The term is used in Scripture to express the absolute perfection of the Divine nature. God alone has underived holiness, so that when the term is used in connection with persons, places or things it is because of their relationship to God. Both the OT qodesh and the NT hagiosune mean 'separation', 'set apart'. Holiness therefore the quality of being like God and in Christian theology is the goal of sanctification. For John Wesley this was realizable in this life and from as early as 1725 he records that he was praying for and aiming at 'inward holiness' (John Wesley's Journal, 24 May 1738). Throughout his writings he used the term as synonymous with 'entire sanctification' or 'perfect love'. In the 1763 Minutes he declared that Methodism originated in 1729 when he and Charles Wesley 'saw they could not be saved without holiness' and that God's purpose in raising up the Methodist preachers was 'to spread scriptural holiness over the land'. He spoke frequently of 'holiness of heart and life', 'inward and outward holiness' and 'holiness or true religion', most often citing Heb. 12:14: 'Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord'.

In re-emphasizing this aspect of Wesley's teaching, the nineteenth century Holiness Movement urged 'second-blessing holiness' as the eradication of inbred sin, as against Wesley's more usual emphasis on holiness as love perfected. It was proclaimed as an instantaneous blessing, whereas John Wesley's most mature judgment, made in 1784, was that the dispute about an instantaneous as against a progressive experience was 'not determined - at least, not in express terms - in any part of the oracles of God'. The Movement also saw holiness or entire sanctification as being accomplished by the Baptism of the Spirit, which Wesley had not endorsed, telling Joseph Benson that the phrase 'receiving the Holy Ghost' was 'not Scriptural and not quite proper' as a synonym for holiness or perfect Love (SL 4 p.215).

See also Christian perfection; Sanctification

  • H. Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification (1946)
  • John G. Davies, 'The Concept of Holiness' in London Quarterly & Holborn Review, January 1960, pp.36-44
  • Donal J. Dorr, 'Wesley's Teaching on the Nature of Holiness', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1965, pp.234-39
  • Melvyn E. Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century (Metuchen, NJ, 1980)
  • John Munsey Turner, 'Victorian Values - or Whatever Happened to John Wesley's Scriptural Holiness?', in WHS Proceedings, 46 pp.165-84
  • Ian M. Randall, 'Full Salvation: expressions of traditional Wesleyan holiness in the early twentieth century', in Methodist History, 36:3 (April 1998) pp.176-90