A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
by John Wesley
Tares Among the Wheat Contrasted
with the Wonderful Testimony of Jane Cooper
In the year 1762 there was a great increase of the work of God in London. Many, who had hitherto cared for none of these things, were deeply convinced of their lost estate; many found redemption in the blood of Christ; not a few backsliders were healed; and a considerable number of persons believed that God had saved them from all sin. Easily foreseeing that Satan would be endeavouring to sow tares among the wheat [Matthew 13:24-30], I took much pains to apprise them of the danger, particularly with regard to pride and enthusiasm. And while I stayed in town, I had reason to hope they continued both humble and sober-minded. But almost as soon as I was gone, enthusiasm broke in. Two or three began to take their own imaginations for impressions from God, and thence to suppose that they should never die; and these, labouring to bring others into the same opinion, occasioned much noise and confusion. Soon after, the same persons, with a few more, ran into other extravagances,—fancying they could not be tempted; that they should feel no more pain; and that they had the gift of prophecy, and of discerning of spirits.
At my return to London, in autumn, some of them stood reproved; but others were got above instruction. Meantime a flood of reproach came upon me almost from every quarter: from themselves, because I was checking them on all occasions; and from others, because, they said, I did not check them. However, the hand of the Lord was not stayed, but more and more sinners were convinced; while some were almost daily converted to God, and others enabled to love Him with all their heart.
About this time, a friend at some distance from London wrote to me as follows:—
Be not over-alarmed that Satan sows tares among the wheat of Christ. It ever has been so, especially on any remarkable outpouring of His Spirit; and ever will be so, till he is chained up for a thousand years [Revelation 20:1-3]. Till then he will always ape, and endeavour to counteract, the work of the Spirit of Christ.
One melancholy effect of this has been, that a world, who is always asleep in the arms of the evil one, has ridiculed every work of the Holy Spirit.
But what can real Christians do? Why, if they would act worthy of themselves, they should—
- Pray that every deluded soul may be delivered;
- endeavour to reclaim them in the spirit of meekness; and, lastly,
- take the utmost care, both by prayer and watchfulness, that the delusion of others may not lessen their zeal in seeking after that universal holiness of soul, body, and spirit, “without which no man shall see the Lord” [Hebrews 12:14].
Indeed, this complete new creature is mere madness to a mad world. But it is, notwithstanding, the will and wisdom of God. May we all seek after it!
But some who maintain this doctrine in its full extent are too often guilty of limiting the Almighty. He dispenses His gifts just as He pleases; therefore it is neither wise nor modest to affirm that a person must be a believer for any length of time before he is capable of receiving a high degree of the Spirit of holiness.
God’s usual method is one thing, but His sovereign pleasure is another. He has wise reasons both for hastening and retarding His work. Sometimes He comes suddenly, and unexpected; sometime, not till we have long looked for Him.
Indeed it has been my opinion for many years, that one great cause why men make so little improvement in the divine life is their own coldness, negligence, and unbelief. And yet I here speak of believers.
May the Spirit of Christ give us a right judgment in all things, and “fill us with all the fulness of God” [Ephesians 3:19]; so that we may be “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” [James 1:4].
About the same time, five or six honest enthusiasts foretold the world was to end on the 28th of February. I immediately withstood them, by every possible means, both in public and private. I preached expressly upon the subject, both at West Street and Spitalfields. I warned the Society again and again, and spoke severally to as many as I could. And I saw the fruit of my labour. They made exceeding few converts; I believe scarce thirty in our whole Society. Nevertheless, they made abundance of noise; gave huge occasion of offence to those who took care to improve to the uttermost every occasion against me; and greatly increased both the number and courage of those who opposed Christian perfection.
Some questions, now published by one of these, induced a plain man to write the following:
QUERIES humbly proposed to those who deny perfection to be attainable in this life.
- Has there not been a larger measure of the Holy Spirit given under the Gospel than under the Jewish dispensation? If not, in what sense was the Spirit not given before Christ was glorified? (John vii. 39)
- Was that “glory which followed the sufferings of Christ” (I Peter i. 11) an external glory, or an internal, viz., the glory of holiness?
- Has God anywhere in Scripture commanded us more than He has promised to us?
- Are the promises of God respecting holiness to be fulfilled in this life, or only in the next?
- Is a Christian under any other laws than those which God promises to “write in our hearts” Jer. xxxi. 31, etc.; Heb. viii. 10).
- In what sense is “the righteousness of the law fulfilled in those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”? (Romans viii. 4).
- Is it impossible for any one in this life to love God “with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength”? [Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27] And is the Christian under any law which is not fulfilled in this love?
- Does the soul’s going out of the body effect its purification from indwelling sin?
- If so, is it not something else, not “the blood of Christ which cleanseth” it “from all sin”? [1 John 1:7]
- If His blood cleanseth us from all sin, while the soul and body are united, is it not in this life?
- If when that union ceases, is it not in the next? And is not this too late?
- If in the article of death; what situation is the soul in, when it is neither in the body nor out of it?
- Has Christ anywhere taught us to pray for what He never designs to give?
- Has He not taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven”? [Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2] And is it not done perfectly in heaven?
- If so, has He not taught us to pray for perfection on earth? Does He not then design to give it?
- Did not St. Paul pray according to the will of God, when he prayed that the Thessalonians might be “sanctified wholly, and preserved” (in this world, not the next, unless he was praying for the dead) “blameless in body, soul, and spirit, unto the coming of Jesus Christ”? [1 Thessalonians 5:23]
- Do you sincerely desire to be freed from indwelling sin in this life?
- If you do, did not God give you that desire?
- If so, did He not give it you to mock you, since it is impossible it should ever be fulfilled?
- If you have not sincerity enough even to desire it, are you not disputing about matters too high for you? [Psalm 131:1]1
- Do you ever pray God to “cleanse the thoughts of your heart, that” you “may perfectly love Him”?
- If you neither desire what you ask, nor believe it attainable, pray you not as a fool prayeth?
God help thee to consider these questions calmly and impartially!
In the latter end of this year [i.e., 1762] God called to himself that burning and shining light, Jane Cooper.2 As she was both a living and a dying witness of Christian perfection, it will not be at all foreign to the subject to add a short account of her death; with one of her own letters, containing a plain and artless relation of the manner wherein it pleased God to work that great change in her soul:
May 2, 1761.
I believe while memory remains in me, gratitude will continue. From the time you preached on Gal. v. 5, I saw clearly the true state of my soul. That sermon described my heart, and what it wanted to be, namely, truly happy. You read Mr. M–’s letter, and it described the religion which I desired. From that time the prize appeared in view, and I was enabled to follow hard after it. I was kept watching unto prayer, sometimes in much distress, at other times in patient expectation of the blessing. For some days before you left London, my soul was stayed on a promise I had applied to me in prayer: “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple” [Malachi 3:1]. I believed He would, and that He would sit there as a refiner’s fire [verses 2-3].
The Tuesday after you went, I thought I could not sleep, unless He fulfilled His word that night. I never knew as I did then the force of these words: “Be still, and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10]. I became nothing before Him, and enjoyed perfect calmness in my soul. I knew not whether he had destroyed my sin; but I desired to know, that I might praise Him. Yet I soon found the return of unbelief, and groaned, being burdened.
On Wednesday I went to London, and sought the Lord without ceasing. I promised, if He would save me from sin, I would praise Him. I could part with all things, so I might win Christ. But I found all these pleas to be nothing worth; and that if He saved me, it must be freely, for His own Name’s sake.
On Thursday I was so much tempted, that I thought of destroying myself, or never conversing more with the people of God; and yet I had no doubt of His pardoning love; but
’Twas worse than death my God to love,
And not my God alone.3
On Friday my distress was deepened. I endeavoured to pray, and could not. I went to Mrs. D., who prayed for me, and told me it was the death of nature. I opened the Bible on, “The fearful, and unbelieving, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” [Revelation 21:8]. I could not bear it. I opened again on Mark xvi. 6, 7: “Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth. Go your way and tell His disciples He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him.” I was encouraged and enabled to pray, believing I should see Jesus at home.
I returned that night, and found Mrs. G. She prayed for me; and the predestinarian had no plea, but “Lord, Thou art no respecter of persons” [Acts 10:34]. He proved He was not, by blessing me. I was in a moment enabled to lay hold on Jesus Christ, and found salvation by simple faith. He assured me, the Lord, the King was in the midst of me, and that I should see evil no more.
I now blessed Him, who had visited and redeemed me, and was become my “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” [1 Corinthians 1:30]. I saw Jesus altogether lovely; and knew He was mine in all His offices. And glory be to Him, He now reigns in my heart without a rival. I find no will but His. I feel no pride; nor any affection but what is placed on Him. I know it is by faith I stand; and that watching unto prayer must be the guard of faith. I am happy in God at this moment, and I believe for the next. I have often read the chapter you mention (I Cor. xiii.), and compared by heart and my life with it. In so doing, I feel my shortcomings and the need I have of the atoning blood. Yet I dare not say I do not feel a measure of the love there described, though I am not all I shall be. I desire to be lost in that “love which passeth knowledge” [Ephesians 3:19]. I see “the just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38]; and unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given [Ephesians 3:8]. If I were an archangel, I should veil my face before Him, and let silence speak His praise.
The following account is given by one who was an eye and ear witness of what she relates:—
(1) In the beginning of November she seemed to have a foresight of what was coming upon her, and used frequently to sing these words—
When pain o’er this weak flesh prevails,
With lamb-like patience arm my breast.4
And when she sent to me, to let me know she was ill, she wrote in her note,
I suffer the will of Jesus. All He sends is sweetened by His love. I am as happy as if I heard a voice say—
For me my elder brethren stay,
And angels beckon me away,
And Jesus bids me come.5
(2) Upon my telling her, “I cannot choose life or death for you,” she said, “I asked the Lord, that, if it was His will, I might die first. And He told me you should survive me, and that you should close my eyes.” When we perceived it was the smallpox, I said to her, “My dear, you will not be frighted if we tell you what is your distemper.” She said, “I cannot be frighted at His will.”
(3) The distemper was soon very heavy upon her; but so much the more was her faith strengthened. Tuesday, November 16, she said to me, “I have been worshipping before the throne in a glorious manner; my soul was so let into God!”
I said, “Did the Lord give you any particular promise?”
“No,” replied she, “it was all
That sacred awe that dares not move,
And all the silent heaven of love.”6
(4) On Thursday, upon my asking, “What have you to say to me?” she said, “Nay, nothing but what you already know: God is love” [1 John 4:16]. I asked, “Have you any particular promise?”
She replied, “I do not seem to want any: I can live without. I shall die a lump of deformity, but shall meet you all-glorious: and, meantime, I shall still have fellowship with your spirit.”
(5) Mr. M. asked what she thought the most excellent way to walk in, and what were its chief hindrances. She answered,
The greatest hindrance generally is from the natural constitution. It was mine to be reserved, to be very quiet, to suffer much, and to say little. Some may think one way more excellent, and some another; but the big thing is, to live in the will of God. For some months past, when I have been particularly devoted to this, I have felt such a guidance of His Spirit, and the unction which I have received from the Holy One has so taught me of all things, that I needed not any man should teach me, save as this anointing teacheth [1 John 2:27].
(6) On Friday morning she said, “I believe I shall die.” She then sat up in her bed, and said,
Lord, I bless Thee that Thou art ever with me, and all Thou hast is mine. Thy love is greater than my weakness, greater than my helplessness, greater than my unworthiness. Lord, Thou sayest to corruption, Thou art My sister? [Job 17:14] And glory be to Thee, O Jesus, Thou art my Brother. Let me comprehend, with all saints, the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of Thy love! [Ephesians 3:18] Bless these” (some that were present); “let them be every moment exercised in all things as Thou wouldst have them to be.”
(7) Some hours after, it seemed as if the agonies of death were just coming upon her; but her face was full of smiles of triumph, and she clapped her hands for joy.
Mrs. C. said, “My dear, you are more than conqueror through the blood of the lamb.”
She answered, “Yes, oh yes, sweet Jesus! O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] She then lay as in a doze for some time. Afterwards, she strove to speak, but could not; however, she testified her love by shaking hands with all in the room.
(8) Mr. W[esley]7 then came. She said, “Sir, I did not know that I should live to see you. But I am glad the Lord has given me this opportunity, and likewise power to speak to you. I love you. You have always preached the strictest doctrine; and I loved to follow it. Do so still, whoever is pleased or displeased.”
He asked, “Do you now believe you are saved from sin?”
Yes; I have had no doubt of it for many months. That I ever had, was because I did not abide in the faith. I now feel I have kept the faith: and perfect love casteth out all fear [1 John 4:18]. As to you, the Lord promised me, your latter works should exceed your former, though I do not live to see it. I have been a great enthusiast, as they term it, these six months, but never lived so near the heart of Christ in my life. You, sir, desire to comfort the hearts of hundreds by following that simplicity your soul loves.
(9) To one who had received the love of God under her prayer, she said, “I feel I have not followed a cunningly-devised fable [2 Peter 1:16]; for I am as happy as I can live. Do you press on, and stop not short of the mark” [Philippians 3:14].
To Miss M—s she said,
Love Christ: He loves you. I believe I shall see you at the right hand of God: but as one star differs from another star in glory, so shall it be in the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:41]. I charge you, in the presence of God, meet me in that day all glorious within. Avoid all conformity to the world. You are robbed of many of your privileges. I know I shall be found blameless. Do you labour to be found of Him in peace without spot.
(10) Saturday morning she prayed nearly as follows:
I know, my Lord, my life is prolonged only to do Thy will. And though I should never eat or drink more” (she had not swallowed anything for near eight-and-twenty hours), “Thy will be done. I am willing to be kept so for a twelvemonth: man liveth not by bread alone [Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4]. I praise Thee that there is not a shadow of complaining in our streets. In that sense we know not what sickness means. Indeed, Lord, neither life nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, no, nor any creature, shall separate us from Thy love one moment [Romans 8:38-39]. Bless these, that there may be no lack in their souls. I believe there shall not. I pray in faith.
On Sunday and Monday she was light-headed, but sensible at times. It then plainly appeared, her heart was still in heaven. One said to her, “Jesus is our mark.”
She replied, “I have but one mark: I am all spiritual.”
Miss M. said to her, “You dwell in God.”
She answered, “Altogether.”
A person asked her, “Do you love me?”
She said, “Oh, I love Christ; I love my Christ.”
To another she said, “I shall not long be here: Jesus is precious, very precious indeed.”
She said to Miss M., “The Lord is very good! He keeps my soul above all.”
For fifteen hours before she died she was in strong convulsions: her sufferings were extreme. One said, “You are made perfect through sufferings” [Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 5:10].
She said, “More and more so.
After lying quiet some time, she said, “Lord, Thou art strong!” Then, pausing a considerable space, she uttered her last words, “My Jesus is all in all to me: glory be to Him through time and eternity.” After this she lay still for about half an hour, and then expired without a sigh or a groan.
- **It is also possible that the author (whom Wesley does not name) of this small tract was also thinking in terms of Proverbs 24:7. ↩
- **Who was Jane Cooper? If the world took any notice of her (and the world rarely, if ever, takes notice of God’s hidden saints), it would have said, “She was an English servant-girl, a maiden, who died young.” How differently lives are viewed from heaven! In his journal entry for Thursday, November 25, 1762, John Wesley records the fact that he presided at Jane Cooper’s funeral:
I buried the remains of Jane Cooper, a pattern of all holiness, and of the wisdom which is from above; who was snatched hence before she had lived five-and-twenty years. In good time! God, who knew the tenderness of her spirit, took her away “from the evil to come.”
That Wesley held Jane Cooper and the genuineness of her sanctification experience in high regard may be seen in the ways and number of times he refers to her in his correspondence and other works over the ensuing thirteen years. For instance, in 1763 Wesley published a collection of Jane Cooper’s letters, that others might be edified by her words and example. In his preface to this little book he writes:
This strong genuine sense is expressed in such a style as none would expect from a young servant-maid: A style not only simple and artless in the highest degree, but likewise clear, lively, proper: Every phrase, every word, being so well chosen, yea, and so well placed, that it is not easy to mend it. And such an inexpressible sweetness runs through the whole, as art would in vain strive to imitate. So Jane Cooper wrote, and spoke, and lived. Thou that readest, “go and do likewise!”
Writing to Lady Maxwell on September 22, 1764 (Letter CCCXXXII), Wesley exhorts her:
I want you to be all a Christian; such a Christian as the Marquis de Renty, or Gregory Lopez, was. Such a one as that saint of God, Jane Cooper, all sweetness, all gentleness, all love. Methinks you are just what she was when I saw her first.
To an unnamed member of the Methodist flock, he writes in a letter of May 1769, comparing the life and spirit of Nancy Rogers, a member who had recently died in Ireland, as having “breathed the very spirit of Jane Cooper.” (Letter CCLIV)
In his preface to his published extract from the journal of Miss Mary Gilbert (published in 1772), Wesley can think of no higher praise than this:
…had it pleased the all-wise Disposer of all things to give her a few more years on earth, she would have been another Jane Cooper.
To the anonymous correspondent of Letter CCLIV (mentioned above), Wesley wrote on February 11, 1775 about
…that lovely saint, Jane Cooper! There was the due mixture of intellect and passion! I remember one of the last times I saw her, before her last illness, her look, her attitude, her words! My dear friend, be you a follower of her, as she was of Christ. (Letter CCLXVIII) ↩
- **From Charles Wesley's hymn And Wilt Thou Yet Be Found, also known by the title Resignation. ↩
- **From Thou Lamb of God John Wesley’s translation of Richter’s hymn Stilles Lamm und Friedefürst ↩
- **From How Happy Is the Pilgrim’s Lot by John & Charles Wesley ↩
- **From Sinners, Obey the Gospel-Word! by Charles Wesley ↩
- **This visit occurred Friday November 19, 1762. According to Wesley’s personal journal:
I called upon Jane Cooper, praising God in the fires. The next day I saw her for the last time, in every thing giving thanks, and overcoming all by the blood of the Lamb. A day or two after she fell asleep.
(This particular journal entry appears to have been made late the next week, for on the entry for “Fri. 19”, Wesley mentions a few events that happened from Saturday, Nov. 20 through Friday, Nov. 26. As mentioned in the previous footnote, his next entry, November 25, mentions Jane Cooper’s burial service.) ↩