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Wesley, on Christian Perfection.


"Sammy, beware of the impetuosity of your temper! It may easily lead you awry. It may make you evil affected to the excellent ones of the earth. Don't expect propriety of speech from uneducated persons. The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities. I exact more from myself, and less from others. Go thou and do likewise! I am, with love to Nancy,

"Your ever affectionate friend and brother,

"Take nothing, absolutely nothing, at second hand."”1

The next contains an invitation to Mr. Furley to meet Wesley at the conference about to be held in Leeds, and treats on, what was then the great topic of the time, Christian perfection.

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DUBLIN, July 30, 1762. "DEAR SAMMY, 'If I am unanswered, then I am unanswerable.' Who can deny the consequence? By such an argument you carry all before you, and gain a complete victory. You put me in mind of the honest man, who cried out, while I was preaching, 'Quid est tibi nomen ?' and, upon my giving no answer, called out vehemently, 'I told you he did not understand Latin.'

"I do sometimes understand, though I do not answer. This is often the case between you and me. You love dispute, and I hate it. You have much time, and I have much work. Non sumus ergo pares. But if you will dispute the point with Nicholas Norton, he is your match. He has both leisure and love for the work.

"For me, I shall only once more state the case. There are forty or fifty people, who declare (and I can take their word, for I know them well), each for himself, ' God has enabled me to rejoice evermore, and to pray and give thanks without ceasing. I feel no pride, no anger, no desire, no unbelief, but pure love alone.' I ask, 'Do you then believe you have no further need of Christ, or His atoning blood?' Every one answers, 'I never felt my want of Christ so deeply as I do now.' But you think : 'They cannot want the merit of His death, if they are saved from sin.' They think otherwise. They know and feel the contrary, whether they can explain it, or no. There is not one, either in this city, or in this kingdom, who does not agree in this. "Here is a plain fact. You may dispute, reason, cavil about it, just as long as you please. Meantime, I know, by all manner of proof, that these are the happiest and holiest people in the kingdom. Their light shines before men. They have the mind that was in Christ, and walk as Christ also walked. And shall I cease to rejoice over these holy, happy men, because they mistake in their judgment? If they do, I would to God you and I and all mankind were under the same mistake; provided

Methodist Magazine, 1865, p. 985.

1762 Age 59


Age 59

we had the same faith, the same love, and the same inward and outward holiness!

"I am, dear Sammy, yours affectionately,


"Will you not meet us at Leeds on the 10th of August ?”1

The next two letters were both written on the same day: the first being addressed to Mr. Furley, the second to his sister.

"ST. IVES, September 15, 1762. “DEAR SIR,—I have entirely lost my taste for controversy. I have lost my readiness in disputing; and I take this to be a providential discharge from it. All I can now do, with a clear conscience, is, not to enter into a formal controversy about the new birth, or justification by faith, any more than Christian perfection, but simply to declare my judgment; and to explain myself as clearly as I can upon any difficulty that may arise out of it.

"I still say, and without any self contradiction, I know no persons living, who are so deeply conscious of their needing Christ, both as prophet, priest, and king, as those who believe themselves, and whom I believe, to be cleansed from all sin; I mean, from all pride, anger, evil desire, idolatry, and unbelief. These very persons feel more than ever their own ignorance, littleness of grace, coming short of the full mind that was in Christ, and walking less accurately than they might have done after their Divine Pattern; are more convinced of the insufficiency of all they are, have, or do, to bear the eye of God without a Mediator.

"If Mr. Mor you say, 'that coming short is sin'; be it so, I contend not. But still I say, 'These are they whom I believe to be scripturally perfect.' If in saying this, I have 'fully given up the point,' what would you have more? Is it not enough that I leave you to 'boast your superior power against the little, weak shifts of baffled error?' 'Canst thou not be content,' as the quaker said, 'to lay J. W. on his back, but thou must tread his guts out ?'

"O let you and I go on to perfection! God grant we may so run as to attain !

"I am your affectionate friend and brother,

"ST. IVES, September 15, 1762.

"MY DEAR SISTER,-Certainly sanctification, in the proper sense, is 'an instantaneous deliverance from all sin'; and includes 'an instantaneous power, then given, always to cleave to God.' Yet this sanctification (at least in the lower degrees) does not include a power never to think a

1 Methodist Magazine, 1856, p. 988.

* Wesley's Works, vol. xii., p. 342.

Wesley, on Christian Perfection.


useless thought, nor ever speak a useless word. I myself believe, that
such a perfection is inconsistent with living in a corruptible body; for
this makes it impossible 'always to think right.' While we breathe, we
shall, more or less, mistake. If, therefore, Christian perfection implies
this, we must not expect it till after death.
"I want you to be all love. This is the perfection I believe and teach.
And this perfection is consistent with a thousand nervous disorders, which
that high strained perfection is not. Indeed, my judgment is that, in this
case particularly, to overdo is to undo; and, that to set perfection too
high (so high as no man that we ever heard or read of attained)
is the most effectual, because unsuspected, way of driving it out of
the world. Take care you are not hurt by anything in the Short
Hymns,' contrary to the doctrines you have long received. Peace be
with your spirit!

"I am your affectionate brother,

"JOHN WESLEY.” 1 We add one more letter, addressed to Mr. Furley, on this momentous subject.

BRISTOL, October 13, 1762.

"MY DEAR BROTHER,-As to this particular question, I believe I am able to answer every objection which can be made; but I am not able to do it without expending much time, which may be better employed. For this reason, I am persuaded it is so far from being my duty to enter into a formal controversy about it, that it would be a wilful sin; it would be employing my short residue of life in a less profitable way than it may be employed.

"The proposition which I hold is this: A person may be cleansed from all sinful tempers, and yet need the atoning blood. For what? For negligences and ignorances; for both words and actions, as well as omissions, which are, in a sense, transgressions of the perfect law. And I belive no one is clear of these, till he lays down this corruptible body.

"Now, Sammy, dropping the point of contradiction, tell me simply what you would have more. Do you believe, that evil tempers remain till death? All, or some? If some only, which? I love truth wherever I find it; so if you can help me to a little more of it, you will oblige, "Dear Sammy, yours, etc., "JOHN WESLEY." 2

Two other letters, belonging to this period, will be welcome. Both refer to the excitement in London concerning Christian perfection, and both were addressed to his brother Charles. "LONDON, December 11, 1762. "DEAR BROTHER,-For eighteen or twenty days, I have heard with

1 Wesley's Works, vol. xii., p. 193.
2 Methodist Magazine, 1783, p. 108.


Age 59


Age 59

both ears, but rarely opened my mouth. I think I now understand the affair, at least as well as any person in England.

"The sum is this: 1. The meeting in Beech Lane, before I came to town, was like a bear garden; full of noise, brawling, cursing, swearing, blasphemy, and confusion. 2. Those who prayed were partly the occasion of this, by their horrid screaming, and unscriptural, enthusiastic expressions. 3. Being determined either to mend them or end them, I removed the meeting to the Foundery. 4. Immediately, the noise, brawling, cursing, swearing, blasphemy, and confusion ceased. 5. There was less and less screaming, and less unscriptural and enthusiastic language. 6. Examining the society, I found about threescore persons who had been convinced of sin, and near fourscore who were justified, at those meetings. So that, on the whole, they have done some hurt, and much good. I trust, they will now do more good, and no hurt at all. Seven persons had left the society on this account; but four of them are come back already.

"I bought the ground before Kingswood school of Margaret Ward, and paid for it with my own money. Certainly, therefore, I have a right to employ it as I please. What can any reasonable man say to the contrary?

"I have answered the bishop, and had advice upon my answer. If the devil owes him a shame, he will reply. He is a man of sense; but I verily think he does not understand Greek! Adieu !


"LONDON, December 23, 1762.

"DEAR BROTHER,-This is too critical a time for me to be out of London.

"I believe several in London have imagined themselves saved from sin 'upon the word of others'; and these are easily known. For that work does not stand; such imaginations soon vanish away. Some of these, and two or three others, are still wild. But the matter does not stick here. I could play with all these, if Thomas Maxfield were right. He is mali caput et fons; so inimitably wrong headed, and so absolutely unconvincible; and yet (what is exceeding strange) God continues to bless his labours.

"My kind love to Sally. I shall soon try your patience with a long letter. Adieu !


The bishop, referred to in one of the above letters, was Warburton, bishop of Gloucester; but, as Wesley's answer was not published till the beginning of 1763, we defer any further notice of this furious episcopal onslaught upon Wesley and his friends.

Other publications, however, must be mentioned. The

1 Wesley's Works, vol. xii., p. 115.

2 Ibid. p. 116.


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following was an octavo shilling pamphlet, which originated 1762 in a dispute in the London Chronicle: "Presbyters and Age 59 Deacons not commissioned to preach without the Bishop's Allowance. A Discourse addressed to a certain Methodist Clergyman." The title suggests the substance of this bigoted performance.

Another harmless missile, hurled at the poor Methodists, was by the renowned translator of Plutarch's Lives, now a young curate in the county of Essex: "Letters on Religious Retirement, Melancholy, and Enthusiasm. By John Langhorne." 8vo, 87 pages. Dedicated to the Bishop of Gloucester. The worst thing said of Methodism is, that, though averse to popery, it holds one of its worst doctrines, namely, a pretence to plenary inspiration; and, that all the difference between the two systems is that, instead of one pope, the Methodists "find a thousand in their ignorant teachers, whom they consider as so many gods, and whose crude and undigested preachments they regard as oracles.”

A third, and infinitely worse production, was a small halfcrown octavo, with the title, "A plain and easy Road to the Land of Bliss; a Turnpike set up by Mr. Orator." The Monthly Review (no friend to Methodism) remarks concerning this miserable book: "It is a dull and indecent satire on the Methodists, in imitation, as its author imagines, of the celebrated Tale of a Tub, which it resembles in no respect whatever. It is not only contemptible for its stupidity; but in itself is a filthy, obscene thing, for which its writer ought to be washed in a horsepond."1

A fourth was the following: "A Specimen of Preaching, as practised among the People called Methodists. By J. Helme." A number of phrases, said to be used by the Methodists, are here strung together, in the shape of a sermon, founded upon the text, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" Helme expresses the opinion, that the jesuits and other emissaries of the Church of Rome are at the bottom of the Methodist "schemes of nonsense and delusion"; and that "the manner in which the fanatics take upon themselves to treat the sublime truths of Christianity cannot fail

1 Monthly Review, 1762.

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