FROM OUR MAILBAG


10-08-98

Your response to Dr. Wood [see "John Fletcher Revised" in the previous issue] is both judicious and instructive. I'm not sure that anything further is needed. I do offer these thoughts:

There is a period of about ten years from 1770 to 1880 in which Joseph Benson is struggling to understand entire sanctification and even salvation. During this time, Benson also embraces a modified Arianism after reading Isaac Watts (it was rather fashionable to be Arian in the late eighteenth century). Clearly, this was a time of confusion and misunderstanding for Benson. As he grows older, he focuses away from pure theology to practical faith and it becomes rather difficult to pin him down on the issue of entire sanctification. Having read all of his letters, however, I would say that he eventually came to understand that the Holy Spirit was key to salvation and that entire sanctification was something very lofty that would only come after much growth and maturity. Furthermore, it would be difficult to base an argument on the use of "baptism of the Holy Spirit" or "filled with the Spirit" since Benson's ideas are in a state of flux during the seventies and it is not clear to me that he was sure what he meant about it at the time. What is relevant is what Benson, Clarke, Fletcher, and others came to expect in a Christian. Do they expect the behavior displayed by the apostles before the Day of Pentecost or after? I would argue (and a little research would bear this out, it certainly does in the case of Benson) that none of them would ever describe the pre-Pentecost Peter as regenerate.

With best regards,
Marsh Jones, Ph. D.,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;
dissertation title Pulpit, Periodical, and Pen: Joseph Benson and Methodist Influence in the Victorian Prelude (1995).

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