Methodism 105

One of the most distinctive things about John Wesley and the Methodists was their doctrine. Wesley emphasized the doctrine of prevenient grace, personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Holy Spirit and entire sanctification.

Prevenient Grace was the theological foundation of his belief that all persons were capable of being saved by faith in Christ. Unlike the Calvinists of his day, Wesley did not believe in predestination, that is, that some persons were chosen by God to be saved while others were chosen for damnation. He understood that Christian belief insisted that salvation was only possible by the sovereign grace of God. He expressed his understanding of humanity’s relationship to God as utter dependence upon God’s grace. God was at work to enable all people to be capable of coming to faith by empowering humans to have freedom to respond to God.

Wesley defined the Witness of the Spirit as: “an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God.” He based this belief on Romans 8:15-16:

15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

This belief was closely related to his belief that salvation had to be “personal.” Every person had to ultimately believe the Good News for themselves. No one could win salvation for another. 

In 1790, Wesley described Entire Sanctification the “grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called ‘Methodists’.” Wesley defined it as:

“That habitual disposition of soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit;’ and, by consequence, the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; the being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.” 

The term “sinless perfection” was one which Wesley avoided using because of its ambiguity, rather, he contended that a Christian could be made “perfect in love.” This love would mean, first of all, that a believer’s motives, rather than being self-centered, would be guided by the deep desire to please God. One would be able to keep from committing what Wesley called, “sin rightly so-called.” By this he meant an intentional violation of a known law of God. 

Secondly, to be made perfect in love meant, for Wesley, that a Christian could live with a primary guiding regard for others and their welfare. He based this on Christ’s quote that the second great command is “to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 

In Wesley’s view, this orientation would cause a person to avoid any number of sins against his neighbor. This love, plus the love for God that could be the central focus of a person’s faith, would be what Wesley referred to as 

‘a fulfilment of the law of Christ.’ 

For Wesley, perfection didn’t mean keeping all the rules. It meant loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. That is what it means to be a Methodist.

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