This weekend I read a biography of George Fox by Arthur O. Roberts, Through Flaming Sword: The Life and Legacy of George Fox. The book is an excellent read.
You may know that Fox was one of the founders of the Quaker movement. Interestingly, about one hundred years before John Wesley came preaching the doctrine of entire sanctification (which became the hallmark of Methodism), Fox was already preaching the possibility of Christian perfection in this life. Indeed, Fox claimed to have been sanctified to Adam’s state of innocence in the Garden:
“Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell” (see here).
Fox claimed to live above sin.
By all accounts, Fox lived an exemplary life. He preached what he believed to be the truth and suffered for it—greatly. For example, he spent years and years in prison because he refused to swear (on the basis of Matt 5:34) and refused to make war (on the basis of Matt 5:39). He was beaten and tortured and starved because he preferred to obey Christ’s commands (as he understood them) whenever those commands contradicted the law of the land. He wore out his body travelling around Britain and the Americas, preaching and teaching and fighting for religious liberty, especially for the Quakers. His life certainly reads like the life of an Elijah or John the Baptist.
I am skeptical about claims of entire sanctification. It sounds great. And I long for the day when I will be free from sin. But after finishing the book, I thought of the Lord’s Prayer, especially where Jesus says,
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors…
… “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matt 6:12, 14).
Jesus meant that as a model prayer for His disciples. Does it sound like the Lord envisioned a time when they would stop sinning, or does it sound like He anticipated that they would sin all their lives?
I don’t want to be a sinner. And I am making no excuse for sin or for sinners. I would love to be entirely sanctified in this life if that was possible. However, I am comforted to know the Lord knows me well enough that He has provided a way for me to be forgiven when I do sin.