John WesleyThe Wesleyan Heritage Recovery Project
a ministry of the South Georgia Confessing Association


Entire Sanctification

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NKJV)

It was "the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up" [Works, Volume XIII, page 9]. John Wesley believed the doctrine of entire sanctification was Methodism's distinctive gift to Christianity. He called it "the great promise of God" [IV. 138], Christian perfection, holiness of heart and life.

But while sister denominations within our Wesleyan family continue to preach and teach this doctrine faithfully, it is rare that one hears it even mentioned, much less taught, in the United Methodist Church.

Entire sanctification remains a part of our doctrinal heritage due largely to the enduring influence of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church. Article XI of the EUB Confession of Faith, now part of the United Methodist Book of Discipline (para. 62), includes the following statement:

Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one's neighbor as one's self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.

Wesley believed that Christ's death on the cross made it possible not only for sinners to be saved by grace, but, indeed, for them to be saved to the uttermost. Entire sanctification was restoration to the image of God, being made perfect in love toward God and neighbor.

It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification; for a full salvation from all our sins, from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief; or, as the Apostle expresses it, "go on unto perfection." But what is perfection? The word has various senses: Here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul. It is love "rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in every thing giving thanks." [Sermon 43--The Scripture Way of Salvation]

"Well, but what more than this can be implied in entire sanctification?" It does not imply any new kind of holiness: Let no man imagine this. From the moment we are justified, till we give up our spirits to God, love is the fulfilling of the law; of the whole evangelical law, which took place of the Adamic law, when the first promise of "the seed of the woman" was made. Love is the sum of Christian sanctification; it is the one kind of holiness, which is found, only in various degrees, in the believers who are distinguished by St. John into "little children, young men, and fathers." The difference between one and the other properly lies in the degree of love. And herein there is as great a difference in the spiritual, as in the natural sense, between fathers, young men, and babes. [Sermon 83--On Patience]

Entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is neither more nor less than pure love; love expelling sin, and governing both the heart and life of a child of God. The Refiner's fire purges out all that is contrary to love, and that many times by a pleasing smart. Leave all this to Him that does all things well, and that loves you better than you do yourself. [Letters to Mr. Walter Churchey, of Brecon]

But how is one sanctified? Wesley often had to defend this doctrine against charges that he was preaching some form of works righteousness. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Entire sanctification was not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received. Like justification, sanctification is the gracious gift of God, received by faith.

I have continually testified in private and in public, that we are sanctified as well as justified by faith. And indeed the one of those great truths does exceedingly illustrate the other. Exactly as we are justified by faith, so are we sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of sanctification, exactly as it is of justification. It is the condition: None is sanctified but he that believes; without faith no man is sanctified. And it is the only condition: This alone is sufficient for sanctification. Every one that believes is sanctified, whatever else he has or has not. In other words, no man is sanctified till he believes: Every man when he believes is sanctified. [Sermon 43]

Wesley also maintained that he was preaching no new doctrine, but simply recovering an old doctrine which the Church had long forgotten. With evangelical zeal, Wesley and the early Methodists were obedient to the call of God "to spread Scriptural holiness over the land."

Today, the people called Methodists need to recover both the doctrine of entire sanctification and the fervor with which their forebears proclaimed it.

Compiled and edited by James Gibson, Pastor, Marshallville UMC