It is frequently asked, “Is the blessing of entire sanctification gradual, or is it instantaneous?” I answer, in three respects it is gradual, and in one only is it instantaneous. 1st. It is gradual from the fact that it begins in the moment of justification; and so long as the new convert is faithful, the work steadily advances in his soul, till he is sanctified entirely throughout soul, body, and spirit; and, 2d. So long as he continues faithful, there is no pause in his advancement to higher degrees of love and holiness, until he is released from this tabernacle of clay. This is what the apostle meant, I imagine, by “perfecting holiness.” 3d. Nor does the work pause in heaven; it is gradually progressive throughout eternity. In one respect only is entire sanctification instantaneous, the entire separation of sin from the soul. This must necessarily be in a moment, if the believer is purified before he enters eternity.
The argument may, therefore, be brought within a narrow compass; nor need brevity induce obscurity. If you admit the following simple propositions, a multiplicity of words will be avoided, as they frequently only darken counsel. 1st. That justification and ” entire sanctification” are two distinct blessings. 2d. That each is to be distinctly apprehended and received by faith. This you will not be inclined to doubt, if you have consulted Romans 5:1; Acts 26:18; and Acts 15:9. 3d. That justification implies the forgiveness of sins, and, consequently, deliverance in full from condemnation. Romans 8:1. 4th. That regeneration is inseparable from justification; and that this, in the nature of things, must include sanctification,– begun. 5th. That “entire sanctification,” such as that for which the apostle prays in I Thessalonians 5:23, is a full and unreserved consecration of the whole man to God and the entire conformation of every power of body, soul, and spirit, to the will and likeness of God. 6th. That this stands inseparably connected with a state of purity, such as is recognized in that exalted command, ” Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy;” and again, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfects;” such as that which is so beautifully expressed by St. John, “For every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure;” and upon which Christ himself pronounces that blessing, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” 7th. That, although incipient sanctification is coincident with justification, the entire cleansing of the soul from sin is usually an after-work. 8th. That each of these purchased blessings is received by faith.
Taking it, then, for granted, that, in each of the above points, we are agreed, I would inquire whether the sins of a believing penitent are pardoned gradually, that is, one by one, one now, and another then, or, en masse, altogether, and at once, that is instantaneously. If you affirm the latter, then no further argument is needed to prove that the blessing of “entire sanctification” is received instantaneously also, seeing that the instrumentality (faith) is the same, differing only in the object for which it is exercised; the penitent believing for pardon, the justified believer for purity. I know not that I can set the matter in any clearer light. If you discard one or more of the above primary propositions, the dependent inferences must, of course, fall to the ground. I would, then, proceed with the discussion upon other principles. I should certainly be led to insist that the doctrine of a gradual pardon, in behalf of a mourning penitent, is not found in the Bible, nor a gradual regeneration. But both, on conditions of repentance and faith, are promised there; and, therefore, if received at all, they must be instantaneous; therefore purification from indwelling sin must be instantaneous also.
It would not require much argument to prove that those Methodists who do not enjoy holiness, nor are pressing after its attainment, either have never been converted, or have fallen from a justified state; and further, that they are in peril of that threatening, “So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” You may consult at your leisure I John 3:1-3, especially the third verse.
Surely you must profess what God has wrought in your soul. But let it be on proper occasions, as the Spirit may direct; in what Mr. Fletcher calls a self abasing and Christ exalting spirit. But if, by exalting Christ, you may seem, in the estimation of others, to be exalting self, heed it not, trouble not yourself. Leave that to God. Receive the reproach with patient, cheerful, adoring love. Is it not written, “Them that honor me, I will honor”? In honoring the grace of your sanctifying Lord, he may put peculiar honor upon you, by enduing you with power so to confess his salvation, as to bring honor to his name, and to the doctrine of perfect love. But should it rather turn to your reproach, comfort your heart with these sweet words: “For unto you it is given,” as a token of peculiar favor, “not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Phil. 1:29. Perfect love, you must remember, always says, in all sorts of persecutions,
“Lord, I adore thy gracious will,
Through every instrument of ill,
My Father’s goodness see;
Accept the complicated wrong
Of Shimei’s hand, or Shimei’s tongue,
As kind rebukes from thee.”
If they despised perfection incarnate, shall you escape? If they spat upon the face of your Master, shall they be disinclined to offer contempt to his humble and faithful servant? If the head was crowned with thorns, the members need not expect a sprinkling of rosebuds. “As certainly as night follows day, so certainly will that black angel persecution follow holiness,” was the true remark of one now with God. But who ever blushed that he excelled in his profession? See to it, my dear brother, that you really excel; and remember that your obligations to be faithful multiply in the same proportion as you draw such “attentions” toward yourself. Mr. Fletcher tells us that the purified believer has the simplicity of the gentle dove, the patience of the laborious ox, the courage of the magnanimous lion, and the wisdom of the wary serpent, without any of its poison; — all the above catalogue of virtues you will need if you would profess and retain this blessing. Earth and hell are arrayed against holiness; therefore, expect the sharpest trials. But do not forget that holiness must have appended to it some distinguished privileges, as a “set-off” to its sacrifices. Some of these glorious privileges you already realize; you must die to know the rest.
A good man once said to an antagonist of his, “It is easier to raise a dust than to answer an argument.” Of the former, there is no deficiency among the enemies of present holiness. I shall use the “besom” of another to sweep away part of it; and after that, may possibly lay the rest with a sprinkling of “the waters of the sanctuary.” Travelers inform us that vegetation is so quick and powerful in some climates that the seeds of some vegetables yield a salad in less than twenty-four hours. Should a northern philosopher say, impossible, and should an English gardener exclaim against such mushroom salad, they would only expose their prejudices, as do those who deny instantaneous justification, or mock at the possibility of the instantaneous destruction of indwelling sin. It has been asked, “Is not a total death to sin the argument of the apostle, in the sixth chapter to the Romans?” Certainly. “Is not dying a gradual process?” Not always. Some die in a moment. When I was in the city of Cork, some time since, a man fell from the third story of a building; a quiver was all; he was in eternity in a moment. A short time ago, in a town where I was holding special services, a man in good health, while standing at the door of a hotel, dropped down dead in a moment. John the Baptist, St. James, and St. Paul, were all beheaded; and this was the work but of a moment. What, then, becomes of the gradual process, in such cases; and they are very numerous? But is the term gradual, in the sense you mean, in any case strictly correct? The sick man may, indeed, be gradually approaching death; but he is not dead until his soul is separated from the body; and this takes place in a single instant of time. There is a last moment, we all allow, when the soul still holds its possession of the body, and a first moment when the body is “tenantless” of the immortal guest. It is clear, then, that death is instantaneous, although the approach to it is gradual. You must, therefore, perceive that the argument is good for nothing; it is, in fact, “worse than nothing,” in reference to the question.
The apostle, in the sixth of Romans, speaks of some, and of himself among the rest, who had experienced a total death to sin; and inquires, “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” A last moment there was, in the history of these believers, when they were not dead to sin. There was a first moment when they were as dead to sin as the body is dead when the soul is separated from it. “If sin cease before death,” says Mr. Wesley, “it must, in the nature of the case, be instantaneous. There must be a last moment when sin exists in the soul, and a first moment when it does not exist.” But all this, you will perceive, does not preclude the gradual work. From the instant that the penitent sinner is justified does the gradual work of mortification to sin make progress in his soul. But, as in the case of the dying person already alluded to, he gradually approaches nearer and nearer the hour of deliverance; an instant arrives when “cruel sin subsists no more.” So true is that fine sentiment of some writer, “The work of purification is gradual in preparation, but instantaneous in reception; and the more earnestly we long for this unspeakable blessing, the more swiftly the preparation increases.”
It may be said, “If there is not some unavoidable necessity for the gradual destruction of sin in our nature, why is it that God does not at once accomplish that for us which none but himself can?” There is an error couched in the above question which evidently embarrasses your judgment. The postponement of the destruction of sin does not arise from any indisposition on the part of God; nor, I may add, from any unalterable and insurmountable law of our nature which necessitates a gradual death to sin; but simply from the want of faith on the part of the Christian himself. Faith is the condition: “Purifying their hearts by faith.” Acts 15:9. The blessing is given in the moment that he believes; but it is always withheld in the absence of faith. Why this is so, is not now the question. I only state a scriptural fact; and one that never fails in Christian experience. We know that the tides of the ocean follow the progress of the waxing and waning moon but by what secret springs of nature the phenomenon is produced, or why God has suspended these fluctuations upon a law like that of gravitation, the wisest are unable to determine.
Our Lord expressly declares, “What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 11:24. This is directly to the point. Faith has never been better defined than in this glorious promise. It is here presented stripped of all obscurity. He that can trust in Christ’s veracity, as he does in his divinity, can have no difficulty here in believing for a clean heart. Here we have, 1st, Desire, as a qualification. When this is sincere, as desire generally is, it brings every qualification necessary. 2d. Prayer, as a means. 3d. A believing reception of the things prayed for: “Believe that ye receive.” 4th. The confidence of faith honored: “And ye shall have them.” The promise is conditional. When the conditions are fulfilled, it is absolute. The hardness of the heart, or want of feeling, can be no obstacle, so long as the person consciously desires, fervently prays, and believingly persists in the confidence: “I DO RECEIVE.” In that instant the remarkable promise in the thirty-sixth chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled in the soul: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” The sentiment of Dr. Clarke is worthy of your attention: “We are to come to God for an instantaneous and complete purification from all sin, as for instantaneous pardon. In no part of the scriptures are we directed to seek remission of sins seriatim — one now, and another then, and so on. Neither in any part are we directed to seek holiness by gradation. Neither a gradation pardon, nor a gradation purification, exists in the Bible.”
This is true. The penitent sinner, who is sincerely seeking salvation, approaches nearer and nearer to pardon; but when that pardon takes place, it is instantaneous. There must, if he receive forgiveness at all, be a last moment when he is unforgiven, and a first when he is forgiven. A believer, also, so long as he is faithful to the grace of God, gradually dies to sin; but if a total death to sin occur in this life, it must necessarily be instantaneous. If there was a last and a first moment with regard to his justification, there must he a last moment and a first with regard to his purification.
When turning over some of my papers today, I happened to find a few valuable remarks which I copied some years ago, from the writings of the Rev. John Fletcher. I shall do myself the pleasure of copying them for your consideration, as I do not remember the particular page of his Works to which I could direct you to find them. I pray they may be rendered a blessing to you. Amen! “For where is the absurdity of this doctrine? If the light of a candle, brought into a dark room, can instantly expel the darkness; and if, upon opening the shutters at noon, your gloomy apartment can be instantly filled with meridian light, why might not the instantaneous rending of the veil of unbelief, or the sudden and full opening of the eye of faith, instantly fill your soul with the light of truth and the fire of love, supposing the Sun of Righteousness arise upon you with healing in his wings? May not the Sanctifier descend upon your waiting soul as quickly as the Spirit descended upon your Lord at his baptism? Did it not descend as a dove; that is, with the soft motion of a dove, which swiftly shoots down and instantly alights? A good man said once, ‘A mote is little when compared with the sun, but I am far less before God.’ Alluding to this comparison, I ask if the sun could instantly kindle a mote, — nay, if a burning glass can in a moment calcine a bone, and turn a stone to lime; and if the dim flame of a candle can, in the twinkling of an eye, destroy the flying insect which comes within its sphere, — how unscriptural and irrational is it to suppose, that when God fully baptizes a soul with his sanctifying Spirit, and with the celestial fire of his love, he cannot, in an instant, destroy the man of sin, burn up the chaff of corruption, melt the heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and kindle the believing soul into pure seraphic love!”
The testimony of Mr. Wesley, also, to the point: “The separation of sin from the soul is constantly preceded and followed by a gradual work; but is that separation in itself instantaneous, or is it not? In examining this, let us go on step by step. An instantaneous change has been wrought in some believers; none can deny this. Since that change, they enjoy perfect love. They feel this, and this alone. They ‘rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.’ Now, this is all that I mean by perfection. Therefore, these are witnesses of the perfection which I preach. ‘But in some this change was not instantaneous.’ They did not perceive the instant when it was wrought. It is often difficult to perceive the instant when a man dies; yet there is an instant when 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. ‘But if they have this love, they will lose it.’ They may, but they need not. And whether they do or not, they have it now; they now experience what we teach. They now are all love; they now rejoice, and pray, and praise without ceasing. ‘However, sin is only suspended in them — it is not destroyed.’ Call it what you please, they are all love today, and they take no thought for the morrow.”
These arguments drawn from analogy are good and conclusive. We are not, however, wholly confined to that source for our proofs that it is instantaneous.
Not to dwell upon the important fact, that we are said, in the New Testament, to be purified by faith, as we are justified by faith, — a penitent sinner is pardoned, in a moment, by faith; but a believer is “sanctified by faith;” therefore he is purified in a moment. If the instrumentality be the same in both cases, so must the effects. It is to the commands of God, and to his promises, that we look for our warrant in saying, The work of purification must be instantaneous. A few of these will be as good as many. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Deut. 6:5 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Lev. 19:18. Both passages are prominently set forth by our Lord, in Matthew 22:37-40.”Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” Lev. 19:2. And in the succeeding chapter, — “Be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God.” And again in the following chapter, — “For I the Lord which sanctify you am holy.” To this end is that command of our Lord, in his sermon on the mount: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt. 6:48. The apostle St. John, perhaps, glanced at the holiness of God as necessitating ours, when he speaks of the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleansing from all sin the soul that walks in the light, as God is in the light. 1 John 1:7.
But can we, of our own will and power, love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might, and our neighbor as ourselves? or make ourselves perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? or purify and transform ourselves into the holiness of God? Surely not. Sooner may the leopard change his spots, the Ethiopian his skin. Sooner may we cleanse hell of devils. But the commandment has gone forth; ability to perform must come from some quarter. Who shall qualify us thus to love? Who shall make us thus holy, if we ourselves cannot? God himself will do it. The apostle refers the whole to him: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” 1 Thess 5;23-24. But does God desire us to be as holy and loving as he has commanded us to be? Yes, surely, for it is expressly declared, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” But is it possible we can be thus holy, and love God and our neighbor to such a degree? Certainly it is; else he had never commanded it. Does he expect, does he desire, instant obedience? Most surely; for [because], for God to command without the possibility of our obedience, or without any desire we should obey, is quite unworthy of the character of the supreme Governor of the universe. That one sentence, in the passage already quoted, is worth a volume. — “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Well, then, so surely as God has commanded our perfect love and perfect holiness; so surely as we cannot create within us such a gracious state; so certainly as God commands, and desires us to be holy, while none but himself can make us so; so certainly it is his pleasure that we should obey, and enter now into this state of perfect love and perfect purity; — so surely is the work of sin’s destruction, and heart purification, instantaneous.
But you will ask,”Why, then, is not sin immediately expelled from our nature? Why are we not instantly purified? How is, it that we do not at once love the Lord our God with all our heart?”
The reply is at hand: he has planned the method of our purification. We are free agents, and he has ordained that we shall be saved from all inward sin, as well as from all outward, by our own free will, consent, and co-operation. Hence we are commanded to believe that we receive, with a promise that we shall have appended to it. Santiified by faith, purifying their hearts by faith, are declarations which involve acts of our own; faith is our own act, not God’s. He does that for us which we cannot do for ourselves; but what we can do he will have us do, or leave us to bear the consequences of our disobedience. Do you understand me? I might quote numerous illustrations from common and every-day life; but shall leave you to supply yourself with facts which are passing constantly before your observation. What God requires of us, in order to our entire sanctification, is, it is true, very little; to desire purity, to pray for purity, and to believe that we receive it while we are praying for it. This is all. But then the little we can do must be done, or what he alone can do is left undone. It is, perhaps, just because it is so little that he requires of us, and not some mighty thing, that he holds with us, upon this point, so firmly.
The reader may say, “God often bestows upon faith and prayer more than was requested. The cases in Scripture are not a few where faith only contemplated one blessing, and yet clusters of blessings have been granted.” Very true. My own experience illustrates this. When I united with the Methodist people, I did not enjoy a satisfactory evidence that my sins were forgiven. This was my state during three or four years. During the above period, several gracious visitations of the Spirit were vouchsafed to my soul, and sometimes I felt happy; yet, in consequence of my not knowing the exact time and place of my conversion, together with a dimness of experience or perception, with regard to the witness of the Spirit, which, indeed, I did not at all understand, even doctrinally, I entertained a doubt, which was sometimes harassing, with regard to the safety of my soul. At length I determined to set out to seek a clear evidence of my adoption into the family of God. I did so; and, after a severe struggle, of more than a week’s continuance, the Lord revealed himself to my soul as a pardoning God, and gave me an evidence, such as till that time I had never realized, that God, for Christ’s sake, had blotted out all my transgressions. I was then enabled to rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything to give thanks.
The doctrine of entire sanctification I did not understand; indeed, it was seldom a pulpit topic in that part of America, — not discussed, I am sure, with convincing clearness. With the exception of a few conflicts, from those temptations which assail the most holy believer, I was generally happy. In consequence of being deficient in spiritual discernment, which unfitted me to distinguish between temptation and indwelling sin, I often imputed to the corruption of my nature that which arose simply from the effect of temptation upon my mind. Temptation is a subject of feeling, as well as indwelling sin.* [*True, but in a very different sense. Indwelling sin implies desire struggling for gratification. Temptation in a holy heart occasions a feeling of aversion towards the forbidden object which it is solicited to regard with favor. — (Daniel Wise, or Ralph Allen) — Editor] A temptation is not a temptation in reality, unless it is felt. How can we know that we are tempted, unless we feel it? How difficult is it, frequently to discriminate! I could not distinguish the difference. Like a blind man judging of colors, I could not form a proper judgment of the”hues and colorings” of my mental exercises, and so came to erroneous conclusions respecting them. Providence, however, favored me With the means of obtaining clearer light both as it regarded the doctrine itself; and my own experience. Circumstances, not necessary to mention, demanded I should reside in another part of the state. Here holiness of heart, and perfect love to God and man, were set forth with great clearness and power.
My attention was now awakened, and the doctrine became daily more and more interesting. I then began to investigate, and to obtain light from every source of information. 1st. By searching the Scriptures, which I read throughout upon my knees. 2nd. Mr. Wesley’s writings. 3d. The experience of those around me who affirmed that they enjoyed purity of heart. 4th. By observing closely the exercises of my own mind. The result was, a firm determination not to rest until I felt that the blood of Jesus Christ had cleansed me from all sin. I sought the blessing earnestly by day and by night. I fasted, prayed, and wept, and often entered into an agony of soul for the blessing. Months passed away without any other benefit than an increased spirituality of mind, accompanied by great tenderness of conscience. Sitting one day in a private room alone, reading Mr. Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection, a heavenly calm, with a consciousness of entire purity, over-spread my heart, and a light like day-dawn beamed upon my placid soul. I exclaimed, in sweet amaze, “Why, if this be Christian perfection, which Mr. Wesley describes, — if this be the true Scriptural view, — then I have it; I do enjoy this very thing. The blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed me!” In a moment it occurred to my mind, “It is not now I have received the blessing, but at that period in my past history when I obtained the witness of the Spirit to my adoption into the family of God, — then it was, God gave me more than I asked, — a clean heart. This which I begin now to enjoy must be the testimony of the Spirit, relative to purity.” 1 Cor. 2:12. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we night know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
I held the blessing for some weeks with a trembling hand, and confessed with a faltering tongue, in the assembly of the saints, what God had wrought in my soul. The more frequently I spoke of this great blessing, confessing it, and urging others to press after it, the clearer my evidence became, till I was
“Bold to declare my hallowing God
Hath wrought a perfect cure.”
Since then I have passed through many fiery trials and sore temptations; have frequently been unfaithful; and, through want of watchfulness, have been necessitated to come again and again to the cleansing blood; yet I have never had any reason to doubt, that when the Holy Ghost came to my heart as a witnessing Spirit, he came as a purifying Spirit also.
Such was my own experience. Permit me to say, that, allowing to this experience the most extensive application of which the case will admit, it only goes to illustrate what I have elsewhere admitted, that some have obtained entire purity in the moment of regeneration.
Allow me to comment a little upon my humble narrative, as, perhaps, I am the fittest person to remark upon the dealings of God with my own soul. Previously to that memorable occasion, when I obtained a clear sense of pardon, I had enjoyed many gracious visitations from on high. A defective education in theology had materially embarrassed my decisions respecting my religious state. That I was regenerated, and enjoyed the influence of the comforting Spirit on my heart, at the period in question, cannot now reasonably doubt. But I did not understand these things. Again and again I cast away my confidence and relapsed into a state of uncertainty. At length I determined upon having a particular time and place which I could specify in connection with the era of my conversion. There had been a camp-meeting a few miles off, which I attended. Many were saved during its continuance, and the fire spread into a neighboring village, near which I resided. Numbers of my acquaintances had been awakened, and saved from guilt and sin, in a remarkable manner; they were instantaneously converted. To my amazement, they could point to the precise time and place where they were born again. This troubled me. After various reasonings and conflicts, I formed a resolution never to rest until such a distinct era of this kind was realized in my own experience, so that another revival might not again throw me into confusion. This I therefore sought, with strong cries and tears. I sought salvation as if I never had enjoyed it, casting aside the entire of past experience, as good for nothing but self-abasement and deep humiliation before God. The Lord pitied my distressed mind, and, in great mercy to me, condescended to hear my cry, and saved me to the uttermost. “Blessings came in clusters” — more, indeed, than my ignorance or weakness of faith allowed me to ask; the witness of the Spirit, purity of heart, and perfect love, which cast out all tormenting fear. 1 John 4:18. I then obtained a clear starting point for “glory, honor, immortality, eternal life;” nor did I alter my course a single point, but steered straight onward for the port of glory. Like a sea captain, who has had his latitude and longitude confirmed by lunar observations, with the addition of a fairer and steadier breeze, and an increase of sail, and with greater certainty, consequently with a happier soul, I pursued my voyage, to the skies.
Other objections to this doctrine of instantaneous sanctification have been faithfully met and replied to by Mr. Fletcher. ‘Should you ask how many baptisms, or effusions of the sanctifying Spirit, are necessary to cleanse a believer from all sin, I reply, that the effect of a sanctifying truth depending upon the ardor of the faith by which that truth is embraced, and upon the power of the Spirit with which it is applied, I should betray a want of modesty, if I brought the operations of the Holy Ghost, and the energy of faith, under a rule which is not expressly laid down in the Scriptures. If you ask your physician how many doses of physic you must take before all the crudities of your stomach can be carried off, and your appetite perfectly restored, he would probably answer you, that this depends upon the nature of those crudities, the strength of the medicine, and the manner in which your constitution will allow it to operate; and that in general, you must repeat the dose, as you can bear, till the remedy has fully answered the desired end. I return a similar answer: If one powerful baptism of the Spirit seals you unto the day of redemption, and cleanses you from all (moral) filthiness, so much the better. If two, or more, are necessary, the Lord can repeat them; his arm is not shortened that it cannot save; nor is his promise of the Spirit stinted. He says, in general, ‘Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how muck more will your Heavenly Father’ [who is goodness itself] ‘give his Holy’ [sanctifying] ‘Spirit to them that ask him!’ I may, however, venture to say, in general, that, before we can rank among perfect Christians, we must receive so much of the truth and Spirit of Christ by faith, as to have the pure love of God and man shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us; and to be filled with the meek and lowly mind which was in Christ. And if one outpouring of the Spirit, one bright manifestation of the sanctifying truth, so empties us of self as to fill us with the mind of Christ, and with pure love, we are undoubtedly Christians in the full sense of the word.”
In the above, you have found, I trust, full and satisfactory answers to your questions. Proceed a little further, and see how this judicious divine meets your other objections: “From my soul, I therefore subscribe to the answer which a great divine makes to the following objection: ‘But some who are newly justified do come up to this (Christian perfection); what, then, will you say to these?’ Mr. Wesley replies, with great propriety, ‘If they really do, I will say they are sanctified, saved from all sin in that moment; and that they need never lose what God has given them, or feel sin any more. But, certainly, this is an exempt case. It is otherwise with the generality of those who are justified. They feel in themselves, more or less, pride, anger, self-will, and a heart bent to backsliding. And till they have gradually mortified these, they are not fully renewed in love. God usually gives a considerable time for men to receive light; to grow in grace, to do and suffer his will, before they are either justified or sanctified. But he does not invariably adhere to this. Sometimes he cuts short His work, He does the work of many years in a few weeks; perhaps in a week, a day, an hour. He justifies and sanctifies both those who have done or suffered nothing, and who have not had time for a gradual growth, either in light or grace. And may he not do what he will with his own? Is thine eye evil because he is good? It need not therefore be proved by forty texts of Scripture, either that most men are perfected in love at last, or that there is a gradual work of God in the soul; and that, generally speaking, it is a long time, even many years, before sin is destroyed. All this we know; but we know, likewise, that God may, with man’s good leave, cut short his work in whatever degree he pleases, and do the work of many years in a moment. He does so in many instances. And yet there is a gradual work, both before and after that moment. So that one may affirm the work is gradual, — another, it is instantaneous, — without any manner of contradiction.'”
Were I to add more, it would, perhaps, lessen the impression which the above sentiments are so well calculated to make. May God kindle the reader’s “spark of grace” to a flame, and augment his “drop of love” to a river, — an ocean!
By James Caughey