|William Burt Pope:
The following paragraphs have been drawn, with only minor editing from William Burt Pope, “Methodist Doctrine,” in Wesley Memorial Volume, James Osgood Andrew Clark, ed. (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1880), pp. 183-187. Clark was the presiding elder of the South Georgia Conference from 1875-1894. During this time he also served as the general agent for the project to raise money to build Wesley Monumental Methodist Church in Savannah. One of his fund raising projects was the Wesley Memorial Volume, a book composed of articles about John Wesley, written by prominent Methodists. Pope contributed the chapter which surveyed Methodist doctrine.
The most eminent component of Methodist doctrine is its unfaltering assertion of the believer’s privilege to be delivered from indwelling sin in the present life. The one element in the Methodist doctrine which may be called distinctive is the article that the work of the Spirit in sanctifying believers from sin is to be complete in this state of probation. This is the hope it sees set before us in the Gospel and therefore, it presses this upon the pursuit and attainment of all who are in Christ. The suppression and destruction of indwelling sin is the one point where its aim is beyond the general aim. A long chain of ecclesiastical testimonies bear witness that a high doctrine of Christian perfection has been taught in all ages, and in many communities, coming in some instances within a hair’s breadth of this, but shrinking back from the last expression of the truth. The best of the ascetics and mystics of ancient and modern times both taught and exemplified a high standard of purification from sin, inner illumination, and supernatural union with God, but whether from misconceived humility or lack of the highest triumph of faith, they invariably reserved the secret residue of evil as necessary to human discipline. This last fetter Methodism will not reserve. Its doctrine pursues the alien and the enemy into its most interior stronghold, and destroys it there, so that the temple of God in the human spirit shall not only be emptied of sin, but swept from every trace that it had been there, and garnished with all the graces of the divine image.
Methodism reads and fearlessly interprets all those clauses in the charter of grace which speak of the destruction of the body of sin, of putting off the old man, of crucifying the flesh unto death, of an entire sanctification of man’s whole nature, of a preservation in faultlessness, of a perfect love casting out fear, of being purified as Christ is pure, and of the love of God perfected in the human soul. Redemption from the flesh spiritually understood, is not made synonymous or simultaneous with redemption from the flesh physically interpreted. No sin can pass the threshold of life to be purged through the intermediate fires of discipline and there is no provision in heaven for the destruction of evil. Death itself cannot take the office of the atoning blood and the purifying Spirit. Therefore, it follows that the final stroke must be in the present life. The atonement is not more certainly a finished work than the application of it by the Holy Spirit. There must be a sacred moment of final deliverance from what God sees as sin in the soul. This is Christian perfection — a word when used, is always guarded by its necessary adjectives of Christian, evangelical, and relative.
Methodism began to announce this high and most sacred possibility of the Christian life very early. It has continued the testimony until now, altogether apart from the vouchers of living witnesses. Its principle has been that God’s Word must be true and his standard the right one, however the lives of the saints may halt behind it.
Some forms of the doctrine assert what cannot be maintained by the warrant of the Bible. The “second blessing” is sometimes confounded with the first, as if an entire consecration to God, which is only the perfect beginning were an entire sanctification from all sin. The effusion of divine love in the soul is sometimes mistaken for that “perfected love” of which it is only the earnest. First John gives the most explicit assurance that there is set before the aspiration of the saint a perfected and finished operation of divine love, the triumph of which is the extinction of sin and fear. But it is observable, that before the last testimony to live in man as perfected, we have three testimonies to the gradual operation of the love of God in us, which carry it into the three deportments of the covenant of grace.
First is that of law. “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:5). Perfected love is the fulfilling of the righteousness of the law and its triumph is bound up with our habitual obedience in all things.
Second is that of sonship. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). Universal, boundless, self-sacrificing charity is the condition as well as the goal of perfected love.
Third is that of consecration. “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein in our love made perfect” (1 John 4:16-17). Abstraction from all created desire and supreme union with God is also both the condition and the crown of perfected love.
Not withstanding every drawback, it still remains that the testimony borne for a century to the highest privileges of the Christian covenant is the glory of Methodist theology. It has stimulated the religious life of countless multitudes. It has kept before the eyes of the people formed by it the one supreme thought, that Christianity is a religion which has only one goal, whether in the Church or in the individual—the destruction of sin. And we believe the day is coming when the Church of God upon earth will have given to it an enlarged heart to receive this doctrine in all its depth and fullness.