Interpreting the Word Accurately
2 Timothy 2:15

Q: I have read some of the articles in The Arminian Magazine Index and find them inspiring and biblically sound. I am confused about a subject, "Second Blessing Holiness." In simple terms, can you explain what this means?

Although those who are truly born again begin to live a holy life, the new birth is only the beginning point of the Christian walk. Without meaning to diminish the transforming grace of regeneration, we do not get everything God has for us when we get saved. Therefore, some have referred to a deeper work of God's grace as "a second blessing."

The Scriptures do not use this term "second blessing." The phrase "second benefit" in 2 Cor 1:15 simply refers to a second visit from Paul to Colossae. In his Plain Account of Christian Perfection Wesley advised, "Avoid all magnificent, pompous words; indeed, you need give it no general name; neither perfection, sanctification, the second blessing, nor the having attained." Yet Wesley himself sparingly used the phrase "second blessing" a total of five times, and always in correspondence. He wrote in a letter to Jane Hilton (who was later known by her married name, Jane Barton), "It is exceeding certain that God did give you the second blessing, properly so called. He delivered you from the root of bitterness, from inbred, as well as actual, sin. And at that time you were enabled to give Him all your heart; to rejoice evermore, and to pray without ceasing" [8 Oct, 1774; see also this phrase used in a letter to Sarah Crosby 14 Feb, 1761; in a letter to Thomas Olivers 24 March, 1757; in a letter to Jane Salkeld 9 Aug, 1772]. He wrote to Samuel Bardsley, "Press all believers to go on to perfection. Insist everywhere on the second blessing as receivable in a moment, and receivable now, by simple faith" [3 April, 1772].

Yet there is something ambiguous about the phrase "second blessing." Since it is not a scriptural phrase, we cannot become contentious over it. Some have reasoned, if a second, why not a third or fourth? This tends to fragment the grace of God and create a caste system within the Church. Those who use the term "second blessing" properly mean by it that sin is two-fold in its nature, both an outward expression and an inner attitude. Thus, salvation is also twofold. The new birth enables a person to live holy in his outward expressions, but while the old nature of sin no longer reigns, it still remains.

In a letter to Joseph Benson he wrote of a "second change, whereby they shall be saved from all sin, and perfected in love" [28 Dec, 1770]. In one sermon, "The Repentance of Believers," Wesley spoke of the Lord speaking "to our hearts again, to speak the second time, Be clean." In a letter to Jane Hilton, Wesley referred to a "second deliverance" [1 March, 1769]. Thus, there is a "secondness" about the perfecting grace of God which deals with those inner attitudes.

Q: A friend of mine was told by his modern holiness Pastor that the disciples were born again before Pentecost because the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. I don't understand that Pastor's reasoning.

Revelation 13:8 states that the Lamb, Jesus Christ, was slain from the foundation of the world. This implies that before God ever created this world, he knew that sin would enter it. When sin entered this world through Adam, God was not caught unprepared. The cost of atonement would be the sacrifice of his own Son. Thus, God not only foreknew Adam's original sin, but God had predestinated the plan of salvation.

However, it seems to me that this pastor has logically concluded that if salvation was potentially planned from creation, that every obedient believer from the time of creation has enjoyed the full benefits of that salvation. It is true that all who were saved under the old covenant were saved through the provision of Christ's atonement, but it is not correct to assume they enjoyed the full benefit of Christ's atonement. The main thesis of the book of Hebrews is that the new covenant is "better" or superior in privilege. Peter wrote that indeed Christ was chosen before the foundation of the world, but he was not revealed until "these last times" (1 Peter 1:20).

Unlike God, we live under the restrictions of time. There remain future benefits of the atonement which we have not yet realized. Ultimately the provisions of the atonement will restore paradise and open heaven, but we are not there yet. The opposite danger is to fail to appropriate all of the grace which is presently available for us.

Your question concerns itself with how much grace was then available to the disciples before the atoning work of Christ was completed, before he ascended back to the Father's right hand, and before he poured out the Holy Spirit. How could they be justified freely through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25) before that blood was shed? How could they be regenerated through the work of the Spirit before the Spirit was even given (John 7:39)? How could they enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5) before that kingdom was established (Matt 11:11)?

If we are going to disregard any distinctions between past, present, and future benefits of the atonement, by using this pastor's logic we could argue that we are already in heaven since glorification and heaven are future benefits of the atonement.