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GWMM-03: Second Theory: “I Was Sanctified at Conversion”

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series God's Ways and Man's Methods

Public Domain
(with exceptions)1

God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted

Chapter 3:
Second Theory:
“I Was Sanctified at Conversion”

Isaiah Reid

We do not deny that sanctification at conversion is divinely possible. But not all things which are divinely possible happen at conversion, and sanctification at conversion is one of those things which usually does not happen then. If it ever does so occur, several things will be true concerning it; it will be the same in kind and fruitage as sanctification after conversion.

  1. The subject will want to tell it. It is part of the gift of a justified life that it must be told. The words of Jesus are in the true order of circumstance and the nature of things, “Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for thee”[Mark 5:19-20; Luke 8:39]. The law is the same for all spiritual gifts. When the disciples at Ephesus, who had not been sanctified at conversion, heard of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, they believed and received, and then immediately “spoke with tongues and prophesied” [Acts 19:6]. They told it. They went about living and telling it too. They were not so out of joint with God’s order and the necessity of the times that they sat still and told no man. Their sanctification was in type like the Apostles’ reception of the same blessing at the day of Pentecost, which at once began the multiplication of itself by speech. It was not the invertebrate, insane, tongue-tied type of Zinzendorfian sanctification2 which hardly measures up to sustained justification. Truly sanctified life must and does have a voice, just as a June rose has fragrance in addition to true stems and leaves. We object to entire sanctification at conversion if it is speechless. We have met people who professedly held this theory, but we do not remember an instance in which a clear testimony of present sanctification was ever given by them. The prayer-meeting talks and the sermons are all on other themes. And so the world does not hear much of such kind of sanctification as that, nor does it need to. The world has enough of death in it. It needs life.
  2. Entire sanctification at conversion should, like the same blessing after con­ver­sion, be aggressive. It should have life and energy enough to propagate itself. But how do we find it? Do those “who got it when they were converted” believe in professing it definitely? Do they believe in special meetings for the promotion of holiness? Who holds these special meetings? Whose teaching makes the converts, writes and prints and scatters holiness literature, or organizes campaigns and leads the armies in the tented fields — the followers of Zinzendorf, or the followers of the apostles, who taught that the baptism of the Holy Ghost,3 the purification of the heart by faith, was received after they believed? (Acts 19:2) In whose churches do those desiring full salvation find it — under the preaching of those who tell the great majority of their membership they were sanctified when they were converted, or those who urge them to “go on unto perfection?”[Hebrews 6:1]
  3. This question settles itself by facts of past and present history. Zinzendor­fian­ism — entire sanctification at conversion — has a big problem on its hands; it must unchurch evangelical Christendom, or minify sanctification to a very low grade of justification, since the general testimony of the church is that though converted, they are not sanctified.
  1. If you received this blessing at conversion, and I did not, you will want me to have it. You will be hunting me out, urging me up to it, and encouraging me to seek it. You cannot help it. Holiness does not and cannot oppose itself. Your heart will burn to have me in the experience. If I am not, and you are, you know it, and you will not, cannot persuade me to believe that I have what we both know I have not. You cannot deny my conversion if it bears Bible tests, without denying your own. So you will urge me, though converted, to seek this second blessing. When those who profess this blessing at conversion do this, then, and not until then, will a hungering and thirsting church membership believe their doctrine; and when they quit opposing holiness meetings and holiness testimony, and prejudicing people (who know they are not holy) against holy living and becoming holy, then will their claim to “getting it all at once” begin to be believed by sinners.
  2. There is an experimental4 difficulty in the way. The sinner comes at conversion for the pardon of his sins. This is the universal testimony. His actual trans­gres­sions of the law of God rise up before him as a burden too heavy to be borne. From these he seeks release. He seeks this in the pardon, the forgiveness of his sins. He repents, he confesses, he pleads the mercy of God. His con­ver­sion experience is a release; it removes the guilt, it delivers from the burden. But a justified person — a soul that has experienced pardon — in coming for entire sanctification, does not thus come. He cannot ask for pardon for his depraved sin nature, for he never committed his depravity, neither does he repent for Adam’s sin. Yet he realizes the need of being in some way delivered from the carnal mind. He realizes that an act can be pardoned, but a state cannot. Is there then no remedy? Yes, in cleansing there is! A state, though it cannot be pardoned, can be cleansed.
  3. Entire sanctification at conversion contradicts the general testimony of the evangelical churches. Strangely, many who hold to sanctification at conversion are in active opposition to being sanctified in this life at all, as they show by the closing of their churches against holiness evangelists and workers, their effort to repress holiness testimony,5 their judicial as well as their strategic persecution, and their social ostracizing of those who contend for full salvation.6 Note also their theories of “growing into” sanctification,7 or “dying into it,”8 either of which contradict entire sanctification at conversion. We may add to this the statement of leading theologians, who testify that “According to the Scriptures, and the undeniable evidence of history, regeneration does not remove all sin.”9 It will not do to unchurch all these and say that they were never converted, for their lives as well as their words bear the stamp of the change. To affirm entire sanctification at conversion is to pit oneself against “all reformed churches of Europe and America.…Augustine and Calvin are not stronger in their assertion of this carnal mind remaining in them that are regenerated than Arminius or John Wesley.”10 More than this, Wesley, a man of eminent piety, culture, and worldwide fame, declared that entire sanctification at conversion “was wholly new; never heard of in the Church of Christ, from the time of His coming into the world, till the time of Count Zinzendorf”11 (1700-1760).
  4. A great deal of Scripture is against this method of becoming holy. Consider the exhortation to Christians “to go on unto perfection” [Hebrews 6:1]; the prayer of the Apostle that church members might be “sanctified wholly” [1 Thessalonians 5:23]; and the prayer of Jesus that His disciples who had not yet been sanctified at their conversion might yet be [John 17:17]. To this you may add, if you wish, the various Bible examples of those who received a “second touch” blessing.

No, this method of becoming holy will not do as a safe rule to teach. If any are sanctified at conversion, their lives will show it, and we will not deny the fruit if we find it; but if there be no fruit, we cannot be blamed for judging the tree by its fruit. It so happens that some children are born dumb, but because one in a thousand is, shall he decree that all others shall be dumb? We think not.



  1. The text itself is public domain. The original booklet, God's Ways and Man's Methods of Becoming Holy, Contrasted, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2010 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's God's Ways and Man's Methods of Becoming Holy, Contrasted.
  2. Nicholas Ludwig Graf (Count) von Zinzendorf was the leader of a missionary movement which called itself Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren), but is more commonly referred to as the “Moravian Brethren.” The movement was very influential in John Wesley’s spiritual development. However, the Moravians believed that complete freedom from sin occurred at conversion and regeneration, a doctrine against which Wesley sharply contended. See endnote ** for a quote from Wesley.
  3. This phrase, “baptism in the Holy Ghost,” carries different connotations, depending on one’s denominational and doctrinal background. In the late 1800s, those in the American holiness movement had appropriated this expression, along with other terminology rooted in Pentecost, to describe the Holy Spirit’s work in the instantaneous cleansing a believer’s heart from inbred sin.
  4. Reid employs experimental in its lesser-known usage of experiential.
  5. That is, to forbid the testimonies of those in their congregations who had experienced sanctification.
  6. Reid is writing here from personal, brokenhearted, first-hand experience. Driven out of his Presbyterian pastorate in November 1877, he was not allowed to preach in local Presbyterian churches again. As he wrote these words in the summer of 1880, the spiritual horizon was darkening with the gathering thunderclouds of an ecclesiastical trial, but three months distant.
  7. The concept of “growing into” sanctification presumes that: a) the believer starts off not fully sanctified when regenerated; and, b) the believer gradually grows and matures toward an approximation of holiness without ever arriving at a fully sanctified state in this life. Isaiah Reid wrote an entire book, entitled “How They Grow,” to disprove this idea. He held that just as a thorn bush seed can’t grow into an oak tree, so a sinful nature can’t grow and mature into a sanctified nature. But an acorn, an entirely different sort of seed, could (and under normal circumstances would) grow and mature into an oak tree. His point was that only a cleansed, sanctified, holy heart could grow in holiness.
  8. Elsewhere (in the previous chapter, for instance) Reid challenges this idea that Death, separating us from the “sinful body,” will at last make us holy. The logical extrapolation of this line of thinking is that Death, which the Scriptures declare to be an enemy (“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:26) will do what Jesus, the Savior from sin, either wouldn’t or couldn’t do.
  9. This is a quote from Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 290.
  10. These words seem to be from Methodist theologian and apologist Daniel Steel. The complete quote is: “All Reformed Churches of Europe and America agree that there is an infection of nature remaining in them that are regenerated. Augustine and Calvin are not stronger in their assertion of this fact than are Arminius and Wesley. It is no small presumption in favor of the truth of a doctrine, that it has remained unquestioned through all the fierce battles of polemical theologians, and all the reformers of the Church, and all the restatements of Christian truth.”
  11. This is a quote from John Wesley’s sermon “On Sin in Believers,” in section V.1 of the message. The full quote is: “Th{is} contrary doctrine is wholly new; never heard of in the church of Christ, from the time of his coming into the world, till the time of Count Zinzendorf; and it is attended with the most fatal consequences.”
Series Navigation<< GWMM-02: First Theory: “I Was Born So”GWMM-04: Third Theory: “I Expect to Grow into It” >>
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