Excerpt from Hugh M. Scott, Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology: With Some Reference to the Ritschlian View of Theology and History of Doctrine (Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896), pp. 250 f.
The loss of the gospel conception of personal, living union throughout life of the believer with the exalted Christ was followed inevitably by the wrong soteriology of the early Church: (1) Because He was not felt to be the head of every Christian man and every congregation, bishops and other heads arose. (2) Because direct personal communion with Him was obscured, the Church and the Sacraments came in between the soul and the Saviour, thus not only bringing in a hierarchy but perverting the whole conception of man’s relation to Christ. (3) Because constant, direct approach to Christ was lost, a thousand indirect approaches by washings, fastings, visions, ascetic practices, confessions, came into use. (4) Because the witness of Christ by His Spirit in the heart was largely overlooked, too much stress was laid upon intellectual forms of faith, philosophical proofs of Christianity, and theological creeds. (5) This loss of the present Christ in the midst of the worshiping congregation was followed by a more formal worship, in which liturgies, elaborate ceremonies, and theological statements, too much took the place of the free charismatic prayers and teachings of the primitive Church. (6) In life also, as the thought was obscured that Christ dwells in each believer, a loss of holiness followed. To have the rules of the Church, to follow her discipline, was a lower standard than to “have the mind of Christ.” From the individual this view spread to the Church. For the New Testament, believers were a temple of God; for Callixtus, the Church was the ark of Noah, full of both clean and unclean creatures. (7) Finally, this loss of Christ as King in each Christian changed the whole missionary character of the Church. Instead of all preaching — let him that heareth say, come” — the clergy preached and the laity listened; or monks went out, spreading their defective views of Christianity.
See also “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism, Part 2” by the author.
Sacramental Realism is a dogma which cannot be established from Scripture; in fact, is baldly in opposition to the New Testament presentation of spiritual efficacy, not through ritual act, nor through priestly mediation, but through receipt of Holy Spirit Baptism, as at Pentecost and continuing thereafter. Sacramentalists point to the wedding at Cana (John 2) and the miraculous multiplication of loaves associated with the Sermon on the Mount (John 6). But significantly there was no bread at Cana, no wine included on the Mount, no ceremonial act taking place at either location, no “institution” of a ritual or sacrament, nor connection with spiritual efficacy; moreover, all of these events took place prior to the Last Supper and to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In fact, Christ’s statements in John 6 strikingly contradict the concept of spiritual efficacy in bread. Crowds continued to follow him for days after the miracle, asking him for more “bread from heaven,” by which they meant manna. Jesus reminded them, “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (6:58). No physical bread, even “from heaven,” is truly spiritual or eternal, and neither God’s presence, nor blessing, nor salvation are inherently associated with it.
The “breaking of bread from house to house” mentioned in Acts cannot be proven to describe any ceremony, but simple “table fellowship” common to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 describes the confusion in Corinth of a fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper, the former having degenerated into self-indulgent feasting on the part of some, devoid of true fellowship, and the latter similarly failing to include the responsibility of the believer to remember and identify himself with Christ’s sacrifice by “examining himself” in that light (see also 2 Cor. 13:5). He writes,
1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? ….
The idea of Sacramentalism is absent in Church history until it began to be developed by Cyprian (early 3rd century) and Athanasius (3rd-4th century), along with Sacerdotalism. The Didache (dated late 1st century) includes a recitation of the Eucharist ceremony of the time, which notably does not include any form of sacrament. Nor does the famous letter by Pliny to Emperor Trajan mention a sacrament, rather a fellowship meal afterward, in another location. Irenaeus and Tertullian spoke in seemingly realistic terms of the Communion elements relative to the body of Christ, but were actually contrasting the reality of Christ’s crucifixion, and his physical body, to the Docetism (denial of a physical Incarnation of Christ) of the Gnostics whom they opposed.
Yet committed Sacramentalists—if there be any other kind—just like Martin Luther, insist on a literal interpretation of “Take, eat, this is my body” at all costs. The passages in question are these:
Mark 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you
1 Corinthians 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.
Note, among other details, that in two of the passages, Jesus specifically describes the purpose of the action to be “in remembrance of me” (in bold above); and further, that only in those same passages is it implied that the ceremony is to be repeated. Since the Last Supper is clearly a reflection of the Passover ceremony, with many parallels, the natural inference of the ceremony itself must be that it is to replace traditional observance of the Passover memorial, which is once a year. Yet there is no restriction of frequency stated, and it is commonly considered that new Christians in their enthusiasm soon began to gladly practice the observance of the Lord’s Supper, often, perhaps even before every meal (as Jews blessed their bread and many of us to this day say “Grace”). In the case of frequent and even casual observance, however, the act could hardly be imagined to have been officiated over by a priest and to have any salvific spiritual efficacy, as sacramentalists imagine.
Still sacramentalists insist on taking the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper literally as Christ’s body and blood, representing the “institution” of a sacrament, and being continually “for the remission of sins”—instead of being the afore-mentioned “remembrance,” and allowing the elements to be used figuratively to point to a greater, eschatological reality, which was yet to be fully realized, in Christ’s actual death on the cross for our sins.
There are many instances of figurative language in the New Testament and in Christ’s sayings. In the famous “I am” sayings, Jesus describes himself figuratively as the voice, the Light of the World, the door, the good shepherd, the road or path, and the vine, as well as the Bread of Life. There is none but arbitrary, dogmatic reasons to take “This is my body” any more literally than these statements.
In conclusion, let us examine an even closer, figurative parallel. Just as Jesus said, “Take, eat,” he elsewhere commanded, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; par. Mark 8:34, 10:21; Luke 9:23). With the exception of a few ascetic fanatics in Church history, few have imagined that Jesus meant us to regard “Take up your cross” literally, as opposed to figuratively, by which it represents a greater reality—which certainly begs the question of the arbitrary insistence of sacramentalists upon taking with supreme literalness this one particular and debatable instance.
Copyright © 2015 Paul A. Hughes
Dr. Hugh M. Scott (1848-1909), Professor of Church History at Chicago Theological Seminary, writes in Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology: with Some Reference to the Ritschlian View of Theology and History of Doctrine, Lectures Delivered on the L. P. Stone Foundation at Princeton Theological Seminary, January 1896 (Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896), note, pp.248-251.
Within this form of mystery, the conception of the Lord’s Supper changed in the following direction: The New Testament Church spoke of all worship as sacrifice; the post-Apostolic Fathers applied the term sacrifice especially to the prayer and gifts offered at the Lord’s Supper; next, the idea of sacrifice was transferred to the Supper itself; the bread and wine were given the virtue of Christ’s atonement and finally they were identified with the Lord’s body and blood; so that in the third century the Supper was regarded as a sacrifice offered by Christ for the Church, instead of an offering presented by the Church to Christ. It was Athanasius who went beyond the realistic view of the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists, and beyond the symbolical, mystical view of Clement and Origen, to the metabolic theory that the bread and wine became “entirely transformed,” as was done at Cana in Galilee (cf. Thomasius, I. 434). The chief factors in this change of view were the prominence given in the Supper to the death of Christ, the assumption of priestly functions by the clergy, some influence from the pagan mysteries, but especially a failure to grasp the finished redemption of Christ as ever present to the believer. The real presence was limited to bread and wine, instead of being found in every Christian; it was put in the hands of the clergy and not in the hearts of all believers. The result was that the merits of the one sacrifice for sin were overlooked, and man regarded it as a merit on his part to cause the sacrifice of Christ to be repeated.
This Moralism, which captured the sacraments, took most striking form in Monasticism. The monk followed a leading idea of Greek theology, which regarded salvation as separation from the world. He interpreted this to mean, first, imitation of Jesus and then imitation of Christ. Asceticism, a life of poverty, chastity, obedience, meant following the lowly Jesus. Contemplation, ending in the beatific vision of God, meant to ascend to heaven with Christ. New Testament teachings, historic circumstances, the influence of heathenism all helped produce Monasticism; but none of these weighed so much as the false theory of man’s relation to Christ. The pupils of Origen regarded the Gnostic and the ascetic as the true types of Christian living (cf. Harnack, II. 424); that is, knowledge and the life of superiority to the world made the ideal man. But it is plain such a theory lands us in the place of learners, with Christ as nothing but a great teacher. The monk needs no Saviour; he is a self-redeemer like the Stoic or any other moralist. In the fourth century, when worldliness was pressing hard into the Church, every form of piety was combined against it; hence asceticism, which was fully developed among the heathen, with no Christ in it, when adopted by Christians did not find a place for Him as Redeemer. The Neo-Platonist thought that through the contemplation of nature he became partaker of God; so the monk in rapt devotion might reach God without the saving help of Christ. The Church fell again into two classes; ordinary Christians who were saved by the potent mysteries of the sacraments, and ideal Christians—the monks—who saved themselves by good works and ecstasy; but both had lost sight of Christ as perfect Redeemer of men.
[Footnote] The loss of the gospel conception of personal, living union throughout life of the believer with the exalted Christ was followed inevitably by the wrong soteriology of the early Church: (1) Because He was not felt to be the head of every Christian man and every congregation, bishops and other heads arose. (2) Because direct personal communion with Him was obscured, the Church and the Sacraments came in between the soul and the Saviour, thus not only bringing in a hierarchy but perverting the whole conception of man’s relation to Christ. (3) Because constant, direct approach to Christ was lost, a thousand indirect approaches by washings, fastings, visions, ascetic practices, confessions, came into use. (4) Because the witness of Christ by His Spirit in the heart was largely overlooked, too much stress was laid upon intellectual forms of faith, philosophical proofs of Christianity, and theological creeds. (5) This loss of the present Christ in the midst of the worshiping congregation was followed by a more formal worship, in which liturgies, elaborate ceremonies, and theological statements, too much took the place of the free charismatic prayers and teachings of the primitive Church. (6) In life also, as the thought was obscured that Christ dwells in each believer, a loss of holiness followed. To have the rules of the Church, to follow her discipline, was a lower standard than to “have the mind of Christ.” From the individual this view spread to the Church. For the New Testament, believers were a temple of God; for Callixtus, the Church was the ark of Noah, full of both clean and unclean creatures. (7) Finally, this loss of Christ as King in each Christian changed the whole missionary character of the Church. Instead of all preaching—let him that heareth say, come”—the clergy preached and the laity listened; or monks went out, spreading their defective views of Christianity.
The following are excerpts from Hodge’s Systematic Theology, vol. I (NY: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1877), pages 63-86, in which he defines Mysticism and differentiates it from Evangelical spirituality. His one glaring shortcoming, being a Cessationist, is his blindness toward the continuation of New Testament Pentecostal charisms, which he circumscribes (typical in the 19th Century) to the First Century and largely to the Twelve Apostles, for the formation of Scripture and the Church. Apart from this blind spot, his observations provide a supportive parallel account to the recent published works on Sacramental Realism and Neoplatonism, and differentiation of Pentecostal spirituality from Contemplative Prayer/Mysticism, found in the following published works by Paul A. Hughes:
- The blog series, “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism,” parts 1-7
- “Notes on Pentecostalism versus Mysticism“
- “John Wesley, Reluctant Mystic“
- The book Neoplatonist Stew, based on the collected articles above
According to Hodge:
The Sense in which Evangelical Christians are called Mystics
As all Evangelical Christians admit a supernatural influence of the Spirit of God upon the soul, and recognize a higher form of knowledge, holiness, and fellowship with God, as the effects of that influence, they are stigmatized as Mystics, by those who discard everything supernatural from Christianity. The definitions of Mysticism given by Rationalists are designedly so framed as to include what all evangelical Christians hold to be true concerning the illumination, teaching, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. …. And Bretschneider defines Mysticism as a “Belief in a continuous operation of God on the soul, secured by special religious exercise, producing illumination, holiness, and beatitude.” Evangelical theologians so far acquiesce in this view, that they say, as Lange, and Nitsch,” that every true believer is a Mystic.” The latter writer adds, “That the Christian ideas of illumination, revelation, incarnation, regeneration, the sacraments and the resurrection, are essentially Mystical elements. As often as the religious and church-life recovers itself from formalism and scholastic barrenness, and is truly revived, it always appears as Mystical, and gives rise to the outcry that Mysticism is gaining the ascendency.” …. There has been a religious theory, which has more or less extensively prevailed in the Church, which is distinguished from the Scriptural doctrine by unmistakable characteristics, and which is known in church history as Mysticism, and the word should be restricted to that theory. It is the theory, variously modified, that the knowledge, purity, and blessedness to be derived from communion with God, are not to be attained from the Scriptures and the use of the ordinary means of grace, but by a supernatural and immediate divine influence, which influence (or communication of God to the soul) is to be secured by passivity, a simple yielding the soul without thought or effort to the divine influx.
The System which makes the Feelings the Source of Knowledge
A still wider use of the word Mysticism has to some extent been adopted. Any system, whether in philosophy or religion, which assigns more importance to the feelings than to the intellect, is called Mystical. ….
…. The Mystic assumes that the senses and reason are alike untrustworthy and inadequate, as sources of knowledge; that nothing can be received with confidence as truth, at least in the higher departments of knowledge, in all that relates to our own nature, to God, and our relation to Him, except what is revealed either naturally or supernaturally in the feelings. There are two forms of Mysticism, therefore: the one which assumes the feelings themselves to be the sources of this knowledge; the other that it is through the feelings that God makes the truth known to the soul. “Reason is no longer viewed as the great organ of truth; its decisions are enstamped as uncertain, faulty, and well-nigh valueless, while the inward impulses of our sensibility, developing themselves in the form of faith or of inspiration, are held up as the true and infallible source of human knowledge. The fundamental process, therefore, of all Mysticism, is to reverse the true order of nature, and give the precedence to the emotional instead of the intellectual element of the human mind.” This is declared to be “the common ground of all Mysticism.”
…. The illumination claimed by the Mystic communicates truth independently of its objective revelation. ….
The doctrines of spiritual illumination and of Mysticism differ not only in the object, but secondly, in the manner in which that object is to be attained. The inward teaching of the Spirit is to be sought by prayer, and the diligent use of the appointed means; the intuitions of the Mystic are sought in the neglect of all means, in the suppression of all activity inward and outward, and in a passive waiting for the influx of God into the soul. They differ, thirdly, in their effects. The effect of spiritual illumination is, that the Word dwells in us “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. i. 9). What dwells in the mind of the Mystic are his own imaginings, the character of which depends on his own subjective state; and whatever they are, they are of man and not of God.
The so-called Dionysius the Areopagite
Mysticism, in the common acceptation of the term, is antagonistic to speculation. And yet they are often united. There have been speculative or philosophical Mystics. The father indeed of Mysticism in the Christian Church, was a philosopher. About the year A. D. 523, during the Monothelite controversy certain writings were quoted as of authority as being the productions of Dionysius the Areopagite. …. Though their authorship is unknown, their influence has been confessedly great. The works which bear the pseudonym of Dionysius are, “The Celestial Hierarchy,” “The Terrestrial Hierarchy,” “Mystical Theology,” and “Twelve Epistles.” Their contents show that their author belonged to the school of the New Platonists, and that his object was to propagate the peculiar views of that school in the Christian Church. The writer attempts to show that the real, esoteric doctrines of Christianity are identical with those of his own school of philosophy. In other words, he taught New Platonism, in the terminology of the Church. Christian ideas were entirely excluded, While the language of the Bible was retained. Thus in our day we have had the philosophy of Schelling and Hegel set forth in the formulas of Christian theology.
The New Platonists taught that the original ground and source of all things was simple being, without life or consciousness; of which absolutely nothing could be known, beyond that it is. They assumed an unknown quantity, of which nothing can be predicated. The pseudo-Dionysius called this original ground of all things God, and taught that God was mere being without attributes of any kind, not only unknowable by man, but of whom there was nothing to be known, as absolute being is in the language of the modern philosophy, — Nothing; nothing in itself, yet nevertheless the DUNAMIS TWN PANTWN [“power of all things”].
The universe proceeds from primal being, not by any exercise of conscious power or will but by a process or emanation. ….
The end [i.e., “goal”] of philosophy is the immediate vision of God, which gives the soul supreme blessedness and rest. This union with God is attained by sinking into ourselves; by passivity. As we are a form, or mode of God’s existence, we find God in ourselves, and are consciously one with him, when this is really apprehended; or, when we suffer God, as it were, to absorb our individuality.
The terms God, sin, redemption, are retained in this system, but the meaning attached to them was entirely inconsistent with the sense they bear in the Bible and in the Christian Church. The pseudo-Dionysius was a heathen philosopher in the vestments of a Christian minister. The philosophy which he taught he claimed to be the true sense of the doctrines of the Church, as that sense had been handed down by a secret tradition. Notwithstanding its heathen origin and character, its influence in the Church was great and long continued. The writings of its author were translated, annotated and paraphrased, centuries after his death. As there is no effect without an adequate cause, there must have been power in this system and an adaptation to the cravings of a large class of minds.
Causes of the Influence of the Writings of the pseudo-Dionysius
To account for its extensive influence it may be remarked: (1.) That it did not openly shock the faith or prejudices of the Church. It did not denounce any received doctrine or repudiate any established institution or ordinance. It pretended to be Christian, It undertook to give a deeper and more correct insight into the mysteries of religion. (2.) It subordinated the outward to the inward. Some men are satisfied with rites, ceremonies, symbols, which may mean anything or nothing; others, with knowledge or clear views of truth. To others, the inner life of the soul, intercourse with God, is the great thing. To these this system addressed itself. It proposed to satisfy this craving after God, not indeed in a legitimate way, or by means of God’s appointment. Nevertheless it was the high end of union with him that it proposed, and which it professed to secure. (3.) This system was only one form of the doctrine which has such a fascination for the human mind, and which underlies so many forms of religion in every age of the world; the doctrine, namely, that the universe is an efflux of the life of God, — all things flowing from him, and back again to him from everlasting to everlasting. This doctrine quiets the conscience, as it precludes the idea of sin; it gives the peace which flows from fatalism; and it promises the absolute rest of unconsciousness when the individual is absorbed in the bosom of the Infinite.
Mysticism during the Middle Ages: General Characteristics of this Period
The Middle Ages embrace the period from the close of the sixth century to the Reformation. This period is distinguished by three marked characteristics. First, the great development of the Latin Church in its hierarchy, its worship, and its formulated doctrines, as well as in its superstitions, corruptions, and power. Secondly, the extraordinary intellectual activity awakened in the region of speculation, as manifested in the multiplication of seats of learning, in the number and celebrity of their teachers, and in the great multitude of students by which they were attended, and in the interest taken by all classes in the subjects of learned discussion. Thirdly, by a widespread and variously manifested movement of, so to speak, the inner life of the Church, protesting against the formalism, the corruption, and the tyranny of the external Church. This protest was made partly openly by those whom Protestants are wont to call “Witnesses for the Truth;” and partly within the Church itself. The opposition within the Church manifested itself partly among the people, in the formation of fellowships or societies for benevolent effort and spiritual culture, such as the Beguines, the Beghards, the Lollards, and afterwards, “The Brethren of the Common Lot;” and partly in the schools, or by the teachings of theologians.
The First Class of Medieval Theologians
Of these theologians, however, there were three classes. First, those who avowedly exalted reason above authority, and refused to receive anything on authority which they could not for themselves, on rational grounds, prove to be true. John Scotus Erigena (Eringehorne, Irish-born) may be taken as a representative of this class. He not only held, that reason and revelation, philosophy and religion, are perfectly consistent, but that religion and philosophy are identical. ….
…. His philosophy as developed in his work, “De Divisione Naturae,” is purely pantheistic. There is with him but one being, and everything real is thought. His system, therefore, is nearly identical with the idealistic pantheism of Hegel; yet he had his trinitarianism, his soteriology, and his eschatology, as a theologian.
The characteristic common to these classes, which differed so much from each other, was not that in all there was a protest of the heart against the head, of the feelings against the intellect, a reaction against the subtleties of the scholastic theologians, for some of the leading Mystics were among the most subtle dialecticians. Nor was it a common adherence to the Platonic as opposed to the Aristotelian philosophy, or to realism as opposed to nominalism. But it was the belief, that oneness with God was the great end to be desired and pursued, and that that union was to be sought, not so much through the truth, or the Church, or ordinances, or Christian fellowship; but by introspection, meditation, intuition. As very different views were entertained of the nature of the “oneness with God,” which was to be sought, so the Mystics differed greatly from each other. Some were extreme pantheists; others were devout theists and Christians. From its essential nature, however, the tendency of Mysticism was to pantheism. And accordingly undisguised pantheism Was not only taught by some of the most prominent Mystics, but prevailed extensively among the people.
Pantheistic tendency of Mysticism
It has already been remarked, that the system of the pseudo-Dionysius, as presented in his “Mystical Theology” and other writings, was essentially pantheistic. Those writings were translated by Scotus Erigena, himself the most pronounced pantheist of the Middle Ages. Through the joint influence of these two men, a strong tendency to pantheism was developed to a greater or less degree among the mediaeval Mystics. Even the associations among the people, such as the Beghards and Lollards, although at first exemplary and useful, by adopting a system of mystic pantheism became entirely corrupt. Believing themselves to be modes of the divine existence, all they did God did, and all they felt inclined to do was an impulse from God, and therefore nothing could be wrong. In our own day the same principles have led to the same consequences in one wing of the German school of philosophy.
It was not only among the people and in these secret fellowships that this system was adopted. Men of the highest rank in the schools, and personally exemplary in their deportment, became the advocates of the theory which lay at the foundation of these practical evils. Of these scholastic pantheistical Mystics, the most distinguished and influential was Henry [Meister] Eckart, whom some modern writers regard “as the deepest thinker of his age, if not of any age.” …. His doctrines were condemned as heretical, although he denied that he had in any respect departed from the doctrines of the Church. …. It is not necessary here to give the details of his system. Suffice it to say, that he held that God is the only being; that the universe is the self-manifestation of God; that the highest destiny of man is to come to the consciousness of his identity with God; that that end is to be accomplished partly by philosophical abstraction and partly by ascetic self renunciation.
It is true that no one can intelligently affirm the transcendence of God, and still hold the extreme form of pantheism which makes the world the existence-form of God, his whole intelligence, power, and life. But he may be a Monist. He may believe that there is but one Being in the universe, that everything is a form of God, and all life the life of God. Pantheism is Protean. Some moderns speak of a Christian Pantheism. But any system which hinders our saying “Thou,” to God, is fatal to religion.
Quietism: Its general character
Tholuck says “There is a law of seasons in the spiritual, as well as in the physical world, in virtue of which when the time has come, without apparent connection, similar phenomena reveal themselves in different places. As towards the end of the fifteenth century an ecclesiastical-doctrinal reformatory movement passed over the greater part of Europe, in part without apparent connection; so at the end of the seventeenth a mystical and spiritual tendency was almost as extensively manifested. In Germany, it took the form of Mysticism and Pietism; in England, of Quakerism; in France, of Jansenism and Mysticism; and in Spain and Italy, of Quietism.” This movement was in fact what in our day would be called a revival of religion. Not indeed in a form free from grievous errors, but nevertheless it was a return to the religion of the heart, as opposed to the religion of forms. The Mystics of this period, although they constantly appealed to the mediaeval Mystics, even to the Areopagite, and although they often used the same forms of expression, yet they adhered much more faithfully to Scriptural doctrines and to the faith of the Church. They did not fall into Pantheism, or believe in the absorption of the soul into the substance of God. They held, however, that the end to be attained was union with God. By this was not meant what Christians generally understand by that term; congeniality with God, delight in his perfections, assurance of his love, submission to his will, perfect satisfaction in the enjoyment of his favour. It was something more than all this, something mystical and therefore inexplicable; a matter of feeling, not something to be under, stood or explained; a state in which all thought, all activity was suspended; a state of perfect quietude in which the soul is lost in God …. This state is reached by few. It is to be attained not by the use of the means of grace or ordinances of the Church. The soul should be raised above the need of all such aids. It rises even above Christ, insomuch that it is not He whom the soul seeks, nor God in him; but God as God; the absolute, infinite God. The importance of the Scriptures, of prayer, of the sacraments, and of the truth concerning Christ, was not denied; but all these were regarded as belonging to the lower stages of tlie divine life. Nor was this rest and union with God to be attained by meditation; for meditation is discursive. It implies an effort to bring truth before the mind, and fixing the attention upon it. All conscious self-activity must be suspended in order to this perfect rest in God. It is a state in which the soul is out of itself; a state of ecstasy, according to the etymological meaning of the word.
This state is to be reached in the way prescribed by the older Mystics; first, by negation or abstraction; that is, the abstraction of the soul from everything out of God, from the creature, from all interest, concern, or impression from sensible objects. Hence the connection between Mysticism, in this form, and asceticism. Not only must the soul become thus abstracted from the creature, but it must be dead to self. All regard to self must be lost. There can be no prayer, for prayer is asking something for self; no thanksgiving, for thanksgiving implies gratitude for good done to self. Self must be lost. There must be no preference for heaven over hell. One of the points most strenuously insisted upon was a willingness to be damned, if such were the will of God. In the controversy between Fenelon and Bossuet, the main question concerned disinterested love, whether in loving God the soul must be raised above all regard to its own holiness and happiness. This pure or disinterested love justifies, or renders righteous in the sight of God. Although the Mystics of this period were eminently pure as well as devout, they nevertheless sometimes laid down principles, or at least used expressions, which gave their enemies a pretext for charging them with Antinomianism. It was said, that a soul filled with this love, or reduced to this entire negation of self, cannot sin; “sin is not in, but outside of him;” which was made to mean, that nothing was sin to the perfect. It is an instructive psychological fact that when men attempt or pretend to rise above the law of God, they sink below it; that Perfectionism has so generally led to Antinomianism.
The following is to be added to the original Part 7—Epilogue of my blog series, “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism,” hence included in Chapter 7 of the resulting print version, Neoplatonist Stew: Or, How Sacramentalism, Mysticism, and Theurgy Corrupted Christian Theology. The paperback print version, with other additions, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.
Advocates and defenders of John Wesley (1703–1791) are quick to assert that any elements of Neoplatonism and Mysticism within the order of the Anglican Church were well-known and acknowledged, suitably dealt-with, and adequately mitigated. It is moreover suggested that Wesley, if accused of harboring any such influences, hardly introduced them himself. John Cassian, as mentioned in Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew, had introduced Evagrius to the Western Church, and “had physically brought back with him Basil’s Institutes, a work which would serve as a model for western monastic rules, including Benedict’s.” These ideas significantly influenced Thomas á Kempis and later mystics, including the Jansenists and Port-Royalists, “their Augustinian orientation notwithstanding.”1
By the Seventeenth Century, English intellectuals and divines had rediscovered many works of the Eastern Mystics, and began to publish new editions. The “Cambridge Platonists,” in particular, turned away from Aristotle and Scholasticism and renewed interest in Plato.2 Anglicanism, seeking a “middle way” (via media) of compromise between salvation by faith alone and salvation by works, found especially in the works of John Chrysostom a “forgotten strand of theosis,” as Steve McCormick describes it, in the guise of “divine-human participation.”3 But then, Thomas Cranmer, in the time of Henry VIII, had already incorporated Neoplatonic “participation” into the Book of Common Prayer, namely, his homilies “Of Salvation,” “Of the True, Lively and Christian Faith,” and “Of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith.” Together, these comprise the formal expression of Anglican soteriology.4 In 1738, John Wesley abridged Cranmer’s three homilies into “his first doctrinal manifesto.”5
The son of an Anglican rector (local priest), Wesley was steeped in Anglicanism, which he never abandoned. His father, Samuel, particularly enamored of Chrysostom, urged his son to obtain a copy of Chrysostom’s work, On the Priesthood (De sacerdotia), with the words, “Master it: digest it”; and later, “Master St. Chrysostom, our Articles and the form of Ordination.” “If I were to preach in Greek,” Samuel wrote, “St. Chrysostom should be my master.”6 John was further encouraged to study the Church Fathers, especially those of the first three centuries of the Christian era, by John Clayton, an accomplished Patristics scholar.7
Wesley learned from his father to appreciate the ancient pastoral theologians: Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius and Cyprian (Advice to a Young Clergyman).8
Wesley later recommended the Eastern Fathers, and borrowed heavily from Chrysostom in his own Address to Clergy (1756).9 He wrote, for instance,
Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused, if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, the knowledge of the Fathers? The most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom “all Scripture was given?” It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the Council of Nice[a]. But who would not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? With St. Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, [Augustine]; and above all, that man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?10
In his writings and preaching, Wesley “Frequently cited … Basil, Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Ephraem Syrus, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Origen, Polycarp and (Pseudo-)Macarius.” The latter, Pseudo-Macarius, was to become a significant influence on Wesley’s doctrines: in particular, those of “Prevenient Grace” and “Christian Perfection.” While Wesley at times differs with Macarius in details, clearly “the similarities are much stronger than the differences ….”11
Wesley himself described several of the other early influences on his devotional life as well as his theology:
In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor’s Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. In reading several parts of this book, I was exceedingly affected with that part in particular which relates to purity of intention….
In the year 1726, I met with Kempis’s ‘Christian Pattern.’ The nature and extent of inward religion, the religion of the heart, now appeared to me in a stronger light than ever it had done before. I saw, that giving even all my life to God, (supposing it possible to do this and go no farther,) would profit me nothing, unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart, to him. I saw that ‘simplicity of intention and purity of affection,’ one design in all we speak or do, and one desire, ruling all our tempers, are indeed ‘the wings of the soul,’ without which she can never ascend to the mount of God.
A year or two after, Mr. Law’s ‘Christian Perfection,’ and ‘Serious Call,’ were put into my hands. These convinced me, more than ever, of the absolute impossibility of being half a Christian.12
Over the course of his life, Wesley utilized a great many recent secondary works that applied Eastern principles, and (as we shall see) created others of his own. Kempis he found too pessimistic: “I cannot think, that when God sent us into the world, he had irreversibly decreed, that we should be perpetually miserable in it,”13 yet Wesley largely embraced his concepts of self-abnegation and ascent. William Law had been a mentor to John and his brother Charles.14 Law and Jeremy Taylor were both attempting to construct “patristic primitivist syntheses of the virtuous Christian life, viewing it developmentally.”15 Law had visited the Wesley home on many occasions and had a profound effect on the siblings, such that Charles Wesley suggested much later, “Mr. Law was our John the Baptist.”16 Law was one of the select individuals that John Wesley consulted before committing to his Georgia mission.17
Wesley’s enthusiasm for William Beveridge further exposed him to Chrysostom, the two combining to serve as the apparent origin of his conception of restoring the image of God (ultimately Platonic) by virtue of the “energy of love.”
Wesley found this notion, which is, again, the eastern idea of theosis, of divine-human participation, a characteristic note in the homilies of Chrysostom, and in the liturgy, the homilies, and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Wesley was to take that motif of divine-human participation in the via salutis and weave it throughout his ordo salutis [i.e., integrate a Neoplatonic “way of salvation” into his conception of the “order of salvation”].18
Sailing for Georgia aboard the Simmonds, 1735, Wesley busied himself studying the German language, along with devotional reading and his accustomed Christian disciplines. He had managed to procure a library of over sixty volumes, many of them of recent Anglican authorship, but also including Beveridge’s Pandectae, William Cave’s Primitive Christianity, and a large assortment of Eastern liturgical works.19 It was probably Cave’s book that introduced him to Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria. Thus Wesley absorbed Neoplatonic ideas “about the stages of divine ascent, holiness of heart, progressive perfection, and the affective manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.”20
During a particularly severe storm at sea, he was highly impressed by the calmness displayed by the Moravians on board. He had already studied the mystic work, Theologica Germanica.21 Arriving in Georgia, he was similarly impressed by Rev. Spangenberg, of Savannah, but hedged when the Moravian asked him, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” to which Wesley weakly replied, “I know He is the Saviour of the world,” and “I hope He has died to save me.”22 In spite of his Christian disciplines, Wesley had been all full of doubts all through the voyage. Later still, he wrote in his journal,
It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Christianity. But what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.23
During the subsequent debacle in Georgia, Wesley obtained a Moravian hymnal, and spent three to five hours a day translating and adapting, in all, thirty-three German hymns, according to his own purposes and inclinations. Among these was the Gerhard Tersteegen hymn, rendered in English, “Thou Hidden Love of God, Whose Height,” one of four by Tersteegen that he translated, and the one most often published thereafter in English hymnals.24 One commentator suggests that “this hymn might be seen as one of the clearest reflections of Wesley’s own spiritual yearning….”25 (Yearning appears to be a common indicator of mystic propensities and appeal.) Meanwhile, Wesley also took the opportunity to experiment with new forms of liturgy, which confused and offended his congregation. A local magistrate scolded, “The people … say they are Protestants. But as for you, they cannot tell what religion you are of.”26
The Methodist mission to Georgia was a fiasco. Charles proved a maladroit secretary to General Oglethorpe; John, a tactless pastor, Ingham and Delamotte, ineffectual assistants.27
In 1738, abandoning Georgia under a cloud, Wesley returned to England, where he and Charles almost immediately became involved with the Fetter Lane Moravian group. That May, he had an emotional experience that he counted as his belated conversion, and by September, he was off to visit the German Pietists at Herrnhut.
The representatives of this tradition who influenced Wesley began with the Dominican mysticism of Johann Tauler (1300-1361), and proceeded to the distinctive Reformed spirituality of Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).”28
Always seeking his own “assurance of faith,” Wesley asked one Arvid Gradin to provide, in writing, his definition of the concept. Gradin’s reply concluded with, “a deliverance from every fleshly desire, and a cessation of all, even inward sins”—it would seem, as it did to Wesley, a confirmation of his own developing view of Perfection.29 “Spiritually bankrupt, without peace and joy or the assurance of salvation, he embraced the Moravian approach to ‘faith alone’ and ‘full salvation.'”30 On the negative side, Wesley found Herrnhut to be in the midst of controversy with the brethren at Halle. The Hallensians regarded the necessity of an extended “penitential struggle” (Bußkampf) leading eventually to a “breakthrough” (Durchbruch) to gain assurance of saving faith, whereas the Herrnhuters had gravitated toward a quick and easy, “affective” acceptance.31 Wesley soon became disenchanted with their polemics and with Count von Zinzendorf, thereafter distancing himself from the Moravians.32 “The English writers,” he wrote, “such as Bishop Beveridge, Bishop Taylor, and Mr. Nelson, a little relieved me from these well-meaning, wrong-headed Germans.”33 Yet he continued to value many of the German Pietist hymns, especially those of Tersteegen.34
Through Wesley, it has been said, Tersteegen’s spirituality has reached millions of English-speaking people. John Nuelson, a German Methodist, granted that Wesley’s dissemination of German hymns had strongly influenced the Methodists’ doctrine of Perfection. With Tersteegen’s ideas came the influence of French Quietists, English Philadelphians, and Berleburg Bible Pietists, along with all the Patristic, mystical, and ascetic works that Tersteegen had translated and edited. He spoke in terms of a Seelengrund (a term garnered from Eckhart and Tauler), an “inward soul” capable of longing for God. This inward soul may possess an “inward inclination” (Grundneigung) able to respond to the “wooing” of Christ’s Prevenient Grace (as Wesley would perceive it), such that it “makes room” (Raum gebe) for God’s presence. From that Seelengrund, Christ purposes “to expand His gracious influence to encompass the cognitive, volitional, affective, and relational aspects of one’s existence,”35 in other words, spiritual formation. Yet Tersteegen, in spite of other Plotinian affinities, discouraged seekers from introspection, that being idolatry; rather to “turn your inward eye from yourself,” fixing one’s gaze on Christ.36 He considered the imputation of righteousness to be instantaneous, but the transformation to Christ-likeness to be progressive (contra Wesley), the goal being to renew in believers the image of Christ (so also Wesley).37
Besides Tersteegen, Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria were particular favorites of Wesley, from whom he sought devotional material and theological fodder, mining for ideas and modes of expression. Besides his aforementioned contribution to Prevenient Grace, Macarius further contributed to Wesley’s soteriology (as had Tersteegen)—one point of difference being “that Wesley understood perfection primarily as an identifiable, instantaneously-achieved state, while Macarius emphasized the tenacious entrenchment of sin in even the most mature Christian and the constant need to seek God through prayer.”38 “This great gift of God,” Wesley wrote, “the salvation of our souls, is no other than the image of God fresh stamped on our hearts. It is a ‘renewal of believers in the spirit of their minds, after the likeness of Him that created them.'”39 Certainly Wesley’s views on grace appear to be more closely derived from Macarius and Eastern theology in general than from, as one might expect, Arminius.40 Wesley, one will note, believed that the Fifty Spiritual Homilies were the work of “Macarius of Egypt,” a fourth-century Desert Father, rather than a pseudonymous writer now widely purported to have been a fifth-century Syrian monk, strongly influenced by Gregory of Nyssa.41
Wesley’s exposure to Ephraim of Syria, whom he called “the man of the broken heart,” goes back to his Holy Club days at Oxford. Ephraim taught self-abnegation, contemplation, theosis, and an ante-Nicene view of man yearning to return to an “angelic” original state. Michael Christensen and Randy Maddox suggest that Ephraim’s “luminous eye” figure “is similar to if not the source of Wesley’s doctrine of ‘spiritual senses'” (a concept to which Tersteegen probably also contributed, see above). “Spiritual senses,” to Wesley, include the faculty of perceiving assurance, both of salvation and Perfection.42
Wesley, it is noted, mitigated the theosis of Macarius and Ephraim, emphasizing a divine work of grace through love that he posited in the negation of the power of sin and perfection of human intent. When Wesley edited the Homilies of Macarius for his Christian Library series, he excised references to theosis as well as asceticism.43
In regard to Perfection, Wesley expressed concern to his brother Charles that the latter, by aiming at theosis, was setting the bar of holiness too high to be realistically attainable.44 Wesley, says McCormick, had gradually come to understand soteriology in the anthropological terms of a “Biblical eudaemonism,” by which man seeks holiness because in holiness man is most happy.45 Albert Outler suggests that Wesley repositioned the “ladder” of Perfection, after his own scheme, toward becoming “like” God, but short of becoming a god.46 This effectively “domesticated” or even “democratized” the (Plotinian) ascent that Eastern Mystics had taught, making “perfection” an “attainable goal.”47 In Wesley’s defense, David Bundy insists that he “took much of the [Anglican] synthesis [of Eastern theology] out of the academy, church and cloister and brought it to the people” and “adapted that synthesis in structures of discipline and accountability for laity; and who modeled what he preached.”48 It was “Methodists in America,” Outler asserts, who “contributed to a very considerable confusion by interpreting ‘perfection’ in terms of ‘the second blessing’ or ‘entire sanctification as a state of grace distinct from justification, attainable instantaneously by faith.'”49
Wesley’s writings reflect many more Eastern Mystic influences besides these three. It is widely recognized (not without considerable dispute, in regard to extent as well as provenance), that Wesley based his tract, The Character of a Methodist, and also a published poem, “On Clemens Alexandrinus’s Description of a Perfect Christian” on Clement’s picture of the “Perfect Gnostic” (from Stromateis, Book 7, see also Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew). Bundy suggests that Wesley might have been exposed to Clement’s ideas secondarily through publishing a certain book by Anthony Horneck, and that the poem might rather be attributable to John Gambold.50 But in a letter to Lloyd’s Evening Post, Wesley himself stated, “Five or six and thirty years ago, I much admired the character of a perfect Christian drawn up by Clemens Alexandrinus. Five or six and twenty years ago, a thought came to my mind, of drawing such a character myself, only in a more scriptural manner, and mostly in the very words of Scripture ….”51 Similarly, Wesley “plagiarized” (Bundy’s word) John Williams’ book, A Catechism Truly Representing the Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, with an Answer Thereto, in his work of similar title; and Beveridge’s Sunodikon, sive Pandectae Canonum 55. Apostolorum et Conciliorum Ecclesia Graeca Receptorum “provided grist” for Wesley’s “mill.”52 In fact, the extent of Wesley’s interest in affective Eastern spirituality is demonstrable from many of the books he chose to “extract and abridge” in his fifty-volume A Christian Library collection, first published in 1750.53
Disenchanted with the German Mystics, wary of asceticism and apathy, doubtful of the possibility of theosis, he nevertheless mined them for useful ideas yet shied away from unqualified endorsement. In time, Wesley even broke with his past mentor William Law.54 Around 1734, Law had become an admirer of self-taught Theosophist and Mystic Jakob Böhme, who laid claim to a series of visions. In his evolving circumspection, Wesley seems to follow once again the example of Tersteegen, who turned away, even within his own circles, from potential antinomianism and the “excessive ecstasy that he perceived could degenerate into idolatrous self-edification or even demonic torment.”55 Wesley, however, “nonetheless remained in dialogue with these early mentors, edited and ‘corrected’ them, and recommended them throughout his life.”56
The results of this “programmatic”57 selectivity appears to reveal a considered determination not to publish, for the most part, primary works by Eastern Mystics. Primary works are largely absent within the corpus, for which were substituted secondary works of modern provenance. “Wesley preferred to edit and present the works of the [Anglican] and continental interpreters of the ancient texts rather than to edit and present the ancient texts themselves!” admits Bundy.58 Further, Wesley “reconstructed” mystical works, says Christensen, by replacing implications of theosis in Eastern theology with his own formulation and conception of Perfection, or effectively hiding it.59 For example, when he published twenty-two of Macarius’ Spiritual Homilies in A Christian Library, “Wesley consistently omitted references to ascetic life and to the notion of theosis….”60 As Frank Baker describes his modus operandi, Wesley’s editing “mainly involved choice, striking his pen through passages in printed works, changing the words and phrases, and supplying written links from time to time.”
After considerable hesitation he resolved to leave his human sources uncited, ‘that nothing might divert the mind of the reader’ from the brief notes themselves. He omitted without comment statements with which he did not agree. All his quotations and allusions, however, rephrased as they were in simpler language, honestly sought to represent the essence of his sources.61
The extent of Wesley’s editing and revisionism of such works (for less it cannot justly be called) is clearly demonstrated in the following passage from Macarius that diametrically contradicts Wesley’s doctrine of attainable Perfection:
So this man confesses that he is not perfect or altogether free from sin. He says that the middle wall of partition has been broken through and shattered, and yet, at some point not wholly broken, nor at all times. There are moments when grace kindles up and comforts and refreshes more fully; there are moments when it retreats and clouds over, according as grace itself manages for the man’s advantage. But who is there that has come to the perfect measure at particular seasons, and has tasted and had direct experience of that world? A perfect Christian man, one completely free, I have not yet seen. Although one and another is at rest in grace, and enters into mysteries and revelations and into much sweetness of grace, still sin is yet present within. By reason of the exceeding grace and of the light that is in them, men consider themselves free and perfect; but inexperience deceives them. They are under the influence of grace, but I have never yet seen a man that is free. I myself at times have in part come to that measure, and I have learned to know that it does not constitute a perfect man.62
The “extracted” version of this homily, published by Wesley in A Christian Library, bears little resemblance to the independent translation above, and does not contain this particular passage at all, as such.63 “Wesley, in appropriating the idea of theosis and constructing his doctrine of Christian perfection, found that the Church Fathers required editing.”64
The logical conclusion of these factors is that Wesley effectively obscured, perhaps to himself as well, elements of Neoplatonic Mysticism that contributed to his doctrines of Prevenient Grace and Perfection, in some cases by failing to recognize them for what they were, and in other cases by carefully editing out overt references to the most objectionable concepts. This consequence has unfortunately served, due to Wesley’s abiding popularity and influence, to introduce and establish erroneous views of Sanctification and related issues within a large segment of Christianity, including, via the Holiness Movement, some Perfectionist and Legalistic strains of Pentecostalism.
Even beyond this conclusion, problems associated with Wesley’s exegesis must still be addressed, for which purpose three brief examples will suffice. Wesley uses the term, “the energy of love,” to describe the “divine initiative” of God’s Prevenient Grace, the “divine-human participation” by which man may attain Perfection.65 Wesley engages Galatians 5:6, in particular, as a prooftext for this “energy” terminology. However, any first-year Greek student knows that while energein is indeed the etymological source for the English word, “energy,” the Greek word literally means “work.” Therefore, Theodore Runyon is mistaken in supposing Wesley’s rendition to be “a literal translation” of the text,66 which actually reads, “faith working through love.” Contextually, righteousness rather comes by the instrumentality of faith (Gal 2:16, 3:6, 5:5, et al.), because of love; hence it is faith, not love, that does the work (and arguably faith is cognitive and volitional; not affective, as in the case of many definitions of love). Wesley’s appropriation of the phrase, “energy of love,” as well as the concept, can be traced back, again, to Chrysostom.67
Second, being challenged regarding the statement by James (3:2) that “we all stumble in many things,” Wesley claims that “we” is just a “figure of speech,” that James “could not possibly include himself,” but rather refers “Not [to] apostles, nor true believers,” but to others who will “receive the greater condemnation.”68 These claims are devoid of textual justification; rather, are obvious rationalizations and impositions on the text due to preconceptions (“analogy of faith,” doctrinal construct) that are clearly contradicted by the passage.
Third, in prooftexting from John’s first epistle, by which he argues that a person who has achieved Perfection cannot sin (or does not sin),69 Wesley falls prey to errors common to “armchair” interpreters of that book, in particular: failing to account for the idiosyncrasies and alleged Hebraisms (too complex to detail here) inherent to it, but certainly including John’s propensity for black-and-white dualisms and pointed use of the perfect participle. Most interpreters agree that John is describing those who make a regular practice of sin, or whose activities are by virtue of their unregenerated nature always characterized by sin, in contrast to the Regenerated. Worse, Wesley makes in this same context a claim upon Kingdom promises (Zech 12:8), saying, “The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth.” Thus he reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of eschatology, since the “fullness of the Kingdom” (including not only future glory but Perfection) will not come about till the Eschaton, the End. Elsewhere, among other examples, Wesley likewise fails to interpret Psalm 103:8, on the ultimate redemption of Israel, and 1 John 3:8, regarding Christ’s complete work in overcoming sin and death, eschatologically.70
In fact, a studied perusal of Wesley’s signature work, A Plain Account on Christian Perfection, on the whole reveals its proofs to amount to an exercise in unenlightened prooftexting—all done, one hopes, in ingenuous simplicity, by reason of the inadequate hermeneutical theory and tools of the day. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that as a result of his long-term quest for personal, affective assurance, Wesley produced a compromise, “designer” religion that, however it might have shaded his exegesis, served his purposes more than it offended his strict British sensibilities.
1 David Bundy, “Christian Virtue: John Wesley and the Alexandrian Tradition,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):142.
2 Mark Goldie, ‘Cambridge Platonists (act. 1630s–1680s),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2013 (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/theme/94274, accessed March 27, 2014). The Cambridge Platonists might have had fairly direct influence on John Wesley through his father, whose friend was John Norris, see Bundy, p. 142.
3 K. Steve McCormick, “Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):49-50.
4 Ibid., p. 66, see also 67.
5 Ibid., p. 67.
6 Ibid., p. 50.
7 Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (NY: Oxford University Press, 1964; paperback, 1980), p. 9, and Michael J. Christensen, “Theosis and Sanctification: John Wesley’s Reformulation of a Patristic Doctrine,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):75.
8 Christensen, p. 75.
9 McCormick, p. 50, Christensen, p. 74.
10 John Wesley, The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley (NY: J. & J. Harper, 1828), p. 70, also quoted from another source in McCormick, pp. 50-51.
11 Randy L. Maddox, “John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergences, and Differences,” Asbury Theological Journal 45/2 (1990):30, 31, 35; see also Outler, pp. 9-10, and Christensen, p. 74.
12 Henry Moore, The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., vol. I (London: Printed for John Kershaw, 1824), p. 161. Regarding “purity of intention,” Runyon writes, “If the intention is right, this is what really counts [to Wesley]. ‘Intention’ was a theme important to him from his 1725 self-dedication onward,” Theodore Runyon, “The New Creation: A Wesleyan Distinctive,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):12.
13 Moore., p. 124.
14 Christensen, p. 75.
15 Bundy, p. 141.
16 Moore, p. 107.
17 Ibid., p. 234, see also 190.
18 Ibid., p. 54.
19 Outler, p. 12, Christensen, p. 75.
20 Christensen, pp. 76, 85.
21 Moore, p. 190, Bundy, p. 142.
22 From Chapter 6 of John Telford, The Life of John Wesley (http://Wesley.nnu-edu/?id=88, accessed April 2, 2014). This passage is apparently taken from a printing other than that of 1900, in which this and some other passages do not appear.
23 Ibid., see also McCormick, p. 48.
24 J. Steven O’Malley, “Pietistic Influence on John Wesley: Wesley and Gerhard Tersteegen” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):49, 65, 66.
25 O’Malley, p. 57 f.
26 Outler, pp. 12-13, see also Bundy, p. 141.
27 Ibid., p. 11.
28 O’Malley, p. 49.
29 John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in Wesley and Fletcher, Entire Sanctification Attainable in This Life (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1898), p. 11.
30 Christensen, p. 76.
31 O’Malley, p. 51.
32 Tersteegen had previously questioned von Zinzendorf’s self-interest and possible antinomianism, O’Malley, p. 57.
33 Moore, p. 343.
34 O’Malley, p. 53, see also 57.
35 Ibid., pp. 49, 57-61.
36 Ibid., p. 69, incl. note 77, referring to L. G. Harvey, ed., Tersteegen, Recluse in Demand: Life and Letters, vol. I (Hampton, TN: Harvey & Tait, n.d.), pp. 125, 129.
37 Ibid., p. 65; see also Bundy, p. 153, and Christensen, p. 71, note 1.
38 Maddox, p. 31; on Tersteegen, see also O’Malley, p. 65.
39 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 25.
40 So Maddox, pp. 31, 35.
41 See Christensen, p. 85; Outler, p. 9, note 26; and a somewhat contrary view in Bundy, p. 139.
42 Christensen, pp. 81, 85, incl. note 19.
43 See Christensen, pp. 76; 85, note 22; and p. 87. For more on the awakening of spiritual senses, in the views of both Macarius and Wesley, see Runyon, p. 14.
44 Letter from John to Charles Wesley, June 27, 1766, cited in Christensen, p. 90.
45 McCormick, p. 53. “God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee’? He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy…,” Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 13, see also p. 8.
46 Outler, p. 31.
47 Christensen, p. 88, see also p. 80.
48 Bundy, p. 155.
49 Outler, p. 30.
50 Maddox, p. 30; Christensen, pp. 76, 78; Bundy, pp. 139 ff., 149.
51 Bundy, pp.139, 143, 151.
52 Bundy, p. 141.
53 “A Christian Library by John Wesley,” Wesley Center Online (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/a-christian-library/, accessed April 3, 2014).
54 Christensen, p. 75, Runyon, p. 13, Moore, p. 518.
55 O’Malley, p. 56 f.
56 Christensen, p. 76.
57 Christensen’s term, pp. 74, 80.
58 Bundy, p. 143, see also 142.
59 Christensen, p. 80.
60 Ted Campbell in Christensen, p. 81, note 22.
61 Frank Baker, “John Wesley, Biblical Commentator,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 71 (1989):111 f.
62 Pseudo-Macarius Homily 8:5, in A. J. Mason, Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, Translations of Christian Literature, Series I, gen. ed. W. J. Sparrow-Simpson and W. K. Lowther Clarke (London: SPCK, 1921), pp. 67 f.
63 See A Christian Library, Wesley Center Online (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/a-christian-library/a-christian-library-volume-1/volume-1-the-homilies-of-macarius/, accessed April 3, 2014).
64 Christensen, p. 88.
65 McCormick, p. 54.
66 Runyon, p. 15.
67 McCormick, p. 102, note 153; McCormick, quoted in Troy W. Martin, “John Wesley’s Exegetical Orientation: East Or West?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):136, note 114; see also Runyon, p. 15, note 30.
68 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 21.
69 See Ibid., p. 19 f.
70 Ibid., p. 41.
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes
Reading this work by Karl Barth has been in many ways enlightening. One hears so much about him, both good and bad (depending upon the source), but it is hardly fair to form an opinion only on the basis of secondary evaluations. One must read Barth to give a fair estimation of Barth.
Barth first shows himself to be a true dogmatist. Using the points of the Apostles Creed as its outline, he presents to the reader an overview of Christianity as he understands it. His theology is pre-critical: he is not concerned with historico-critical data or exegesis. Rather, he begins with the Creed as it stands. It is a “given.” As far as he is concerned, it is the orthodox Church’s interpretation of Christianity which stands — it must only be rejuvenated. To Barth, it is not only unnecessary but impossible to “prove” that the Gospel is true. It is to be accepted by faith alone.
In fact, the paradox of Christianity is a recurring theme in the book. Barth is quick to allay the doubts of those who remained puzzled by what seems impossible, unnatural, or contradictory. That is to be expected, and nothing to worry about, he says. He does not attempt to explain away such things, or make them acceptable to reason, as would the typical apologist. Jesus Christ — wholly God, yet wholly man? The crucifixion — humiliating, yet exalting? The Holy Spirit — divine and yet indwelling imperfect humanity? Barth is right in this: such things defy reasonable explanation. Such things are, to the intellect, “a stumbling block, and the rock of offense.” But to the one who, like Barth, accepts by faith the paradox of Christianity, such things are “the power of God unto salvation.”
What Barth does is to begin with the Creed, the foundational truths of orthodox Christianity, and go on from there. It is his intention not to reinforce them, but to revitalize them and, perhaps, to set them as a reminder to those who have been slack. Vitality is, of course, a necessary part of true Christianity. It is the action involved in moving from a head-knowledge of the Scripture and of Christian doctrine toward the fulfillment of the Christian life. It is the visible sign of true Christianity (although mere activity must not be confused with real vitality).
But Barth only begins with the points of the Creed. From that simple and acceptable basis he expands, often tangentially, to what many would see as unbiblical philosophies. A case in point: orthodox Christianity accepts the idea of a real Hell, a real Judgment, and the necessity of rebirth (baptism to some) in order to attain eternal life. Barth accepts their terminology, but does not adhere to orthodox interpretation. Although not explicitly stated, Barth exhibits leanings toward Universalism. To fit the pattern, he redefines such terms as Hell, Eternity, and Judgment: Hell is an existing state of separation from God due to an individual’s rebellion, not a place of internal punishment. Eternity is used figuratively (?) by the Bible, representing a state of timelessness which exists until the Second Coming. And although Barth does have some conception of judgment (“By this we shall be judged, about this the Judge shall one day put the question, Did you live by grace …? Have you been a faithful servant …?” p. 152), yet in this book one cannot find a definition of “judgment” other than Christ revealing himself, and proving that he is, indeed, Lord of all. There is no punishment aspect mentioned. Furthermore, Barth makes no mention of a continued separation between believers and non-believers after Christ returns. As far as can be seen, Barth expects all men to be united at that time.
So how does Barth deal with the “eternal fire” passages in the Bible? According to him, they are metaphorical — the biblical writers were expressing the horror and discomfiture of the unbeliever’s separation from Christ (in the present world) in metaphorical terms. The literal view of Hell and a divine wrath are, to him, a product of a faulty hermeneutic. The picture of the Wrath of God, Barth claims, is a construct of artists, such as Michelangelo, who sought sensational themes for their paintings.
Barth is not without his merits. He demonstrates a high view of God. He prefers the designation of God as “the Father” to more generic term such as “the Almighty.” In fact, he reacted strongly against that term, and noted that Hitler referred to God in that fashion. Barth considers God as more, much more, than some obscure power. Father better describes God in terms of his character and his relationship to man — power is merely one of his attributes, as is Creator, and should not be separated out as a general designation. The fatherhood aspect of God is demonstrated by his grace — and to Barth, all God does is a product of his grace.
Along with Father, another favorite designation of God is “God in the Highest” Barth emphasizes that God is far above man, farther than man’s imagination extends. He is not a product of man’s need to worship an ideal “higher self.” God is GOD, and is only known by man because he has revealed himself. God is “a timeless Being, surpassing the world, alien and supreme … the living, acting, working Subject who makes himself known” (p. 38).
Likewise, Barth demonstrates a high Christology. However, he makes an unwarranted connection between Christ and Israel. Barth believes, in a nutshell, that Israel as a nation was called out, not just to be a holy nation, but to evangelize the world. Since Israel failed, Jesus Christ was sent to “fulfill” Israel. It is true that Israel was separated out from the world in order that God might reveal himself to man, and might be glorified. But was evangelization of the world God’s immediate motive? Certainly, the ordinances handed down by Moses served to set them at odds with the rest of the world. In fact, they were ordered to have no fellowship with non-believers. This speaks against the theory of an evangelical mission.
Actually, there is a great non-parallel between the missions of Israel and of Christ: Jesus Christ was sent in order to die for man’s sin, that whoever would believe in his vicarious sacrifice could attain eternal life. Israel never suffered for any sins other than its own, and God never said, “Believe in Israel.” Israel was not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
Barth’s otherwise high Christology suffers from lack of emphasis on Christ’s redeeming work. His emphasis is upon Christ’s revelation at his Second Coming. The Christian’s fate is to be that Christ truly exists and that He will, indeed, appear one day. Then their faith shall be proven valid.
A secondary emphasis is upon Christ’s suffering — suffering as a man on the earth, and suffering at the end on the cross. But this suffering, in Barth’s eyes, is not so much to pay the debt for man’s sins, as to put man in touch with his sins, to make him realize the suffering he deserves. Man must conceptualize, mentally, his guilt. In his realization of his guilt man is saved.
Barth never commits himself to a clear statement of Universalism, but a strong implication runs throughout this book. He notes that Christ died for all men, and that is true. He goes so far as to acknowledge that some men will reject Christ — but he never implies that they will be lost. Evidently, he expects all men to be restored when Christ returns.
All in all, Barth reads like any evangelical writer. He displays a love for God and for Christ that should warm the heart of any true Christian. Certainly there are problems: he leans too heavily on his own speculation and does not use Scripture often or carefully. For instance, his misuse of Philippians 2:6, “God thinks it not robbery to be divine, that is, He does not hold on to the booty like a robber, but God parts with Himself” (p. 116). While the thought may be perfectly good and correct, the usage is faulty.
Yet the Christian reader can feel a certain kinship with Barth, as one should feel a certain kinship with a Christian of another denomination, or even a Jew who truly loves God. Certain of Barth’s ideas are, perhaps, erroneous — but Barth is not a heretic. There is no reason the Christian should not read his works, if one is a mature and discerning believer, and maybe even quote Barth in a sermon.
At the very least, Barth is food for thought — and there are plenty of people whose minds could use a little nourishment.
Originally a book report presented to Dr. Gary McGee, The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, for THE/HIS 636 Contemporary Theology, August 31, 1985. Dr. McGee deemed the report “Excellent,” and assigned the grade “A.”
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes
This article is included in an appendix to God’s Laws: Sin, Law, Grace, and Obligation in Pauline Theology (2014), available in paperback from Amazon and other online retailers, and in an abbreviated eBook version at the Apple iBook Store and other eBook sources.
Paul calls all confirmed Christians “saints” (hagioi, “holy ones”) because, regardless of their individual level of spiritual maturity and yet-to-be-redeemed carnal nature, all have entered by faith into the Elect and are marked for future Redemption at Christ’s “Second Coming” (parousia, “appearing”).
Having been “marked” (“sealed”) by the indwelling Holy Spirit, Paul expects new believers to begin allowing that Spirit to motivate their actions. This requires the believer’s voluntary cooperation (1 Cor 14:32, Eph 4:30, 1 Th 5:19). Their actions and life choices should become progressively holy (hagias, “sacred,” “sanctified”), resulting in “Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22 f.), increasingly reflecting the holiness of the Lord whom they serve. Christians are to progress “from faith to faith,” “from glory to glory,” and “more and more” (Rom 1:17, 2 Cor 3:18, Php 1:9, 1 Th 4:1, 10).
Overcoming the sin nature and achieving sinless perfection is obviously not accomplished in a day. The new believer’s instant, imputed holiness (by grace) points forward to its final, eschatological completion at the Parousia, when believers will all be “changed” (1 Cor 15:50 ff.; Php 3:10 ff., 20 f.; 1 Th 4:14 ff., 5:10). Eschaton refers to the End, and “Eschatology” to the final culmination of God’s Plan.
Unfortunately, not every Christian tradition understands Eschatology. Faced with the dilemma of a persistent carnal, sin nature, many Christians such as John Wesley have sought to appropriate divine power to banish the sin nature immediately, once and for all. Holy living is an admirable goal if pursued humbly (one must never be like the man who wrote a book which he entitled, Humility, and How I Achieved It); but the possibility of “Entire Sanctification” before full, Final Redemption of body as well as soul is ill-conceived upon wishful thinking and misapprehensions of Scripture. Moreover, the concept of ascending to a higher spiritual (or moral) plane through Contemplative Prayer and self-purification–thus transcending human nature–is based largely on a long-held, persistent tradition of Neoplatonic Mysticism, originating in Greek Pagan philosophy. See Neoplatonist Stew here and here, and “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism.”
Perfectionists rely heavily on prooftexts from Paul’s writings, especially occurrences of the English word “perfect” as well as references to holiness. Greek teleion, often translated “perfect” in the KJV, means “complete” or “mature”; and katartismon means “trained,” “disciplined,” “equipped,” or “prepared.” While holy living is upheld by Paul as the goal for every Christian, the various terminology does not inherently imply an ascent to permanent moral perfection but rather growing in wisdom, in competence to practice holy living, and in knowledge to train, nurture, and edify others.
So what did Paul actually say in regard to his own status of sanctification? Did he lay claim to sinless perfection, to entirely abolishing the sin nature?
1. As mentioned above, all confirmed believers are “holy ones,” by grace. The term “holy” does not refer only to a special elite who have achieved or ascended.
2. Also mentioned above, Christian “perfection” is to be fully realized only at the Eschaton. The following parallel passages, among the favored prooftexts of Perfectionists, actually convey no doctrine of Perfection but express Paul’s simple wish that believers continue to practice love, sound doctrine, and moral living, so that they incur no “blame” (“reproach,” “rebuke”) upon Christ’s sudden return (en te parousia). Note that he makes no direct connection to “praying through” in order to achieve perfection, as Perfectionists do, but to practicing a life of obedient faith and abstinence from sin.
- 1 Th 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you, 13 to the end that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness (hagiosune) before God, even our Father, at the coming (en te parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones. 4:1 Furthermore, brethren, we ask you and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as you have received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, so you would abound more and more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification (hagiasmos, “holiness”), that you should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his own vessel in holiness (hagiasmo) and honor, 5 not in passionate lust, even as the Gentiles who know not God; 6 that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7 For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (hagiosmo).
- 1 Th 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify (hagiasai) you wholly (holoteles, “soundly,” “through and through”); and may your spirit and soul and body be found quite (holokleron) blameless at the coming (en te parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In addition, Paul writes clearly that believers’ full deliverance as children of God awaits Final Redemption:
- Rom 8:19 For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but by the one who subjugates it in hope, 21 because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit also groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.
3. Paul continually worked to subdue his flesh.
- 1 Cor 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; I so fight, not as one who beats the air, 27 but I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
4. Paul worried that he might still “suffer loss” or be “disqualified” due to slackness or moral failure.
- 1 Cor 3:10 … But let every man take heed how he builds upon it…. 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is…. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet such as by fire.
- 1 Cor 9:27 But I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
- See also Heb 2:1, Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip…. 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect such great salvation ….
5. Paul did not claim to have already attained the kingdom or his own righteousness.
- Php 3:8 … that I may win Christ, 9 and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, 11 if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead; 12 Not as though I had already attained, or have already achieved perfection (teteleiomai): but I follow after, if only I may grasp that for which also I am grasped by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I count not myself to have grasped, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
- 1 Cor 9:15 … it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. 16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing of which to glory: for necessity is laid upon me. Indeed, woe to me, if I preach not the gospel! 17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, stewardship has been entrusted to me.
- 1 Cor 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who is not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
- 2 Cor 3:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? …. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
- Eph 3:7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effective working of his power: 8 unto me, who is less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ;
- 1 Tim 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has empowered me, because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was profoundly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all patience, for a pattern to those who believe on him to eternal life.
6. Paul emphasized the need to continually mortify or crucify one’s flesh and “reckon” oneself dead to sin, choosing to deny the flesh and live according to the principles of the Gospel.
- Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?… 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: so that like Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection, 6 knowing this: that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 8 Now if we are dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, 9 knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more. Death has no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God. 11 Likewise reckon also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its desires, 13 nor yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves to God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.
- Rom 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…. 13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die; but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
- Gal 2:17 But if, while we seek to be made righteous (dikaiothenai) by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore the minister of sin? By no means! 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me…. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect (epiteleisthe, “completely finished”) by the flesh?
- Gal 5:24 And those who are of Christ crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit…. 6:14 But may I never ever boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world was crucified to me, and I to the world. (See also Gal 3:13, 1 Cor 2:8.)
- Col 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. 5 Therefore, mortify your parts which are upon the earth;… (See also Col 2:20 ff.)
- 2 Tim 2:11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.
7. Paul expressed his own natural inability to do God’s will or transcend his human nature or Original Sin.
- Rom 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of lust. For without the law, sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me…. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I practice I do not comprehend, for I do not do what I wish; but what I hate, that I pursue. 16 If then I do what I do not wish, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing, for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, not. 19 For the good that I wish I do not do: but the evil that I do not wish, that I pursue. 20 Now if I do what I do not wish, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that when I wish to do good, evil is at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, 23 but I see another law in my parts, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my parts. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 (I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.) So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
- 2 Cor 12:5 Of such will I glory, yet of myself I will not glory, but in my weaknesses. 6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth; but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees me to be, or what he hears of me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
- Gal 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires in opposition to the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you wish.
8. Paul expressed the need to be actively and continually motivated by the Spirit in order not to sin. Sinlessness could never become an established state of being prior to Final Redemption, but a daily, rational choice, policy, and practice.
- Rom 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…. 13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die; but if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.
- 2 Cor 1:17 When I therefore thus determined, did I take it lightly? Or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes-yes and no-no?
- 2 Cor 10:2 But I beg you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence wherewith I think to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)
- Gal 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? By no means! 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor…. 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me…. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect (epiteleisthe) by the flesh?
- Gal 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires in opposition to to the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you wish. 18 But if you be led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
- Col 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. 5 Therefore mortify your parts which are on the earth;…
9. Paul was given an infirmity (astheneia, “weakness,” “illness”) to stem potential pride and vanquish self-reliance. It served as a reminder that in spite of profound revelations, he had not and could not transcend the limitations of mortality, nor ascribe to spiritual attainments apart from gifts of grace, i.e., charismata. (To Paul, his authority to preach and teach came by virtue of the revelation he had received, which he described literally as “grace” [charis] which had been “given” to him.)
- 2 Cor 12:1 Boasting is necessary, if not profitable, but I will proceed to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I knew a man in Christ over fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell, God knows), such as was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell, God knows), 4 how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in my weaknesses. 6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth, but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees me to be, or what he hears of me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace (charis) is sufficient for you: for my strength is perfected (teleitai) in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
- Rom 12:3 For I say to all who are among you, by the grace (charitos) given (dotheises) unto me, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, just as God has dealt to each a measure of faith….
- Rom 15:15 Yet I have written the more boldly to you on select points, as putting you in mind, because of the grace (charin) that is given (dotheisan) to me of God, 16 that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God….
- 1 Cor 3:10 According to the grace (charin) of God which is given (dotheisan) unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds upon it….
- Gal 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace (charin) that was given (dotheisan) unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship….
- Eph 3:2 If ye have heard of the stewardship of the grace (charitos) of God which is given (dotheises) for you, 3 how by revelation he made known unto me the mystery…. 5 which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel, 7 whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift (dorean) of the grace (charitos) of God, given (dotheises) unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who is less than the least of all saints, was this grace (charis) given (edothe), that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
10. It so follows that to Paul it is through charismata, bestowed by grace through Spirit Baptism, that the power of God is manifested in the Church, and Spirit-empowered ministry takes place (not via “praying through” to achieve an elite spiritual state, e.g., apotheosis); moreover, that training in sound doctrine and faithful Christian practice are vital to Christian strength and maturity.
- Rom 12:3 For I say to all who are among you, by the grace (charitos) given (dotheises) unto me, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, just as God has dealt to each a measure of faith…. 6 Having then gifts (charismata) differing according to the grace (charin) that is given (dotheisan) to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 or ministry, let us attend to our ministering, or he that teaches, on teaching….
- 1 Cor 1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace (chariti) of God which was given (dotheise) you by Jesus Christ, 5 that in everything you were enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, 6 even as the witness of Christ was confirmed in you, 7 such that you come behind in no gift (charismati), waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you until the End (telous), that you may be beyond reproach (anegkletous) in the Day [i.e., Parousia, Eschaton] of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- 1 Cor 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given (didotai) to each to profit in common. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit…. 18 But now God has set the parts, each of them, in the body, as it has pleased him…. 27 You are the body of Christ and its select parts. 28 And God has set some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that powers, then gifts (charismata) of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues…. 31 But earnestly seek the best gifts (charismata):
- 1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual things, but rather to prophesy. 2 For he that speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men,… 3 but he who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation, and comfort. 4 He who speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
- Eph 4:7 But unto every one of us is given (edothe) grace (charis) according to the measure of the gift (doreas) of Christ…. 11 And he gave (edoken) apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; 12 For the preparation (katartismon) of the saints (hagion)… 13 till we all attain … unto a mature (teleion) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children,… 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him…, 16 from whom the whole body well fitted together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the respective task of each part, causes growth of the body, resulting in the edification of itself in love. (See also Col 2:19.)
- 2 Tim 3:14 But you continue in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be perfect (artios, “fit,” “capable,” “prepared”), thoroughly furnished (exertismenos, “fitted,” “prepared,” perf. participle from the same root as artios) for all good works.
11. At times, Paul still felt the need to take a vow to sanctify himself before God. He did not count himself worthy, or special; nor did he expect to escape judgment for any willful sin, nor the demise and decomposition of the body such as is common to humanity.
- Acts 18:18 And thereafter Paul tarried there yet a good while, and taking leave of the brothers, sailed to Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila, having shorn his head in Cenchrea, for he had made a vow.
- Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them, entered into the temple to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until an offering was offered for every one of them.
- Rom 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God, your rational service.
- Php 2:17 Indeed, if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice together with you all.
- 2 Tim 4:6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
12. Paul expected new converts and carnal believers to receive Spirit Baptism and live according to the nature and influence of the Spirit in order to serve the Lord and live a victorious Christian life; he did not command them to seek, or expect them to receive, Entire Sanctification as a “Second (or Third or Fourth) Work of Grace.”
- Acts 6:3 Therefore, brothers, single out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom [not “entirely sanctified”], whom we may appoint over this business. (Indeed, I am aware that Paul himself had not yet been converted at this time, but this example demonstrates continuity of principle.)
- Acts 9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, Jesus, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit [not “entirely sanctified”].
- Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit [not “entirely sanctified”], set his eyes on him 10 and said, O one full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind….
- Acts 19:2 He said unto them, Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit…. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied [not “were entirely sanctified”].
- Acts 11:24 For [Barnabas] was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith [not “entirely sanctified”]: and many people were added unto the Lord.
- Rom 15:15 Yet I have written the more boldly to you on select points, as putting you in mind, because of the grace (charin) that is given (dotheisan) to me of God, 16 that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, [the Gentiles, as a class] having been [imputed to be] sanctified (hegiasmene, perf. participle of hagiazo, “having been made holy”) by the Holy Spirit. (See also Acts 10:15, 11:9.)
- 2 Cor 13:3 Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who toward you is not weak, but is mighty in you, 4 for though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. For we also are weak [not “entirely sanctified”] in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you…. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection (katartisin, “completion,” “preparation,” “discipline,” “training”)…. 11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect (katartizesthe), be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
- Eph 5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit [not “entirely sanctified”], 19 speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 giving thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God….
- Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect (epiteleisthe) by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain, if it be yet in vain? 5 Therefore, he that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith [by grace, not through “entire sanctification”]?
- Gal 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith [not through “entire sanctification”].
The questions remain, if there is Entire Sanctification for this life in the New Testament, where can it be found? Moreover, what can Entire Sanctification do that the Spirit has not been promised to do through us, and for us, through faith alone? Clearly, we cannot “earn” miraculous provision through achieving our own innate “goodness,” any more than we can earn salvation; nor can we perform miracles in our own right, by our own strength.
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 and we being dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised up and seated together with Him [already, eschatologically speaking] in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the imminent ages He might show the extraordinary riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith: and that not from you, the gift of God; 9 not from works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his doing, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance, so that we might walk in them.
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes