True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.
A commentary on John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
By: Frank L. Hoffman
Jesus said, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(Wesley's writings are in bold)
The more I read John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection the closer I come to the conclusion that the people, and particularly many of the clergy, didn't want to face the fact that we are to strive for Christian perfection as a way of maturing in Christ and for setting a Christ-like example to the rest of the world. There seems to be a desire to find excuses for living a less than perfect life, and even for excusing some sins or shortcomings. Today, most churchgoers and those who claim to be Christians seem to reject striving for perfection, and to water down the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostles, and the Bible that urge us on to higher and higher levels of Christian Perfection. In essence, most people who call themselves Christians want to cheapen God's grace.
As we continue with the first section of this 19th part of Wesley's book, note the way the conference attendees keep asking the same questions from previous Conferences, as if seeking a different answer.
At the Conference in the year 1759, perceiving some danger that a diversity of sentiments should insensibly steal in among us, we again largely considered this doctrine; and soon after I published "Thoughts on Christian Perfection", prefaced with the following advertisement:
"The following tract is by no means designed to gratify the curiosity of any man. It is not intended to prove the doctrine at large, in opposition to those who explode and ridicule it; no, nor to answer the numerous objections against it which may be raised even by serious men. All I intend here is, simply to declare what are my sentiments on this head; what Christian perfection does, according to my apprehension, include, and what it does not; and to add a few practical observations and directions relative to the subject.
"As these thoughts were at first thrown together by way of question and answer, I let them continue in the same form. They are just the same that I have entertained for above twenty years.
"QESTION. What is Christian perfection?
"ANSWER. The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.
Why wouldn't every Christian want their life to be in accordance with this explanation? When Mary and I were "born again" and the Holy Spirit entered our lives, we were both filled with the desire to be like Christ and be perfected in God's love. We couldn't understand why others who claimed to be born again didn't feel the same way, and we continue to wonder:
Why would we desire to seek a restoration of God's perfection in us and others don't seem to want it?
Why is it that so many want to live in the concessions of God rather than in His perfect will and love?
Why don't those people who are born of the Spirit all desire the will of our heavenly Father to be perfected in them here on earth as Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:10)?
Why are so many Christians contributing to the pain and suffering in this world, rather than seeking ways to bring it to an end?
Are some of these people not really born again, as they claim to be?
Some people may say that these questions are judgmental, but they are only trying to discern the "fruit of the Spirit" in these people's lives. We are filled with a deep sadness because of what we see happening to the Church for whom Jesus Christ died. We are saddened that so many Christians seem to want to dwell in the deadness of this sin-filled earthly existence, rather than rise above it as Christ rose from the dead.
The second question of this 1759 Conference seems to be addressed to those trying to destroy the concept of Christian Perfection.
"Question. Do you affirm that this perfection excludes all infirmities, ignorance, and mistake?
"Answer. I continually affirm quite the contrary, and always have done so.
We live in a corrupted world, and this corruption includes illnesses and infirmities that eventually lead to our physical death. These conditions are a fact of our existence here on earth, whether or not we believe in Jesus Christ as our Messiah. However, we believe that to continue to smoke and to eat an unhealthful diet filled with animal products, that have been shown to shorten our lives by about ten years, is to work against the concept of Christian Perfection. Christian Perfection seeks to have us desire and strive for our perfection in God's love, in spite of the corruption around us.
Mistakes are those unintentional acts that are counter to perfection, and all of us make mistakes. The key is that they are unintentional. Ignorance is not knowing something, and such ignorance can lead to our making a mistake; but we should also learn from our mistakes and not duplicate the same ones. Knowledge eliminates ignorance and wisdom eliminates mistakes. Listen to how John Wesley addresses this in the next question.
"Question. But how can every thought, word, and work be governed by pure love, and the man be subject at the same time to ignorance and mistake?
"Answer. I see no contradiction here: 'A man may be filled with pure love, and still be liable to mistake.' Indeed, I do not expect to be freed from actual mistakes till this mortal puts on immortality. I believe this to be a natural consequence of the soul's dwelling in flesh and blood. For we cannot now think at all, but by the mediation of those bodily organs which have suffered equally with the rest of our frame. And hence we cannot avoid sometimes thinking wrong, till this corruptible shall have put on incorruption.
"But we may carry this thought further yet. A mistake in judgment may possibly occasion a mistake in practice. For instance: Mr. De Renty's mistake touching the nature of mortification, arising from prejudice of education, occasioned that practical mistake, his wearing an iron girdle. And a thousand such instances there may be, even in those who are in the highest state of grace. Yet, where every word and action springs from love, such a mistake is not properly a sin. However, it cannot bear the rigor of God's justice, but needs the atoning blood.
Jean Baptiste De Renty (1611-1649) was a man to whom John Wesley related because of his strivings for holiness. He was a French and Spanish mystic who influenced the Lutheran and Reformed churches. However, Wesley was critical of De Renty's writings because of their negative slant. (from John Wesley's writings, January 6, 1738, during his voyage to England)
The fact that De Renty wore an iron girdle indicates he was striving for perfection through physical means, rather than through the spiritual means which Wesley addresses in his book. But in both cases, these men were striving for Christian Perfection. From my own study of the Bible, I believe that John Wesley's approach to Christian Perfection is the preferred one.
John Wesley is saying that God's wisdom perfected in us helps us to seek our perfection in God's love and, thereby, to avoid many mistakes. He rightly points out that while De Renty's approach was a mistake, it was not a sin. And, we are to learn from our mistakes and, thereby, make fewer mistakes in the future. Similarly, once we learn to seek God's perfect love, that knowledge helps us make fewer and fewer mistakes, thus, bringing us closer and closer to to Christian Perfection.
In the next Chapter, we explore more of the questions and answers presented at this Conference.