Beware of the Leaven of the Finneyites and Wesleyans
By Josef Urban
“Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” -Matthew 16:6
In the Holy Scriptures, leaven is often used as a metaphor for that which is evil. Just as sin is seemingly small and insignificant to the natural mind of fallen man, so is leaven seemingly a small thing that would, by first glance, not cause too much of a pervading influence or significant change in its host. And, just as a tiny bit of leaven permeates a large portion of dough and changes the properties of its whole nature, a tiny bit of evil influence is sufficient enough to corrupt a whole lot of what would otherwise be pure and genuine.
The Lord Jesus in the fore-mentioned Scripture applies this nature of leaven to the Pharisees and Sadducees. These sincerely earnest teachers and preachers were corrupting the pure and genuine doctrines of the Word of God by adding the leaven of their traditions and legalistic interpretations to the bread of life, resulting in doctrines being promoted that God by no means intended to be propagated, and majoring on minors while neglecting the foundationally pure major doctrines and practices of the Word. They were so attached to the leaven of their own pet-doctrines that they read the Scriptures with a veil over their spiritual eyes, unable to see the glorious grace of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is of great necessity for the Body of Christ to take heed and beware of such leaven as our Lord warned –to identify it first of all, and second, to avoid it as the deadly plague. Its tremendous and permeating influence on a little essential doctrine can potentially corrupt the whole conduct of a sincere believer’s life. As Galatians 5:9 says, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”. The Amplified Version puts it this way: “A little leaven (a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers) leavens the whole lump [it perverts the whole conception of faith or misleads the whole church].”
It is the desire of my heart to identify a major source of what causes many to be slightly inclined to error, and by the grace of God my prayer is that those whose conception of faith has been perverted and those who have been mislead in the midst of the Church may yet return to the grace of the Gospel by the full merit of the blood of Jesus Christ, His finished work on the Cross, and the perfection of imputed saving faith by the Spirit of God.
Being yet unacquainted with the true nature of leaven, at first glance, one would hardly think a tiny little leaven could so tremendously fluff up a whole lump of dough. Yet this is my experience with the doctrines of so-called “holiness” (and falsely so-called), specifically those brands of “holiness” derived from the teachings of Charles Finney and John Wesley.
Though I have quoted from and, at various times in small ways, publicly promoted the teachings of these men in the past, being yet ignorant of the true nature of the depths of their more complex theologies, it is my duty in the Gospel to seek to correct this error on my part, which is my reason for writing. I truly repent for having ever quoted from them or recommended their writings, and this public announcement is my measly little attempt at making some kind of restitution for such error on my part.
Dear Christian, listen up! You may think this is no big deal –just a few minor differences in theology and an over-zealous stance on my own particular view, but this is far from the truth. I have seen with my own eyes, firsthand, the deadly effects of pseudo-holiness theology, specifically from followers of Finney and Wesley, and how the leaven of this theology perverts the grace of God and leads to legalism, condemnation, and a striving about to perfect one’s self in the flesh. For the sake of your soul, I beg you give me pardon in expressing myself boldly, and I ask in the name of the God of all grace that you give me a fair chance to lay down my case clearly for your serious consideration.
In this article, with the subject of holiness in view, I want to expound upon a few distinct points:
I. First of all, to state a few of the major erroneous doctrines that Charles Finney promoted, comparing them briefly with the Word of God.
II. Secondly, to state the erroneous doctrine that John Wesley promoted, comparing it briefly to the Word of God.
III. Thirdly, to examine the fruits of these men’s doctrines.
IV. Lastly, to encourage the Body of Christ to expel this leaven of pseudo-holiness from their midst and turn their eyes on Jesus.
I. The Leaven of Charles Finney’s Theology
Charles Finney has been aggressively promoted all over the Church as “America’s greatest revivalist” and as an evangelical hero. His intelligent philosophical reasoning, straight-forward manner of application, and bluntness in putting certain truths in clear terms has been praised and adored by many, and apparently still has a great many Christians in awe and adoration. His biography (that he wrote of himself), also known as his “Memoirs” or the more recently titled “Holy Spirit Revivals” book, details many extraordinary occurrences in which thousands of people were brought under a crushing influence of guilt and were reportedly converted. His “new measures” of using the “anxious bench” and the “penitent meeting” wherein seeking sinners sought pardon from God and his methodologies of making the sinner to feel his present obligation and pressing him to make a decision for Christ, have been the forerunner of the modern day altar call. In many ways, Charles Finney has tremendously influenced a large portion of Christianity today.
I am not interested in exhaustively detailing every influence Finney has had and attempting to point out every single thing that I perceive to be as erroneous. However, I would like to examine his fundamental doctrine. Though doctrine has become an almost despised word in modern Christianity, the Bible is full of it (2 Timothy 3:16), places a high importance on studying and teaching it correctly (Proverbs 4:2, 1 Timothy 4:16), is clear that essential doctrine is foundational to any true Christian’s life (Ephesians 4:14, 1 Timothy 1:10, 4:13), and that false doctrine on any essential tenets of the Christian faith can lead to damnation (1 Timothy 6:3, 2 John 9-10). Scripture further warns that in the last days many in the Church will not endure sound doctrine, but will show inordinate affection to preachers and teachers they naturally esteem to like (2 Timothy 4:3). In light of this warning, it is of highest importance we take heed to ourselves, and our doctrine, and test all those purporting to be teachers of the Word by the doctrine they hold. It is in obedience to the Holy Scriptures that I am now examining the doctrine of Charles Finney.
First under the spotlight of scrutiny is Finney’s doctrine of the Atonement. Historically, the Christian faith has held that the doctrine of the Atonement consists in Christ’s blood being shed on the Cross to satisfy God’s wrath for the sins we committed. This doctrine exalts the finished work of Christ on the cross as making full satisfaction for the justice of a holy God. We sinned against God, provoked his righteous anger by our sin, and are deserving of His eternal wrath, yet Christ lived a sinless life and paid for the debt of our sin in full by His blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). The biblical and historic Protestant view of the Atonement views Christ as the Lamb of God whose blood was shed to take away the sin of the world.
This doctrine is absolutely foundational to every true Christian, for unless you believe you are a sinner who deserves God’s wrath, and that Christ paid the fine for the crimes you committed, appropriating His righteousness to you by faith, you cannot be saved, for this is the whole basis of the Gospel –this is why Jesus Christ is the only Way to the Father, He’s the only one who made atonement for sin. This doctrine is exclaimed throughout the whole Bible, from in the beginning when God slaughtered an innocent animal to make atonement and clothe Adam and Eve with its skin (Genesis 3:21) all the way to the end when it proclaims that saints in the Great Tribulation overcome the wicked one by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). The word “atonement” literally means “at-one-ment”, and denotes being reconciled with one with which there was previous enmity. The basis of the Christian doctrine is that Christ has reconciled sinners (who repent and believe) to Himself solely on the grounds of His vicarious (substitutionary) death.
Despite its utter clarity in Scripture as the theme of the whole Bible, Finney denies the doctrine of Substitutionary (a.k.a. vicarious) Atonement, saying that Christ’s atonement was merely exemplary (in other words, that the cross did not literally pay for our actual sins, but merely set a good example, justified God in the eyes of man as a good Governor of the universe, and thereby enabled Him to forgive freely on the basis of love, not on the basis that the blood literally paid for the debt of sin). Finney clearly says that the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross is not the foundation of our justification before God. He explains what the atonement is not: "It is not founded in Christ's literally suffering the exact penalty of the law for them, and in this sense literally purchasing their justification and eternal salvation."[i] He is stating in the most clearest of terms that Christ did not suffer to pay the penalty for the Law of God that we transgressed, and is denying that His blood purchased our justification. Finney also says in his Systematic Theology that the atonement is not "a proper full payment of the debt of the justified.”[ii] This is an utter denial of the most basic essential tenet of the Christian faith, denying the fact that Christ died for sinners as a substitute to atone for sin. Hear his words as he continues: “"Neither is the atonement nor anything in the mediatorial work of Christ, the foundation of our justification, in the sense of the source, moving or procuring cause”[iii]. He is clearly saying that nothing Jesus Christ did by shedding His blood, and nothing He is currently doing as our great High Priest in the heavens, is the foundation, source, or cause of our justification. Finney is thereby setting himself at odds with the one major essential doctrine of evangelical Christianity.
Finney viewed the Atonement with the lens of that heretical form of doctrine known as “Moral Government Theology”[iv], which states, as we have said, that Christ did not actually and literally suffer for sin as the sinner’s substitute, but merely set a good moral example in the government of God.[v] Of course, he masks all of this in mainstream theological jargon, even attaching different meanings to words that have long been previously defined as a further stumbling block to understanding exactly what he means (and, in light of this, if you study his Systematic Theology, be sure to view the glossary of terms used very carefully and to match them up Finney’s own definitions precisely whenever he explains his vocabulary).
This is in blatant contrast to what the Scriptures say of Jesus and His death: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past” (Romans 3:25). “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
I stated in the beginning of this article that I want to correct the false views of holiness promulgated by Finney, so you may be wondering, “what does this have to do with holiness?” To that I reply, “everything”. The Atonement is a doctrine that is foundational to everything in Christianity –an error in the foundation results in error in everything built on that foundation. Which leads us to Finney’s view of justification, namely, how a sinner can find right standing with God. We already know that Finney denies Christ as being the sinner’s literal Substitute, so that means in his theology, the finished work of Christ cannot be the grounds of our obtaining a right standing with God. So how do we do it?
According to Finney, there are five conditions of justification:  atonement of Christ,  faith,  repentance,  sanctification, and  perseverance faith and obedience. It is the last two points that are by far the most alarming. Finney’s definition of sanctification is sinless perfection (perfect obedience to the Law with no known or unknown sin; the least infraction of God’s moral Law results in alienation from God and loss of salvation), and he further holds that if one fails to obey the Law perfectly, he is thrust back under the wrath of God until he repents. This is the natural result of his denial of the biblical view of the Atonement, for if Christ did not fulfill the Law on our behalf and literally pay for sin on the cross, we must certainly be left to obey the Law ourselves or else be damned. Hear his words:
“There can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ's obedience as ours, on the ground that He obeyed for us”[vi].
In saying this, he states first of all that we cannot have right standing with God unless we personally have “universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law”, then he continues to go on to deny the Substitutionary Atonement and justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account, criticizing it with humanistic philosophy. Is this what Scripture teaches -obedience to the law as necessary for justification? By no means! “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4[vii]). The Bible teaches that if you are trying to be justified by the law (as Finney obviously proposes), Christ is no effect to you and you are fallen from grace! When the Apostle Paul warned against “another gospel” in the beginning of his epistle, this is precisely what he was warning against! He said if even an angel from Heaven comes down and preaches another gospel, then let him be accursed. Sadly, many have not taken heed to this warning and are mesmerized by Finney’s angel-like persuasions and revivals.
Along these lines, Finney also denies the doctrine of imputation (that our sin was put upon Christ on the cross and the Father crushed His Son under His wrath instead of us, and that Christ’s perfect righteousness is accounted to us by faith). He said, “I could not but regard and treat this whole question of imputation as a theological fiction, somewhat related to our legal fiction of John Doe and Richard Roe"[viii]He also says, “Those who hold that justification by imputed righteousness is a forensic proceeding, take a view of final or ultimate justification, according with their view of the nature of the transaction. With them, faith receives an imputed righteousness, and a judicial justification.”[ix]
However, his statements are clearly at odds with the Word of God: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). The whole basis of the book of Romans in chapters 1-5 is justification by faith alone. This is the core doctrine of the Protestant Reformation, and is essential to salvation, yet Finney denies this doctrine, taking his followers back to the Dark Ages of the Harlot Catholic Church, seeking to be justified by works.
It simply couldn’t be clearer. Charles Finney holds to a theology that is completely heretical. It denies the finished work of the cross, Substitutionary Atonement, Justification by Faith, Imputed Righteousness, and promotes obedience to the Law as a necessary condition of having a right-relationship with God. This is “another gospel” indeed. As Finney said, “Now this is certainly another gospel from the one I am inculcating. It is not a difference merely upon some speculative or theoretic point. It is a point fundamental to the gospel and to salvation, if any one can be”[x] (I encourage all to read this in context in his Systematic Theology for themselves).
Now, relating this to holiness. Obviously, Charles Finney defined holiness and sanctification as a perfect obedience to the moral law of God and denied that Christ’s holiness can ever be imputed to anyone else. He held that one had to be perfectly sinless in actuality or else they cannot be saved, let alone be holy. According to Finney, holiness is based upon the performance of the flesh, according to one’s own works. He states that if any Christian stumbles into any sin whatsoever, he ceases to be holy and is thrust back under the wrath of God until he is converted again. Thus, the Christian must live in constant fear of God’s wrath:
"Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God ... If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept, for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys or Antinomianism is true ... In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground."
Finney is saying that perfect behavior and perfect conduct are conditions of salvation, which, if one fails to meet, they are subject to God’s wrath. A Christian must be one day a child of God and the next day a child of the Devil, thrown back and forth from the Kingdom of God to the power of darkness like a rag doll or hot potato until he enters into a state of perfect and final sinlessness. Such a theology is sufficient enough to drive a soul into deep despair or spiritual schizophrenia. No matter how in love with Christ he may be, if any sort of sin is stumbled into, even a spur of the moment bit of anger or a slip of the tongue, the Christian at once loses his salvation until he repents and becomes sinlessly perfect again. And, this not only applies to known sin, but according to Finney, to unknown sin as well:
"If there is sin in such a case as this (ignorance), it lies in the fact, that the soul neglects to know what it ought to know. But it should always be understood that the sin lies in this neglect to know, and not in the neglect of that of which we have no knowledge. Entire obedience is inconsistent with any present neglect to know the truth; for such neglect is sin."
Therefore, if there be any hidden bit of unbelief, doubts, or fears of any kind in the heart that has not yet been rooted out and perfected (for unbelief, doubt, and fear is sin), the Christian must be thrust under God’s wrath. Which of us dares to say that there is no unbelief, doubts or fears in our hearts, that we have perfect faith? Finney’s theology condemns every man alive, and dead, except for Jesus Himself. These standards are impossible to meet for any saint this side of eternity. This means that the Apostle Peter must have been thrust under the wrath of God in danger of hellfire for sinning in the book of Galatians, wherein Paul rebuked him (2:11). -Or that when Paul himself sinned in reviling God’s High Priest, he immediately became a child of the devil (Acts 23:4-5). How absurd!
A majority of Finney’s ministry involved going into long-standing churches and convincing the congregations that they are not saved. It is alarming to consider that this very well may be the theology he indoctrinated unstable souls with in order to talk multitudes of Christians out of the assurance of their salvation. Now granted, a good portion of them, probably even most of them, were yet unregenerate, but it is highly alarming to consider that what Finney promoted as doctrine damns everybody, saint and sinner alike; and, in light of this, causes me to highly question the validity of his revival ministry. We will examine the fruits of these doctrines shortly.
In conclusion, I must say, this is a perverted view of “holiness” and the sad thing is, many sincere souls who are seeking holiness and a closer walk with God learn of Charles Finney, are highly impressed with his self-professed power and his own account of his revivals, and get duped into studying his theology, only to embrace a doctrine of Pharisaical self-righteousness that damns the soul! A holiness based on the performance of the flesh, a holiness void of the righteousness of Christ by denying imputation, a holiness based on the works of the law whereby no flesh can ever be justified, let alone sanctified! What a terrible snare to sincerely seeking souls! This pseudo-holiness is an enemy of God and is contrary to the doctrine of the Word of God. It’s the same trap the Pharisees of Jesus’ day fell into, and sadly, it is the same trap that a great too many Christians are falling into. I say with holy urgency, beware of the leaven of the Finneyites!
II. The Leaven of John Wesley’s Theology
John Wesley was an 18th Century revivalist who was far more orthodox in his theology than Finney. Unlike Finney, Wesley believed in the doctrines of Original Sin, Substitutionary Atonement, Imputation, Justification by Faith, and Regeneration (as a supernatural miracle), giving him much more credibility as a revivalist. The legacy of the Wesley’s is of such tremendous influence that even secular historians cannot overlook the role that John Wesley, and his brother Charles Wesley, played in the national history of England. The Methodist Church, and its offshoots, the Wesleyan and Nazarene Churches, the Salvation Army, and more, are present landmarks to Wesley’s extraordinary accomplishments as a pioneer and an evangelist. The current theology of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements can trace their origins to the work and theology of John Wesley as well.
However, such extraordinary influence certainly does not serve as a basis of determining truth. The Word of God alone is the standard and source of all truth. While the Wesley’s have many things about them that could certainly be commended and admired, it is my sad interjection here to expose a serious leaven in their doctrine that has corrupted a large segment of the Church the centuries.
This leaven is the doctrine of the “Second Blessing”. It has also been called, “Entire Sanctification”, “Perfect Love”, or the “Crises Experience”. According to Wesley, this “Second Blessing” is an instantaneous experience that happens subsequent to the new birth (regeneration being the first blessing) in which the believer is cleansed from all inbred sin, having original sin eradicated and thus removing his inherently sinful nature, enabling him to have perfect holiness and sinlessness (in actual experience, in the flesh, on this earth). This “Second Blessing” experience then puts the Christian in his flesh on par with the same perfect sinlessness that Jesus Christ walked in on this earth, without transgression of any moral law of God, and walking in perfect faith (no doubts), perfect hope (complete fullness of joy), and perfect love (no fears).
Allow me to explain a little better. In Wesley’s thinking, all of mankind is born into sin with an inherently sinful nature. Because of this sinful nature that we are all born with, all have sinned and are bound in sin as slaves to this corrupt nature. When somebody gets born again, therefore, they immediately experience a partial cleansing and are given power to overcome this sinful nature. However, since it still remains in them, the born again believer will, at times, struggle and stumble into sin (not damnable sin, but sins like occasional inner fears, doubts, spur of the moment anger, slip of the tongue, etc). Where the “Second Blessing” comes in is after this, after one has been born again, wherein the believer exercises faith to believe and then this sinful nature is eradicated and totally removed, enabling one to be completely sinless. Wesley believed that this “Second Blessing” experience that eradicates original sin (removes our sinful nature) occurred after initial salvation as a subsequent work of grace when one is baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Orthodox Evangelical Christianity has always held that sanctification is both instantaneous upon regeneration and is also a lifelong process after it. It is instantaneous only in a positional sense; in other words, when one is born again they are immediately sanctified appositionally by being instantly removed by God from the world and from the service of the Devil to now be consecrated to Him and His service (for example, see 1 Corinthians 6:11). In the second sense, sanctification is progressive, meaning that when one is born again they begin a lifelong process of sanctification in which they are continually and increasingly cleansed and freed from sin to be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ (e.g. see 2 Corinthians 7:1, “perfecting holiness” in this verse is present tense describing progression as a continuous process[xi]). This process of sanctification is completed and perfected only when the believer is finally glorified (after death or upon Christ’s return).
Wesley, however, denies this, saying that one can be entirely sanctified in this life, not appositionally, but in the sense in which we defined the term progressively. He preached this doctrine of the “Second Blessing” to all his converts, constantly encouraging them to seek this instantaneous experience in which their sinful nature would be eradicated and they would receive perfect love, all doubts and fears being completely removed once for all, and removing the inward struggle to be perfectly holy. After this experience, there is no longer any inward inclination to sin, no inward struggle to fight against the fallen flesh and sinful nature, and in Wesley’s own words, the perfectly sanctified believer now possesses “all the mind of Christ”, with no evil thoughts, doubts, motives, etc.
Though this may sound good, like an experience every true Christian would love to have (after all, which one of the Lord’s people who hates sin and earnestly hungers for righteousness wouldn’t love to be sinless once and for all?), it is entirely unscriptural. Not only is there no mention or any clear evidence in Scripture of a “Second Blessing” that brings “Entire Sanctification”, meaning it is unscriptural, but there is also clear teachings against such a thing in the Bible, meaning it is anti-scriptural.
The official Wesleyan website states concerning the “Second Blessing”:
"This prepares for the crisis of entire sanctification which is wrought instantaneously when believers present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God, through faith in Jesus Christ, being effected by the baptism of the Holy Spirit who cleanses the heart from all inbred sin.”[xii]
This is a fair portrayal of Wesley’s views in terms of this state of perfect and complete sanctification (sinless perfection) being caused by the baptism in the Holy Spirit. –But is this what the Word of God teaches? Enough of “thus saith John Wesley” and let’s get in with “thus saith the Lord”! Does the Bible actually teach that there is an experience that believers need to seek in which they will be completely sanctified from sin and purged from the sinful nature of the flesh? Does the Word of God state that the baptism in the Holy Spirit eradicates our sinful nature? The answer is no!
The Apostles of the Lord Jesus were following him for three years when they finally sat down to eat the Last Supper on the night before His crucifixion. It was during this time that the Lord of all glory performed the greatest act of humility ever done, by washing His disciples’ feet. When He got around to Peter, Peter forbid Him to wash his feet, when the Lord told him that if he does not allow the Lord to wash his feet then he has no part with Jesus. Then Peter replied in zeal, “Not only my feet then, but my hands and head too!” The Lord replied, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean” (John 13:10-11). In saying this, Jesus clearly pronounced all His disciples, except Judas Iscariot, as clean. The Greek word for clean is translated “pure” 17 times in the New Testament. It is the same word used in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).
We observe by this a few remarkable points. One, the disciples were pronounced clean and pure long before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Two, John Wesley always equated the “pure in heart” only with those who had experienced the “Second Blessing” and were entirely sanctified, yet the disciples were pure in heart long before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (by Jesus calling them clean in every part, no doubt that includes their heart as well), showing Wesley’s theology to contradict itself when examined by the Word of God. For Wesley says that only those who have experienced “entire sanctification” are truly “pure in heart”, but by his own admission, the disciples weren’t “entirely sanctified” until Pentecost, but Jesus clearly calls them “clean (pure) in every part” before this. –The “Second Blessing” theology is self-contradictory.
Jesus also told them “those who are washed need only to wash their feet”. Back in those days, everybody wore sandals and walked on dirt paths. When walking, their feet would get very dirty and full of dust. Thus it was customary for their feet to be washed when they entered somebody’s house and removed their sandals. During these days, people would not bathe their whole bodies every day; usually bathing was every few days or even a week or two at a time. However, they would frequently have their feet washed whenever they went out and came back or visited a friend’s house, sometimes even several times a day, because their feet would always get dirty. Jesus told his disciples that they have been bathed already, but only need to wash their feet.
In other words, He was demonstrating a very important spiritual point: they were justified and pronounced clean by God, but had to continually make sure that the defilement they had daily picked up was cleansed by the Lord (“If I don’t wash you then you have no part with Me”). He was showing them that by living in fleshly bodies in a fallen world, they would inevitably contract filth from their surroundings at least in a small degree, and must continually confess their faults and allow God to cleanse them. In other words, the Lord was demonstrating to them the very truth He had taught them when He told them to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” right after revealing that this is a daily prayer for them to pray by saying “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11-12). [Wesley’s theology of perfect holiness puts the believer above the Lord’s prayer; now too good and holy to ever pray such a thing!] And yes –confessing our faults and sins to one another and to God is the most extremely humbling thing we can do as believers, which is another reason Jesus demonstrated this truth by washing His disciples feet!
Furthermore, Jesus goes on to say later in His discourse, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Once again, clearly pronouncing them clean before Pentecost. What is also remarkable is that this is before His death and resurrection. After He rose from the grave, Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), giving heavy evidence that they had not received the Holy Spirit in such a sense before His resurrection as they did afterwards. –Yet, this is after the fact that He pronounced them clean, proving to us by the Word of God that receiving the fullness of the Spirit is a separate event from being “pure” and “clean”, thus proving the theology wrong that equates the baptism in the Spirit with cleansing from sin.
The Lord Jesus told his disciples, “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t tell them that they would receive perfect love, sinless perfection, entire sanctification, or any other related such thing. He told them they would receive power. What was the purpose of this power? The context is clear: to be witnesses of Him to the world! It was power to work miracles, power to do ministry, power to preach the Gospel with strong conviction, and power for service. It is never equated with perfect sanctification in Scripture. The Scripture makes it clear; as we have already seen, they were sanctified prior to Pentecost. This clearly proves that the baptism in the Holy Spirit does not bring about “entire sanctification” as the disciples were pronounced clean before this and were taught to pray for forgiveness daily in the Lord’s Prayer.
Not only is it clear in Scripture that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of power for service and not equated with eradicating original sin, it is equally clear in Scripture that the sinful nature of the flesh can never be eradicated until final glorification takes place:
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). The Bible teaches us to war against and mortify the deeds of the flesh and to walk in the Spirit, saying that the flesh and the Spirit are fighting against each other within us. These explanations and commands would be totally unnecessary if the sinful nature of the flesh was eradicated, for there would be no more struggle. Hence there would be no need for Jesus to command His disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23).
“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 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” (Romans 7:22-25). The “law of sin”, or principle of the fallen nature, is within the flesh of all born again believers and must constantly be denied and crucified. If it was eradicated, the Bible wouldn’t state that the Apostle Paul serves the law of sin with his flesh as the conclusion of Romans 7 and go on in chapter 8 to free such believers from all condemnation they are under as a result of realizing their inward struggles of wrestling with sin. It is clear that Jesus Christ will only completely, fully and finally deliver us from “the body of this death” (our fallen human bodies) when we are glorified together with him. As long as we are in these fleshly bodies we must put to death the deeds of the flesh because they are always within as a result of our fallen nature.
“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:8). Those who yield to the sinful nature of their fallen flesh will reap corruption. There would be no need to give such a warning to Christians if they were freed from this fallen nature in this life.
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). –It doesn’t say, “having perfect holiness”, it says, “perfecting holiness”. It is a continuous process, a lifelong walk with Jesus to be increasingly cleansed and purified from sin. This proves sanctification as a process and not as just an instantaneous experience.
The Scripture is clear that the believer cannot be freed from his fallen nature this side of eternity. Those who are hoping for such a thing, even with all the best intentions, are simply in a fool’s paradise, hoping for that which the Word of God clearly teaches will not happen.
I will add at this point that to his credit, John Wesley did state that “mistakes”, “shortcomings”, “infirmities of the flesh”, “corruptions”, “failures” and deviations from perfect conduct will always remain in “perfected Christians” which, by his own admission, “do need atonement”[xiii] (which is another clear contradiction of his theology). To his discredit, however, this is but a whitewashing of sin, failing to call sin what it is and dressing it up in pretty language to make his theology work. This is a dangerous practice, because to this day, those who have claimed to have entered in to this perfect sinless state will not confess to what is in all actuality, sin, calling their sins “mistakes” and “deviations”, and therefore failing to confess their sins to God, they see no need for present cleansing from the blood of Christ. As the Scripture says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Am I misunderstanding the theology of Wesley? I think not. I’ve studied it enough to know what the “Second Blessing” is and what it produces[xiv]. Many modern scholars try to paint Wesley in a more orthodox picture by quoting from his statements regarding progressive sanctification. However, it must be remembered that Wesley believed in progressive sanctification in a sense, up until the time of the “Second Blessing” in which that process becomes complete and sanctification perfect, making one sinless, so therefore it is easy to find statements that seem to ‘prove’ that Wesley doesn’t believe in perfect sinlessness. As an article on the United Methodist website says:
“For modern scholars to lift out a passage or two from that Plain Account which speak of progressive sanctification, and to combine them with Wesley's example comparing the gradual sanctification which precedes the experience of full salvation to a patient who is dying for a long time before he or she experiences the moment of actual death, is a strange use of the document. And it is to hand over to George Whitefield and his Calvinistic allies the very argument by which Wesley established his difference from them. This is indeed a libel on the dead. And the historian's task, I think, whether he or she is dealing with religious ideas or political events, is to protect the dead from libel”[xv].
George Whitefield certainly didn’t misunderstand Wesley either, as he clearly charged him with promoting “sinless perfection” (words that Whitefield would be the first to use), and upon discovering Wesley promoting such doctrines, Whitefield would publicly distance himself from him, write letters to him seeking to correct his error, and eventually preach and publish nine sermons in a row against his deviation from truth upon his return to England[xvi].
Sinless perfection is a dangerous doctrine for many reasons. If we deny our sin, we won’t confess it, and if we don’t confess it, we can’t be cleansed (see 1 John 1:8-9).
III. The Fruit of Finney’s and Wesley’s Sinless Perfection
The Lord said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). What kind of fruits did these doctrines of works-based salvation and sinless perfection produce?
Charles Finney’s revival campaign lasted for a considerable number of years, in which he traveled extensively and reported hundreds and thousands of converts. What happened to these myriads of converts though? Did Finney’s hyper-freewill and “sinner, save yourself” theology, man-centered salvation, and tactics of heaping boulders of guilt produce true, lasting fruit? Were these converts strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, strong in faith, giving glory to God?
A contemporary of Finney, who lived in his time and beheld the fruit of his revivals, testifies, saying, “During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by [Finney] himself, that "the great body of them are a disgrace to religion."[xvii]Is this just a critical attack on these revivals by a skeptic who wanted to discredit Finney? I think not. Finney’s own admission testifies to the same, he said, “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith . . . . [But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state.”[xviii]
Asa Mahan (another perfectionist), who was one of his close associates in the latter part of Finney’s life, and successor to the role of President at Oberlin College, has a similar testimony. It is cited concerning him: “…who tells us—to put it briefly—that everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad subsequent lapse: the people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited; the pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power; and the evangelists—"among them all," he says, "and I was personally acquainted with nearly every one of them—I cannot recall a single man, brother Finney and father Nash excepted, who did not after a few years lose his unction, and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor. Thus the great "Western Revivals" ran out into disaster.”[xix]
In fact, the whole western part of New York became known as the “burnt-over district”, even by Finney’s own admission[xx]. This “revival fire” burned over the people there and their latter state became far worse than the first. They became totally unresponsive to the things of religion, dead, formal, cold, turning into legalists, moralists, and perfectionists, without any zeal for God. Nothing could get them re-ignited; they were burned out like dead coals in an ash heap. –A sad fruit of what was supposed to be some of America’s greatest revivals.
The naturally expected result of being converted under somebody’s ministry and finding true salvation would be that such converts would have a deep-appreciated love and respect for the man that brought them the glad tidings of the Gospel of peace. Such spiritual babes as these new converts would be would naturally look up to their spiritual father, the one who led them to the so great salvation of finding peace with their Maker. Does this describe the feelings of Finney’s hundreds and thousands of converts toward him?
Once again, according to Asa Mahan, it is cited: “Over and over again, when he proposed to revisit one of the churches, delegations were sent him or other means used, to prevent what was thought of as an affliction. . . . Even after a generation had passed by, these burnt children had no liking for the fire.”[xxi] Finney wanted to revisit the churches where his “revival fire” had burned through, perhaps to lead another revival, or check up on his converts, but when news of his plans came, the people would send delegations to prevent his coming. It sounds like these poor souls were hurt, broken, abused, and “burnt” out, and didn’t want anything to do with Finney. This is far from looking up to him as a spiritual father whom they love in the truth, it sounds like they were left in a terrible state of spiritual devastation.
It appears that Finney became incredibly discouraged at the results of his revival campaign, so he decided to become a pastor in a New York church. Later, he would accept the office of President at Oberlin College. It is during these years that he formulated a doctrine of sinless perfectionism and composed his Systematic Theology, a sad plague that spread heretical doctrines that are still infecting the church to this day.
Now let’s look at John Wesley’s doctrine of “Entire Sanctification” supposedly bringing “perfect love” and in truth, sinless perfection. When new Christians found themselves struggling with evil thoughts, wrestling to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”, and evil temptations within, did they find sweet relief from this struggle of crucifying the flesh by “entering in” to this “rest of Canaan” which eradicated their sinful nature and removed the inbred enmity of the flesh from within? Did they really find sinless perfection?
Though it is true there are many testimonies from deceived souls who think their sinful nature has been removed, totally blind to their state before God and ignorant to the true spiritual nature of the Law, the answer is that nobody is sinless this side of eternity. “There is not a single person in all the earth who is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT). Those who think themselves to be as holy and perfect as Jesus Christ was in the flesh (in actuality, in practice and deed on this earth) only fancy themselves into an ignorant self-delusion and put themselves on the same grounds as the self-righteous Pharisee that Jesus condemned: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). It is significant to note that many of the testimonies from these perfect ones who have had their sinful nature eradicated sound strikingly similar to the Pharisee’s testimony. Yet the publican “sinner” that Jesus pronounced justified freely admitted his sin and desperately cried out for God’s grace (18:13-14).
I have personally met, known, and corrected a number of people who believe in Wesleyan perfectionism. In one particular fellowship that held to these particular views of sinless perfection, nearly the entire fellowship claimed to believe in and adhere to these doctrines. It was hyper-extreme pseudo holiness in the flesh touted about in the mask of “It’s all Jesus that does this work in us”, resulting in legalism, self-righteousness, and condemnation. When I confronted them, none of them had claimed to have “entered in” to this state of sinlesness. However, being reproved for their error only pushed them further into it, and pretty soon, a number of them claimed to have some kind of “experience” that eradicated their sinful nature, making them perfectly sinless like Jesus Himself. They refused to listen to the Lord’s rebuke, and the fruit soon became manifest.
Within several weeks, the leader of this fellowship, who was the teacher of these doctrines, and who happened to be the first one to claim to “enter in” to this “Second Blessing” and have all his inbred sin removed and purified to be as holy as Jesus Himself, had a very tragic downfall. He openly manifested demonic spirits in front of others as the Lord brought things to light. All of a sudden, one who was professedly sinless had manifested demons in front of those he led astray. As a result, in utter shame, he stepped down from ministry and withdrew into hiding, and the fellowship was scattered like sheep having no shepherd.
Prior to this, it was common occurrence for the members of that fellowship to come under clouds of despair. They would stumble with an evil thought, or slip of the tongue, or something along those lines, and immediately believe themselves to be in danger of the wrath of God. Sometimes this would even be caused by a failure to be able to “press in through prayer” when they couldn’t feel the presence of God. This would produce demonic fits of total despair, hopelessness, and all-out self-condemnation. They would fall under such despair, like a black cloud hanging over their heads, unable to believe God for grace to help. This was such a common occurrence that they even invented a name for it; they called it, “The dark night of the soul” and taught that it could be expected in the life of the true Christian who understands the deep things of God and the doctrines of so-called holiness.
This was all caused by pseudo-holiness doctrines, specifically gleaned from the teachings of Wesley and Finney. When I was debating the leader with the Word of God, he would constantly refer to these two men (mostly Wesley and his early followers) as the proof-texts of his doctrines, unable to support his position with the Word of God. Their intense bouts of heavy condemnation was a result of their legalistic doctrines, believing their justification before God was conditional upon their perfect obedience, and failing to be perfect, they fell from salvation and into despair. They were like waves of the sea, tossed to and fro; happy, full of joy, praising God and rejoicing in salvation one day, and the very next day sad, full of sorrow, in total despair and doubt, questioning if they have ever truly been saved.
I remember one particular member of this fellowship. One evening, in a prayer meeting, he stood in front of the congregation and openly rebuked everybody for not praying the right way, exalting himself in self-righteousness. Then the next morning, or two mornings later, he was literally crumpled up in a ball in a fetal position in a public parking lot, screaming and groaning at the top of his lungs, afraid that God has cut him off for good. This same person would sing hymns out loud, jump in circles and dance in seeming joy in the midst of a gathering, then shortly later would be agonizing in despair because God is angry with him. This is the spiritual schizophrenia that I have warned that these legalistic, condemning doctrines of pseudo-holiness lead to –I have seen it’s putrid rotten fruit with my own eyes.
When the Lord had me confront this fellowship, exposing these false doctrines, another member of this fellowship seen the error and repented. This person would fall under fits of despair and condemnation as well prior to this. However, when they repented and seen the error of it as truly a heresy (not as just an incorrect doctrine, but as heresy), every time we would talk about it they would feel sick to their stomach. Finally, this person renounced this doctrine and, remembering some previous teaching on deliverance and spiritual warfare, commanded this thing out of them in the name of Jesus, at which time a big puff of air immediately leaped out of their stomach and through their mouth. It was a doctrine of demons and when they repented, the evil spirit had no right to stay[xxii].
Whenever a certain doctrine causes demonization in those who believe it, from which they get visibly delivered as soon as they renounce that doctrine, it is safe to assume that such a thing is a doctrine of demons. Sinless perfection is a doctrine of the devil and damns the souls of men when they believe and embrace it as experience. If you believe you are perfect and without sin, then you are self-deceived and do not have the truth of the Gospel (see 1 John 1:8[xxiii]).
Harry Ironside[xxiv] (known commonly as H.A. Ironside) had his own experiences with the doctrine of “Second Blessing Holiness” in his early Christian days. All of this is recorded in his book, “Holiness: The True and the False” (I would highly and heartily recommend that everybody purchase this book, read it, and pass it on[xxv]). Let me share a little bit from his experience.
Converted as a youth, Ironside was zealous to lead others to the Savior. During these days, the Salvation Army was in its prime. Back then, it wasn’t a humanistic relief organization, it was an evangelistic movement that preached constantly on the streets and to the “down and outs”, the outcasts of society, supposedly winning lots of souls. Ironside, being zealous for souls, joined the Salvation Army. The Army was a branch of Methodism, and as such, in its early days, promoted, “entire sanctification” passionately. “Second Blessing Holiness” was a constant theme in all their meetings. They emphasized the difference between those who were “sanctified” (sinless) and those who were “only justified”, and those who had not experienced the “Second Blessing” were constantly exhorted to seek it and “enter in”.
As a young Christian and fairly new convert, Ironside found himself flooded with evil thoughts and temptations, things he resisted tooth and nail and which he hated. The perfect holiness that the Officers (preachers and ministers) of the Army were promoting sounded great to this young convert. It was exactly what he wanted –no more sinful nature to tempt him from within, no more evil thoughts bombarding his mind, no more fears when preaching in the famous open air meetings, no more doubts as to matters of faith. The inward inclination to sin being removed, original sin being eradicated; the struggle would be over and the battle won once and for all. This “Second Blessing” of perfect holiness was exactly what this young convert’s heart truly desired.
He sought it for months. He wanted the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire that would purge out the inbred sin of his heart. Finally, one day he had enough. He was going to get it. He ran out into a field and prayed in agony for hours, determined not to let God go until he gets the blessing of entire sanctification. Finally, he fainted, and a peace and euphoria came over him. He began to thank God for cleansing him, and claimed the “blessing”. He went back and began to testify in all the meetings that he entered in to Canaan, that he found the Promised Land, that original sin was removed, the sinful nature destroyed, and he obtained perfect holiness. He was in a fool’s paradise, convinced that those evil thoughts and inward temptations would never trouble his weary soul again.
He was sadly mistaken. When the buzz of the moment died down, he found himself struggling with the same things. He went to his ministers and confessed that he’s having evil thoughts at times. “Don’t worry”, they told him. “Those are just temptations. Temptation is not sin. It’s only sin if you yield to it”. As Ironside recorded: “This gave me peace for a time. I found it was the general way of excusing such evident movings of a fallen nature, which was supposed to have been eliminated. But gradually I sank to a lower and lower plane, permitting things I would once have shunned; and I even observed that all about me did the same…We did not commit overt acts of evil: therefore we were sinless. Lust was not sin unless yielded to: so it was easy to go on testifying that all was right”.
Ironside goes on to tell about how he was constantly assailed with doubts and fears, and under a constant cloud of condemnation, never being able to be good enough to profess the “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord”. He would constantly confess to God his shortcomings, pray for perfect love, and delude himself into believing he entered in again. Thus he would once again become sinless; only to have something happen within a few weeks that proved he was not perfect. Unsure of his own salvation, he found himself becoming a blatant hypocrite, pretending to have no sin when in actuality being aware of sins and shortcomings within, even deceiving his own self. As he became deeper and deeper involved with the Salvation Army movement, and grew to know more and more Officers (ministers) who had professed to be sinless, he was shocked to discover that they too all had the same experience. He knew many of them who lost their minds trying to become holy enough to be sinless, backsliding to all-out infidelity, saying the Bible is a sham because it promises sinlesness but such a thing is impossible (how little did they know that their understanding of sinless perfection was a blatant twisting of a few isolated passages of Scripture!).
He seen by this time many, many converts, who, after professedly finding justification and peace with God, struggled for months, sometimes even years, trying to attain to a sinless state which was impossible to attain, only to sink back into despair and give up on God.
So Ironside couldn’t take it any more. His fellow soldiers were falling away. His converts were falling away. And he himself was falling away –all because of this “Second Blessing” doctrine that they could never attain to. Burned out, he decided to resign from the Army. So they put him in a Rest Home for six months to recover. There, he met many others who had exactly the same struggles, doubts concerning perfect holiness, and fears concerning whether they were truly saved or not. During this time, Ironside almost gave up on God as well. He stopped reading the Bible, stopped praying for sanctification, and began to mope around in despair. He took up reading secular novels for a pastime. He tried to push the knowledge of God out of his mind. The battle was over. He lost. Holiness was a delusion, the Word of God a lie… or so he thought.
It was here that he met a precious lady friend of his, and they began to share with one another what they were going through. She experienced many of the same things. The Lord used her to get Ironside back in the Scriptures, searching them for the truth. “Perhaps I’ve been deceived all along”, he began to think to himself. “What if my definition of holiness is different from the Bible’s?” he would think. He hungered for the truth, prayed for the truth, searched with all his heart for the truth. Before long, he stumbled across a tract[xxvi]. Through reading this, his eyes were opened, and he saw the light! Both him and his lady friend came to the knowledge of the truth: that their justification and sanctification was purchased in full by the shed blood of Jesus Christ once for all. Their salvation was secure in the finished work of the cross, not in their own goodness or holiness. It was a shocking revelation after so many years of wearying and being heavy laden under such a burden. They found rest by finding Christ in His mercy. The doubts left. The fears ceased. Ironside obtained peace with his God, assured of his salvation, fully convinced of eternal life in the full assurance of faith. He would soon leave the Salvation Army and seek to lead others out of that legalistic mess of depression, despair, and hopelessness. He would continue in the ministry for almost 50 years, preach around the world, teach the truth about holiness, author many books, and write commentaries on much of the Bible, teaching many, and being used by the Lord to lead others to true salvation in the finished work of Christ. Glory be to God!
The fruit of pseudo-holiness teachings is a works-based mentality. Though “holiness” advocates would never dare admit it, deep down in their hearts, their salvation rests more so on their performance than on the blood of Christ. There is a constant striving in the flesh, seeking to become holy enough to be saved. There is always the looming fear that they might not inherit eternal life. There’s no true assurance of salvation. These doctrines destroy faith and take the eyes off of Christ and the focus put to self. It’s a deadly trap of the enemy and a fatal delusion that has destroyed the souls of many. –And despite this wicked and terrible fruit, many today still follow Wesley and Finney’s teachings blindly, promoting hyper-extremist views of holiness in the flesh, flattering themselves with their own goodness, or condemning themselves because of their own corruptness, and all the while, their eyes are not on Jesus!
IV. Expel the Leaven of Pseudo-Holiness and Turn to Jesus!
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
To be justified means to be declared righteous: to be brought into a right-relationship with God. It is the fundamental principle of salvation. We were once sinners, deserving of the punishment due to us from a holy God, but God sent His Only Begotten Son to take the punishment on our behalf, and can now freely pronounce us as righteous and just not on the basis of anything we do, but on the basis of what Christ did. We are justified by faith. Faith is the door by which we enter in to the treasure house of God’s great salvation, and once we enter, we find peace with God. That is the glorious Gospel truth.
The sinner who was once at enmity with God has now been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and has obtained perfect peace with God. Peace that surpasses all understanding. This is far from striving in the flesh to be good enough to merit salvation. The Savior of mankind has already purchased salvation in full; it is finished. The work is complete. God’s grace is now freely given to those who repent and believe. –And once we believe with true saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are judicially pronounced as righteous as He, all our sins are washed away, we obtain peace with God, we receive the free, unmerited favor of God –His glorious grace that brings salvation. As the Scripture says, we then “rejoice in hope in the glory of God”! This salvation of Christ is so wonderful, so magnificent, and so awesome, one can’t help but to rejoice in hope, in joy unspeakable and full of glory, when they enter in!
Dear Christian, if you’ve been believing doctrines of false holiness, works-based salvation, been under clouds of condemnation, or can never be good enough to have peace with God, know this: the Lord Jesus Christ can make you whole, make you complete, and perfect you forever by His blood. “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
For those who don’t believe in sinless perfection, but continue to promote the names of John Wesley and Charles Finney, and others who are in similar schools of theology, I want to warn you of the potential of misleading God’s precious people into believing seriously erroneous and sometimes fatal doctrine. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). Take heed to yourselves brethren. I’ve known genuine people who fall in love with these men because of their stories of revival, begin to admire them as great men of God, and soon start studying their theology, only to get swallowed up in what the Apostle Paul called “another gospel”. What a terrible, terrible thing that would be if such a one heard Finney promoted from your lips, or Wesley promoted from your writings, only to study him for themselves and eventually believe in sinless perfection, consequently entering in to some kind of self-delusional sinless state that results in legalism and estrangement from Christ!
This is precisely why I am publicly repenting from promoting them in the past and seeking to correct my error by writing this report. I am not condemning Charles Finney, John Wesley, or any other person who believes these things. As Scripture says, “So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due” (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). I will commit all such judgment to God alone, it is not my place. However, I will stand strongly and boldly on the fundamental doctrines of the Word of God and may it never be brethren that we compromise the grace of the Gospel for the sake of popular opinion!
By the grace of God, my stand is with Jesus in full accordance with the light He has given me. I’m not going to condemn or separate myself from everybody who likes Finney or Wesley, as I believe many precious saints do, however, I will not dare tolerate for a second any heresy that promotes and lays claim to sinless perfection in the flesh. May our eyes be ever focused on the only One who is sinless, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the fullness of the Godhead bodily, the everlasting Propitiation for sin, Who, by the blood of the everlasting covenant, has purged our sins once for all, and sat down at the right hand of God forever as our Advocate with the Father, the Lamb that takes away sin, and our great High Priest who makes intercession for us as the one and only Mediator between God and man! “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
REFERENCES & FOOTNOTES:
[i] Finney’s Systematic Theology, P. 373, Bethany House Publishers, 1994 edition
[ii] Finney’s Systematic Theology, P. 374, Bethany House Publishers, 1994 edition
[iii] Finney’s Systematic Theology, P. 375-76, Bethany House Publishers, 1994 edition
[iv] “Contemporary moral government theology is principally the brainchild of the late Gordon C. Olson. During the 1930s and 1940s, Olson's studies led him to believe that God's foreknowledge is necessarily limited by human free will and that the classical doctrines of original sin, human depravity and moral inability, the Atonement, and justification were as wrong as the classical doctrine of absolute foreknowledge.” – E. Calvin Beisner, “The False God and Gospel of Moral Government Theology”.
[v] “Moral government theology (MGT), rooted in the philosophical definition of freedom as the "power of contrary choice," denies the fundamental Christian doctrines of God's perfection in knowledge, goodness, and power; original sin; human moral inability; the substitutionary satisfaction of God's justice in Christ's atoning death; redemption; and justification by the crediting of Christ's righteousness to believers by grace through faith apart from works.” – E. Calvin Beisner, “The False God and Gospel of Moral Government Theology”.
[vi] Finney’s Systematic Theology, 362
[vii] In fact, the whole book of Galatians deals with the error of legalism (trying to obtain or maintain justification by observing the works of the law). Keep Finney’s quote in mind that justification is conditional upon complete and perfect obedience to the law, and read through Galatians with this quote in mind to see what the Apostle Paul thinks of Finney’s doctrine! See also Acts 13:39, Romans 3:20, 3:28, 6:14, 7:4.
[viii] Memoirs of Revivals of Religion, P. 60
[ix] Finney’s Systematic Theology, 369
[x] Finney’s Systematic Theology, 369
[xi] See Robertson’s Word Pictures on the New Testament, a scholarly work on word meanings in Greek
[xii] Articles of religion, www.wesleyan.org
[xiii] See the latter half of John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection
[xiv] To the diligent researcher, it is not hard to draw these same conclusions by studying the theology of Wesley, Second Blessing Holiness, Entire Sanctification, and the early Methodist movement.
[xv] John Wesley and the Second Blessing by Timothy L. Smith.
[xvi] Whitefield arrived in England at this time in March, 1741
[xvii]Cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:23
[xviii]Cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:24
[xix]Cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2;26-27
[xx] Memoirs of Revivals of Religion, P. 78
[xxi]Cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:28
[xxii] Since this deliverance, this particular person has not had a single bout of despair and condemnation and is truly understanding the grace of God in a whole new light.
[xxiii] It is alarming to note that in the commentaries of Adam Clark (an early Methodist commentator) and Charles Finney on 1 John 1:8, they explain away the clear meaning of this scripture saying it doesn’t apply to the Christian in order to maintain their false doctrines of sinless perfection. If they didn’t hold to sinless perfection, why else would they explain away such a clear and literal scripture?
[xxiv] H.A. Ironside lived from 1876-1951, was an internationally recognized preacher and teacher for fifty years, served as pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago for a number of years, taught as a visiting professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and authored more than 60 books, including commentaries on many of the books of the Bible (which are still available at most local Christian bookstores).
[xxv] You probably won’t find this one at your local Christian bookstore; you will have to search online. Try www.alibris.com, www.amazon.com, www.christanbook.com or searching on Google, Yahoo or MSN search engines.
[xxvi] This tract is still available. It’s called “Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment”.