“Second Work of Grace”

“Second Work of Grace”
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 2:06pm

I HAD A REQUEST about Wesleyanism: “The Wesleyan church believes there are two forms of grace. I don’t understand this. Their doctrine is similar to the Christian Church. Can you help me understand this?”


Wesleyanism includes those groups growing out of John Wesley’s teaching: Methodist churches, Holiness churches, and many Pentecostal churches. This theological school is similar to the Christian Church (Restoration Movement) in one main way: it is non-Calvinist, or Arminian; it accepts truly free will in human beings. In many other ways it is very different from the Christian Church.

The main way Wesleyanism differs from most other Protestant groups is in its view of the two works of grace. (The request speaks of two “forms” of grace. That is not the usual terminology.) The Wesleyan speaks of the FIRST “work of grace,” and the SECOND “work of grace.” The first work of grace is the gift of salvation, including justification and perhaps regeneration, given at conversion. This happens when the sinner chooses to believe and repent. (Water baptism is not necessarily involved.) At this moment the person becomes saved and begins to live under the grace of God, but something is still lacking. That which is lacking has to do not with justification, but with sanctification. There is an initial sanctification bestowed at conversion, but according to Wesleyanism God has a great deal more in store for the convert. This “something more” is the SECOND work of grace.

This second work of grace is thought of as full sanctification or entire sanctification, and some interpret this as the ability to live above sin from that moment on. This is a kind of perfectionism. The initially-saved Christian is encouraged to seek this second work, but he has no control over when it will be bestowed. When God decides the time is right, the Holy Spirit bestows this gift on the seeker. This moment has come to be known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is the main mark of Holiness churches. In Pentecostalism this baptism of the Holy Spirit became associated not just with holiness but especially with miraculous gifts such as tongue-speaking.

Basically, there is no Biblical basis for such a “second” work of grace, a point that has been well established by Frederick Dale Bruner in his book, “A Theology of the Holy Spirit” (Eerdmans 1970). I have a brief discussion of this view in my large book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007). See the index entry, “second work of grace.” My view is that the double cure of grace is received at conversion, after faith and repentance and specifically during baptism. There is only ONE baptism in Christian experience (Eph. 4:5), which includes both baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) in one event. From this point on the believer is completely justified, and continues to become more and more holy (sanctified) as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). There is no “second” crisis experience in this life resulting in a significant bump up to complete holiness. After death, our spirits are “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23).

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