John Wesley's pneumatology is significant as we deal with the contemporary Christian pneumatology. When Wesley encountered the experience of Aldersgate Street at May 24, 1738, it meant that he already received the Puritan doctrine of conviction. This kind of conviction, in that sense, can be called as the new conversion. When the supernatural conviction occurs, the Christian life totally changes. The process of this conviction makes a person new, just as he was changed by his conversion.
Simply put, the major background of his psychological understanding was directly based on the Puritan doctrine of 'full assurance'. Wesley said that there were direct and indirect witnesses of Holy Spirit. Indirect witness of Holy Spirit could be identified with the witness of our spirit. The witness of Holy Spirit is prior to that of our spirit. Wesley called this as the witness of good conscience.
By 1740, Wesley's ideas on theology were fairly cast in the permanent mold that would shape the Methodist movement. Two separate phases of salvation exist for the believer: One is conversion or regeneration, the other is Christian Perfection or sanctification. The former experience gives forgiveness for sins to believers. But the inherited sin still exists in human nature. By the grace of sanctification, later we called it as the Second Blessing, believers are purified from sin.
Nevertheless, Wesley did not teach the 'sinless perfection.' He stressed that Christian Perfection did not mean the perfection from the possibilities of ignorance, fault, error and of temptation. In Wesley's view, sin is the intentional exercise itself. Then, his perfection teaching can be called rather a perfection in motive and in desire. Sinless perfection can come only after death. Until then, sanctified person will be able to live a victorious life in his continual exercise of piety.
There are two aspects -- the gradual and instantaneous aspects -- in Wesley's theory of sanctification, and the instantaneous aspect is more emphasized. Christian perfection is given instantaneously by grace, but continual growth is also needed in spiritual life.
In Wesley's view, justification and regeneration were not the entirety of sanctification but the entrance of sanctification. Do we need continual growth and development until the state of complete sanctification? Wesley's teaching about the gradual sanctification is not so much different from the teaching of Reformed tradition. But the biggest difference between them is that the Reformed tradition does not acknowledge the experience of instantaneous sanctification.
On the contrary, Wesley's doctrine of entire sanctification is constituted by dual views about sin. Sin which exists even in regenerated believer is the original sin as the state. In regeneration, we receive forgiveness from actual sins, but in sanctification, are cleansed from the corruption of original sin. By this instantaneous experience, we are pured from inherited sin, and this allows believers to live victorious lives.
From 1739 until 1777, Wesley issued and repeatedly revised a tract entitled A Plain Account of Christian Perfection as Believed and Taught by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley. This document has served as a veritable manifesto for all the holiness and perfectionist groups which have separated from Methodism.
It must be disputed for better understanding of Wesley's pneumatology that Wesley discussed on the matter of Spirit Baptism with John Fletcher seriously. Although Fletcher also insisted on high academic standards for Methodist preachers, he insisted that the baptism with the Spirit was a more important qualification for ministry than all the book learning in the world. He often invited the students to follow him into another room at the close of the service to pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. At last, the views of Fletcher and his supporter Joseph Benson had come to Wesley as a headache. Wesley replied to Benson firmly that little children also bore the witness of Holy Spirit in Christ.
While Wesley's use of the phrase receiving the Spirit often meant receiving the witness of the Spirit, he also thought that it could include the meaning of sanctifying grace as well. This second meaning of receiving the Spirit was the definition which Benson and Fletcher were giving to it, but this confused Wesley's perception of what they were saying, because he normally thought of it as receiving the witness of the Spirit. Having discussed with them, however, Wesley solved misunderstanding between them (Laurence W. Wood, "Pentecostal Sanctification in Wesley and Early Methodism"; Wesleyan Theological Journal (Spring, 1999) Vol.34. No.1, 31-39). At last, the disputation was finished, and in 1775, Wesley wrote a letter in which he praised Fletcher sincerely to his friend.
The subsequent events show that Wesley, Benson, and Fletcher were in complete agreement. Gradually, Fletcher's Pentecostal concept of Holy Spirit became a common understanding among all Methodists. In his sermon "On the Church"(1785), Wesley makes a clear distinction between water baptism and the baptism with the Spirit, noting that all justified believers have the Spirit in a 'lower sense,' implying that the baptism with the Spirit is for fully sanctified believers.
The characteristics mentioned above are the core values of Wesley's Pneumatology. We can clearly conclude that Wesley reached a sufficient notion of Spirit Baptism only after finishing his disputation with Fletcher. Then came the closing years of John Wesley. This means that we need to deal with Wesley's later writings in order to study his thought about Spirit Baptism. Wesley's Pneumatology had accepted new focus when the disciples moved from England to America, and from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century according to its situational demands.
Rev. Dr. Bonjour Bay (BonChul Bae) has been a professor of Historical Theology at SungKyul University, Korea since 1989. He also serves as Researcher on Spiritual Movement and as English Ministry Director. He studied at Canadian Thelogical Seminary (M. Div.) and Seoul Theological University (Th. M., Ph. D.). He wrote more than 20 books on Church History and on Pneumatology including History of Pneumatological Perspective.