Posts tagged Sinlessness
John Wesley on Christian Perfection

I recently read John Wesley: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. As a Seventh-day Adventist the doctrine of Christian perfection (not to be confused with the heresy of sinless perfectionism) is one that is near and dear to my heart. Ellen White spoke much on Christian perfection and, knowing that she was a Methodist, it was pretty cool to read about the doctrine of perfection from the man she learned it from - John Wesley. Not only did this experience help me appreciate the doctrine more but it also helped me gain a greater understanding and appreciation for Ellen Whites approach to perfection. Below are some of my favorite quotes from Wesley's book. I am sharing most them as answers to 3 basic questions: Did Wesley believe in perfection, how did he define it, and were did he stand regarding the concept of absolute, or sinless, perfectionism.

Did John Wesley believe in Christian perfection?
"Yes, we do believe that He will in this world so 'cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, the we shall perfectly love Him, and worthily magnify His holy name."
"Why should devout men be afraid of devoting all their soul, body, and substance to God? Why should those who love Christ count it a damnable error to think we may have all the mind that was in Him? We allow, we contend, that we are justified freely though the righteousness and the blood of Christ. And why are you so hot against us, because we expect likewise to be sanctified wholly through His spirit?"
"[T]his we do confess... we do expect to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves."
How did Wesley define perfection? 
"[R]ejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks... this is all that I mean by perfection..."
"By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbour, ruling our tempers, words, and actions."
[Perfection] is purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving to God all our hearts: it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is the devoting, not a part, but all our soil, body, and substance to God... it is all the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked. It is the circumcision of the heart from all filthiness, all inward as well as outward pollution it is a renewal of the heart in the whole image of God, the full likeness of him that created it... it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves."
Did Wesley believe in absolute perfection? 
"Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone."
"Sinless perfection is a phrase I never use."
"Is [perfection] sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is 'salvation from sin.'"
"[Perfection] is perfect love. This is the essence of it..."
"I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it." 
My thoughts:

While Ellen White was a firm believer in the doctrine of Christian perfection, she parts ways with Wesley in two senses. The first is that Wesley maintained that we could know in this life if we had attained perfection. Ellen White never suggests that we can reach a point in our lives where we can know we are perfect. In fact she consistently taught otherwise as can be seen in the following statement:
So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience {AA 560.3}.
The second point of departure is in clarity. Wesley seems to almost beat around the bush when it comes to the concept of sinless perfection. He never explicitly taught it, but as can be seen above, he never explicitly denied it. This is made most evident in his final quote "I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it." Ellen White did not beat around the bush when it came to sinless perfection. She denied it consistently throughout her ministry as in the following quote:
We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body [the second coming]. {ST March 23, 1888, par. 13}.

Some other cool Wesley quotes:
"As a very little dust will disorder a clock, and the least sand will obscure our sight, so the least grain of sin which is upon the heart will hinder its right motion towards God." 
"[T]he devil fills whatever God does not fill."
"Indeed it has been my opinion for many years, that one great cause why men make so little improvement in the divine life is their own coldness, negligence, and unbelief."
"In the greatest temptations, a single look to Christ and the barely pronouncing His name, suffices to overcome the wicked one..." 

Note: I read this book in a Kindle so there were no page numbers. If there is a specific quote you would like to trace feel free to message me and ask for the location number if you'd like. 

Further Reading:

Never Good Enough: The Close of Probation and Sinless Perfectionism