A Plain Account of Christian Perfection Summary
A Plain Account of Christian Perfection was written by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, which is a denomination of Christianity. The work is a guide on devotion and the daily work to become closer to the Christian God. Wesley opens the work by discussing the research and discoveries of his youth which persuaded him to devote his life to religion. It was Wesley's belief that all Christians should strive to conform to the will of God as wholly and perfectly as possible.
Wesley explains that perfect Christian living is a conglomeration of habits, and it is the holiness of one's daily activities that bring them closer to God. He claimed that God's work was not regular, that great changes could come about all at once or over time. This is why Wesley encourages Christians to strive daily to adhere to God's will: they would reap the benefits of their devotion.
The circuit rider in American history was usually a Methodist; but it would be a mistake to superimpose our image of the frontier evangelist on the founder of Methodism, who, for all his traveling and out-of-doors preaching, was an Oxford don who had taken Anglican orders. During their university days, John Wesley and his brother Charles (the hymn writer) were leaders in a group known as the Holy Club, devoted to charitable works and to holy living. Nothing in the regimen of this pious band gives any hint of the great popular revival movement with which the names of the Wesleys and of George Whitefield (another member of the Holy Club) are so closely connected. The exception might be a certain mystical and ascetic ideal of Christian living that, in John Wesley’s view, was an essential part of the Anglican tradition and that he fought to retain in the societies that he founded, often in opposition to other evangelical leaders, including Whitefield.
Wesley is remembered chiefly as a man of action. Of his writings, only the Journal has excited general interest, and that less for its literary qualities than for the story it narrates. Excerpts from the Journal were published serially as part of his attempt to allay prejudice and to promote understanding. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection may be thought of as a supplement to the published Journal. In the 1760’s some people were saying that Wesley had shifted his ground on the matter of Christian perfection. This provided him an occasion to publish the cumulative record. The main statements from which he quotes are his first published sermon, “Circumcision of the Heart”; a tract, “The Character of a Methodist”; another published sermon, “Christian Perfection”; and two booklets, Thoughts on Christian Perfection (1759), and Further Thoughts on Christian Perfection (1763). Excerpts and summaries from these are pieced together chronologically and are interspersed with hymns, personal recollections, and reports of conferences and conversations. Because the purpose of the book is to show that his stand on perfectionism remained the same throughout his ministry, one is prepared for a good deal of repetition. On the other hand, Wesley’s teaching does not seem to have been quite as uniform as he claimed. It has been said of Wesley that, although he was an insatiable reader (he read as he traveled on horseback), he was never a close reader, and one gets the impression that he was not a close reader of what he himself had written.
A Plain Account of Christian Perfection begins with Wesley’s youthful resolves. He was twenty-two when, reading Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying (1831; originally as The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650, and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying , 1651), he was persuaded of the importance of purity of intention and of the need to dedicate every part of his life to God. This resolve was strengthened when he went on to read Thomas à Kempis and William Law. Studying the Bible in this light, he saw the “indispensable necessity of having the mind which was in Christ” and of “an entire inward and...
(The entire section is 2,532 words.)