Essay: Wesleyan Theology of the Atonement as a Basis for Understanding Christian Holiness

Introduction

From early Church history, many theologians have been careful to emphasize the vital importance of the atonement of Christ as a basis for our reconciliation with God. In this essay I would like to concentrate on John and Charles Wesley understands of atonement as a basis for Christian Holiness and some of the theologians inclined to John Wesley’s theological thought on the subject. To meet this objective, this research will seek to answer two questions: first, what is Wesleyan’s doctrine of the atonement? Second, how does this doctrine relate to Christian Holiness?

First of all, what is the meaning of atonement? “The word ‘atonement’ is one of the few theological terms derived basically from Anglo-Saxon. It means ‘a making at one’ and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity. The word occurs in the OT to translate words from the kpr word group, and it is found once in the NT (AV), rendering katallage (which is better translated ‘reconciliation’ as RSV). It is used in theology to denote the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by the sin of man, and in bringing sinners into right relation with God.”[1]

There are some theories of the atonement that help to meet the objective of this research. Shepherd’s summary of different theories of atonement is helpful at this point. He wrote,

The first main theory of the atonement is found in the idea of Victory over the powers of darkness. This was an idea which particularly appealed to the early Church, though it was revived in this century by Gustav Aulén, particularly in his book Christus Victor (1931). To it can be added the idea of the Cross as Ransom, since the victory referred to was often seen as secured through a ransom (perhaps one given to the devil).

The second main theory is found in the idea of Jesus as Priest and the Cross as Sacrifice. This draws particularly on the imagery of the Letter of the Hebrews.

The third main theory is found in the idea of Jesus as Substitute, providing satisfaction to God; it is associated with Anselm, but has been particularly prevalent in Protestantism.

The fourth main theory is found in the idea of Jesus as Representative. We shall find that this has been present in the early Church, but has had a particular appeal to modern theologians.

The fifth main theory is that of Moral Influence, the doctrine that the main purpose of the Cross is to display God’s love with such power as to turn to him. Many would in fact deny the right of this theory to be here at all…. We might be tempted to conclude that this is, in truth, no theory at all, but merely a reductionist approach to the cross; something which sees the atonement as existing only in our reaction to death of Christ, just as some theologies see God as existing only as a concept of the human mind. That would however be to discount the power of the cross to effect a radical conversion of spirit; furthermore, those who espouse this theory may continue to accept important aspects of other theories. ‘Moral influence’ does not easily fit into precise categories of atonement…[2]

Shepherd in quoting John Macquarrie said,

That atonement and incarnation were themselves regarded as virtually synonymous in the early Church:

Frequently… when one speaks of ‘reconciliation’ or still more of ‘atonement’ in Christian theology, there is a tendency to think almost exclusively of Christ’s death. The cross does, of course, occupy the central place in the doctrine of the atonement, but the cross cannot be understood apart from the life which it ended. Already in the New Testament we can see the difference in emphasis between St John with his stress on the incarnation, and St Paul, with his stress on the atoning death… Some of the early Greek fathers virtually equate incarnation and atonement. In Western theology, however, it is the death that atones, and in St Anselm’s famous theory, it is the death alone that constitutes the ‘satisfaction’.[3]

What is Wesley’s doctrine of the atonement?

Before we answer this question we need to remember that Wesley did not write any treatise specifically about atonement. However, Collin noted that,

There is significant evidence in Wesley’s writings to substantiate the claim made by both George Croft and Colin Williams that the cross of Christ did not become the ‘burning focus’ for Wesley until the crucial year, soteriologically speaking, of 1738. Indeed, Wesley’s correspondence with William Law in that same year reveals that prior to this time Wesley had by and large misunderstood the nature of justifying faith – which perhaps makes the year 1738 the terminus ad quo for his own justification – because he had failed to discern its proper object, namely, faith in the saving work of Christ. [4]

Although Wesley never wrote directly on atonement, he was however interested in the subject as revealed by his letter to Rev. Sir Law. His lamentation to his mentor for not having made it explicitly clear to him is sufficient evidence to his interest on the nature of atonement. Wesley wrote,

How I have preached all my life; how qualified or unquali­fied I was to correct a translation of Kempis, and translate a preface to it; whether I have now, or how long I have had, a living faith; and whether I am for separating the doctrine of the Cross from it; what your state or sentiments are; and whether Peter Böhler spoke truth in what he said when two beside me were. present – are circumstances on which the main question does not turn, which is this and no other: Whether you ever advised me, or directed me to books that did advise, to seek first a living faith in the blood of Christ?[5]

From that time Wesley stubbornly investigated this important doctrine until it become clear in his understanding. Collins noted that “so important was the doctrine of the atonement for Wesley in his understanding of justifying faith that many years later, in 1778, he wrote to Mary Bishop that ‘nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of atonement. It is properly the distinguishing point between Deism and Christianity.”[6] Maddox in his research noted how important for Wesley the doctrine of atonement was. “The atonement became central enough to his mature understanding of the meaning of Christ that he endorsed the typical Western conviction that the Son would not have become incarnate if Adam and Eve had not fallen, creating the problem of sin and guilt. Indeed, he once declared the Atonement the most significant Christian doctrine of all!”[7]

In light of the above discussion, we can now proceed to examine how Wesley understood atonement theologically. The difficulty is that, “…Wesley never wrote a treatise specifically on the atonement, the numerous references in his writings, when brought together, demonstrate that this doctrine was as vital for him as his protests to William Law suggested.”[8] However, through his writings we can see his theological consideration about atonement. Wesley was catholic in his way of explaining atonement avoiding the exclusion of others. The fact of atonement was to him more important than the detailed explanation of how atonement was effected. What is clear in the writings of Wesley was his clear distinction between objective and subjective atonement. He understood the atonement of Christ in terms of satisfaction, ransom sacrifice, and substitution though he preferred the concept of satisfaction. In this case it can be strongly argued that he was heavily influenced by Anselm. In that regard, he perceived the atonement of Christ as necessary to appease the wrath of God that was occasioned by human’s sin.

Collins qualifies this understating further by stating that,

A theory of the atonement that illuminates Wesley’s many reflections on the work of Christ – perhaps even more than a ransom view – devolves upon the basic notion of satisfaction in which the ideas not only of compensation but also of rendering some form of recompense specifically to the justice of God are also developed…..Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there (by his oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for sin of the whole world.[9]

Collins further notes three points of Anselm’s understanding of atonement that are at the centre of Wesley’s theological thought.

1. Humanity ought to make satisfaction for sin but cannot. (Obligation, but inability.)

2. God can make satisfaction for sin, but ought not (Ability, but no obligation.)

Therefore

3. Only the God/Human both can and ought to make satisfaction for sin. (Ability and obligation.)

The first premise above was explored in considerable detail in Wesley’s writings. Indeed, he affirmed, in a way similar to Anselm that sinful human beings are powerless to atone for the least of their sins; they are utterly incapable of ‘appeasing the wrath of God’. Moreover, Wesley explained in his writings why even perfect obedience henceforth, if that were even a possibility, would not undo or make satisfaction for any past sins in the least – since all obedience is ‘owed’ to God of holy love anyway. [10]

To illustrate this further, Wesley in his sermon, Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First, reasons as follows: “How shall he pay him that he oweth? Were he from this moment to perform the most perfect obedience to every command of God, this would make no amends for a single sin, for any one act of past disobedience: seeing he owes God all the service he is able to perform this moment to all eternity, could he pay this it would make no manner of amends for what he ought to have done before.”[11]

As previously alluded, Wesley made a distinction between objective and subjective aspects of atonement. In the following we can see how Collins highlights that distinction made by Wesley.

The objective aspect of Wesley’s penal substitutionary view are concerned with the work that God does for us in face of human inability to make atonement that both Anselm and Wesley rightly recognized. As such, the atoning work of God in Christ represents the sovereign action of the Most High with the result that beyond the roles of Creator and Governor, the Holy One is now known as Redeemer as well. This initiating grace and labour, in the face of human importance, is concerned with bringing about a proper relation to God once more, with what from the divine point of view (that takes holiness, justice, and the moral law seriously) is necessary in order to effectuate reconciliation, literally at-one-ment. .[12]

What is clear from Collins’ comment above is that Wesley understood Christ in terms of a mediator between man and God. The death of Christ was objective in that it satisfied God’s demands for righteousness by appeasing his wrath. Indeed, it achieves pardon for us as sinful and fallen creatures. Through his atonement, Christ took our eternal punishment as an act of mercy thus achieving reconciliation between God and us.

The second aspect of Wesley’s doctrine of atonement is the subjective. Collins explains that Wesley’s subjective element of atonement ultimately issues forth in the justification of sinners who have no righteousness of their own. Righteousness in this sense is portrayed as a pure gift of God by his grace. Collins observes:

Consequently, for Wesley, the first movements of salvation, properly understood, are marked by initiating and receiving graces, which then out of gratitude and thankfulness issue in responding grace. But note that there is no responding without first receiving, whether that receiving is understood in a sovereign fashion, as in terms of the irresistibly restored faculties of prevenient grace, or in a fashion that admits of human action, at least in some sense, even if it only entails extending the hand to receive the gift of forgiveness and justification. [13]

What is clear about Wesley’s subjective understanding of atonement is an act of God’s love that seeks to bless mankind. However, humans have a responsibility before God to receive his grace in gratitude. This is noted as the key distinction between Wesley and Abelard.

Dr Noble noted that,

For Wesley, as for the Reformers, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith was closely linked to the atonement. While all aspects of atonement are there in Wesley, including the cross as the demonstration God’s love and liberation from the powers of evil, it is the Anselmic view of the cross which is most closely linked with justification, pardon for our guilt and sin. But this was not a merely external, legal transaction. For Wesley our reconciliation was ‘in Christ’, and he insisted that his preachers should preach Christ as our Priest, who not only reveals God’s will for our lives that in his own earthly life.[14]

Moreover, Renshaw notes, “For Wesley, the atonement is the objective manifestation of both divine justice and divine love. They insist that no account of the atonement which fails to give proper place to both elements can be true. The grace of God, so John Wesley contends, does not exclude the claims of divine righteousness, for ‘in our justification there is not only God’s mercy and grace, but justice also.”[15]

Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of Atonement

Charles Wesley is a prime example of those who are strongly inclined to Wesley’s view of atonement. Charles Wesley like his brother John gave great importance to doctrine of atonement. By examining Charles Wesley’s poetry, we can see that the death and resurrection of Christ for the redemption of mankind were the focal points of the poet’s message.

Tyson observed that “Wesley’s most typical application of ‘atone’ connected the term with ‘blood’ on the one hand and ‘sins’ on the other. The ‘blood’ standing for the death of Christ and its saving significance, links ‘atone’ with Levitical typology, and yet, speaks powerfully of the saving death as a present reality.”[16]

Shepherd in his Thesis Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of Atonement wrote: The atonement has often been represented as a man, a perfect man, enduring suffering and death to satisfy the justice of an angry God… [Charles] Wesley is proclaiming that it is God himself who dies on the cross. But to say that God dies can only be paradox. What exactly did [Charles] Wesley mean, and is there any connection between his doctrine and the modern concept of the ‘Death of God’? Did his view of atonement go wider than this, and was it in line that of his contemporaries? More generally, has his theology any permanent value for the present?[17]

Charles’ doctrine of atonement is close to that of Greek fathers who emphasized satisfaction for all offense or injury in which Christ is seen as performing some action appropriate to defeat or remove the power of the devil. It is evidenced by his hymn below that his idea of atonement was similar to that of Greek Fathers.

He deigns in flesh to appear,

Widest extremes to join;

To bring our vileness near,

And make us all divine:

And we the life of God shall know,

For God is manifest below.[18]

For Charles Wesley, the cross was central to understanding the atonement of Christ. In the following portion of his hymns we can understand that Charles accepted the doctrine of penal substitution in which God the Father had punished his Son Jesus in our place.

“For what you have done

His blood must atone;

The Father hath punished for you his dear Son”[19]

In light of the above poetry by Charles, it is evident that he had a strong conviction that God punished Jesus for the sake our sins. Thus the dearth of Christ was seen as a substitute in which Christ suffered the wrath of God. It is also evident in the following poetry by Charles.

‘The Lord, in the day

Of his anger, did lat

Your sins on the Lamb, and he bore them away.’[20]

The point Charles makes clear is that in the atonement of Christ the justice of God was satisfied and his wrath quenched. This implies that, God in Christ provided the means by which his anger is quenched. He further illustrates,

Through the perfect righteousness

Of God the Savoir here,

Through his merits we possess

Precious faith in hearts sincere,

Justice now is satisfied,

God’s appeased, for God hath died.[21]

Charles Wesley provides us with further evidence that Christ is to be understood as the one who appeases an angry God in order to achieve our reconciliation with God. He writes,

The Mediator stands between

An angry God and guilty race;

The blood of sprinkling speaks for me,

Justice appeased gives way to grace.

God was in Christ, and all mankind

Now to himself hath reconciled.[22]

The second important aspect to analyze in Charles Wesley’s doctrine of atonement is his understanding that “Father and the Son act together in the work of salvation.”[23] For Charles Jesus who died on the Cross is the immortal God who suffered death when Jesus was on the cross.

Shepherd wrote in this regard,

we can thereof see Charles Wesley as a man of his age, apparently accepting uncritically the view that God was angry with us, and had to be propitiated by his Son’s sacrifice on the cross; and yet in his sublime moments he rises above this to proclaim God’s everlasting love, and the ones of the action of Father, Son and Holy Spirit… he certainly believed that the Father punishes Jesus, and that Jesus suffered his wrath…That it was the immortal God who suffered and died was part of Charles’s message from the first days of the Revival….‘I prayed by Mrs. Cameron, who owned herself convinced. She had been a Deist, because it is so incredible that Almighty God should die for His creatures.’[24]

For Charles Wesley the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ was necessary for the great plan of salvation. Shepherd further noted,

… Wesley is saying that without the Incarnation there could be no salvation for us. God could not die on a cross, but equally man could not atone (that is, could expiate sin). It is the humanity of Christ, linked with his divine credentials, which achieve the act of salvation secured by the cross… We can therefore say that [Charles] Wesley would not have regarded the anger of the Father as set over against the mercy of the Son. Rather it is the case the Father requires satisfaction, yet he himself provides the sacrifice. It may well be significant that the wrath and judgment of God be specifically the wrath of Jesus. In ‘Glorious Saviour of my soul’…There is no doubt that [Charles] Wesley’s doctrine of substitution speaks ultimately of love of God, and not of his antagonism. If we look again at those words quoted earlier:

For what you have done

His blood must atone;

The Father hath punished for you his dear Son.[25]

The third aspect of Charles Wesley’s understating of atonement is that Christ in his death ought to be understood as our representative before God. This is reflected in the following hymn by Charles.

Adam descended from above,

Federal Head of all mankind,

The covenant of redeeming love

In thee let every sinner find.[26]

Shepherd summarizes his discussion on Charles Wesley’s view of atonement as follows:

We have seen all the aspects of the Atonement reflected in Charles Wesley’s hymns. We have seen the doctrines of Christ as our substitute, of Christ as our representative, of Christ as our ransom; we have seen the Cross as a victory over sin and the powers of darkness; we have seen Christ as high priest and victim, the one who makes the sacrifice and who sheds his own blood; the one who as mediator between God and humanity makes intercession for us to the Father. We have also seen specifically Wesleyan emphases: the belief that Jesus died for all, and therefore he died for me; the centrality of the Holy Spirit in his theology; the need to go on from forgiveness of sins, and justification, to sanctification; and finally the perception of the cross as occurring in the present as well in history, so that we can still look upon Christ’s sacrifice with the eye of faith.[27]

Entire Sanctification and the Atonement

It is to be noted that there is a direct connection between Wesleyan understanding of atonement and Christian holiness. For John Wesley, the death of Christ on the cross is perceived as the meritorious cause of justification as well as of entire sanctification. This is made clear in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection where Wesley expounded the relationship between atonement and entire sanctification. “Whatever grace we receive, it is a free gift from him. We receive it as his purchase; merely in consideration of the price he paid… all our blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, depend on his intercession for us, which is one branch of his priestly office.”[28]

Renshaw noted that “In the Wesleys’ view, the atonement of Christ undergirded the whole Christian experience. What Christ made possible through His atoning work, the Holy Spirit makes actual in the lives of believers; or as John Wesley put it, ‘it is his [Christ’s] atonement, and his Spirit carrying on the work of faith with power’ in our hearts, that alone can sanctify us.’[29]

Similar to his brother John, Charles Wesley subscribed to the mutual relationship between the atoning work of Christ and the life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.

Come, Holy Ghost, all-quickening fire,

My consecrated heart inspire,

Sprinkled with the atoning blood;

Still to my soul thyself reveal,

Thy mighty working may I feel,

And know that I am one with God.[30]

Dr. Noble noted that

The salvation and sanctification of the individual can only be understood in the context of God’s universal act of Atonement in the cross of Christ, dealing with the sin and the sinfulness of entire human race as a corporate whole. … the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification has already been explored by William M. Greathouse. ‘…Here is one view, writes Greathouse, which highlights Christ’s Atonement as the destruction of sin making possible man’s true sanctification.’ He adds that while it does not fully explain the Atonement, it does give Wesleyan theology a significant biblical and historical basis for developing a thoroughgoing Christological doctrine of sanctification….Greathouse is right therefore to see this view of atonement as a basis for Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification. First, the victory of the cross is victory over sin as an objective power holding mankind in bondage… Seen in this way, as victory not only over external powers of evil, but of sin within humanity, the so-called ‘classic’ or ‘dramatic’ view of the Atonement – the Christus Victor theme – does indeed provide a basis for the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification. [31]

Taylor highlights the connection between Wesley’s understanding of atonement and his idea of sanctification. He notes that,

Wesley insisted that through Christ’s merits alone ‘all believers are saved: that is, justified – saved from the guilty, sanctified – saved from the nature of sin; and glorified taken to heaven. In this he was biblical: God made Christ ‘our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30, RSV). It was Jesus himself who declared the link between His death and our sanctification: ‘For their sakes I separate myself [to the Cross] that they may be separated from the sin’, is His meaning in His high-priestly prayer for His disciples – and for us (john 17:17-21).

That there was an objective transaction between the Father and the Son in Christ’s death that made forgiveness and reconciliation possible has never been seriously questioned by evangelicals. What has often been missed has been the moral power for personal holiness streaming from that Cross. ‘Pardon is the first end of Christ’s death, but to extinguish our own hell within us is the second end,’ is the Wesleyan position, according to Leo George Cox. And Wesley argues that a sincere Christian could hardly be comfortable with an imputed righteousness if he is still ‘really enslaved to the corruptions of nature.’ Any salvation, even from the threat of hell, must be put partial, unless ‘our Redeemer be… one that ‘baptizeth with the Holy Ghost’, – the Fountain and Restorer of that to mankind, whereby they are restored to their first estate.’[32]

Like John, Charles Wesley also understood the atonement of Christ as the basis of sanctification. Indeed, it was not confined just to forgiveness of the sinner but also for our entire sanctification. In Charles’s theological formulation, the atonement included both forgiveness of our sins and our renewal before God. He illustrates this in the following:

Acceptance through His only name,

Forgiveness in his blood we have;

But more abundant life we claim

Through Him who died our soul to save,

To sanctify us by His blood,

And fill with all the life of God.[33]

From the discussion above, it is affirmed of both Charles and John Wesley that,

“From the beginning to end, then, the Wesleys taught that the atonement wrought by Jesus Christ is the focal point in the experience of the believer. It is also apparent that the Wesleys, in explaining this central doctrine of the Christian system, almost invariably did so in terms of its practical application and personal meaning for human experience… At every stage of man’s salvation, therefore, the atonement is not only relevant, but dynamically determinative.”[34]

In the same regard of connecting the atonement of Christ and our entire-sanctification, William Greathouse is one of the significant modern Wesleyans worth considering. In quoting John Deschner he wrote,

John Deschner has pointed out the relevance of Christus Victor for Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification… the grand theme of Wesleyan Atonement is Christ’s bearing of our guilt and punishment on the cross. This atonement is Wesley’s ground for man’s entire salvation, his sanctification as well as his justification. But alongside this judicial scheme of thought there is also in Wesley a pervasive tendency to view Christ’s work on Good Friday and Easter, but also today and in the future, in terms of a military victory for us over sin and evil. Much attention has been given to the power of the Holy Spirit in Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification. It needs to be more clearly recognized that the sanctifying Spirit is the Spirit of the victorious as well as the suffering Christ.[35]

Greathouse critiques Wesley’s presentation of the doctrine of holiness and calls upon the present generation to continue to develop the doctrine further beyond what was taught by Wesley. According to him, Wesley ignored the objective victory of Christ thus opening the door to a subjective, individualistic type of holiness. In his view, Wesley’s ‘message of sanctification would have been more vigorously positive and biblical if he had sounded with clarity the note of Christ’s historic conquest of sin.’

Moreover, because Wesley does not seem to see clearly that sanctification is the repetition of Christ’s victory in us, it is ‘not primarily a participation in Christ who, as Paul says, is also our sanctification (I Corinthians 1:30), but rather such a relation to Christ as allows His Spirit to establish in us a ‘temper,’ a more abstract stylized kind of holiness.1:3l This defect appears to grow out of Wesley’s exaggerated view of the moral law as ‘the immediate offspring of God, . . . God manifest in the flesh.’ ….Wesley, however, does glimpse the full Christocentricity of holiness when he defines sanctification as the renewal of our mind in the Imago Dei. ‘And what is ‘righteousness’, ‘he asks,’ But the life of God in the soul; the mind which was in Christ Jesus; the image of God stamped upon the heart, now renewed after the image of him that created it?’ He then proceeds to describe inward sanctification as the ‘return’ of Christ in the person of the Comforter in several places in his Plain Account Wesley seems to see that the sanctifying Spirit is the Spirit of the victorious as well as of the suffering Christ.[36]

Greathouse carries on with his observation on the absolute necessity of the atonement of Christ for the sanctification of believers. Moreover, even the holiest men are constantly in need of Christ as their Prophet, Priest and King. Indeed, the moment Christ withdraws, all is darkness for believers have no righteousness of their own. He further quotes and comments on Wesley’s following statement,

They still need Christ as their Priest, to make atonement for their holy things. Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ….The best of men say, ‘Thou art my light, my holiness, my heaven. Through my union with Thee, I am full of light, of holiness, and happiness. But if I were left to myself, I should be nothing but sin, darkness, hell.’

This is Wesley at his best. Here he means by perfection, not any ‘temper,’ ‘intention’, or ‘affection’ inherent in man himself, but a participation in the being of Christ’s love. Christ is both the content and source of this perfection. On the ground of Christ’s priestly work, the prophetic and kingly offices can also be understood as grace.[37]

Greathouse regrets of Wesley that he did not make sufficient reference of Christ in the doctrine of sanctification even after having suggested an exalted view of Christ. It should be clearly understood that our holiness is derived from Christ. Greathouse reasons that, had Wesley emphasized this aspect enough, he would have found soundest defence against antinomianism. Moreover, he reasons that there is still a basis for arguing for the reference of Christ on the account of the band societies, Wesley’s pastoral answer to antinomianism Indeed; they can be perceived as Wesley’s pastoral answer to antinomianism. “There his Methodists found their place in the Body of Christ with its worship, mutual exhortation, admonition, encouragement and service. There they experienced the presence and power of the Christ who had won for them the victory. Though Wesley did not do so, must we not develop this doctrine’s implication that we participate in Christ’s active righteousness of obedience and love as well as His passive righteousness, through the Holy Spirit, in the church which is His Body? “[38]

Conclusion

Several lines of thought can be drawn from this study concerning Wesleyan understanding of the relationship between atonement and holiness. To begin with, atonement should be understood as the sole basis of Christian holiness. Indeed, for Wesley ‘nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of atonement. He understood Christ’s atonement as the means of satisfaction, ransom sacrifice, and substitution for human’s penalty of sin. The atonement of Christ was also understood as the source of our sanctification and this the only means of bringing sinners into right relation with God from the start to the end.

Second, Charles Wesley adopted the same view with his brother John of atonement as a base for entire sanctification. He perceived Christ in atonement as a man, a perfect man, enduring suffering and death to satisfy the justice of an angry God. In summary, Charles adopted the theory of penal substitution in light of atonement. This implied that in the development of his doctrine he portrayed Christ as our substitute, our representative, and our ransom. The cross of Christ was thus victory over sin and the powers of darkness. And most of all, Christ is to be understood as the only mediator between God and fallen humanity.

The key similarity among all Wesleyans is the direct connection between atonement and Christian holiness. No doubt, the atonement of Christ undergirded the whole Christian experience for Wesley, his brother Charles and others in the Wesleyan tradition. This is affirmed by Dr. Noble as previously stated that “Salvation and sanctification of the individual can only be understood in the context of God’s universal act of Atonement in the cross of Christ, dealing with the sin and the sinfulness of entire human race as a corporate whole.”[39]

In conclusion, atonement for most Wesleyans is the ground for man’s entire sanctification as well as justification. The victory of Christ on the cross is the victory on behalf of all humanity. Much attention has been given to the power of the Holy Spirit in Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification. It needs to be more clearly recognized that the sanctifying Spirit is the Spirit of the victorious as well as the suffering Christ.


I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, IVP (Inter-Varsity Press), Leicester, England, First edition May 1962, Reprinted 2004, 102

[2] Neville Thomas Shephered, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, A dissertation submitted to the University of Bristol in accordance with the requirements of degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts (Department of Theology and Religious Studies) Submitted September 1999, 6-7.

[3] Shepherd, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement,

[4] Kenneth j. Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology, 80, quotation of Baker, Letters, 25:546 (to Rev. William Law, May 20 1738)

[5] John, Wesley, The Works of Rev John Wesley: Works 25; 546 (To Rev. Sir William Law, 20 May 1738) edited by Frank Baker, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1980.

[6] Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology, 80, quotation Teelford, letters, 6:297-98 (to Mary Bishop, February 7, 1738)

[7] Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology, Kingwood Books copyright 1994, 96.

[8] Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology, 81

[9]Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy love and the Shape of Grace, Abingdon Press, 2007, 100

[10] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy love and the Shape of Grace, Abingdon Press, 2007, 101

[11] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley; Volume 1, Sermon 21;478, Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount Discourse the First, edited by Albert C. Outler, Abingdon Press Nashville, 1984.

[12] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy love and the Shape of Grace, Abingdon Press, 2007, 103-108.

[13] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy love and the Shape of Grace, Abingdon Press, 2007, 108-110.

[14] Thomas A. Noble, John Wesley as Theologian: an introduction, this paper was presented at the conference of CERT, (Centre for Evangelical and Reformed Theology) at free University of Amsterdam on 5th April, 2007, online: didache.nts.edu/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=730&Itemid=, 7-2_noble_wesley_as_a_theologian_1pof.

[15]John Rutherford Renshaw, The Atonement in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley, 79

[16] John R. Tyson, Charles Wesley’s theology of Cross: An examination of Theology and Method of Charles Wesley as seen in his Doctrine of the Atonement, U.M.I. Dissertation Information Service A Bell & Howell Company, 1984, 225

[17] Shepherd, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, 1

[18] John and Charles Wesley, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord, Hymn v; 110 Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, Volume IV, Epworth Press, Wesleyan- Methodist Conference Office, London 1869.

[19] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume IV p 371, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869.

[20]John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume IV p 371, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869

[21] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume VII p 213, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869

[22] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume IX, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869

[23] Shepherd, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, 55

[24] Shepherd, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, 55, 56

[25] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume IV p 371, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869.

[26] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume IX p 415, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869.

[27] Shepherd, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, 206

[28] John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Hendrickson Christian Classic, Peabody, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 2007.

[29] Renshaw, The Atonement in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley, Boston University School of Theology,, U.M.I. Dissertation Services, 1965, 192.

[30] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume I p 240, 241, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869.

[31] T. A. Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Nazarene Theological Seminary, September, 1999, Lecture 2, page 24-26.

[32] Richard S. Taylor, Exploring Christian Holiness, volume 3 The Theological Formulation, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, 105, 106

[33] John, Wesley. The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Volume III p 309, 310, Collected and Arranged by G. Osborn, London, 1869
G. Lane & P.P. Sandford.

[34] Renshaw, The Atonement in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley, 205

[35] William M. Greathouse, Sanctification and the Christus Victory Motif in Wesleyan Theology, online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/06-10/07-5.htm

[36] William M. Greathouse, Sanctification and the Christus Victory Motif in Wesleyan Theology, online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/06-10/07-5.htm

[37] William M. Greathouse, Sanctification and the Christus Victory Motif in Wesleyan Theology, online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/06-10/07-5.htm

[38] William M. Greathouse, Sanctification and the Christus Victory Motif in Wesleyan Theology, online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/06-10/07-5.htm

[39] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Nazarene Theological Seminary, September, 1999, Lecture 2, page 24.

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