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as excluded involuntary transgressions resulting from ignorance, and inseparable from mortality.74 And with this Wesley maintained that Christians were perfect in that they committed no sin. Even though the apostles committed sin, yet it was not necessary for people of Wesley's day to do the same.75
Wesley's treatment of this doctrine of Christian perfection was not clear either to those who came after him or to the people of his own day. Stevens, a most thorough Methodist historian, sought to clear things up by explaining, “Perfection, as defined by Wesley, is not then perfection, according to the absolute moral law: it is what he calls it, Christian Perfection : perfection according to the new moral economy introduced by the atonement, in which the heart being sanctified, fulfills the law by love, and its involuntary imperfections are provided for, by that economy, without imputation of guilt, as in the case of infancy and all irresponsible persons.
Many theologians of Wesley's day did not distinguish between moral perfection and Christian perfection. The very term “perfection" as used in connection with this doctrine added to the confusion, while the Churchmen outside listened with no kind ear to the Methodists as they claimed to do the will of God here on earth as it was done in heaven; and as they claimed to be incapable of sin. They saw the Methodists to have the same human faults as themselves and so were inclined, in their misunderstanding, to look upon all Methodists claiming perfection as being hypocrites. The criticism was sharp. Rev. John Hampson, formerly a member of the Methodist Conference himself, said that perfection was no part of the possession of the primitive Christians. They made no distinction between com-mon and perfect believers.77 Hampson even asserted that Wes-ley "never could be persuaded to profess perfection himself,” and that many of his preachers and people did not believe a syllable of the doctrine. And then very facetiously, he remarked
** Ibid., vol. ii, p. 168.
Ibid., vol. vi, p. 489ff.
Stevens: Hist. of Meth. vol. ii, p. 412.
that “the advocates of perfection are not the most amiable people in Mr. Wesley's societies.”78
Bishop Lavington was not so gentle with this doctrine, calling it “that summit of arrogance, a claim of unsinning perfection.”79 Evans, a clerical writer against the Methodists, thought that the Methodists were a long way from the perfection which they claimed, for they were capable of sin and did commit
Wesley based his doctrine of perfection upon Scripture: “According to this apostle [Peter] then; perfection is another name for universal holiness; inward and outward righteousness; holiness of life, arising from holiness of heart.”81 He bluntly said, “In conformity, therefore, both to the doctrine of Saint John and the whole tenor of the New Testament, we fix this conclusion; A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin."82
It is here that Wesley's confusion is explained. He relied upon the apostle John for his doctrine. Now Saint John's teaching is not always consistent on this subject. John says that he that is born of God “sinneth not.” He also clearly states that "whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him."83 John here declares, that true Christians do not sin. And yet on the other hand, he assumes that men do sin, for he provides "an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous,” and goes on to add, one is of the devil if he loves not his brother, and is doomed to destruction; because eternal life does not abide in him. 84 Thus we have a Scriptural contradiction which in our day explains the matter a little more clearly. But in Wesley's day, no orthodox person would admit that one Scripture could contradict another. It did not enter into the thinking of Christians. When Wesley said that his doctrine of perfection was Scriptural, he was quite correct. But being correct did not take away from the doctrine any of its inconsistencies or vague
ness, when one realized that it was based upon a Scriptural contradiction. The doctrine presents an ideal on the one hand, and faces an actual experience in life on the other; hence its difficulty in making itself acceptable or understood.
Misunderstandings of this doctrine existed all through Wesley's life. In London, this doctrine ran to extremes. Fitchett lays the wild actions of Bell and Maxfield to it.85 S. Parkes Cadman is of the opinion that Maxfield professed entire sanctification, and hysterical delusions resulted from it. 86
In conclusion, one should note that Wesley never claimed perfection, that the doctrine has always caused misunderstanding and debate from the time it was first put forth until this day. Cadman seems to be within the bounds of facts when he says, "In spite of his avowals, many devout Methodists have held that while these higher levels are divinely authorized, they are not always humanly possible."87
SECTION V. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT Aside from the doctrines that were concerned in the Methodist scheme of salvation, such as have just been treated, there were other doctrines which gave trouble to the clergy. Among these was the doctrine of the "witness of the Spirit.”
The doctrine of the “witness of the Spirit," and the doctrine of "assurance," which is a corollary to it, were treated in a modified form by Thomas Aquinas. He taught that one could ascertain whether or not one was the subject of divine grace by direct revelation from God, by one's self, by various indications. But he felt that "various indications" and "one's self" were uncertain means to this knowledge, and that direct revelation from God was very uncommon.
This was practically saying that one could not know whether he had attained unto salvation or not. Luther, on the other hand, denounced the notion that the believer in Christ must remain uncertain as to whether or not he was in a state of grace or sure of salvation. Calvin, too, gave a place to this doctrine in the Reformed Church. He
Life of Wesley, p. 362.
linked the doctrine of religious certainty closely to his doctrine of election. Those who were elect did enjoy the knowledge of this election, and so had an assurance of salvation. The “witness of the Spirit” took on a more mystical color with the Quakers in connection with their doctrine of “the Inner Light.” This “light” was the witness of God within one's self; a reliable messenger telling the believer whether or not he was saved. This doctrine, therefore, was not peculiar to the Methodists; but they gave it a new life by asserting that it was "the common privilege of all believers,") and not something experienced by one man alone.88 It was the instrument to test the validity of the whole plan of salvation: “God telling us that we are right in his sight.” Every Methodist was exhorted to listen to the divine voice and to make sure that he had its approving word in his heart. 89
From this doctrine of the witness of the Spirit, logically came the Methodist doctrine of "assurance." Assurance simply taught the Methodist that since he had received the experience of justification, regeneration, and perhaps sanctification, he might be sure of salvation; indeed, this doctrine had for its purpose, the assurance of salvation to the individual. It was the formal
way of expressing the conviction which every man going through the religious experience of the Methodist type had, namely, the conviction that all was well between his God and himself.
This doctrine was attacked by many of the clergy of the Church on these grounds: The Methodist taught that a man might be in a state of salvation now, and know himself to be so. In this their thoughtful opponents agreed with them. But when the Methodist added that a man might be sure of his ultimate salvation, he was asked how this could be in view of the possibility of his falling into sin. This distinction was made between what was termed present assurance and future assurance. 90 The clergy had no sympathy with anything that seemed to them to
** J. G. Tasker: Christian Certainty, in Hastings' Ency. of Rel. and Ethics, vol. iii, p. 325ff.
89 Stevens: vol. ii, p. 415.
resemble the Calvinist doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints." Yet the Methodists were more opposed to this doctrine as set forth in the Canons of Dort than many of the Churchmen. The Methodists rejected any idea savoring of the Calvinist doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints," while the Church left this question an open one.91 The attack by the clergy, however, continued.
One, in disgust with this doctrine, declared it was presumptuous for the Methodist to claim the certainty of salvation, for it filled the head with spiritual pride. 92 Another was quite incensed and called the doctrine unspiritual, quoting Saint Paul for his authority. Paul had said that we were to be saved through hope, that we were to walk by faith and not by sight; and here were these Methodists who had an assurance of the whole affair. 93 Still another said that when Paul was converted, he still continued to call himself the chief of sinners and was none too sure of his salvation; but with the Methodists "the thing is absolutely secure."94
Thus in this doctrine there was misunderstanding. The Methodists simply tried to phrase the conviction which they believed every saved man can and does have. The vagueness of Methodist statements of doctrine led the Churchman to read more into the phraseology of the doctrine than the Methodists put there; so he attacked it.
SECTION VI. THE EARLY METHODIST DOCTRINE OF THE
CHURCH Wesley defined the Church as "a congregation or body of people united together in the service of God.”95 More exactly he recorded : “The catholic or universal church, is all the persons in the universe, whom God hath so called out of the world, as to entitle them to the preceding character; as to be ‘one body,' united by ‘one spirit,' having ‘one faith, one hope, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is above all, and through all,
91 C. A. Beckwith: New Schaff-Herzog Ency., vol. viii, p. 470.