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A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley

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Hear, O Israel: Yehouah our God is one Yehouah, and thou shalt love Yehouah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Dt 6:4-5

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Lev 19:18

John Wesley

John Wesley the prominent eighteenth century preacher and founder of Methodism was one who was not afraid to urge his converts to be perfect, even writing as short tract about it, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection in which he explains:

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

Moreover this perfection is to be achieved by love:

“Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment”. It is not only “the first and great” command, but all the commandments in one. “Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise”, they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness. The royal law of heaven and earth is this, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end.

Thereafter Wesley enters into the self loving ego trip that Christians are fond of. They wax lyrical about their love of God and the virtues thereof, utterly missing, or at least effectively missing that Christ did not say that “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” was the first and the great commandment. He pointedly gave two commandments in answer to the scribe’s question, and the scribe agreed with his double answer, ending up being told that he was not far off the kingdom of God:

Scribe—What is the first commandment of all?

Jesus—The first of all the commandments is: Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment (Dt 6:4-5). And the second is like this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). There is not another commandment greater than these.

Scribe—You say well, Teacher. You have spoken according to truth, that God is one, and there is no other besides Him, and to love Him from all the heart, and from all the understanding, and from all the soul, and from all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all the burnt offerings and the sacrifices.

Jesus—You are not far from the kingdom of God.

Mark 12:28-34

In other words, for Christ, God incarnate, the first and great commandment was these two combined together. He obviously regarded them as inseparable, but even Wesley missed it. The point is that no one can love God without loving human beings. God incarnated as a human being in the shape of Jesus called Christ. Christians, under the baneful influence of Paul, think God did it so that he could deliberately arrange to die in atonement of human sin. That is fatuous, and this is where the real reason is given. God incarnated as a human being, his own son, because all human beings are children of God, and He is in all of them. That is why Jesus explained that any harm to anyone is a harm to God (Mt 25:42-45), and any kindness shown to anyone is shown to God (Mt 25:35-40).

How Christ saw God: "The Least Among Us"!

Christians like the idea that all they have to do is have faith, that is, they think, loving God, attending church and handing over to the pastor a few bucks when they do, for the good of their souls. In essence Wesley was the same. In this short work about Christian perfection, he mentions “God” 361 times and mentions neighbor “14” times. He urges his followers to…

…desire not to live but to praise his name, let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to his glory.

How Christians see God

Like many thoughtful Christians, he is aware that Christ called for love of one’s neighbor, indeed Wesley thought any creature:

Love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view.

All that concerns him is a vision of God, the whole moral purpose of Christ evades him, except incidentally, as is the case for Christians generally. He knows that even one’s enemy is a creature of God, and so ought to be loved, in Christ’s teaching, but, like most, he fails to accept how important it is—more important than the view at “the glorious point”, for, without it, the glorious point will not be reached! At each of the 361 instances where Wesley mentions God, the Christian should have in mind the least among us, not the glory. One has to love ones’s fellow human beings to love God. That is being perfect. And so one has to serve ordinary people to serve God, and without so doing, the Christian will not be perfect, and God will remain out of sight.

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Written by mikemagee

5 October, 2011 at 10:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I agree with most of what you have written… But if perfection is the aim aren’t we doomed from the outset? I try dearly to love both God and my fellow human beings but I fall short on both accounts. How then is perfection to be achieved? Is perfection even the aim? It seems to me that an acceptance of a lack of attainable perfection along with a commitment to actually go about in an attempt to love God and others in increasing measure throughout life is a more realistic expectation than that of perfection.

    Alan

    6 October, 2011 at 2:56 am

    • We probably do agree.

      Too many Christians teach each other that no one can be perfect. It is one of their “God is an idiot” excuses for not doing what they should, if they are to be considered as Christians! God is such an idiot that he thinks mortal sinful men can be perfect. In Leviticus 19:2, the word God is reported as using is “holy”, so the idiot god of the Christians thinks men should even be holy. “If perfection is the aim aren’t we doomed from the outset?” is a supposition that would stifle all endeavor. Surely we set ourselves goals, and if we are ambitious, we set ambitious ones. Isn’t that the point.

      Believers in God ought not to suppose he is an idiot, for that is proof that they have no faith in him at all. Faith is trust. They cannot trust an idiot. God sets Christians, those who believe He appeared on earth and trust Him to have had a good reason for it, the goal of being perfect (Mt 5:48), and setting such a goal is not evidence that God is the idiot Christians convince themselves he is. The world in Christian theology, at least that part of it influenced by Gnosticism, is an imperfect place. Or human beings are imperfect through the Fall. God obviously does not expect people to achieve perfection. But He is the Judge. Come Judgement Day, He will decide who has seriously tried to achieve perfection and who has not.

      What then are His criteria? Naturally, no one knows them all, but God Himself has told those who are supposed to believe in Him some of them, and the most important one is love, loving others even your enemies. Leviticus 19, in which the message comes through Moses, has it, at 19:13 and 19:18, but the Jewish scriptures have been badly mauled and diluted by the self serving greed of the temple priests, so important moral rules are diluted by the scams of the priests for their aggrandisement. Christians are meant to follow the words of the incarnation of God, Christ, and he repeats the essential moral code of the OT, leaving the general principle of love as the criterion of doubtful passages.

      So, in my view, we arrive at the same place except that I do not play down the aim of perfection at all. We must aim for moral perfection, and the way we treat our fellow humans is the criterion by which perfection is initially judged. Christians are supposed to believe that God is almighty, so no one can ever claim perfection, and therefore salvation, without saying they are more mighty than God. Humility requires the Christian to accept that as fact. So, those who boast of salvation, on Christ’s description of the criteria of God’s judgement, are most certainly not saved!

      Mike Magee

      6 October, 2011 at 4:06 pm


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