Holiness, Without Which … There Can Be No Revival

Remarks on the History of Entire Sanctification and Its Influence on Revival

by Marsh W. Jones, Ph.D. – Pastor, Faith Crusaders, Urbana, Professor of History

St. Louis Holiness Convention, February 2019

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23

I Thessalonians 5:23 clearly indicates that God has a second work of grace for us and that it is not a work that can only occur after or at the hour of death. The Apostle states that by being sanctified wholly, we should be preserved blameless until Jesus comes or we go to Him. Wesley’s understanding that we could come to a place of Christian Perfection in a crisis moment of Entire Sanctification was not a new one. In fact, in many instances, it is the desire to have all that God offers and to be all that He wants that has motivated many of the Revival Movements in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Whenever one seeks and calls for that Holiness without which no man can see the Lord, the Holy Spirit has honored and blessed the seeker and many times those around him as well.

Within sixty or seventy years of the Apostles, the early Church Fathers established and reiterated the belief in Christian Perfection that the books of the New Testament clearly teach. Irenaeus was born around AD 130. He was said to have heard Polycarp preach; Polycarp was acquainted with the Apostle John. Irenaeus was especially concerned about early church heresies, especially Gnosticism, which he roundly and effectively criticized. He was appointed as the Bishop of Lugdunum, which is now Lyon in the south of France. In an effort to challenge the gnostic doctrines, he offered three pillars of orthodoxy: the scriptures, the tradition from the apostles and the guidance of the Church of Rome. He was the earliest surviving witness to declare all four gospels as essential and true. He stated that the believer is transformed in his essential character at salvation. Irenaeus argued that perfection was not completed when one was converted or baptized, nor was it imputed, but actually imparted, after one has been saved. He argues that there is a moment when the believer is perfected before death.

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220) was one of the first fathers clearly to teach Christian Perfection. He was a teacher in the School of Alexandria and may have taught later Church Fathers such as Origen. He writes in his work Paedagogus: “Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated we become sons; begin made sons, we are made perfect.” He expands on the idea of Christian Perfection in Stromata when he lays out three distinct stages in the Christian life that lead to Holiness and Christian Perfection. First we go from sinner or heathen to a life of faith: we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior. The second stage is marked by a deeper knowledge of God which brings about victory over our passions. The third stage leads to agape love. This is that perfect love that casts out fear and that characterizes those who are entirely sanctified. It is the loving of God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Regarding Clement, Wesley wrote: “I much admired the character of Alexandrinus. Five- or six-and-twenty years ago (1739) a thought came into my mind of drawing such a character myself, only in a more scriptural manner, and mostly in the very words of Scripture; this I entitled The Character of a Methodist.” (Oden 319)

Origen, born in AD 185, was a philosopher in the Platonic tradition who used his considerable skills to bring a number of philosophers and intellectuals to Christ. He had some unique ideas about pre-existence of souls but he also was perceptive of the doctrine of Christian Perfection. He suggested, like Clement, that there were stages of spiritual growth or ascent and that these stages would lead to Christian perfection on earth. Dr. Kaufman states that Origen “insisted that there was a perfection that awaited the believer, in this life.” (Kaufman, “Did Holiness Begin with Wesley?”) Origen was martyred for his faith in AD 254.

One of the Church Fathers who was a proponent of the Second Work was Marcarius, an Egyptian monk who recognized the truth that sin could be washed away. He stated that a person could be perfected in love in “about an hour”. He indicated that there was a “two-fold” nature to this experience of entire sanctification: it was both process and crisis. He distinguished between maturity and purity and thereby called the Christian to a pure heart and encouraged them to constantly be “growing in grace”. Marcarius was born around AD 300 and became one of the early Desert Fathers, learning under Anthony. He was a revered preacher among the desert dwellers and is depicted in a fresco in Pisa preaching to the wealthy and worldly who are stricken by his message; presumably a message of holiness unto the Lord.

The work of the church fathers and desert fathers promoted and encouraged the holy life and second work, but their work and preaching also led them to cloistered and secluded living. In an effort to avoid the world, they created an ascetic group of believers who were perceived as storing up goodness and righteousness for others. As Rome fell and the medieval Europe rose, the voices for purity and holiness were often obscured by Germanic and Viking invasions, the bubonic plague and an inability to read and understand the Bible.

But God’s Word and the message of holiness was never silenced. Though they may not have had revivals as we know them, the church certainly had times when the Word of God was boldly and clearly declared. Given the power and the promises of God’s Word, we do not doubt that the message of heart holiness and the revival fervor was sometimes known and felt among the medieval peasants or city burghers. The Church was, after all, at the center of all that the medieval European did. The fervor of the peasant’s Crusade, for example, was no doubt the same kind of spiritual fervor that helped spark later revivals and interest in holiness of heart.

Bernard of Clairvaux was said to believe in levels of love for God with the highest being love for God and others and the keeping His commandments because you wanted to do so. His twelfth century teachings may have sparked a revival in holiness at least among clerics and religious leaders.

Recent scholarship suggests that Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century doctor of theology and teacher, taught three possible levels of Christian perfection. The two highest belong to God and those who have died while the third is declared to be obtainable in this life. He indicates that those who are no longer beginners in the faith, will progress in the life of perfection and finally come to a point where all that is contrary to God and His will is eliminated from their hearts and they love God with all their heart, soul and mind. Aquinas was one of the most influential theologians of the Middle Ages and his writing would have certainly had a wide impact on the church and church scholars. It may not have been a Finney-esque Second Great Awakening, but it certainly kept the fires of holiness burning and reminded the church world of the second work of grace in believers.

During the Renaissance, men like John Huss, martyred in 1415 and Savonarola, who led a great life-changing revival in fifteenth century Italy, sought holiness of life and encouraged revivals that attempted to purge and purify the corrupt church and culture of their day.

The Reformation started a revival which made some necessary corrections to Roman Catholic teaching and theology, but the teaching of Reformers also challenged the Bible teaching on Holiness and a Second Work of Grace. Luther certainly encouraged people to holiness and Calvin suggested that holiness might be a sign that you were one of the elect, but both ultimately denied that the Grace of God would bring us to a place of Christian Perfection in this life. They taught that only death could do this.

Thomas Brooks, an English Puritan, preached messages in England that began to veer away from the Calvinist teachings that were found in the Anglican Articles of Faith. “As Rachel cried, ‘Give me children or I die’, so all unsanctified souls cry out, Give me Holiness or I die.” “O sirs, do not deceive yourselves, holiness is of absolute necessity, without it you shall never see the Lord.” He also stated with brevity and force: “Without holiness here, no Heaven hereafter.” (Brooks 152) Meanwhile, Arminius led the Remonstrants of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century in a revival of the Bible’s original teaching on freewill and the possibility that “whosoever will” might be saved.

The world waited now for someone to come out from among them and correct the correctors: this would be John Wesley. But Wesley stood on the shoulders of some great men of God who saw the errors of the Reformed churches and the weakness of any revival they may have begun. The dryness and spiritual decline of the Lutheran Church gave rise to the Pietists. Philip Spener, a young German, believed that God could do more for person than theologians like Calvin gave Him credit. He began the Pietist movement within the Lutheran Church. The first step was intense and serious Bible studies among sincere seekers; some were saved in these meetings and this led to a relatively calm, but real, revival fervor. The Pietists aligned with the followers of Huss in Herrnhut, Germany. These allied groups became known as the Moravian Brethren. Wesley had been influenced by the calm response of the Moravians during a storm at sea and when he had returned to England it was with a group of Christians influenced by the Moravians that he felt his “heart strangely warmed”. After he was saved, he travelled to Hernnhut to learn more about holiness and, while disappointed in some ways, was encouraged and inspired in others. Wesley’s salvation and his belief that heart holiness was possible set the stage for the great Methodist Revival that would sweep through eighteenth century England. Wesley’s understanding of Christian Perfection and Entire Sanctification – both important elements in a true revival – would be shaped by his reading of the church fathers and Aquinas. In addition, he was inspired by the Catholic mystic, Madame Guyon who he felt had “exaggerated the efficacy of suffering” but had, nevertheless, shown a “pattern of true holiness.” (Wesley, Journal, 14, 278) Arminius, as well as William Law’s Serious Call, would also lead Wesley into the way of Holiness and prepare him to be a vessel that would revive the Biblical teaching regarding Christian Perfection.

After Wesley was saved at Aldersgate, there was a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit in England. He soon began a movement that would change history. The key to the Methodist Revival was Wesley’s teaching that Christian Perfection was not only a possibility but an expectation of the believer. This could come through the experience of Entire Sanctification, an experience that we have already seen runs through the pages of Holy Writ and the history of the church. When it is preached and experienced true revivals happen and worldly-focused culture is challenged. Wesley’s impact on England was because he preached and practiced this doctrine. Thousands of people were saved and then Entirely Sanctified. England was forever changed. Taverns closed, gaming ended, modesty and propriety ruled, love for God and fellow men was evident. Social reform occurred as Wesley visited the prisons, preached to the poor and helped those who were in need. Some historians argued that a violent French-style revolution was avoided in England because of the Methodist Holiness Revival.

As the revival fires cooled in England and the Methodist Church sought respectability rather than perfection, a Second Great Awakening was breaking out in the United States. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Methodist circuit riders began expanding into the western territories of the new nation and discovered a Godless people. One Methodist circuit rider described a homestead in the wilderness where the farmer had a jug of whiskey at the end of each row he was plowing, where the women drank as they sewed, where children consumed alcohol and infants sucked on liquor soaked rags. America was sinking into a moral abyss. The Methodist camp meeting arose to present the hope of change through salvation and Entire Sanctification. Thousands on the frontiers were saved. Ministers from the cold mainline churches, like the Presbyterians, saw what God could do and began preaching revivals to large crowds of soul-hungry people.

The Second Great Awakening ignited a revival fervor that was swept across the plains and over to the east coast by evangelistic preachers and teachers like the Palmers and Charles Finney. The Palmers were Methodists who spark the nineteenth century holiness revival with a simple prayer meeting. The Tuesday Morning Prayer Meetings began in the 1830s and led to dramatic changes and a fervor for Entire Sanctification which Phoebe Palmer experienced and encouraged. Palmer, who sometimes preached, spoke of the means whereby one was Entirely Sanctified, declaring that the altar sanctified the gift. Palmer was joined in fanning these revival fires not only by the frontier camp meeting leaders, but also by non – Methodists who came to believe in the tradition of Holiness and Christian Perfection. Mahon and especially Finney, came out of a Calvinist tradition at Oberlin College. Finney came to realize that Entire Sanctification was necessary as was freewill acceptance of the Savior. There should be a true change of heart and this could only come by preaching the message of Heart Holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit. Finney was a fiery preacher of the Holiness Message. This period of the Second Great Awakening is sometimes referred to as the Oberlin Holiness Revival. The Second Great Awakening was a Holiness Revival that brought about change; change that began with a prayer meeting and ended with the abolition of slavery, a decline in alcohol consumption and increased church attendance.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, a new holiness revival broke out both in England and America. In England, the primary motivator for this revival was William Booth; he, in turn, had been inspired by American evangelists like Finney, The Palmers and Caughey.

William Booth had been saved and entirely sanctified under the preaching of Wesleyan Methodists and American revivalists in England. He had early taken an interest in preaching the gospel to the poor and had done so in Nottingham and other cities and towns. Because they would not allow him to take the gospel to the poorer parts of town, Booth eventually left the Wesleyan Methodists and joined the New Connexion Methodists. When the New Connexion refused to allow him to be an evangelist to all of England, Booth left them and struck out on his own.

For several years after leaving the New Connexion, the Booths worked in London and throughout the industrial north. William Booth, however, always felt drawn to the poor and needy with the Gospel message. In 1865, on the grounds of a former Quaker meeting, he set up a tent in the East End of London and announced the start of the Christian Mission, a Volunteer Army for the cause of Christ. In 1880, speaking to the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, Booth recalled how the Lord had laid this mission on his heart: In 1865 “I fell in love with the great crowds of people who seemed to be outside the pale of all Christian churches. I had been about as an evangelist for some years, but all at once my heart turned towards the people who would not attend evangelists’ services. Ninety-five percent of the population of our large towns and cities never cross the threshold of places of worship, and I thought, cannot something be done to reach these people? I thought if we could get people to think about religion, a great point would be gained. If we could get them to think about hell they would be certain to want to turn from it. If we could get them to think about Heaven they would want to go there. If we would get them to think about Christ they would go into his open arms.” (Wesleyan Methodist Conference, August 1880)

In the early 1870s, the Booth’s work in the infamous East End of London was growing stronger. By 1878, the Salvation Army name had been adopted. Booth’s primary mission was to preach the Gospel to all and to encourage holiness of heart and life. He would help anyone who was in need in the process. He made it clear in 1877 that the main mission of his work was always message of Holiness: “Holiness to the Lord is to us a fundamental truth; it stands at the forefront of our doctrines.” (William Booth, 1877, cited in Jonathan S. Raymond’s paper, “Social Holiness, Journeys, Exposures, Encounters”, presented at Booth College, Sydney, 2005, p.3.) This message resonated across England and the world. Revival Fires were especially strong in the cities and among the masses.

Across the Atlantic, a similar Holiness revival was stirring. Led by Methodist preachers like Taylor, Simpson and Bresee, the message of Christian Perfection was again stirring the hearts of many to revival. Bresee had joined other revivalists in promoting the work of the National Holiness Association. He had preached in the Midwest and on the East Coast to large crowds who seemed primed for the message of salvation and full salvation. Because the Methodists would not let him take a position at an inner city mission, Bresee left to form the Church of the Nazarene with J.P. Widney. A flier was created to announce the new church. It spoke of “Christian work, especially evangelistic and city mission work and the spreading of the doctrine and experience of Christian holiness.” (Girvin) In October, 1895, he announced that a new church would be organized and would be named The Church of the Nazarene.

The Nazarene Church would focus on preaching Entire Sanctification and helping the poor. Salvation would help bring about physical and personal improvement. Providing help for physical needs would allow people to focus on their spiritual needs. Bresee indicated that the avowed intention of the Nazarenes was “preaching holiness, and carrying the gospel to the poor.” (Nees 14) He declared that the early leaders of the church “were convinced that houses of worship should be plain and cheap … and that everything should say welcome to the poor. We went feeling that food and clothing and shelter were the open doors to the hearts of the unsaved poor, and that through these doors we could bear to them the life of God… the gospel comes to a multitude without money and without price, and the poorest of the poor are entitled to a front seat at the Church of the Nazarene, the only condition being that they come early enough to get there.” (Nees 15) In The Nazarene Messenger for July 1899, Bresee said, “Let the Church of the Nazarene be true to its commission … to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and wipe away the tears of the sorrowing; and gather jewels for His diadem.” (Nees 15) Time and time again, the early Nazarene publications proclaim a concern for prosperity which threatens vital Christianity; the mandate of the church was to identify with the poor. Though there were many articles in Nazarene publications and efforts put forth to alleviate the distress of the poor, it would be a mistake to assume that the Social Gospel was the primary focus of the church. Their primary concern was preaching scriptural holiness.

The Nazarenes were also wide supporters of the Temperance movement and the benefits it would bring to the nation if the sale of alcohol were reduced or ended. Bresee preached adamantly against it and the Church took a clear stand against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The first Nazarene Church in Los Angeles was the frequent site of temperance rallies. On the eighth anniversary of the Church, Bresee noted that the nation needed to have a moral reform and revival. The greatest social evil was the “liquor traffic”. Along with other social activists and social gospel supporters, he saw the eradication of alcohol as the key to changing the nation; too many pay packets were wasted, too many homes destroyed, too many crimes committed because of it. But he also knew that this problem would best be solved by salvation, not legislation. Churches in America needed “a new sense of righteousness” if there is to be any reform. (Nees 20) There would be no social reform without holiness. As Bresee oversaw the unification of many of the holiness churches in 1907-8, he was excited about the possible power they could have for reform as a united holiness movement. His work with the poor, for labor, in the interest of women’s suffrage and against alcohol allows us to classify him and the pre-1920 Nazarenes as proponents of the conservative Social Gospel, but this was not his primary goal or purpose. He, like Wesley, was more interested in restoring the church’s focus on righteousness and holiness. This would bring about reform better than any human institution.

About the same time as the Nazarenes were forming in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a national revival was continuing; its primary focus was holiness and the second work of grace. The Azuza Street phenomenon in Los Angeles created a rift in the revival as some saw the second work or a third work as the gift of tongues while the holiness movement stayed the course and taught the necessity and expectation of Entire Sanctification. The gift of tongues was a gift of languages only.

Back across the Atlantic, a revival was breaking out in Wales. The prayers of Joseph Jenkins and a rising religious fervor led to an outbreak of revival that would dramatically change the people of western England. Jenkins, joined by Evan Roberts, preached and taught that Christians must go on to an experience of the fullness of the spirit that filled hearts with love and made them desirous to obey. The Methodist Calvinists of the area understood this and went beyond their theology to embrace what can certainly be described as a holiness revival. Over 100,000 people were saved and lives were changed. This revival, with its focus on heart holiness, saw true change occur. Roberts called for four keys to the revival’s success:

  1. Confess all known sin to God, receiving forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
  2. Remove anything from your life that you are in doubt or feel unsure about.
  3. Be totally yielded and obedient to the Holy Spirit.
  4. Publicly confess the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of the events – Revivals, Awakenings, Life-Changing Teachings – that we have discussed have had one thing in common: when change truly occurred it was because heart holiness was preached and Christian Perfection was believed. For revival to occur there must be prayer, yes, but most importantly, there must be a belief in that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. There must be an understanding that all Christians must come to a crisis point in the spiritual lives when the Holy Spirit Entirely Sanctifies them and perfects them in love. The revivals we have known and seen in the past struggled to continue into the latter part of the twentieth century. War, mass destruction, a shift from post to premillennialism, and a post-modern world that not only discounts holiness but even doubts that God exists have all conspired to challenge the Holiness Revival today.

World wars, shifting eschatology, and post-modernism should not stop us from encouraging and seeking yet another Holiness Revival – the kind of Revival that makes a difference because it preaches and teaches the Word of God, Christian Perfection, the Second Work of Grace and Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord! Let us do as the Church Fathers, medieval believers, non-Calvinist Protestants, Remonstrants of the early modern period, John Wesley and the revivalists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did – contend for holiness and Entire Sanctification: a complete and immediate deliverance from sin, a recovery of the whole image of God, the loving God with all our heart, soul and strength!

Cited Works:

Bangs, Carl. Phineas F. Bresee. Beacon Hill Press, 1995.

Brooks, Thomas. The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. 4.

Clement of Alexandria. Paedagogus. Stromata.

Colón-Emeric, Edgardo Antonio. Perfection in Dialogue: An Ecumenical Encounter between
Wesley and Aquinas.
Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 2007.

Girvin, Ernest. Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel. 1916.

Kaufman, Paul L. “Did Holiness Begin with John Wesley?” The Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist 80.

Marcarius. Spiritual Homilies.

Oden, Thomas. John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity. Zondervan, 1994.

Raymond, Jonathan S. “Social Holiness, Journeys, Exposures, Encounters,” Booth College, 2005.

Wesley, John. Works of John Wesley, Journals.