The following paper was given at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, Oxford, UK, 1997.
A Note On Wesley's Challenge Concerning Christian Perfection:
Victor A. Shepherd
Wesley's misgivings concerning the Lutherans' simul totus peccator simul totus iustus (believer are at the same time both totally sinful and totally justified) are a major feature in the background to his exposition of Christian perfection. As is so often the case, what is safe in the hands of the original articulator is safe in the hands of no one else. The Lutherans insisted that the alternative to totus...totus was partim...partim; we are partly sinful and partly justified, justified to the extent that we are not sinful. This was the position of the Council of Trent, 1545-1563. If partim had been accepted the Lutherans would have asked, "Which part of us is justified, and which sinful?" They knew there is no aspect, area, dimension or deed of believers' lives for which they are spared having to plead God's pardon. Two hundred years later, however, Wesley felt that the Lutherans' totus simul implied (i) resignation with respect to one's residual sinfulness, (ii) complacency in it, (iii) capitulation to it amounting to licence. Wesley was suspicious of a totus simul that could be regarded as a vehicle of antinomianism for the spiritually slack and a counsel of despair for the spiritually serious.
Wesley's insistence on the simultaneity of sola fide (by faith alone) and holy living is yet another prominent feature of the background to his understanding of Christian perfection. Sola fide, standing alone, had always precipitated a cavalier attitude toward godliness, the reduction of faith to doctrinal apprehension, and the jettisoning of the rigours of discipleship (e.g., crossbearing.) Paradoxically, "faith alone" cut the nerve of faith. On the other hand, holy living, standing alone, had always precipitated moralism: rigorous conformity to a code devoid of the holy and devoid of life, with faith reduced to a compend of ethical striving, pelagianism, and a shallow view of the Fall that settled for deprivation while eschewing depravity. In sola fide and holy living, however, Wesley believed that what God had joined together no one should put asunder. Aspects of the foregoing "marriage" are found in the four principal tracts related to his fullest statement, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1765-1777).
For Wesley salvation is the restoration of the defaced image of God. It is the destiny of believers to be "wholly transformed into the image of him that created us."(1:351) Perfection is this transformation. In Christian Perfection (1741), his earliest tract on the subject, Wesley maintains that we must speak of the notion, since scripture is not silent on the matter, and we must not be found silent where scripture speaks.(2:99) Here Wesley carefully denies that Christian perfection implies freedom from error or from poor judgement or from "the infirmities of our creatureliness" (i.e., freedom from the limitations of our finitude).
Wesley denies as well that such perfection, synonymous with holiness, precludes "continual increase."(2:104) Even the "perfect" continue to grow in grace! Lefthandedly he indicates the reason for his tenacity in speaking of Christian perfection: if we set limits a priori to the scope of God's grace in subduing our sinfulness in this life, a defect he thought he saw in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, then we are making allowances for sin. To say that God does not deliver us from all sinning in this life is to say that we must continue to sin.(2:112) But to say this is to deploy shabby excuses and undercut human responsibility. Here Wesley has in mind such thinkers as John Gill, a contemporary whose hyper-Calvinism Wesley deplored not least because it appeared to render God the author of sin. Wesley insists that we are freed not only from sins that are publicly observable (our deeds) but also "from evil thoughts and tempers" (on account of the heart's no longer being evil), as well as from "all the reasonings of pride and unbelief against the declarations, promises or gifts of God."(2:117) Believers should expect to be freed from all the qualifications the spiritually unexpectant invoke to condition the declarations, promises and gifts of God. Freed from the impediment of unexpectancy, believers find the aforementioned fulfilled in them. In support of his notion here Wesley quotes Charles' hymn-line, "Calmly to thee my soul looks up,/and waits thy promises to prove."(2:122) One such promise is the declaration that "No one born of God commits sin."(1 John 3:9) The exegetical commonplace -- that the force of the text is that no one born of God "wilfully" or "habitually" commits sin -- he dismisses curtly without any discussion of the syntactical subtleties in the Greek text.(2:107) Finding no little support still in 1 John for his notion of perfection, Wesley moves on to 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He reads "cleanses" not as "pardons" but as "purges". "Cleanse", he insists, cannot be reduced to "justifies"; "cleanse us from all unrighteousness does not appose "will forgive us our sins."(2:120)
As the debate between Reformed/Lutheran and Methodist convictions unfolded, Wesley sought to curb what he regarded as the overstatement of people such as Thomas Maxfield; viz., that Christians are rendered incapable of sin -- with the result that antinomianism appeared yet now could not be named "sin". Wesley wanted to repudiate that shallow view of sin which could only victimize those who held it, without suggesting there existed any sin beyond God's triumph.
In On Sin in Believers (1763) Wesley maintains "`That there is no sin in believers' is quite new in the church. Such a notion was never heard of for 1700 years, never till it was discovered by Count Zinzendorf. I do not remember to have seen the least intimation of it in either ancient or modern writers, unless perhaps in some of the wild, ranting antinomians."(1:324) Forbearing to say that his 1741 statement itself must have been an overstatement, Wesley invokes the "testimony of antiquity" (patristics) in support of his contention that believers have an "evil nature."(1:317) Plainly he does not want to say categorically that believers are sinless. The believer can be "a new creature and an old creature at once."(1:325) Such a person is "partly renewed"(1:326); by grace he may yet become not only "truly" but also "entirely" renewed(1:326), being "delivered from the guilt and power of sin but not from the being of sin."(1:328) Wesley's statement here is more nuanced than that of 1741, distinguishing as it does between the power of sin and the being of sin, even though he does not amplify the distinction. While never denying the Reformers' understanding of justification by faith, and never denying its place in the inception of the Christian life, Wesley consistently emphasizes the actuality of the regeneration and sanctification of the justified person. When he writes, "We allow that the state of a justified person is inexpressibly great"(1:320), the reader expects him to expand on the greatness of justification; instead he speaks immediately of the blessings of sanctification. Wesley typically has "sanctification" stand for "justification plus sanctification"; i.e., for the whole of the Christian life. Here he reverses Luther's "shorthand." Plainly the doctrine of sanctification is as luminous and illuminating for Wesley as justification was for Luther. It stands at the centre of and is the organizing principle for his theology; every aspect of the Christian economy converges upon it and radiates from it.
The sin from which sanctification delivers us is both inward and outward. Outward sin is manifestly behavioral; inward is the attitudes and proclivities of the depraved heart. Pride, anger, self-will are Wesley's unholy trinity that he mentions throughout his work. Resentment -- one such temper -- is a near-universal yet not insignificant instance of inward sin. "Resentment at an affront is sin", Wesley unselfconsciously confesses, "and I have been guilty of this a thousand times."(1:331) Believers have a heightened awareness both of the specific sins that dog them and of the sin whose "being" riddles them and all that they do -- even as their heightened awareness does not collapse their assurance. In other words, heightened awareness of one's depravity does not diminish, let alone overturn, the witness of the Spirit concerning one's standing in grace.
In On Sin in Believers, written twenty-two years after Christian Perfection, and written after much scrutiny of both the blessings and the "enthusiasms" of the revival, Wesley adduces four arguments to support his contention concerning sin in believers. Any affirmation of believers' sinlessness (i) contradicts scripture, (ii) contradicts the experience of God's people, (iii) is new-fangled and therefore merely a human invention (novelty in doctrine being, for Wesley, heresy by definition), (iv) has deleterious consequences. The peril of the perfection imputed to Zinzendorf was that it "cuts off all watching against our evil nature."(1:328)) Yet while the being of sin remains, grace dethrones sin so that "the usurper...grows weaker and weaker."(1:331) If relentless vigilance concerning sin is a sign of faith, so is the horror with which believers react when rationalization whispers to them that sin may be indulged.(1:332)
Four years later Wesley penned The Repentance of Believers (1767). He begins his tract by reminding readers of the repentance that pertains to the commencement of faith and discipleship: a conviction of utter sinfulness (our very being is sin-vitiated) and guiltiness (we can plead nothing to extenuate our condemnation) and helplessness (we are unable to remedy or rectify ourselves in any way).(1:335) Then Wesley speaks of the ongoing repentance of believers that is as essential to their growth in grace as initial repentance was to their entering the kingdom. If spiritual rigour is relaxed even for a moment, such crudities as lust and non-crudities as inordinate affections will recrudesce -- along with love of praise and fear of dispraise.(1:339) All of these together will ensure that the work of grace within believers is undone.
We must note here Wesley's emphasis on singlemindedness. Either we fear God and therefore nothing else or we do not fear God and therefore everything else. With the insight of the wise spiritual director, Wesley notes that spiritual peril attends even our obedience to God, since obedience may become the occasion of sin-fuelled superiority or self-congratulation -- all of this on account of the depraved nature we continue to have.(1:342) Believers, after all, are "but in part `crucified to the world', since the evil root remains in their heart."(1:339)
Then Wesley abruptly makes the pronouncement with which the Wesleyan tradition has been more or less identified: inbred sin is destroyed as God grants to believers what they could never bestow on themselves and for which they could only wait upon God's good pleasure. Despite our utmost spiritual attentiveness and discipline "we cannot wholly cleanse either our hearts or our hands. Most sure we cannot, till it shall please our Lord to speak to our hearts again, to `speak the second time, "Be clean."'"(1:346) Despite his insistence that such cleansing is by faith and not by those self-purgations that the mystics prized, Wesley's insertion here is startling in view of everything he has insisted on to this point in order to support his contention that inbred sin is just that. After justification, however, he maintains that believers, now aware of even deeper recesses of their depravity ("the inbred monster's face"), are to repent of these -- and believe the promise of God here too -- this time not merely for the pardon of sin but for all cleansing, by which Wesley means eradication of indwelling sin.(1:348) The result is nothing less than entire sanctification.(1:351)
In the penultimate paragraph of his tract Wesley quotes a hymn-stanza of Charles' that begins, "Break off the yoke of inbred sin" yet concludes "Till I am wholly lost in thee!"(1:351) In his ultimate paragraph Wesley again quotes his brother, the stanza beginning, "I sin in every breath I draw" and goes on to say, "But still the Fountain open stands,/Washes my feet, my heart, my hands", only to conclude, "Till I am perfected in love."(1:352) In the final section of this paper the force of these two quotations -- "wholly lost in Thee" and "perfected in love -- will be expanded and put forward as what Wesley intends in his sometimes convoluted exposition of Christian perfection.
Forty-three years after Christian Perfection Wesley added On Perfection (1784). Here he qualified perfection further as he insisted that no one, regardless of the degree of sanctification, is ever beyond needing the intercession of the merit of Christ. No one is sinless. In view of our proclivity to transgress, our "innumerable violations of the Adamic as well as the angelic law, ...every living man needs the blood of the atonement or he could not stand before God."(3:73-74) In this tract Wesley now states unambiguously that "This is the sum of Christian perfection: it is all comprised in that one word, love." Christians are mandated to love God and neighbour; "`on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets': these contain the whole of Christian perfection."(3:74) Furthermore, the command to be holy is identical to the command to love: "perfection is another name for universal holiness -- inward and outward righteousness -- holiness of life arising from holiness of heart."(3:75)
Adopting the Puritan tenet that all the commands of God are but "covered promises", Wesley maintains that God's commanding his people to be holy is but God's guaranteeing that they will be holy. "The command here is equivalent to a promise, and gives us full reason to expect that he will work in us what he requires of us."(3:77)
In view of all that Wesley has said so far there must be probed the nature of that sin from which believers may be wholly saved now. Wesley's well-known definition is "a voluntary transgression of a known law." He vehemently insists that he has nowhere said we are delivered in this life from sin in any wider or deeper sense of the word. Moreover, "this is the sense wherein the word `sin' is over and over taken in scripture."(3:79) It is sin in this sense that is to be "rooted out".(3:79) And it is sin in this sense that Wesley has in mind when he wearily, if not somewhat sarcastically, says to those who continue to oppose his doctrine of perfection with their simul...totus, "so we will allow sin, a little sin, to remain in us till death"(3:79) -- only to deny this explosively, expostulating that the little that is tolerated will invariably be the beachhead wherefrom a fresh invasion of sin vanquishes us!(3:80)
Addressing objections to all of the foregoing, Wesley adds, "What rational objection can you have to loving the Lord your God with all your heart?"(3:83) -- only to pose the same question again -- "Why should you be averse to universal holiness -- the same thing by another name?...the being inwardly conformed to the whole image of God, or an outward behaviour in every point suited to that conformity? Can you conceive anything more amiable than this? Anything more desirable?"(3:84) Not surprisingly Wesley poses the question a third time: "Can anything be more desirable than this entire self-dedication to him [God]?" (3:85) Plainly he is implying here that entire sanctification is entire dedication of oneself to God. The question has an edge to it when he puts it the fourth time: "Do you then love sin that you are so unwilling to part with it?...In God's name, why are you so fond of sin?"(3:86)
The constellation of the foregoing expressions yields a rich understanding: holiness, love of God and neighbour, conformity to the will and image of God and behaviour appropriate to this conformity, whole-soulled self-dedication to God that entails disavowal of sin and desire to part with it. These were the pearls of Methodism that ought not to be cast before the unappreciative. For this reason such holiness should be taught only to those who are "pressing forward...always by way of promise, always drawing rather than driving." Wesley's grasp of a grace-wrought, faith-facilitated, self-offering to God that bleaches sin's allure and breaks sin's grip estops any suggestion that perfection is pelagian moralism, at the same time that it highlights the dynamic of the doctrine. Furthermore, holiness as constellated by Wesley's nuanced affirmations and questions comports with the aspiration and conviction of the church catholic -- his definition of sin excepted.
It is therefore all the more surprising to find in On Patience (1784) an exhortation to a perfection that amounts to utter sinlessness: "wholly delivered from every evil word, from every sinful thought; yea, from every evil desire, passion, temper, from all inbred corruption, from all remains of the carnal mind, from the whole body of sin."(3:179) If this is not sinless perfection, then what would sin-free perfection be? Such sanctification "is to be received by plain, simple faith."(3:178) Candidates for it are to "believe...that he [God] is not only able, but willing to do it now!"(3:179) Having interviewed 652 testifiers to this experience, Wesley concluded, "as all change was wrought in a moment -- I cannot but believe that sanctification is commonly, if not always, an instantaneous work."(3:178)
Wesley, it will be recalled, believed the Continental Reformers to have made their peace too readily with the arrears of sin. Having settled into the simul...totus they offered, thought Wesley, little more than confirmation in one's residual sin for those who were not upset by it and despair for those who were. Even the English Puritan tradition, so dear to Wesley (32 of the 50 books in his Christian Library were by Puritan divines), conceded too much to the "arrears". While Puritanism amplified sanctification enormously in terms of the "third use of the law", a notion the Puritans acquired from Melanchthon through Calvin, the third use being Christ's claim upon the obedience of believers whereby he conforms them to himself, Wesley thought that Puritanism held out too little concerning deliverance from the grip of sin upon people and by the same token too little of present restitution of its disfigurement. He was convinced that God could do more now, even as believers should wait on God for it and delight in it.
II: Plain Account
The more that Wesley insisted God longed to do in his people, it must be repeated, was not the divine crowning of a more zealous moral endeavour. This much is evident from the formative thinkers who preceded Wesley and whose work Wesley cherished. Jeremy Taylor (Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying) had stressed believers' intentional resolution to lifelong purity of heart; believers must dedicate themselves singlemindedly, wholly, to God. Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ) similarly stressed "simplicity of intention" (singlemindedness) that was also a purity of affection: one loves but one thing. William Law (Christian Perfection, A Serious Call to the Devout and Holy Life) insisted that all must be yielded to God.
It is important for us to be aware of Wesley's reading in this regard, for our familiarity with it will be a major factor in our interpretation of his A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1777).
The following are major aspects of Plain Account.
 Scripture points to discipleship as "a uniform following of Christ, an entire inward and outward conformity to our master."(PA 6) This inward and outward conformity is a matter of loving God with our utmost ardour: "the one perfect good shall be your ultimate end."(PA 7) Not forbidden to love all else, we none the less love all things for God's sake. In this we are to have a "pure intention of heart" and a "steadfast regard to [God's] glory."(PA 8)
 In loving God whole-heartedly we recognize that God orders all things for our good.(PA 12)
 We are to love our neighbours, only to find that we can love even our enemy, since love banishes evil tempers.(PA 12)
 We eschew "laying up treasures on earth", since wealth is as spiritually deleterious as adultery.(PA 14)
 We are not freed from temptation; nevertheless, some temptations, at least, lose their fascination, "flying about" us but no longer "troubling" us.(PA 23)
 While justification gives us the right to heaven, holiness renders us fit for heaven.(PA 31)
 All sanctification admits of growth; even the perfect grow in grace, in the knowledge of Christ, and in the love and image of God after their entire sanctification.(PA 33)
 The perfect continue to need Christ's atoning intercession.(PA 43)
 Perfection is not a state but a relationship: "Christ does not give life to the soul separate from, but in and with, Himself."(PA 44)
 Perfection is a theological/spiritual category and is not to be understood as a psychological category. The mind may be distressed, sorrowful, perplexed, in pain, while "the heart cleaves to God by perfect love, and the will is wholly resigned to him."(PA 49)
 Those dedicated to holiness must ever guard against pride, enthusiasm ("pride's daughter") and antinomianism. Here Wesley speaks of enthusiasm as expecting the end without the means, as well as disesteeming reason, knowledge, wisdom, or thinking oneself invulnerable to temptation. Wesley everywhere abhors antinomianism: while holiness is certainly more than ethical rigour it is never less.(PA 88)
 Affliction is the best aid in fostering growth in the perfect.(PA 98)
 God's perfecting us vindicates God's promises to us.(PA 31)
 The testimony of the Spirit is essential to our awareness that we are love-filled. Merely feeling that we are is not adequate. The sanctified "have as clear an inward witness that I am fully renewed, as that I am fully justified."(PA 52,56,57)
 Wesley's lattermost point is problematic. Justification, by definition, admits of no degrees. The forensic model precludes partial condemnation or partial acquittal. Sanctification, however, is not "all or nothing." A plethora of scriptural injunctions urge us to keep on growing, to remove impediments to growth, to pray daily for forgiveness (this can only mean that believers sin daily), to acknowledge we are "unprofitable servants", to own our Lord's lefthanded assessment of his most intimate followers -- "If you then, evil as you are...". Furthermore, it would seem that "fully renewed" must ultimately mean to be sinless with respect to the "being" of sin and therefore to be beyond needing the intercession of the atonement.
 Wesley's working definition of sin, adopted for the purposes of discussing perfection, "a voluntary transgression of a known law", appears inadequate. To be sure, Wesley used "voluntary" and "known" so that believers could be encouraged by manifest victory over sin. At the same time, problems arise with respect to "known" when the human heart has limitless capacity to forget what it doesn't want to remember or know, when scripture characteristically insists that ignorance of God is culpable, and when the force of general revelation (e.g., Romans 1) is to render humankind "without excuse".
Problems arise too concerning Wesley's use of "voluntary". In the Continental and English Reformers "voluntary" meant "pertaining to the will" (voluntas), and "will" referred to one's capacity to act; voluntary never meant conscious, deliberate, or premeditated -- as Wesley means here. To transgress, according to the Reformers, is to transgress "voluntarily", since transgression presupposes will. Pleading that one did not intend to do what one has done nor to sin in what one has done underestimates sin, presupposing as it does an undervaluing of the biblical witness to the complexity, subtlety and scope of the heart. However profoundly perfection may be expounded with respect to sin in Wesley's sense of "voluntary", too much remains unsaid for that corruption which is none the less culpable for its being involuntary. All of this is puzzling in view of the fact that Wesley insists throughout his work that by total depravity he means nothing less than the Reformers meant. He insisted that on the matter of total depravity he was not even a "hair's breadth" from John Calvin!
 Wesley is aware of the contradiction in his discussion of voluntary transgression, since in insisting that the perfect still need the atonement for their mistakes, where "mistake" means non-intentional sin in believers, he admits that all such mistakes are a transgression of the law of God, and therefore sin in the absolute sense of the word. Moreover, by referring to deep-dyed depravity in believers as "mistake" Wesley is fostering spiritual naiveness, shallowness and self-victimization in his readers.
 Wesley's concluding, on the basis of interviewing several hundred people, from 1759 to 1762, that perfection is virtually instantaneous(4:178), poses many questions. Has Wesley here elevated experience above scripture? (Has he here displayed that "enthusiasm" he characteristically deplores?) Why has he atypically adduced something that contradicts his insistence everywhere that scripture is the unnormed norm for Christian understanding?
 While Wesley was careful, in his discussion on faith, to uphold faith as dynamic rather than static, and while he maintained that perfection was received in faith and was not a state, the tenor of much of his discussion of sanctification suggests a state (e.g., the testimony of the Spirit that one is fully renewed.) In On Patience Wesley maintains that unqualified humility is one feature of entire sanctification.(3:176) Since self-forgetfulness is the essence of humility (self-disparagement being but a form of self-preoccupation), the believer requires the testimony of the Spirit that he is utterly humble. There appears to be a problem here, and it may betoken a problematic aspect of Wesley's doctrine of Christian Perfection as a whole.
 Wesley disagrees vehemently with those who hold that the texts in 1 John (so dear to Wesley in his insistence that no a priori limit be placed on God's renewing his people in love) refer to the fact that believers no longer sin habitually or sin characteristically. ("No one born of God commits sin...". 1 John 3:9) Yet exegetes maintain that the apostle's selection of verb tenses is crucial: the present indicative and infinitive (rather than the aorist) support the understanding not that the Christian never sins (this notion is contradicted elsewhere in the epistle) but that sin doesn't characterize the Christian (Christ's righteousness does), and while Christians may be overtaken by sin, they do not sin "habitually." Wesley scorned this expression. Again, it is surprising to see him dismiss a point in Greek syntax when his Greek testament was never out of his hand.
Strengths In Wesley's Exposition
 Wesley's discussion of "inordinate affections" (seen to be such only in the light of our "ordinate" love for God) points in the direction of what he was always struggling to say throughout his conversations on the doctrine dearest to him; namely, to love God above all else is ipso facto to order rightly those subordinate loves (which our love for God never negates). In loving God whole-heartedly we abandon ourselves to God's will for us. Wesley knows that a massive work of grace is needed to free us from that self-preoccupation or inordinate self-love which otherwise inhibits us from loving God and neighbour self-forgetfully. To say the same thing differently, the singular work of grace that frees us to love God and neighbour unselfconsciously frees us from addiction to self.
While Wesley does not use "self-forgetful" the word suggests itself repeatedly. Love that calculates, assesses risks, evaluates outcomes is no love at all. "Entire" is entirely appropriate when Wesley means that we are turned out of ourselves and our self-absorption, because turned toward God and neighbour in a self-abandonment that is impervious to slights, setbacks, barbs, or apparent ineffectiveness. In all of this believers discover what Thomas Chalmers called "the expulsive power of a new affection" as self-forgetful love exorcises the leech-like evil tempers that otherwise leave us anaemic, self-absorbed, useless and ugly. "Perfection in love" (owning "the one perfect good" as one's "ultimate end") leaves us singleminded and therefore non-fragmented. The key to integration is neither a psychological technique (modern) nor a religious technique (pre-modern) but rather the whole-soulled, self-oblivious, otherward-looking love.
 Wesley's linking affluence with spiritual declension is entirely biblical -- and entirely unacceptable to the church today. Jesus maintains that we serve -- and give ourselves to -- either God or mammon. These two are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. Either our hand is open because giving or clenched because grasping. Wesley was dismayed, enraged, frantic, even contemptuous and derisory at the spectacle of Christians who preferred pennies to love-wrought, love-directed perfection-in-love.
 While we are never freed from all temptation, and while the temptation to pride lurks everywhere, Wesley encouraged believers who were struggling with temptation to the point of spiritual exhaustion and therefore to the point of capitulation; he credibly pointed them to the relief that God's sanctifying grace afforded. In short, they could be released from effectual temptation. If Wesley hadn't proffered this much, the earliest Methodist communities would have lasted no longer than an Alcoholics Anonymous group in which no one ever becomes "contentedly sober." Because grace denatured effectual temptation, God could do something with sin beyond forgiving it. While will and affection remain distinct they are none the less intimately related. Wesley was aware that we will most readily what we love (whether for good or ill.) We can always will, and do, what we don't love, which is popularly described as "by force of will" -- an expression suggesting someone who is grim, tense, taut, about to falter if relaxed for a moment. The experience of Alcoholics Anonymous comes to mind once again. The alcoholic who is contentedly sober can continue to will his sobriety in that he profits from "the expulsive power of a new affection." The "dry drunk", on the other hand, is someone whom AA members recognize by virtue of their own experience as chemically sober yet with the tempers or disposition of the not-yet-sober, agitated rather than contented, and therefore someone who always appears strained, racked, self-wrenched. Wesley inadvertently indicates as much in a discussion having nothing to do with Christian Perfection when he insists that grace renders affections "more vigorous" and therein "assists" the will.(2:489)
Perhaps Wesley's most perceptive discussion of this point is found in On Patience. The believer, qua believer, is justified and sanctified and therefore indisputably holy. Yet the believer's holiness remains "mixed"; that is, such a person's humility is genuine but not unadulterated with pride.(3:176) The new affection, "being filled with love", integrates all his passions, with the result that "all his passions flow in a continued stream, with an even tenor to God."(3:176) To the extent that there is "no mixture of contrary affections" the believer's holiness is no longer mixed. By the same work of grace his will is now "wholly melted down into the will of God."(3:176) In other words, will and affect are no longer a contrary mixture. The integration of the affections together with the integration of affect and will, are the fruit of the grace-wrought, faith-appropriated restoration of the imago dei to its integrity. Rejoicing in a new affection that assisted the will was one of the glories of early-day Methodism.
 Wesley is oceans deeper than contemporary Christendom when he puts his finger on the difference between our right to eternal blessedness (justification) and our fitness for it (holiness). Wesley makes this point again when he comments, "There is a difference between one that is perfect and one that is perfected. The one is fitted for the races; the other, ready to receive the prize."(Notes, Phil. 3:12) Holiness, it seems, has too often been discussed narrowly in terms of intra-psychic elevation (an experience) or in terms of moral reinvigoration (an achievement). Wesley more profoundly discusses it in terms of God. "Holy", in the Hebrew bible, is that which characterizes God as uniquely God.) Wesley knows that the sanctifying work of grace is God himself forging himself within us as he forms us and fits us for the unimaginable intensity of utmost intimacy with him. C.S. Lewis has remarked, "It is safe to say that only the pure in heart shall see God; only the pure in heart will ever want to." This is Wesley's point exactly. In his discussion of Christian perfection, Wesley amplifies the truth that the all-consuming fixation of the Christian's life is God.
 Wesley is hauntingly profound when he comments that affliction is the best aid to spiritual growth. (Compare C.H. Spurgeon: "Affliction is the best book in a minister's library.") Wesley knew that the Son of God, Son though he was, "learned obedience through what he suffered". (Hebrews 5:8) Affliction visits itself on Christians just because they are Christians, even as it visited itself on their Lord on account of who he is. There is nothing in Wesley of the North American "Prosperity Gospel". We must recall Wesley's dictum that prosperity is a spiritual threat more dangerous than adultery, even as we recall his dismay at those whose new-found affluence (the product of discipleship, Wesley noted with perplexity) had blunted their zeal and their sacrifice. Even the perfect need affliction in order to grow; even the perfect will not be spared it. We should note here that Wesley insisted that his preachers continue to announce the "good news" of perfection, even as he insisted that the same preachers read Jonathan Edwards' The Life and Diary of David Brainerd lest Methodist preachers come to think that their hardship-riddled lives were actually hard!
While Wesley never speaks of growth-spurts, surely the moment of entire sanctification is such a spurt, admitting as it does of subsequent growth. By extension I wish to suggest that a fruitful elaboration of Wesley's thought concerns not one growth-spurt but any number of them as believers are brought to a crisis. Wesley has spoken of that moment in believers' lives when they become aware as never before of inbred sin, of the deeper depredations of their depravity. At this juncture they either seek and await that work of grace which deals with their residual corruption, or they make their peace with their now-evident shoddy discipleship, eventually, perhaps, to sink all the way back down into unbelief.
For a long time I have thought that under God believers are repeatedly exposed, at critical moments in their Christian development, to a startling apprehension of their inbred corruption and/or an undeniable acquaintance with new dimensions and directions of God's will for them. At this moment believers are faced with that crisis of which Wesley spoke. At this moment we either repent of and repudiate the "monster's face" that has newly loomed before us; at this moment we either embrace and abandon ourselves to the will of God for us or we make our peace with a limping discipleship -- eventually, perhaps, to find that it does not even limp. (Wesley would have said, "inevitably to find....") Either God's will is welcomed without reserve or Christian existence at any level shrivels -- for to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative of limiting our obedience is to strangle faith. Wesley is helpful in his articulation of such a crisis. But why restrict it to one such crisis? The fact that discipleship is marked by many such crises serves to remind us that faith is always dynamic, never static.
 Wesley knew thoroughly the Eastern or Greek tradition of patristics. Therefore he would have appreciated the difference between the Greek teleios and the Latin perfectus. Perfectus, an unnuanced word, has the force of faultless, of not admitting further development. It is a term used of things rather than of persons.
Teleios, on the other hand, is highly nuanced, as its different translations into English indicate; e.g., "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect..." (Phil. 3:12 RSV), "Let those of us who are mature be thus minded..." (Phil. 3:15 RSV) "Perfect" and "mature" translate teleios within three verses! Teleios is a term more characteristically used of persons, and used specifically of persons in light of their function. In classical Greek it can mean "full-grown" (as opposed to underdeveloped), "mature in mind" (as opposed to someone learning the rudiments of a subject) or "qualified" (as opposed to someone lacking expertise). Wesley nowhere thoroughly exploits the lexicon with respect to teleios. At the same time he frequently says enough to indicate that perfectus is not what he has in mind.
 Yet there is a dimension of Wesley's understanding of perfection that appears to have been undervalued in the discussions concerning perfection: mysticism. While the mystical element has been acknowledged, mysticism appears not to have been considered as the essence of it. Wesley characteristically speaks of both inward and outward holiness, yet always with the understanding that inward holiness (the work of grace upon our "tempers" or dispositions) is the ground of all outward holiness. While many assessments of Wesley's doctrine of perfection probe the theological adequacy and consistency of his argument concerning outward holiness, virtually none seems to consider gospel-facilitated and gospel-normed mysticism as the essence of inward holiness. Wesley left-handedly indicates his elemental conviction here in On God's Vineyard (1787), written ten years after Plain Account. This tract states briefly Wesley's persuasion concerning God's raising up Methodism for its unique witness in the church catholic, as well as Methodism's trifling with its birthright. In it Wesley elaborates the essence of Methodism and insists that Methodists are "as tenacious of inward holiness as any mystic, and of outward as any Pharisee."(3:507) The logic of this statement, it seems to me, is the heart of Wesley's doctrine. A subsequent, closer reading of Plain Account brought to my attention the nature of the hymns, written by brother Charles, which John Wesley brings forward to support or illustrate the points he is endeavouring to make in his Plain Account: they support not a notion of sinlessness, especially as this came to be understood in nineteenth century holiness movements, but a mysticism that is always and everywhere Christ-normed. Before he quotes any hymns in this tract, however, Wesley speaks of our subordinating all to our love for God, adding, "Other sacrifices from us He would not; but the living sacrifice of the heart hath He chosen." The last point points immediately to mystics who preceded Wesley such as Pascal or Theresa D'Avila. They spoke like this when a startlingly intense, intimate admittance to God had been vouchsafed to them and their vocabulary, so far from being adequate to it, could only stammer before it. Within a page or two of "Let it [i.e., sacrifice] be continually offered up to God, through Christ, in flames of holy love" (the lattermost expression being common to the mystics) Wesley is quoting hymn-lines whose mystical overtone is undeniable:
"All", "plunged", "deepest", "sea", "lost", "immensity": in the space of three lines Wesley co-opts repeatedly the oceanic imagery that the mystics relied on to point to, but never adequately describe, let alone explain -- what they knew themselves through an experience of God beyond telling.
Alerted now, I perused the remainder of Plain Account, only to find the following:
The beatific vision, so very foreign to Protestants, is much-valued by Roman Catholic mystics.
"Bliss", "longing", "all on fire", "dissolved"; this is how the mystics customarily speak. We must note too the paradoxes in mystical testimony as language finally breaks down in apparent self-contradiction before the unspeakable mystery of God:
 Wesley's insistence on the simultaneity of the inward and the outward prevents the mystical from fleeing the distresses of this world. The mystical is always earthly-concrete, while the earthly is always eschatologically transfigured. The Christian who is lost or dissolved in God is the same person who campaigns with Wesley for schools, pharmacies, credit unions, and the healing advanced by such as Primitive Remedies.
III: The Mystical In Wesley's "Perfection"
In his Journal entry of 15 June 1741, Wesley deplored the inadequacies of Luther's Commentary on Galatians. Now Wesley said he was "utterly ashamed" of his erstwhile appreciation of the book -- not least because Luther "is deeply tinctured with mysticism throughout, and hence often fundamentally wrong."(19:200,201) Earlier still (Journal, 25 January 1738) Wesley wrote, "all the other enemies of Christianity are triflers -- the mystics are the most dangerous of its enemies. They stab it in the vitals, and its most serious professors are most likely to fall by them. May I praise him who hath snatched me out of this fire likewise, by warning all others that it is set on fire of hell."(18:213)
Note in the foregoing how Wesley's negative conclusion contrasts with his positive beginning: "I grew acquainted with the mystic writers, whose noble descriptions of union with God and internal religion made everything else appear mean, flat and insipid." What was his objection? "But, in truth, they made good works appear so too; yea, and faith itself, and what not? These gave me an entire new view of religion -- nothing like any I had before. But, alas! it was nothing like that religion which Christ and his apostles lived and taught."(18:213) Traditional mysticism is a-Christological, and therefore, according to a son of the Magisterial Reformation, not Christian at all.
Despite the foregoing I am convinced that a mystical dimension is to be found in Wesley's groping after adequate theological expression where he and the mystics knew language to be forever inadequate: an acquaintance with God so intimate and intense, exquisite and abysmal that the heart apprehends what the head fails to comprehend or communicate. One thinks of the hymn-line of Albert Orsborn, "The mind cannot show what the heart longs to know." When the heart moves from longing to know to knowing, the head still cannot "show" it. With respect to this aspect of the economy of faith Wesley consistently exhibited traits of mystical gold even as he continued to denounce mystical dross. We should not lose sight of the fact that eight of the fifty volumes in his Christian Library, which library he expected all Methodists to read, were written by Roman Catholic mystics of the Counter Reformation. To be sure Wesley edited these extensively, never hesitating to excise passages that he felt would point vulnerable pilgrims in the wrong direction. Still, in editing them, he most certainly recommended them. He published the Christian Library between 1749 and 1757, and included in it extracts from Macarius, Fenelon, Pascal, Brother Lawrence, D'Avila, Lopez, Bourignon, and Molina.
Then why did he speak so harshly of mysticism? What was the dross he repudiated?
 Mysticism spoke characteristically of union with God where it should have spoken of communion with God. Any suggestion that the creature is absorbed into the deity, the creature losing its essence as creaturely and taking on the essence of the divine, is to be abhorred as unbiblical. (Needless to say, it could always be argued that the mystics did not mean this either, even though they might be criticized for inaccurate and infelicitous articulation.
 Mysticism undervalued original sin. The mystics were then too close to regarding faith, or at least the capacity for faith or the desire for faith, as a natural human possibility.
 Mysticism said much about the "dark night of the soul", the spiritual desolation that Christians undergo as God withdraws himself from them. Wesley maintained characteristically that the "dark night" occurred on account of sin: "the most usual cause of inward darkness is sin of one kind or another."(2:208) Sin alone beclouds believers' sense of God's presence. Here Wesley appears one-sided. While sin does as much, scripture speaks frequently of God's withdrawing himself, as it were, hiding himself in order to discipline his people or refine or strengthen them.
 Mysticism, with its "Spirit-immediacy" (i.e., underemphasis on the Mediator), was always in danger of combining such immediacy with works-righteousness. Wesley looked askance at what he regarded as the mystics' pitfall, always emphasizing for himself the biblical and Reformation affirmation of justification by faith.
 Mysticism tended to speak too little of the atonement. The mystics, concerned as they were with indescribable intimacy with God, had apparently overlooked the fact that sinners cannot be united with the holy God at all unless God acts in his unique freedom and grace to make himself and his estranged creation at one.
Despite the dross of the mystics, Wesley plainly cherished their gold.
 Their all-consuming preoccupation with God. For the mystics God is not a hobby, not an experiment, not an add-on in life, not the object of speculation. However abstract their work may appear to others, the mystics testify of God as concrete and of spiritual experience as real as sense-experience. God is their environment as surely as water is the environment of fish. For the most part it is not so much that mystics are aware of living in God as that they cannot understand not living in God -- unless the dark night appears with a torment that is foreign to the spiritually shallow. In view of the mystics' being lost in God, it is not surprising that their writing reflects the passion of God impassioning them. (See Pascal's, "Not the God of the philosophers but of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.... Fire! Fire! Fire!" Compare this with the Wesleyan hymns, quoted in Plain Account, that speak of "flames", etc.)
 Their heart-experience. While Wesley resolutely resisted enthusiasm (the elevation of experience above scripture), always wanting Methodism to avoid even the hint of fanaticism, he also opposed formalism in equal measure. Formalism was the spiritual inertia of orthodox sterility. Formalism's doctrinal articulation of Truth was unexceptionable at the same time that its evidence of transformation at the hands of the Spirit of Truth was unavailable. The mystics knew that while theological correctness is necessary, it is never sufficient: a doctrine-stocked head does not guarantee a Spirit-infused heart. Academic sophistication is categorically different from spiritual intimacy. Wesley maintained we are to be so close to God, "so nigh as to be one spirit with him. And this is true perfection."(Notes, Heb. 7:19)
Here Wesley was surely reflecting the mystical element in the experience of God vouchsafed to many biblical personages. How else can we speak of Elijah's experience of earthquake, wind, fire, and finally the still, small voice? How else of Elisha's "entire" desire of a double portion of Elijah's spirit? Not even Ezekiel's vocabulary can do justice to Ezekiel's Spirit-fired psychedelic drama! What besides mystical could be said of Isaiah's prostration in the temple amidst smoking pillars and shouting seraphim and red-hot coals searing his lips (even as other worshippers yawned, wondering when the service was going to end)? Is it not natural for "such an intercourse between God and the soul"(11:53) to end in the orgasmic?
And then there is the apostle Paul. He matter-of-factly tells us he was "caught up to the third heaven...and this man heard things that cannot be told, which no one may utter." The third heaven was an ancient way of speaking of the most intimate, most intense, most vivid presence of God. Three years before he was caught up to the third heaven he had been crumbled at the hand of God on his way to Damascus. In addition Paul had had a vision of the man from Macedonia who had pleaded with Paul to go there with the gospel. In addition to the Macedonian episode Paul had fallen into a trance while praying in the Jerusalem temple, and while in the trance had been told to get out of Jerusalem.
Two crucial points must be made here. (i) Paul never makes his mystical encounters the substance of his preaching. He expounds only "the word of the cross." (ii) He never undervalues, denies, or dismisses such encounters. They were immensely important to him. Apart from the Damascus road encounter he would still be harassing followers of the Way! Had he regarded his "may not be uttered" engagements with God as insignificant, he would have avoided referring to them. Obviously he thought his readers should hear of them.
I am convinced that Wesley's perfection has close affinities with the foregoing. The doctrine is one thing (and not difficult to criticize, since Wesley often inelegantly and inconsistently attempts to utter "what may not be uttered"); different and distinct is the experience of whole-soulled, self-oblivious, horizon-filling, heart-drenching love. An encounter with God that cuts one loose from the clutches, but not the claim, of the earth; the Spirit-filled aspiration to move so deeply into the heart of God as not to think of finding one's way back out; the intimacy and immediacy and intensity of beholding the deepest hues of one's depravity and the pardon of God's sin-bleaching love as one is ravished by the flames of a love that scorches and saves in the same instant; to be taken out of oneself (the classical meaning of "ecstasy" -- ek stasis); to find one's integration as a by-product of a contemplation that eclipses anxieties about integration, frustration, material deprivation, bodily hardship; to be apprehended by the incomprehensible in such wise as to live where doctrine is but the crystallized exhaust fumes of that explosive fire which cremates "this body of death"; this is what Wesley is pointing to at the same time that, like Paul, he never substitutes it for "the word of the cross."
 Their concern for spiritual discipline. "Methodist" was originally an epithet, but not an undeserved epithet. Spiritual discipline was a major concern of Wesley's both before and after Aldersgate. Conversion, it must be remembered, redirects one's personality; it does not turn one into a disparate personality (surely a sign of psychosis.) Wesley repudiated vehemently the Moravian practice of stillness. Relentless immersion in scripture, prayer, fasting, frequent attendance at the eucharist, accountability to others through the meetings of class and band, sacrificial service on behalf of the needy; all such rigours were essential to spiritual vigour.
 Their self-renunciation. Wesley admired the mystics in this regard. For years he remained perplexed as to why Methodists began with spiritual ardour only to suspire in a spiritual somnolence from which they needed to be awakened. He could only conclude that the gospel generated a discipleship which, because not yet sin-free, repudiated one expression of depravity, vulgarity, only to accommodate another: spiritual indifference born of refinement. As people came to faith, with its attendant sobriety, industry and thrift, their economic fortunes rose. Simultaneously their affluence caused their ardour, and therefore their self-renunciation, to abate. Their swelling savings account meant social superiority, which in turn accustomed them to a life of relative ease. Wesley, nearly frantic now, penned tract after tract. No matter; his newly-affluent people were no longer willing to endure cold, heat, hardship, persecution, deprivation, all of which they had embraced cheerfully when poor. The mystics modelled a self-renunciation for Wesley that he continued to covet for his people.
 Their aspiration to holy living. While Wesley was undoubtedly a son of the Reformation (after Aldersgate he always insisted on the primacy of justification by faith), there were aspects of the eastern church that he preferred to the western (both Roman and Reformed). One such aspect was the east's characteristic understanding of salvation therapeutically rather than juridically. Simply put, the eastern church characteristically emphasizes transformation rather than transaction. While Roman and Reformed traditions underline the work of Christ in terms of transaction, without, of course, denying transformation, Wesley preferred to underline transformation, without, of course, denying transaction. Paramount for Wesley was the difference Jesus Christ effects in his people. This motif is found everywhere in Wesley's works. In his The Duty of Constant Communion he warns readers against those who claim to know themselves pardoned of the guilt of sin while not yet delivered from the power of sin. It is our deliverance, he insists, that confirms our pardon! (3:429)
In addition, Wesley saw around him the wreckage of antinomianism, and never failed to distance himself from it. He anathematized lawlessness, utter lack of restraint, indifference to God's claim upon our obedience. Holy living was the sign of a holy people, and a conscientiously, intentionally holy people was the reason God had raised up the Methodists, he believed. The doctrine of sanctification was "the grand deposit" that God had entrusted with Methodism.
All of the foregoing is gathered up in the mystics' aspiration to perfection, that singleminded pursuit of self-forgetful love of God and humankind. With his Anglican insistence on "that we may perfectly love Thee", Wesley, in typical Anglican fashion, highlighted so many strengths of the church catholic: the Patristic note of entire sanctification, the Magisterial Reformation's insistence on the "hinge" of justification as well as its equally strong insistence on the distinction between justification and sanctification, the Radical Reformation's urgency concerning detachment from material distractions, the Puritans' esteem of the Law lest sin be reduced to the merely regrettable, the mystics' recognition of the place of extra-material renunciation, with all of this comprehended in "the fundamental doctrine of the Church, namely, salvation by faith."(11:82)
To be sure, brothers John and Charles disagreed on what should be denoted by "perfection." John felt Charles pitched it so high as to render it unattainable. Charles insisted that a perfection that was less than perfectus was no perfection at all. John, on the other hand, knew that believers would continue to hunger for deliverance from this or that sin only if they knew there was deliverance from any sin. And since it was not the prerogative of Christians to set limits to the incursion and efficacy of grace in this life, then why not deliverance from all sin? Charles, disgusted at the overstatements of those whose zeal submerged wisdom, could only bemoan "our darkest ignorance of pride" and decry,
John, however, saw that either Methodism risked what Charles deplored or Methodism settled for that fecklessness which had already appeared in those fellowships whose complacency allowed them an offhand accommodation of simul...totus.
When you prayed it," asked Wesley, "did you mean it?"
Do we? Is there "anything more amiable than this? anything more desirable?"
In his recent book, Responsible Grace, Randy Maddox states that Wesley doesn't use "`will' to designate the human faculty of rational self-determination...rather, he equated the will with the affections." In the context of Wesley's hamartiology, Maddox speaks of "will -- i.e., our affectional nature", and later again, of "Wesley's identification of `'will' and `affection'." Since the nature of the will (the precise meaning of "voluntary") appears to be one of the more problematic aspects of Wesley's understanding of perfection, the relation of affect to will should be probed.
In The Image of God (1730) Wesley speaks of the Edenic "endowment" of understanding, and comments, "this comprehensive understanding was the least part of that image of God wherein man was originally made. Far greater and nobler was his second endowment, namely, a will equally perfect. It could not but be perfect while it followed the dictates of such an understanding. His affections were rational, even and regular." (4:294) Here Wesley appears to uphold the traditional distinctions among will, affect and understanding.
In his subsequent The Wisdom of Winning Souls (1731), Wesley stipulates that in seeking the conversion of someone we must first "strengthen his understanding", then move on to "regulating the affections." The head must be enlightened and the heart cleansed. "Otherwise, the disorder of the will again disorders the understanding, and perverseness of affection will cause an equal perverseness of judgment." (4:313) Again it appears that Wesley does not equate the will with the affections, even as Wesley does regard them as internally related: the impairment of any one of will, affect and understanding entails the impairment of the others.
Fifty years later, in The End of Christ's Coming (1781), Wesley speaks again of humankind's endowment: "he was endued also with a will, with various affections (which are only the will exerting itself in various ways) that he might love, desire and delight in that which is good; otherwise his understanding had been to no purpose." (2:474) Here Wesley speaks of affection in terms of will (not vice versa) yet without equating will and affection. In the same tract Wesley speaks of "liberty", without which "both the will and the understanding would have been useless. Indeed without liberty man had been so far from being a free agent that he could have been no agent at all." (2:475) Here Wesley mentions "will" in the conventional sense of "the capacity to act."
Months later Wesley penned On the Fall of Man (1782). Here he reiterates the fact that humankind was "endued with understanding, with a will, including various affections, and with liberty, a power of using them in a right or wrong manner, of choosing good or evil. Otherwise neither his understanding nor his will would have been to any purpose."(2:409) Once more Wesley speaks of understanding, will and affections without identifying any one in terms of another.
Opposing the notion that God acts irresistibly on humans, as God acted in fashioning the material creation, Wesley writes in The General Spread of the Gospel (1783), "He [i.e., the human creature] would no longer be a moral agent any more than the sun or the wind, as he would no longer be endued with liberty, a power of choosing or self-determination."(2:489) In On the Fall of Man, by "liberty" Wesley had meant the condition of exercising power, he now includes the power of choosing or self-determination. He can even use "liberty" as virtually synonymous with "will"; e.g., "...the understanding, the affections, and the liberty are essential to a moral agent."(2:489)
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