The Entrance To Holiness
Joseph D. McPherson
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted July 10, 2010

"According to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5b). Concerning this mighty work of God wrought in the human heart by the new birth or regeneration, Mr. Wesley states: "It requires no less power thus to quicken a dead soul, than to raise a body that lies in the grave. It is a new creation; and none can create a soul anew, but he who at first created the heavens and the earth." An early Methodist theologian by the name of W. B. Pope concurs with this view when he refers to regeneration as "the new creation of life in the soul, while it is at the same time the renewal of the original image of God." This view greatly differs from the concept too many today have of initial conversion as consisting of little more than forgiveness of sins. It certainly includes this gracious blessing but concomitant with justification is the mighty work of regeneration together with initial sanctification, adoption into the family of God and inward assurance or witness of the Spirit of our having been born anew of God through a mighty effusion of the Holy Spirit.

Just before our Lord ascended to heaven, He promised His disciples, "ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 1:5). "And so are all true believers, to the end of the world" asserts Mr. Wesley. Far from standing alone in this view, the Christian Church from the time of the apostles, church fathers, reformers and early Methodists all acknowledged water baptism to be an outward symbol of the baptism of the Holy Ghost received at the moment of regeneration. Both water and Spirit baptism were considered initiatory events experienced by new converts. The Holy Spirit was then understood as continuing His work, bringing the faithful believer to an experience of full cleansing and perfection in divine love.

In a supposed conversation with one who considered the second work of grace to be "a far greater work" than that of justification and regeneration experienced in initial conversion, Dr. Adam Clarke responds with, "No, speaking after the manner of men, justification [concomitant with regeneration] is greater than [entire] sanctification." He then explains as follows:

When thou wert a sinner, ungodly, an enemy in thy mind by wicked works, a child of the devil, an heir of hell, God pardoned thee on thy casting thy soul on the merit of the great sacrificial Offering: thy sentence was reversed, thy state was changed, thou wert put among the children, and God's Spirit witnessed with thine that thou wert his child. What a change! And what a blessing! What then is this complete sanctification? It is the cleansing of the blood that has not been cleansed; it is washing the soul of a true believer from the remains of sin; it is the making one who is already a child of God more holy, that he may be more happy, more useful in the world, and bring more glory to his heavenly Father. Great as this work is, how little, humanly speaking, is it when compared with what God has already done for thee.

In yet another statement, Clarke writes:

There is every reason to believe, and genuine experience in divine things confirms it, that in the act of [initial conversion], when the Spirit of God, the Spirit of holiness, is given to bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; all the outlines of the divine image are drawn upon the soul: and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, in our sanctification, to touch off, and fill up, all those outlines, till every feature of the divine likeness is filled up and perfected.

It has been observed that the term "holiness" is often used in reference only to the experience of entire sanctification, when in truth the work of holiness is begun in regeneration. It was once asked: "When does inward sanctification begin? In the moment a man is justified," answers Mr. Wesley. He also assures us "That the term sanctified, is continually applied by St. Paul, to all that were justified. That by this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means, ‘saved from all sin.' Consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or the like."

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, they were yet without hearts fully cleansed, but he nevertheless reminded them that, "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13). Thus Robert W. Lyon, a Bible teacher and Wesley scholar, assures us that "The baptism in the Spirit, far from being the second experience and an experience subsequent to receiving the Spirit or being born of the Spirit, stands scripturally at the heart of conversion." Some within today's holiness movement would attempt to make the experience of the original disciples (Acts 2:4) a model or pattern in our day for the doctrine of a second work of grace. "Two observations make this impossible," writes Dr. Lyon, "(1) the model is not followed elsewhere in Acts or the early Church; (2) it fails to consider the . . . significance of Pentecost as the once-for-all inaugurative event which establishes the Church."

All early Methodists and early Wesleyan Methodists together with the church Fathers and reformers were unitedly convinced of these truths. They taught a high standard with regard to the experience of initial conversion. The terms "perfect," "perfection," and "perfecting" are found repeatedly in the New Testament as references to a subsequent state of grace, including that of a full cleansing from all sin. Further increases in holiness are then to be sought throughout life as one lives in the Spirit. Regeneration, nevertheless, is holiness begun.

Editorial Note: For over twenty years Joe McPherson has contributed articles to a denominational magazine which claims to be Wesleyan Methodist. The previous article was rejected by its editor because he did not find it to be scriptural, although he conceded it was Wesleyan. As you re-read the article, I believe you will find it to be both scriptural and true to Wesleyan teaching. For it to be rejected by a leader who is supposed to know and uphold Wesleyan doctrine illustrates why so much confusion exists today within the "holiness" movement. The Fundamental Wesleyan Society is offering $100 to anyone who can demonstrate that Mr. McPherson's use of Scripture or his citation of early Methodist doctrine are inaccurate. See our website for more details.