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Sanctification

Sanctification is the process, in classical Christian theology, by which the Holy Spirit transforms believers and renews them in the image of Christ. 'Holiness' is the state of believers thus transformed. John Wesley, while not regarding sanctification as necessary for 'present' salvation, held that the true believer would persevere in faith and go on to seek perfection. 'Christian perfection', or 'perfect love', would be granted to some in this life, to others only at the moment of death - since 'without holiness, no man shall see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14). According to Wesley, faith 'active in love' was essential to growth in holiness and though he emphasized sanctification as the gift of God, he also stressed the necessity of human co-operation. People were to await the gift in 'universal obedience and attendance upon the means of grace'. However, he repudiated any idea that sanctification was achieved by 'merit'; rather, the Christian should be confident in the great promises of God, who commands nothing that he does not give power to achieve. In this way, the quest for holiness need not become burdensome.

Wesley's apparent underplaying of the role of the Spirit in sanctification probably reflects the practical emphasis in his teaching, which stressed what a person had to do to co-operate with divine grace. By contrast Charles Wesley stressed the role of the Spirit (e.g. in HP 300), offers a more lyrical treatment of the 'glorious hope of perfect love' and shares some of the insights of the Eastern Orthodox tradition of 'theosis' and participation in the divine energies (e.g. MHB (1933) 568). John Fletcher, in his Last Check to Antinomianism (1775) emphasized the Trinitarian dynamics of sanctification. In the next century W.B. Pope gave a clear analysis of the role of the Spirit in his Compendium (1875-6) and J.A. Beet, in his Holiness (1880) and The New Life in Christ (1895) presented holiness as the divine claim on creation and the human response to the outflow of the divine love which is its enabling source.

Sources

  • H. Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification (1946)
  • J. Harrison Stringer, 'The Promise of Sanctification: a study in a famous Wesley passage', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1955, pp.26-30
  • John R. Tyson, Charles Wesley on Sanctification: a biographical and theological study (Grand Rapids, 1986)
  • Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology (Nashville, 1994)

Entry written by: DJC
Category: Subject

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