Wednesdays with Wesley: 3 Thoughts on Christian Perfection

Derek Ouellette —  July 6, 2011

On January 27, 1767 John Wesley wrote:

Some thoughts occurred to my mind this morning concerning Christian perfection, and the manner and time of receiving it, which I believe may be useful to set down.

1. By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbor, ruling our tempers, words, and actions.

I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole. Therefore, I retract several expressions in our Hymns, which partly express, partly imply, such an impossibility.

And I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it.

2. As to the manner. I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently, in an instant. But I believe a gradual work, both preceding and following that instant.

3. As to the time. I believe this instant generally is the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body. But I believe it may be ten, twenty, or forty years before.

I believe it is usually many years after justification; but that it may be within five years or five months after it, I know no conclusive argument to the contrary.

If it must be many years after justification, I would be glad to know how many. Pretium quotus arroget annus?[1]

And how many days or months, or even years, can any one allow to be between perfection and death? How far from justification must it be; and how near to death?

London, January 27, 1767[2]

John believed that it was possible to fall – even completely – from Christian perfection. He is agnostic regarding the concept of “sinless”. He believes that Christian perfection happens by faith “instantly” (the operative word) yet still affirms the lifelong process of sanctification. And he believes that it typically happens the moment before one dies, but may happen much early in a persons life, though always after they are justified.

[1] “How many years give sanction to our lives?”

[2] In a small tract titled “Brief Thoughts on Christian Perfection” and added as an addendum to his “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”, final addition of 1777.


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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • FrGregACCA

    It is unfortunate that the biography of one so often becomes theologically normative for many.

    Augustine’s predestinarianism, for example, is surely grounded in his own perception that grace is irresistible, that grace found him because he was predestined to be among the elect.

    One can see a similar dynamic in Wesley. As it stands, traditional Christian spirituality of both East and West, going back to the likes of Ephrem the Syrian (with whom Wesley was very familiar), Evagrius, and pseudo-Dionysios, see at least three “conversion” moments and stages in the life of a Christian, and allow for potentially many more in that these stages, those of purification, enlightenment, and union, generally act more or less simultaneously rather than linearly, but with one usually being dominant at any given time.