wesley himself never claimed the blessing. In reply we quote a letter written by him in 1771: “Many years since I saw that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. I began by following after it. Ten years after God gave me a clearer view than I had had before how to obtain it–namely, by faith in the Son of God–and immediately I declared to all: ‘We are saved from sin, we are made holy by faith.’ This I testified in private, in public, in print, and God confirmed it by a thousand witnesses.” In 1761-63 he wrote to two of his preachers: “You have over and over denied instantaneous sanctification, but I have known and taught it above these twenty years. I have continually testified for these five and twenty years, in private and public, that we are sanctified, as well as justified, by faith. It is the doctrine of St. Paul, St. James, St. Peter, and St. John, and no otherwise Mr. Wesley’s than it is the doctrine of everyone who preaches the pure and whole gospel. I tell you as plain as I can speak where and when I found this. I found it in the oracles of God, in the Old and New Testaments, when I read them with no other view or desire than to save my own soul.”
More than once the writer has heard Methodist people say that Mr. Wesley believed in sanctification in the beginning of his ministry, but changed his mind toward the conclusion of his life. In utter refutation of this I direct the reader to “Wesley’s Works” (Vol. VII., pages 376-384); also to a letter written by him in 1790, only two years before his death, where he says: “This doctrine is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appears to have raised us up.” Does this look like he had changed his views?
Let the reader turn to Wesley’s “Christian Perfection,” and on page 61 see how the matter is summed up under four or five points–that sanctification is deliverance from all sin, is received merely by faith, is given instantaneously, and is to be expected not at death, but every moment. This book was never recalled by Mr. Wesley; but, on the contrary, in a late edition he solemnly reaffirmed its statements. Now we turn to the Fathers. We mention only a few: Dr. Adam Clarke says in his “Theology:” If the Methodists give up preaching entire sanctification, they will soon lose their glory. Let all those who retain the apostolic doctrine that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin in this life pray every believer to go on to perfection and expect to be saved while here below, unto fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Again, in his “Commentary” we find these words on Hebrews vi. 1: “Many make a violent outcry against the doctrine of perfection. Is it too much to say of these that they neither know the Scripture nor the power of God?”
Dr. Watson, the great Methodist theologian, says in his “Institutes” (Vol. II.,page 450): “We have already spoken of justification, adoption, regeneration, and witness of the Spirit, and we proceed to another as distinctly marked and as graciously promised in the Holy Scriptures. This is the entire sanctification of believers. This,” he goes on to say, “is a still higher degree of deliverance from sin.”
Carvosso, as widely known as either of the above, writes in his autobiography that several months after his conversion he began to crave inward holiness.” For these I prayed and searched the Scriptures. At length one evening, while engaged in a prayer-meeting, the great deliverance came! I began to exercise faith by believing: I shall have the blessing now. Just that moment a heavenly influence filled the room, and no sooner had I uttered the words from my heart, ‘I shall have the blessing now,’ than refining fire went through my heart, illuminated my soul, scattered its life through every part, and sanctified the whole. I then received the full witness of the Spirit that the blood of Jesus had cleansed me from all sin.”
Bishop Asbury wrote thus to a minister: “Preach sanctification, directly and indirectly, in every sermon.” He wrote to another: “O purity! O Christian perfection! O sanctification! It is heaven below to feel all sin removed. Preach it, whether they will hear or forbear. Preach it!”
Bishop McKendree, in a letter to Bishop Asbury, describes his conversion; then adds: “Not long after Mr. Gibson preached a sermon on sanctification, and I felt its weight. This led me more minutely to examine my heart. I found remaining corruption, embraced the doctrine of sanctification, and diligently sought the blessing it holds forth.”Farther on he tells how, while walking in a field, he received in an overwhelming way the grace he sought. Here are the five leading names in early Methodism. We could give many more, but cannot for lack of space. Does it not look as if the Methodist Church believed in the doctrine of sanctification?
We turn now to the Conferences. In 1824 the bishops of our Church, in their quadrennial address to the General Conference, said: “Do we come to the people in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of peace? Do we insist on the witness of the Spirit and entire sanctification through faith in Christ. Are we contented to have the doctrine of Christian holiness an article of our creed only, without becoming experimentally and practically acquainted with it?
If Methodists give up the doctrine of entire sanctification, or suffer it to become a dead letter, we are a fallen people. Holiness is the main cord that binds us together; relax this, and you loosen the whole system. This will appear more evident if we call to mind the original design of Methodism. It was to raise up and preserve a holy people. This was the principal object which Mr. Wesley had in view. To this end all the doctrines believed and preached by the Methodists tend.”To this address are attached the names of Bishops McKendree, Hedding, Soule , George, and Roberts. In 1832 the General Conference issued a pastoral address to the Church, in which we find these words: “When we speak of holiness we mean that state in which God is loved with all the heart and served with all the power. This, as Methodists, we have said, is the privilege of the Christian in this life. And we have further said that this privilege may be secured instantaneously by an act of faith, as is justification. Why, then, have we so few living witnesses that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin?
Among primitive Methodists the experience of this high attainment in religion may justly be said to have been common. Now a profession of it is rarely to be met with among us. Is it not time to return to first principles? Is it not time that we throw off the inconsistency with which we are charged in regard to this matter? Only let all who have been born of the Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, seek with the same ardor to be made perfect in love as they sought for the pardon of their sins, and soon will our class meetings and love-feasts be cheered by the relation of experiences of this character, as they now are with those which tell of justification and the new birth.” In 1874 the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, thus concluded their address to the General Conference: “Extensive revivals of religion have crowned the labors of our preachers; and the life-giving energy of the gospel, in the conversion of sinners and in the sanctification of believers, has been seldom more apparent amongst us. The boon of Wesleyan Methodism, as we received it from our fathers, has not been forfeited in our hands.” To this document is affixed the signatures of Bishops Robert Paine, George F. Pierce, H. H. Kavanaugh, W. M. Wightman, E. M. Marvin, D. S. Doggett, H. N. McTyeire, and J. C. Keener.
In 1884 the Centennial Conference of American Methodism, which met in Baltimore, reaffirmed the faith of the entire Church in all its separate branches: “We remind you, brethren, that the mission of Methodism is to promote holiness. It is not a sentiment or emotion, but a principle in-wrought in the heart, the culmination of God’s work in us followed by a consecrated life. In all the borders of Methodism this doctrine is preached and the experience of sanctification is urged. We beseech you, brethren, stand by your standards on this subject.” Turn now to the “Wesleyan Catechism No. 2.” After asking and answering the question, “What is regeneration?” farther on we find the following: “Question.–What is entire sanctification? “Answer.–The state of being entirely cleansed from sin so as to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.” Turn now to the Hymn Book. If we glance at the edition preceding the last, in the second verse of hymn 542 we read these words of Charles Wesley: Speak the second time: “Be clean!” Take away my inbred sin: Every stumbling-block remove; Cast it out by perfect love. This hymn has been left out of the new Hymn Book. *[See the Endnote by L. L. Pickett at the end of this chapter] Let the Hymn Book Committee answer to their conscience now and to God at the day of judgment why they did this. To purge the Hymn Book of the doctrine of the second blessing, the iconoclasts would have been under the necessity of eliminating hundreds of stanzas instead of one. The expression: “Speak the second time, ‘ Be clean! ‘ ” seems to be obnoxious to many. What a pity it is for them that the same thought crops out in the grand old hymn, “Rock of Ages!” Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure. Let the reader take up the attenuated last edition of our hymns and find still forty-four left that teach plainly the doctrine of sanctification. Especially do we call attention to hymns 422, 425, 429 440, 445, 447, and 449, and to 411, familiar to thousands, but never losing its sweetness and blessedness: Lord, I believe a remains To all thy people known; A rest where pure enjoyment reigns, And thou art loved alone: A rest where all our soul’s desire Is fixed on things above; Where fear and sin and grief expire, Cast out by perfect love. O that I now the rest might know, Believe, and enter in! Now, Saviour, now the power bestow, And let me cease from sin. Remove this hardness from my heart, This unbelief remove; To me the rest of faith impart, The Sabbath of thy love. And now turn to the Discipline. In the baptismal service, and in the collect said at the Lord’s Supper, and in Article XX., found in the first chapter which contains the Articles of our religion, the doctrine is both implied and taught. In the ordination or reception of ministers into the Conference it is unmistakably apparent. Paragraph 66, Question 2: “What method do we use in admitting a preacher into full connection?” The answer is, that after solemn fasting and prayer upon the part of the candidates, the bishop shall ask them the following questions: “Have you faith in Christ?” “Are you going on to perfection?” “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” “Are you groaning after it?” Is it not marvelous that a Methodist preacher, after having answered these questions affirmatively, should ever deny the doctrine of sanctification, or, worse still, take a stand against it? He once solemnly vowed that he believed in the experience, was going on to it, expected to obtain it in this life,. and was groaning after it; and now, pitiful to relate, he pens articles, preaches sermons, or writes a book against a doctrine that he swore in the presence of God and a hundred preachers that he firmly believed.
It was on condition of his avowed belief in that doctrine, and in view of his promise to seek and obtain the experience, that the Methodist Church admitted him into her pulpits as an ordained preacher. And yet here he is denying the faith, giving up the struggle, and surrendering the distinguishing doctrine of our Church, which Mr. Wesley called “the grand depositum of Methodism.” And now I submit it to the reader, who has followed me in my quotations from Methodist Conferences, standards, bishops, and fathers, the question: Who is most truly a Methodist–he that believes in, or he that denies, the doctrine of sanctification? And who has left in creed and life the Methodist Church–the person who denies the doctrine and experience of holiness received by faith, or the individual who enjoys and testifies to that most precious blessing? Verily, as the writer takes note of those who oppose, and contrasts them with the spiritual giants of our Church, who enjoyed and lived and advocated the doctrine of sanctification, and who were the founders and deliverers of Methodism in the past, he cannot but cry out: “Let me live the life of these men, believe what they believed, do as they did, and may my last end be like theirs!”
Therefore, I am a Nazarene and not a Methodist; many, if not most, Methodist congregations have drifted away from their “grand depositum.”
It is a blessed thought, however, that the truth of sanctification comes from a higher source than Methodism. The doctrine is not of man, but of God. And so it will live and flourish in spite of all opposition and unbelief. Church after Church may refuse to proclaim it, denomination after denomination may lose this great blessing of Pentecost; the Methodist Church itself, that was raised up of God for the main purpose of restoring this blessing to the people of God and “spreading scriptural holiness over the land,” may prove recreant to her trust and surrender the doctrine which was once her glory and joy and strength. Nevertheless the doctrine will live and the experience will be enjoyed by countless multitudes until the end of time. If necessary God will raise up other Churches and stir up distant peoples, in order that his children may hear of and possess by faith a full salvation from all sin, inward as well as outward.
The experience that Christ promised his disciples, and his Church after them, in the words “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” shall not perish, but shall abide as the priceless legacy of the Church forever. May God grant our beloved Church to stand with lips purified by the coal of fire from the altar, with heart aflame with love, with soul burning with holiness, with spirit and body ready to spring away with the messages of God, with wing of faith and wing of consecration in constant, tireless movement, and with this cry of the soul ascending continually: “Here am I, Lord; send me!” May sanctification, the lost blessing of the Church, be poured out upon the people far and near! Then will the Church arise and shine; then will a nation be born in a day; one man chase a thousand, two put ten thousand to flight, and the kingdom of God will come.
Endnote *Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit Into every troubled breast; Let us all in thee inherit, Let us find that second rest: Take away our bent to sinning, Alpha and Omega be, End of faith, as its beginning, Set our hearts at liberty. [This clear verse is retained in the new hymn Book.–L. L. P.]