Saints in Embryo

1 Thessalonians 5:23

John Wesley’s teaching on holiness was both novel and radical—in fact revolutionary. Wesley followed in the wake of Luther’s reformation. In Luther the pendulum had swung from “salvation by works” to “salvation by faith” but, as always the pendulum had swung too far in certain quarters. For some the wine had been too strong! “What a relief,” they had said in effect. “Thank God we have been shown the evil of salvation by works! All we have to do is “believe” and everything will be well on the judgment day.”

In pondering this sorry consequence of Luther’s doctrine, Wesley realized that the fault lay in the narrow meaning which had been given to the word “salvation.” In popular thinking “salvation” was simply a question of getting by on the day of judgment. It was strictly a heavenly matter.

Relentlessly Wesley stressed the need for personal holiness here on earth. Salvation was not a future question but a present concern. It was the duty and privilege of every Christian to live uprightly. Thoughts, motives, actions—all were within God’s sphere of interest and influence. Holiness was not the concern of a handful of religious specialists; it was the very heart of religion—for everyone. Salvation and holiness were but two sides of the same coin. They could not be separated. Every “saved” man was a saint in embryo.

Wesley took Luther’s doctrine one step further. Where Luther had said, “You are saved by faith,” Wesley said, “You are saved and sanctified by faith.”

The emphasis on holy living was long overdue. The preaching of entire sanctification as Wesley had taught it was an outstanding feature in the early revival days of our own movement. The doctrine is especially linked with two names: General Bramwell Booth and Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle. Due to their influence The Salvation Army has maintained a dual emphasis: salvation and holiness. We go so far as to name our Sunday meetings by the doctrines that are taught in them. Wesley’s teaching shook the church of his day, and there is little doubt that in Article 10 (1 Thessalonians 5:23) we have one of the most radical doctrines of holiness within the whole Christian Church.

John Larsson, Doctrine Without Tears

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