Mark K. Olson, “The Stillness Controversy of 1740: Tradition Shaping Scripture Reading”

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Abstract: The influence of our Christian traditions upon our reading of scripture is deep and profound, even working at a subconscious level. This article demonstrates this truth by examining the role that tradition played in the Still Controversy of 1740. This Controversy led to the Wesley brothers separating from the Moravians. Olson analyses how their respective traditions (Anglican and Lutheran) influenced their reading and application of scripture, and which fueled the split between. The article closes with practical lessons for our context today. The article first appeared in the Wesleyan Theological Journal 46-1 (2011), 126-33.

[To view the footnotes on this page, scroll down to the bottom of the page. Clicking on the hyperlinked footnotes will take you off site to the notes in the original article location.]


The Wesleyan Quadrilateral informs us that tradition, reason, and experience influence how we interpret and apply the scriptures. One of the best examples of how tradition shapes our reading of scripture was the Stillness Controversy of 1740. Historians have emphasized the theological and practical differences that divided John Wesley and the Moravians. One underlying factor in the controversy was their different approaches to reading Scripture, differences arising from their respective Christian traditions. The Stillness Controversy was as much a hermeneutical conflict as it was a theological and practical one. It is this aspect of the story that has not been told. We begin with a brief review of the context of the controversy.

Why Divide Over Being Still?

The Stillness Controversy erupted in November 1739 at the Fetter Lane Society. What sparked the controversy were two opposing views regarding the spiritual standing of the recent converts. Philipp Molther, a Moravian representative, arrived in London in mid-October with the intention of leaving soon for America. When he first came to the Fetter Lane Society he was shocked by the displays of emotion in the meetings. After conversing with the converts and learning about their continuing struggles with doubt, he concluded their groanings for the Spirit were attempts by self-effort to receive the giftof justifying faith.[1] To use classic Pauline terminology, these converts were seeking salvation by works of the law, not by faith alone. Therefore, Molther understood the spiritual standing of these converts as pre-new birth. Since they were not yet justified, they were seekers, not regenerate believers.

Molther counseled these misguided seekers to stop consuming their time practicing the means of grace.[2] The means were not designed to prepare one for the gift of faith, but to confirm those who already have faith. In addition, the means not only diverted their attention away from Christ but were leading these seekers to place their trust in their own self-efforts to prepare themselves for the gift of faith. This is contrary to the gospel. So Molther counseled them to come as poor sinners, renouncing all self-effort, looking solely to “free grace in the blood of Jesus.”[3] Then God would give them the true gift of justifying faith, confirmed by the direct witness of the Holy Spirit. This was the answer their hearts longed for. This would remove all their doubts. This was the path to receiving God’s gift of justifying, saving faith.

Molther blamed this unfortunate situation on the Wesley brothers. Peter Böhler had left the society under their care that June. John Wesley confirms in his journal that in early September he “exhorted our brethren to keep close to the Church, and all the ordinances of God.”[4] So Molther would have been informed by the recent converts that it was John Wesley who had instructed them to use the means of grace to resolve their conflicts with doubt.

John Wesley, on the other hand, saw things quite differently. Contrary to Molther, he believed these converts were already justified and born again. Consequently, they already had the gift of faith, but in a low degree.[5] Their remaining doubts concerned their sanctification, not their justification. These converts were in a mixed state, just as Wesley had concluded about himself a year earlier.[6] Furthermore, in the summer of 1738 Wesley had been taught about degrees of faith from none other than Christian David and the Moravian leadership in Germany.[7]

Wesley, therefore, counseled these converts to diligently practice the means of grace to perfect their faith. By this time Wesley was teaching that full assurance and renewal came by degrees. There is a marked difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is by faith alone in the merits of Christ’s death. This is the first gift. But sanctification is a progressive work of inner transformation and renewal, with the perfecting of one’s love received as a second gift.[8] Though justification and sanctification begin in the same moment, they must be kept distinct to avoid the error that the work of salvation is complete in the initial gift of faith.[9] This single error had been the primary cause of Wesley’s own struggles with doubt following his evangelical conversion on May 24, 1738.[10] So Wesley blamed Molther for the division at Fetter Lane. Molther and other men had “crept in among them unawares” during the fall of 1739 and began preaching a new gospel – the gospel of stillness.[11] In response, Wesley saw himself as simply preserving the truth of the gospel from antinomian error.

From the above description it is easy to see why being “still” divided the society and drove the two parties apart. At its heart were two conflicting conversion narratives. These conversion narratives divided sharply over the nature of the gift of faith and the role the means of grace play in receiving this gift of faith. Yet behind these two conversion narratives stood two traditions with their competing hermeneutics on how to read the Scriptures.

The Shaping Power of Tradition

A narrative of conversion is always shaped by the religious tradition that informs it. This is true because tradition serves as the primary paradigm through which the experience of conversion is defined, delineated, and given meaning. The Stillness Controversy of 1740 illustrates this point.

The Moravian’s conversion narrative was grounded largely on a tradition that reached back through German pietism to the teachings of Martin Luther. The Moravian gospel emphasized the new birth, received in an instant, witnessed directly by the Holy Spirit. But they differed from their pietistic predecessors by rejecting the notion of an intense spiritual struggle preceding the gift of faith.[12] Instead, they taught the “easy way of salvation,” one of coming directly to Christ. Significant to this narrative was the idea that grace comes to the believer unmediated; that is, not through any means but directly from God.[13] It was Luther’s Preface to Romans that largely shaped their theology of the gift of faith.[14] In this Preface Luther, in pietistic fashion, directly links the gift of faith to the new birth and good works:

“Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God. It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people…. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith.”[15]

The Moravians fully embraced Luther’s teaching that the new life spontaneously generates the Spirit’s fruit and good works. It was this understanding of the spontaneity of the regenerate life that profoundly shaped their narrative of conversion and their views regarding stillness. Since faith is an undeserved gift received directly from God, all human efforts to prepare for this gift were viewed as seeking salvation by works.[16] This is why Molther counseled seekers to remain still in regard to the means of grace.

But the Moravian’s emotionally charged gospel left little if any room for doubt to coexist with faith. Since the regenerate life naturally produces the Spirit’s fruit, the experiential realities of this generation naturally bear witness in the believer’s heart. As Count Zinzendorf once told the Fetter Lane Society, “There is no saving faith which is not simultaneously love for him who laid down his life for us.”[17] The Moravian’s tendency to link faith to the experiential realities of love spontaneously flowing from the heart meant that to doubt these experiential realities in one’s life became an infallible sign of a lack of saving faith.[18]

Now this was the new gospel John Wesley embraced in the spring of 1738 and which led to his Aldersgate conversion. But his views shifted over the next eighteen months, primarily due to chronic struggles with doubt. To resolve the dilemma Wesley returned to his Anglican tradition,[19] which emphasized process and the mediation of grace through the ordinances.[20] This allowed room for doubt to coexist with faith within the process of sanctification. Wesley now believed that grace is not only received in the instant–in the gift of faith, unmediated–but also in the process that precedes and follows this instant. Therefore, the means of grace do serve a vital role to prepare a seeker for the gift of faith. This explains Wesley’s penchant for degrees of faith during the controversy.

To clarify, Wesley did not just revert back to his earlier Oxford views, for he continued to embrace the Moravian message of the gift of faith and the direct witness of the Spirit. Yet Wesley differed sharply from the Moravian gospel by largely shifting Luther’s emphasis on the spontaneity of the regenerate life to a later blessing, which at the time he labeled “a new, clean heart” (i.e., Christian perfection).[21]

How Tradition Shaped Their Reading of Scripture

A close reading of the primary documents of the Stillness Controversy in 1739 and 1740 reveals interesting insights into how tradition shaped both party’s reading of Scripture. Each side was not only inclined by their respective tradition to appeal to specific passages that best supported their arguments, but also, we see how tradition profoundly shaped their reading of Scripture.

In keeping with their pietistic Lutheran convictions, the Moravians appealed to texts that supported their views on the spontaneity of the regenerate life. In passages like 2 Corinthians 5:17 (if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…all things are become new)[22] and Galatians 5:22 (the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace) the Moravians argued that the primary marks of the regenerate life are spontaneously generated within the life of the convert.[23] Another passage they appealed to was Romans 5:1-5 (justified by faith…peace with God…rejoice in hope…love shed abroad). In the Moravian narrative of conversion these texts taught that doubt cannot coexist with the marks of love, joy, and peace because the new convert is aware of them in their heart and life. These fruits witness to the reality of their faith in Christ.

In contrast, Wesley appealed to texts that emphasize degrees of faith, to show that the transformative power of the gift of faith is initially more limited than what the Moravians taught. This allowed for doubt to coexist with the gift of faith within the process of sanctification. Wesley’s reading of Romans 5:1-5 illustrates this point. In agreement with the Moravians, Wesley taught that believers experience God’s love, joy, and peace in the gift of faith, but he differed sharply by insisting that the degree of transformation is more limited than what Molther and his supporters proclaimed.[24] Another text Wesley used to make his case for degrees of faith was Romans 1:17 (from faith to faith).[25] Wesley also drew upon texts that speak of a weak faith that is still justifying (Matt. 8:26; Rom. 14:1; Lk. 22:32 with Jn. 15:3).[26] In May 1740 Wesley began to appeal to 1 John 2:12-14 (children…young men…fathers) to make the same point: weak faith is justifying faith. But in contrast to the other passages on degrees of faith, this last text continued to shape Wesley’s ordo salutis (order of salvation) and his teaching on Christian perfection for many years.[27]

To support their message of spontaneous generation, the Moravians appealed to scriptures that teach deliverance from the power of sin in the gift of faith. Of course, these scriptures were read through the lens of Luther’s Preface on Romans. These include 1 John 5:4 (victory that overcometh the world…even our faith),[28] and Romans 6:14 (sin shall not have dominion), and the favorite text of the revival, 1 John 3:9 (Whosoever is born of God…cannot sin). Count Zinzendorf summarized the Moravian position when he told the Fetter Lane Society, “In this very moment he (the convert) is delivered from the power of sin, from the fear of sin, from the inclination of sin. Then he is delivered from all attachment to sin and stands there like a newborn child, as a new creature.”[29]

By late 1739 Wesley could no longer embrace this Moravian reading of 1 John 3:9 and other related texts.[30] As we saw above, from his own struggles with doubt in the fall of 1738, along with the tendency in the recent converts to over inflate their spiritual attainments, Wesley saw that a new, clean heart is attained as a second, post-justification gift.[31] According to Wesley, the Moravian’s Lutheranism had distorted their reading of scripture and kept them from seeing the proper role of sanctification following the initial reception of the gift of justifying faith.[32]

In keeping with their German pietism, the Moravians argued that grace comes unmediated in the gift of faith. Their intent was to guide seekers to come directly to Christ for salvation. To make this pointthey appealed to Hebrews 12:2 (looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith),[33] John 14:23 (if a man love me…we will come…make our abode with him), Romans 8:16 (the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit),Romans 14:17 (kingdom is…righteousnesspeacejoy in the Holy Ghost), and Galatians 2:20 (Christ lives in me). The Moravians believed these scriptures teach that grace comes directly from Christ to the seeker. Hence there is no need to practice the means of grace to receive the gift of faith. In fact, there was a danger in doing so because the English had been taught a view of religion that over emphasized the externals of religion–do no harm, do good, practice the means of grace.[34] The Moravians saw such religion as a form of legalistic nominalism: salvation by works of the law.[35] Their solution was for seekers to simply wait on Christ under the hearing of the gospel until the gift of faith is received, witnessed directly by the Holy Spirit in a spontaneous outflow of love, joy, and peace in the heart and life of the new believer (Rom. 5:1-5, 14:17; Gal. 5:22).[36]

The Wesley brothers countered Moravian quietism in two ways, both of which reveal their Anglican roots. First, they repeatedly appealed to texts that call attention to the active efforts of the seeker or believer: 2 Corinthians 13:5 (examine yourselves…prove yourselves),[37] Acts 2:42 (continued in apostles doctrine…fellowship… breaking of bread…prayer), Matthew 11:12 (kingdom…taken by force), Luke 13:24 (strive to enter in at the straight gate), Philippians 2:12 (work out your own salvation with fear and trembling), Hebrews 11:6 (must believe he is…rewarder of them that diligently seek him).[38] Second, the Wesleys appealed to texts that emphasize the trials, temptations, and spiritual warfare of the believer to show that struggles with doubt are consistent with justifying faith. These include the temptation of Jesus,[39] 1 Peter 4:12 (fiery trials), Matthew 26:41 (watch and pray…enter not into temptation…spirit willing…flesh is weak), and1 Corinthians 12:26 (one member suffers, all the members suffer with it).[40] These texts reflect the Wesley brothers’ struggles with doubt following their evangelical conversions and stress the need for ongoing sanctification in the life of the newly justified believer. The Moravians, of course, rejected this reading regarding the gift of faith as legalism since it undermined their teaching on the spontaneity of the regenerate life.

Finally, the Moravians and the Wesleys divided sharply over who should participate in the sacrament of communion. In keeping with their pietistic convictions, the Moravians welcomed only regenerate believers to the table. From their perspective the sacrament proffered confirming grace. The scripture they appealed to was Hebrews 10:22 (let us draw near with…full assurance of faith), which combined their definition of regeneration (full assurance) with who should approach the holy meal. In 1738 this more rigorous standard had led the Brethren in Germany to refuse John Wesley access to the table because they deemed him homo perturbatus, one who lacked a full, clear assurance of saving faith.[41] How this incident possibly influenced Wesley’s attitude toward the Moravians is difficult to determine. But from some time during his early (Oxford?) period he began to believe that the sacrament conveys unrestricted grace; that is, preventing, justifying and sanctifying grace.

So, Wesley, influenced by his High Church tradition and Non-juror associations, argued for a more open table than the Moravians.[42] The difference spilled over into how both parties read two key passages on the subject. The Moravians argued from Colossians 2:20 (if ye be dead with Christ…why are ye subject to ordinances) that believers are not bound to partake of the sacrament; while Wesley countered that this verse refers to Jewish ordinances, not the ordinances of Christ. But the sharpest conflict was over how to read 1 Corinthians 11:24 (do this in remembrance of me). The Wesleys held this is a command, while Molther and his English supporters understood this as a privilege (for those who already received the gift of faith).

From this survey we see just how deeply both sides were influenced in their reading of scripture by their respective traditions–Anglican and Lutheran. It is little wonder that both sides collided over their respective narratives of conversion. Behind these issues stood two competing Christian traditions that thoroughly colored the perspectives of each party and shaped how they read and applied the sacred text to daily life.

How Tradition Shapes Our Reading of Scripture

When we reflect on the Stillness Controversy and how each party read the Scriptures, pertinent lessons begin to emerge on how tradition shapes our reading of Scripture.

1.  Pervasive Presence.  The first lesson involves the pervasive presence of faith tradition in our reading of Scripture. Since Christians no longer can sit at the feet of Jesus and the apostles, both tradition and Scripture serve in tandem to bridge the gap of the centuries so that the one holy apostolic faith is translated into the daily lives of believers. So, while Scripture historically encapsulates the sacred narrative, it is the role of tradition to translate this sacred narrative into daily life. This means that tradition is organically connected to our spiritual formation and provides the existential paradigm that shapes our conscious and subconscious religious life. This explains why the Moravians and the Wesleys were instinctively drawn to different conversion narratives even though they embraced the same evangelical gospel message. The hermeneutical conflict that divided the two groups simply reflected the pervasive presence of their respective traditions upon their reading of Scripture. The same lesson applies today: there is no escaping the pervasive presence of our traditions upon our reading of Scripture. Christians will continue to read the sacred text through the lens of their religious traditions.

2.  Competing Interpretations.  Secondly, this means that our respective Christian traditions will continue to spawn competing interpretations of the biblical text. Since our traditions are rooted in the concreteness of daily life, the level of diversity within the global Christian family guarantees that our respective traditions will generate competing interpretations of the gospel and biblical text until Christ returns. The Stillness Controversy illustrates this point. It was just one episode among many within the larger story of the Christian faith where faithful believers parted paths because they could not agree on how to read and apply the Scriptures. Sadly, these differences often lead to sharp tensions between the parties. The Stillness Controversy was no exception, for both groups felt the need to demonize the other.[43] Therefore, any hope that a particular or denominational reading of Scripture will unite the global Christian family before the eschaton is simply naïve.[44] Our Christian traditions are simply too diverse for that level of unity. So, in the future competing interpretations and theologies will continue to shape the Christian faith until our Lord returns and sets all things right.

3.  Danger of Blindness.  This leads to a final, yet sober, lesson: tradition can blind as well as help in the task of reading Scripture. Both sides in the Stillness Controversy became so entrenched in their respective positions that eventually neither side could hear what the other side was trying to say.[45] This should give us pause. Eternal life is found in the sacred narrative of Christ’s death and resurrection, not in our respective Christian traditions. If we blend, merge, or confuse the two, the tendency will be for our tradition to usurp the authority of the sacred narrative and thereby become an idol. This is an ever-present danger since our traditions are existentially linked to our daily lives and culture, which are always shifting. Consequently, our Christian traditions tend to hold a powerful sway over how we conceptualize the faith, as well as translate the faith into daily life.

Simply stated, we cannot do the ministry of the kingdom without tradition. Discipleship does not happen in a vacuum; it only transpires within the context of a living, dynamic faith tradition. But this underscores the need to keep our tradition from usurping the authority of Scripture as the depository of divine truth. In the future we must remain vigilant that our Christian traditions remain a handmaiden to the sacred narrative found in Scripture, and not become the master of the house.

[1] The controversy involved more than the issue of who can participate in Holy Communion and the role of the means of grace. The heart of the matter concerned the salvific standing of recent converts. See John Wesley’s Journal (JWJ) 12/31/39 & 6/22/40 (The Works of John Wesley. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1984-Present. 19:131-32, 154. Hereafter Works); and James Hutton’s Memoirs, 34, 46-47, 53-54 (Daniel Benham, ed. Memoirs of James Hutton. London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co. 1856; Hereafter: Hutton).

[2] Wesley does reluctantly admit on one occasion that the issue for the Moravians was excessive and legalistic reliance on the means of grace (JWJ 4/23/40; Works, 19:147).

[3] According to Molther’s own testimony, this was his core message at Fetter Lane (Hutton, 53).

[4] Works 19:96.

[5] Wesley’s views on degrees of faith developed in tandem with his belief in degrees of regeneration, both of which developed out of his struggles with doubt following his own conversion at Aldersgate. After one episode with doubt Wesley concluded he had a “measure of faith” (cf. JWJ 10/14/38, Works 19:16-19). His first explicit mention of degrees of regeneration was on January 25, 1739 (Works 19:25; cf. also JWJ 7/23/39, Works 19:82). Wesley’s argument that the Stillness Controversy was over “degrees of faith” is misleading. That was his argument over the converts’ spiritual standing. The Moravians and their supporters disagreed with this position.

[6] Works 19:16-19; 27-28.

[7] Works 18:270ff. This is why Wesley gives so much space to Christian David and the other Moravian testimonies in his second journal extract. In 1740 Wesley believed that the English Moravians (and their supporters) were in disagreement with the leadership in the German mother church over these issues. But as Colin Podmore has shown, this is simply incorrect (The Moravian Church in England, 1728-1760. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, 60-65).

[8] In the spring 1740 Wesley used the terminology of gift for Christian perfection in his Preface for Hymns and Sacred Poems II (Thomas Jackson, ed. Works of John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1984, Reprint, 14:323 §4).

[9] Wesley worked out this distinction during the spring/summer of 1739. He articulates this distinction for the first time on September 13, 1739 (Works 19:96). His writings during the winter of 1738/39 reflect more of an intermittent view with two basic spiritual states (unregenerate and regenerate). In this ordo, a “weak” believer is one who is vacillating between these two states. Perfection is then being established in the regenerate state. But Wesley abandoned this position by the summer 1739 and embraced a two works of grace model as he clarified what he believed about sanctification in relation to justification.

[10] Cf. Mark K. Olson, John Wesley’s Theology of Christian Perfection: Developments in Doctrine & Theological System (Fenwick: Truth in Heart, 2007), 120-123.

[11] Cf. Works 18:219 and 19:147.

[12] D. Bruce Hindmarsh, The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 164.

[13] That is, apart from the ordinances. Of course, the Moravians believed grace to be mediated through Christ, but it was Christ alone as well as by faith alone that brought salvation to the waiting soul.

[14] A good example of the Preface’sinfluence on Moravian conversion narrative is Wesley’s Aldersgate conversion (Works 18:249). William Ward notes that Luther’s Preface to the Romans “became the classical text for evangelical conversion” (W.R. Ward, Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History 1670-1789. Cambridge University Press, 2006, 43).  For an overview of Luther’s views on faith and assurance, see Joel R. Beeke, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation. New York: Peter Lang, 1991, 1994.

[15] Martin Luther, Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. Translated by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB, for the Saint Anselm College Humanities Program (c)1983 by Saint Anselm Abbey. Section quoted: Faith.

[16] Luther’s doctrine of “alien righteousness” also shaped the Moravian gospel by placing the believer’s entire righteousness in Christ alone. Consequently, the Christian remains in this life both sinner and saint. See the Wesley and Zinzendorf conversation on September 3, 1741 (Works 19:211-215).

[17] George W. Forrell, ed., Zinzendorf: Nine Public Lectures. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1973, 34 (hereafter: Zinzendorf).

[18] This explains why in the summer of 1738 the Moravians refused to let Wesley join them at the Lord’s Table. Wesley’s muddled testimony reflected someone who had not yet received the gift of faith (Hutton, 40).

[19] In November 1738, Wesley began to “inquire what the doctrine of the Church of England is concerning the much controverted point of justification by faith” (Works 19:21). Wesley soon after published an extract of the Homilies on justification, faith, and good works. The following year (1739) he also published a second tract on two treatises supporting the tenth through thirteenth Articles regarding justification and good works (Richard Green, The Works of John and Charles Wesley: A Bibliography; Second Edition. London: Methodist Publishing House, 1906, Nos. 9, 14). It should be added that Wesley began to study more intently relevant Puritan writings after his Aldersgate conversion (including Thomas Halyburton’s Memoirs, Jonathan Edward’s Faithful Narrative, Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans,and John Bunyan’s Life and Pilgrim’s Progress).

[20] It should be noted that in 1738, when Wesley was under the sway of Moravian principles, he did devalue the role the means of grace play in receiving the gift of faith (Works 18:214, 248; 19:15, 19, 31).

[21] Randy Maddox confirms this point: “Wesley was convinced that the Christian life did not have to remain a life of continual struggle. He believed that both Scripture and Christian tradition attested that God’s loving grace can transform our lives to the point where our own love for God and others becomes a ‘natural’ response” (Responsible Grace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994, 188).

   New, clean heart. This synonym for Christian perfection was used by Wesley in 1740 and 1741, with one possible exception (cf. Preface of Hymns and Sacred Poems II, spring 1740; Wesley’s journal 6/24/40; 7/20/40; 9/29/40, Preface of Extract Two; 5/2/41; 8/8/41). The lone exception is found in Extract Two of Wesley’s Journal on 8/10/38. Since this sole exception is found in Extract Two, which was published in October, 1740, this author is inclined to believe that Wesley began using the phrase new, clean heart during the Stillness Controversy. In Christian Perfection II.29 (early 1741) Wesley quotes Ezek. 36:25-27, which speaks of being cleansed with water and having a new heart. This scripture is a possible source for the phrase. After the early 1740’s the phrase is dropped from Wesley’s vocabulary for the second sanctifying gift except when quoting his earlier works. 2 Corinthians 5:17 was a popular verse during the revival and speaks of believers being new creatures…all things become new.

[22] The scripture quotations in this section are from the KJV.

[23] This was how Wesley read this text in the fall 1738 through early 1739 (Works 19:18-19, 30-31).

[24] Works 19:123-24, 153-54.

[25] Works 19:154.

[26] Works 19:154-55.

[27] Beginning in the spring of 1740, Wesley identified justification/new birth with children, full assurance with young men, and Christian perfection with fathers (Works 19:148, 154; cf. Charles Wesley’s Journal 5/10/40). This became Wesley’s basic framework for explicating the stages of spiritual development and was later incorporated in the sermon Christian Perfection (1741) and later sermons, e.g., On the Discoveries of Faith (1788).

[28] Works 19:148.

[29] Zinzendorf, 93.

[30] JWJ 11/7/39 (Works 19:120). A close reading of Wesley’s use of 1 Jn. 3:9 shows that his understanding of this verse changed over time. In 1738 he appealed to this verse to support his perfection doctrine (Salvation by Faith II.5; An Extract of the Life and Death of Thomas Halyburton §5). By 1741 he understood the verse to promise deliverance only from outward sin (Christian Perfection II.2; The Great Privilege of Those that are Born of God II.1-2).

[31] Cf. JWJ 7/23/39 (Works 19:82).

[32] Wesley believed the “grand error” of the Moravians was that they “follow Luther, for better, for worse” (JWJ 6/15/41, Works 19:201).

[33] “One then spoke of ‘looking unto Jesus,’ and exhorted us all ‘to lie still in his hand’” (Works 19:119).

[34] Even John Wesley had to combat this view of religion with fellow Englishmen (cf. Works 19:123).

[35] Peter Böhler noted in the spring of 1738, “Our mode of believing in the Savior is so easy to Englishmen that they cannot reconcile themselves to it, if it were a little more artful, they would sooner find their way into it…. They justify themselves; therefore they always take it for granted that they believe already, and would prove their faith by their works” (John P. Lockwood, Memorials of the Life of Peter Böhler, London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1868, 68-69). Cf. Hutton, 28, 46; Zinzendorf, 1-9, see note 35 above.

[36] Molther defined stillness in May 1740, “1. To walk in the sight of God. 2. Waiting on him having the heart always praying. 3. Resignation to God’s will” (Colin Podmore, The Moravian Church in England, 1728-1760. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, 69).

[37] Works 19:121.

[38] The above five texts are from Charles Wesley’s journal (Thomas Jackson, The Journal of Charles Wesley, 2 Vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing House, 1980 Reprint, 1:232). John also appealed to Acts 2:42 during the controversy.

[39] Works 19:141.

[40] Works 19:149. Wesley argued that the Moravian’s promise of spontaneous fruit, without struggle or effort, involves guile and deceives the listener by offering a false hope. By 1740 Wesley felt he had been deceived by Böhler’s presentation of the gospel in 1738. Böhler had promised Wesley victory over all sin in the gift of faith (Works 18:239 note 10). The Stillness Controversy finally convinced Wesley that the Moravian’s presentation of the gospel deceived their listeners with false hopes (Works 19:133, 191).

[41] Hutton, 40. Wesley makes no mention of this incident either in his journal or letters.

[42] Contrary to the Moravians, Wesley held that communion was a “converting ordinance.” Colin Podmore remarks that Wesley’s views were contrary to both Catholic and Anglican requirements (64). Henry Rack insists that this feature of Wesley’s sacramentalism was developed after his Aldersgate conversion, but his survey supports an earlier date (Reasonable Enthusiast. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992, 405). Augustus Spangenberg states that Wesley held to the “converting ordinance” position while in America (Towlson, Clifford Moravian and Methodist. London: Epworth Press, 1957, 46). The evidence points to Wesley’s early period. It should be noted that, during the Stillness Controversy, Wesley never once appealed to scripture to support his position that communion is a converting ordinance; he always appealed to experience, the first one being his mother’s (Works 19:93; cf. 19:98, 120-21).

[43] Both Wesley brothers attributed the Moravian position to satanic influence (Works 19:120; CW Journal 1:200). The Moravians and their supporters saw Wesley as grasping for power (Hutton, 46) and the Wesleyan position on Holy Communion to be of the devil (CW Journal 1:208).

[44] A good example was the widespread belief among many of our holiness forefathers that the doctrine of entire sanctification would unite the Christian world in the early 1900’s (Mark R. Quanstrom, A Century of Holiness: The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene 1905-2004. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2004, ch. 2).

[45]  By April 1740, both sides were deeply entrenched in their positions (cf. the journals of John and Charles Wesley).

[This article was taken with permission from Mark K. Olson’s website where the original version can be found.]