Wesley and Humility


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Humility from Wesley through Pentecost:

an Indispensable Doctrine

by Michael Blythe




We must keep humble and little in our own eyes. Let us get built up by a sense of our importance and we are gone. History repeats itself in this connection. God has always sought a humble people. He can use no other. – Frank Bartleman[1]


The Azusa Street revival of 1906 generated significant religious and social changes throughout Christendom - today, Pentecostals and Charismatics represent the fastest-growing sect of global Christianity. The impact of this movement’s growth is even more striking considering the humble circumstances from which it arose. The first Pentecostals not only identified with humble beginnings, but they also claimed that humility was a driving force that ushered in and sustained the Holy Spirit’s renewal.

Early Pentecostalism is steeped within Methodist origins,[2] and today, some classical Pentecostal denominations continue to reflect traces of Wesleyan doctrine and practice, including belief in subsequent works of grace and a pious, experiential significance in faith.[3] In the earliest years of the outpouring at Azusa Street, the emphasis placed on humility was inherited from John Wesley through Methodism and the later Holiness Movement. These influences, in turn, were shaped by early pious writers dating back as far as the fifteenth century. Each of these sources consistently articulates that a deep and sincere view of humility is a necessary attribute of the Christian faith and a mandatory quality for believers to receive and perfect. This paper seeks to call attention to the aspects of initial Pentecostal humility as it developed from the writers who shaped Wesley, through early Methodism and Holiness, to William Seymour, where it would become a vital part of first-wave Pentecostal heritage.


Humility at Azusa Street


Humility was unquestionably a significant feature of the early gatherings at Azusa Street. Hunter notes, “It was evident that humility was a mark of this genuine faith.”[4] The virtue of humility was displayed with such clarity that it was part of visitors’ first impressions of the meetings.[5] Louis Osterberg describes his sense of awe:


From the first time I entered I was struck by the blessed spirit that prevailed in the meeting, such a feeling of unity and humility among the children of God. And before the meeting was over, I was fully satisfied and convinced that it was the mighty power of God that was working. From that time on I hungered more and more….[6]


As the movement spread out, accounts returning to Azusa Street reiterated a distinct experience of humility that was part of the Holy Spirit’s process. Michel notes, “Humility…came to be regarded as a de facto requirement for the reception of Pentecostal baptism.”[7] A.S. Copley confirms this, noting, “Christians needed to be humble for God to trust them with these gifts.”[8]

Pastors especially found it difficult to surrender pride. Bartleman describes this further, saying, “The leaders, or pastors, will be seen most of the time on their faces on the floor, or kneeling….”[9] He also adds:


Even very good men came to abhor themselves in the clearer light of God. The preachers had so much to die to… so much reputation and good works. But when God got through with them they gladly turned a new page and chapter. … Death is not at all a pleasant experience. And strong men die hard.[10]


One pastor, Brother Rosa of Oklahoma describes his encounter with humility and its change on his life:


…[T]he Lord put a real hunger in my soul to go forward, but I was too proud as a minister of the Gospel to humble myself in a lowly mission, … and I had in mind what people would think of me. But the third day, as I arose to testify…, the only words I could say were: “What does God think of me? Then I could only weep for some minutes and the power of God came upon me until I dropped to the floor. …It was there that all pride, and self, and conceit disappeared, and I was really dead to the world, for I had Christ within in His fullness.[11]


This self-emptying process inspired spontaneous confessions and pleas for forgiveness.

The effects of this experience were tangible and lasting. Worship incorporated all congregants equally, including ethnic minorities, women, the poor and sick, old and young alike, various denominations, sinners, skeptics, and even the formerly incarcerated. Services were surrendered entirely to the Spirit's leading. The process of death to self, self-denial, and humility were essential qualities of the Holy Spirit's work at Azusa, both before and after receiving the third blessing.

Not only was it necessary at the outset of the movement, but profound humility was essential for the outpouring to continue. This doctrine of humility that was so inseparable during the early move of Pentecost traces its way back to the writers who influenced Wesley.


The Origins of Wesley's View on Humility


Wesleyan concepts of faith were influenced by earlier writers and contemporaries who promoted the virtue of humility. In his various writings, including his journal, letters, sermons, and his manifesto A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley recounts authors whom he had consulted in his development. Many of these were mystics, and Wesley expressed doubt to some of their content; however, through the course of his studies, he came to appreciate them and was influenced by their approaches to faith. Each of the early pietists strongly reinforced the theme of humility, leading to Wesley's identification with the virtue and eventually, its influence upon early Methodism, Holiness, and Pentecostalism. 


Thomas à Kempis (1380 – 1471)


Kempis tells us plainly [that] the secret to holiness [is humility].[12]


The Dutch-German author Thomas à Kempis was one of Wesley's “Devotional Triumvirate”[13] who wrote The Imitation of Christ, a devotional handbook which engaged Wesley throughout his life.[14] Kempis observes that God had chosen the humble of this world as friends.[15] He writes:


…[I]n the sight of God they were precious and beloved. They stood fast in true humility, they lived in simple obedience, they walked in love and patience; and thus they waxed strong in spirit, and obtained great favour before God.[16]


For Kempis, the best qualities of the Christian are not impressive experiences, the ability to interpret Scripture, or recognition; instead, one of the finest attributes is humility.[17]

This emphasis on humility is broad. Kempis states, “All the words of God are to be heard with humility,”[18] and he even ventures to say that individuals who do not possess humility should refrain from theological discussions altogether.[19] In fact, for Kempis, “it is better to have a little humility than much self-esteem.”[20]The more humility, the more wisdom, and obedience one has toward God.[21] He believed that sincere devotion is demonstrated through humility, which exceeds the value of education in providing a clear pathway to God.[22] Although God’s blessings are given to those who are humble, He also uses tribulation to mold humility,[23] and a humble state is vital to overcoming temptation. Kempis remarks that those who lack humility will never find rest.[24] Finally, he teaches that when people have the proper self-regard of humility, they do not fall prey to the praises of others, nor do they have pride in self-works.[25]


Johann Arndt (1555-1621)


If thou wouldst build for eternity, let thy foundation be humility.[26]


Johann Arndt was an early influencer of the Lutheran piety movement in Germany. His most recognized work, True Christianity, translated from German, makes outstanding reference to humility. John Wesley recounts reading Arndt during his time in Georgia.[27]

 Arndt teaches that humility begins with Jesus, whose identity is intertwined with the virtue.[28] A believer must “taste” this humility of Christ as if it were a fruit, meeting Him in the “valley of humility,”[29] and believers must exercise this virtue in order to see Christ.[30]

Arndt formulated six steps or degrees of humility. First, Christians begin learning humility by adopting a posture of inferiority to others, and next they should refrain from judging others. Third, they must refuse honor, and fourth, embrace a glad attitude upon reproach. The fifth step is to interact with those of a lesser condition, and lastly, they must eagerly submit to authority.[31]

Arndt believed that the most definite sign that a person has received godly insight is that the individual becomes increasingly humble and demonstrates a lowered self-view.[32] People who find self-worth in their personal assessments have yet to find humility, for when people are humble, they will spend more time weeping and seeing their fitness for suffering, for it is the cross that creates humility.[33]

Furthermore, Arndt teaches that the benefits of faith are of no use to a person unless they are humble; however, the lowly see themselves as unworthy of any graces of religion.[34] This type of humility is enriched by and achieved through prayer; however, without humility in prayer, the words would be vain.[35] The prominence of humility is evident within Arndt’s writings – a deep formulation and esteem for the virtue as a necessity for entering the kingdom of God.[36]


Francis de Sales (1567-1622)


The highest point of humility consists in not merely acknowledging one's abjection, but in taking pleasure therein.[37]


The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the sainthood of de Sales, who served as the bishop in Geneva. De Sales offers repeated exhortations toward humility throughout his Introduction to the Devout Life, in which he examines the topic categorically. He uses Elisha and the widow as an illustration of God’s work, explaining that the oil filled the widow's empty vessel, and likewise, the Holy Spirit fills those who become empty of self-will.[38]

To the seekers of power, prestige, and acceptance, de Sales warns that their aspirations are counterintuitive to the workings of God.[39] Instead, they may find themselves made humble by the justice of God, which calls attention to sin.[40] The mercy of God also requires and generates humility, because an appreciation of these works of God is a crucial element for the continual formation of self-humility.[41] To de Sales, those with genuine humility do not call attention to their lowly posture, but instead, try to hide the depths of their spirituality.[42] These humble ones might be more comfortable being spoken ill of than being honored with words. Furthermore, the process growing in humility leads one into joy, and will naturally cause people to rejoice more in others than in themselves.[43] 

Wesley’s writings commended de Sales for his strong doctrine of sanctification, even though he had a Catholic view of justification.[44]


Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)


For it is no wonder for a beggar to call himself poor, or a drunkard to confess that he is no sober person; but for a holy person to be humble.[45]


Jeremy Taylor was ordained in the Church of England and served as chaplain to King Charles I. Called the “Shakespeare of the Divines,” his writings in The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying also affected Wesley's view of humility. Taylor's work discusses the subject eloquently, insisting that the humble person is the one who possesses true religion.[46] He believed that humility is a state commanded by God;  and this virtue is the most reasonable attribute of the Christian faith.[47] This divine quality makes a person teachable and amenable to the sound advice from those who are trustworthy in the faith.[48] Taylor expounds on this, saying that spiritual disciplines such as fasting and prayer serve as gateways for acquiring the “ornament and jewel of Christian religion” – humility.[49]

To obtain this virtue requires persistent effort. A seeker must engage in self-reflection, confess faults, avoid honor, keep flatterers at a distance, and keep an “honest company.”[50] Humble people should not be overly critical of themselves, but should also not draw attention to themselves.[51] Taylor also describes humility's process as part of the act of confession and recommends it as a “natural cure for anger.”[52]

According to Taylor, a person who endures tribulation while walking in humility will still give praise to God, the king of suffering.[53] The humble person does not complain. He or she is compliant, patient even in pain, speaks carefully, and laughs selectively – in other words, humble people express themselves in moderation.[54] To Taylor, humility is the root from which other fruits of the Spirit are derived and is the proper posture for all things in life.[55]

Taylor's poetic exposition of humility as an integral part of Christian living would take root in Wesley's theology, and he would publish Taylor’s works for distribution among Methodist ministers.[56]


Madame Guyon (1648-1717)


Guyon’s desire to deliberately humble herself, so the Lord could use her as he chose, bore much fruit in her life.[57]


Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon was a French Catholic mystic who emphasized a doctrine of the annihilation of self-will. She was a strong proponent of humility, observing that it was a trait demonstrated in Christ's life, within herself, and among others whom she observed were the instrument of miracles.[58] She gave exhortations toward humility, illustrating how the grace working in Christ should also work within the Christian:


As we are not free from faults ourselves, we must not expect too much from others. Be yourself very humble and child-like, and this character will act sympathetically on others. Jesus Christ was full of sweetness and charity. How patiently did he bear with his imperfect disciples, even with Judas, without anger, without bitterness, and even without coldness.[59]


Guyon also remarked how humility counters pride-induced rage, and how pride is the ultimate spiritual deterrent that must finally die within a person.[60] Humility is a necessity when correcting others and is also an instrument of self-correction.[61]

Guyon's view of humility coincides with her doctrine of self-awareness and self-denial. To Guyon, the gifts of God that lead to sanctification could only be given to someone with “profound humility.”[62] Salvation includes the humbling of the convert and is a process that continues to affect that person's surrender and usefulness for God's will.[63]

Wesley at one time expressed a mixed perspective regarding Guyon's mysticism; however, Collins notes that Wesley eventually assessed himself as having been too critical of Guyon.[64] Writing of her life, Wesley comments, “I know not whether we may not search many centuries to find another woman who was such a pattern of true holiness.”[65]


François Fénelon (1651-1815)


What a mercy is humiliation to a soul that receives it with a steadfast faith![66]


Fénelon, a Catholic bishop from France, spent considerable time examining humility. He writes that this virtue is produced by Christians’ self-awareness of the depths from which God has rescued them. Knowing how near they remain to these dark places without the hand of God at work aids in the continuance of humility. To Fénelon, recognition of human weakness is vital to faith and serves to further humble and correct the spirit. A proper attitude of humility is one that discards flattery while simultaneously avoiding discouragement, which is a remnant of pride. Humility’s work within a person is so great that the humble do not expect words of praise because they have a deep awareness of their substantial self-lacking.[67]

Wesley observed “valuable expressions of Christian Perfection,” in Fénelon’s work that aided him in his own formulation of Methodist doctrine.[68]


William Law (1686-1761)


[E]very day should be viewed as a day of humility by learning to serve others.[69]


William Law, a contemporary of Wesley, was a priest of the Church of England who wrote Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, which emphasizes the practice of humility. He advocates the necessity of humbleness for faithful living by saying that Christianity without humility is like a body functioning without eyes or breath.[70] Humility must be evident, each day, in every part of life, in order for Christian faith to be evident. Without humility, holiness is impossible, and to think otherwise would merely be pretending. According to Law, humility is of no use to the practitioner when partially applied, and inconsistent humility is no application of virtue at all. Conversely, Law cautions Christians to guard against the pride of having attained humility.[71]

Law applies this teaching to both clergy and laity alike. For clergy, humility is an enabling power for the ministry, removing love for significant buildings, desirable possessions, and personal glory, which may pose a danger to pastoral egos. Humility directs the minister's affection away from the social aspects of religious life and instead focuses it on pursuing the congregation's application of virtue.[72]

On the other hand, the laity must apply humility in their places of work; for example, those in professional positions of authority are to treat subordinates with humility.[73] Due to society's promotion of self-will, education can be a stumbling block to becoming humble.[74] To pursue humility, seekers must leave behind their former instruction and instead consider themselves learners of humility.[75] Law reiterates that the belief that a person has gained sufficient humility ensures that he or she has not even begun.[76]

Further marks of the virtue include praise to God for sufferings, William Law defines humility as a state of honesty with oneself and as a conscious effort to retain simplicity and lowliness in every area of life.[77] This way of living assumes that one refrains from indulging oneself, which becomes the key to “peace and rest of soul.”[78]

As controversial as he would at times view them, Wesley was drawn to writings of these pietists and mystics.[79] Hendrix notes that of them all, Law was likely the most influential,[80] and that Wesley adopted much of his theology from Law.[81]


The Moravians


The German Moravians’ spiritual practice also profoundly influenced Wesley. He first encountered this pietist group during his efforts in Georgia. Wesley reflected that he had long observed their behavior – that they were people who had “left all for their Master, and who have indeed learned of him, being meek and lowly, dead to the world, full of faith and the Holy Ghost.”[82] Hammond discusses how the Moravians' spirituality drew Wesley and others toward understanding their way of life:


Wesley, Ingham, and their Anglican colleagues, Charles Wesley and Charles Delamotte found the Moravians' fervent spirituality attractive. Their humility, zealous devotion, strict sense of Christian discipline, mutual accountability, communitarian spirit, and skill at harmoniously singing hymns, were all traits they appreciated. These were characteristics they believed were present amongst the primitive Christians, but had been neglected by the contemporary church.[83]


The influence of this group bore fruit in Wesley. As he was sailing back to England, he underwent a formative experience during the storm at sea, during which he noticed that most passengers on the boat were terrified for their lives, yet the Moravians had absolute peace.

The pervading humility of this group and their emptying of self-pride[84] was so profound in contrast to his own experience that it caused him to question the depths and sincerity of his faith up to that point in his life.[85] This episode was a precursor to a personal divine experience with God upon return to England.


Wesley and Early Methodism


John Wesley (1703-1791)


Humility for Wesley is just as “motivating” as joy or gratitude.[86]


John Wesley was born in England and educated at Oxford for Holy Orders in the Church of England, and he would divide his ministry between his native England and the colonies of America. Wesley experienced multiple crises, or defining moments, of faith that compelled him to formulate the doctrine of entire sanctification. Also known as the “second blessing” or “second work of grace,” this sanctification follows salvation and Wesley believed it to have a complete and instantaneous effect. Other terms for the doctrine include Christian Perfection or Perfect Love, a reflection of the fact that Wesley emphasized the love of God as pivotal for all Christian experience and theology.

Influenced by earlier pious, Wesley formulated an emphasis on humility in his theology, stressing the doctrine and practice of perfect humility as a component of holiness. To put into perspective the significance of humility to Wesley, in a survey of 144 of his sermons, discusses humility 150 times and its antithesis, pride, in 278 occurrences.[87] It is safe to say the concept was indispensable to Wesley. Regarding the first beatitude in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, Wesley teaches, “Real Christianity always begins with the poverty of the spirit,” and further clarifies that the identity of the “poor in spirit” is “without question, the humble.”[88] 

Wesley believed in gradual salvation begins at justification by faith but continues through the purification of the heart. He taught that at the time of justification, sins are pardoned, and what remains is a “deeper humility in the heart.”[89] Each step involves humility as a believer progresses toward being formed in the image of Christ,[90] who serves as the believer’s humble example.[91] He speaks of the strength given to the believer who is working through this process:


By [this] discipline is every good soldier of Christ to inure himself to endure hardship. Confirmed, and strengthened by this, he will be able not only to renounce the works of darkness, but every appetite too, and every affection, which is not subject to the law of God. For “every one who hath this hope, purifieth himself even as He is pure.” It is his daily care, by the grace of God in Christ, and through the blood of the covenant, to purge the inmost recesses of his soul.[92]


Wesley describes humility in various ways.  Above, he refers to it as self-purification. He also calls it a central virtue,[93] an accurate self-assessment,[94] a producer of patience,[95] a form of “self-annihilation,”[96] a deterrent of anger,[97] and a cleanser of the mind.[98] Humility, to Wesley, acts in contrast to pride,[99] an attribute against which Wesley often warns.[100] 

Finally, Wesley connects humility with love, stating, “nothing humbles the soul so deeply as love.”[101]  Love, sanctification, and humility are deeply engrained in Wesley's theology. He exhorted his listeners that while many qualities are valuable, humility is key:


Yet lackest thou one thing, whosoever thou art, that to a deep humility, and a steadfast faith, hast joined a lively hope, and thereby in good measure cleansed thy heart from its inbred pollution. If thou wilt be perfect, add to all these, charity; add love, and thou hast the circumcision of the heart.[102]


Humility is the surest proof of love's increase,[103]  and the love of God is the source from which all humility comes.[104] Wesley warns preachers that while they may be skilled and talented, they will not arrive “one step nearer heaven” without humility.[105] If a person did all the great works and services of Christendom yet did not have love working in humility, then their actions would have no profit.[106] Wesley described “perfection” as, among other things, a humble love,[107] and further notes that following sanctification, a person speaks “with the deepest humility, and reverence, giving all glory to God.”[108]


John Fletcher


Everyone recognized [Fletcher] as a humble, saintly person.[109]


John Fletcher, a companion to Wesley and an early Methodist theologian, exhorts readers throughout his works to be humble, an attribute promoted by the Methodist doctrine of perfection.[110]  To Fletcher, humility is one of the Holy Spirit's works upon the heart,[111] as the Spirit changes the heart; the heart would experience a “humble love,” which would govern the individual “without any rule.”[112]

Fletcher concurs with Wesley's view of the “poor in spirit” as being humble, affirming that this beatitude is the key to “all the benedictions of the Gospel.” He calls attention to the complacent attitude of many Methodists in his day, saying:


Few of us know what it is “to cry out of the deep,” to pray and believe, till in the name of Jesus we force our way beyond flesh and blood, come within reach of the eternal world, conflict in agony with the powers of darkness, …and continue wrestling till the day of eternity break upon us, and the God of Jacob “bless us with all spiritual benedictions in heavenly places.”[113]


He further asserts that personal piety and must humility co-exist, together composing the evidence of a godly nature,[114] making the believer sensitive to God's correction.[115]


Francis Asbury


Lord, make us humble, watchful, and useful to the end of our lives![116]


Francis Asbury was an early bishop of Methodism who asserted that for himself, the process of being filled with love included self-discovery of faults whereby the heart would melt into humility.[117] In his prolific journal entries and letters, he expressed that humility was a continuous, daily process and seemed intent to guard himself against the pitfall, aware that at times he was not as humble as he desired. He shared one of these occasions that took place on a “damp, unwholesome day” during which he was struggling with illness:


I am sensible I am not so humble as I should be; and it may be I am in danger of forming improper estimates of my importance, among preachers and people: were this disposition indulged, God might justly cut me off. … My body is weak, but my mind is kept in peace: I desire to trust to God with body and soul.[118]


His journals reflect a constant plea to God for self-humility; on some occasions, his only journal entry for the day was that he had experienced new humility.[119] 

Asbury suffered with chronic pain during his many horseback trips. However, he was grateful for his sufferings,[120] as he assessed that these physical ailments were part of the plan of God to keep him humble.[121] He warned the Methodists to avoid the pride of elaborate buildings, musical accomplishment and “elegant composition.”[122] As Methodism was growing, his concern was that in order to retain increase, the church should maintain a humble posture.[123]


Thomas Coke


Dr. Coke relinquished his situation in the church of England, and humbled himself to become, for the rest of his life, a Methodist preacher.[124]


Thomas Coke, an early Methodist bishop, adds to the Methodist view of humility in his commentary, saying, “When God gives a spirit of humility, it is a proof of his reconciliation.”[125]  Coke understood Jesus' emphasis – that in His kingdom, childlike humility is not only a qualifying asset but also the sole source of honor. He says:


Jesus took this opportunity [of the disciples’ dissatisfaction] to inform them again, that unless they possessed the humility, meekness, and docility of children, they should not enter into the kingdom of God: for such is the kingdom of heaven…. “Persons of such a character are the true subjects of my kingdom, and heirs of eternal glory….”[126]


Coke exhorts ministers, saying that humility will distinguish those who desire to be “useful” from those who wish to be “admired”[127] because lack of humility will cause a man to “over-rate his importance.”[128]


Other Early Methodists


Other Methodist pioneers understood and confirmed the necessity of personal humility. George Whitefield, a long time co-laborer of Wesley's, wrote that if a person believed in Christ, he or she would undoubtedly seek humility, even begging God for the grace of that experience.[129] Another minister, Adam Clarke, recorded that a heart full of godly love would simultaneously have complete humility since it is an attribute that follows a heart being newly cleansed from sin.[130] Clarkes explains that the less inward sin a person has, the greater the amount of humility. The reverse is also true – "the more inward sin a man has, the more pride he will feel."[131] These and other ministers confirmed the teaching of humility that pervaded early Methodism.


From Methodism to Holiness


Early Methodism was a movement that emerged from humble means. It was spurred in part by Wesley's disappointments in the colony of Georgia and developed further during the crisis of faith at sea. Even the term Methodist began humbly, coined by people opposed to Wesley.[132] The movement adopted this description and made it their own. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, the Wesley-initiated movement had outgrown its humble beginnings. It was increasingly embraced by the mainstream and grew into a significant, broadly accepted social presence in many communities. As the movement evolved, some Methodist maintained the foundational doctrines intellectually but neglected them in practice, such as the teaching of sanctification, and others completely ignored this doctrine.

However, these changes in theological emphasis began to give way to a call to return to Wesleyan roots leading up to the United States Civil War.[133] Following the traumatic societal effects of the war, many Methodists re-embraced early doctrines and sought to experience in practice the distinctive doctrines taught by Wesley, including entire sanctification. Meanwhile, many non-Methodists also participated in this call to holiness. This process gave birth to the Holiness Movement, which included not only Methodists but those from other faith traditions who aspired to seek a meaningful, personal faith.

In a renewed call to sanctification, in the teaching that characterized the various strands of late 19th-century holiness was an emphasis on humility. Many Holiness participants described a deep and sincere call to personal humility that was a vital part of Christian holiness. Those seeking the second blessing of sanctification would be overwhelmed by humbling encounters with God. Three examples of key Holiness leaders who taught the importance of humility were Phoebe Palmer, John Inskip, and Beverly Carradine.


Phoebe Palmer


[Palmer has a] deep and abiding humility that invited God to be her all in all.[134]


Phoebe Palmer, sometimes referred to as the mother of the Holiness Movement, was a Methodist who became interested in the writings of Wesley and, eventually, through teaching and prayer meetings, was a notable advocate of the “second blessing.” Palmer makes numerous references to humility in her writings, often by way of general exhortation.[135] She believed that in the search for faith, it was not intellect that would come to one's aide, but humility.[136] Palmer even declares that humility is a pre-requisite, not only for God to use a person, but also to receive God's salvation:[137]


It is only to the humble and contrite that pardon has been promised. “He shall save the humble person;” “He saith such as be of a contrite spirit;” “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble;” “Because thou didst humble thyself….”  The unhumbled Pharisee went away… it was only “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit: and trembleth at my word.”[138]


Palmer also discusses people who seek experiences of the Spirit but do not receive them, giving multiple reasons that at the core, is a lack of true humility.


John Inskip


The founder of the National Holiness Association, John Inskip was a Methodist minister who had grown concerned with the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the mid-19th century. He wrote that at the 1864 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist bishops noted the decline of the church, observing their apparent need to humble themselves and repent.[139] Just three years later, in 1867, Inskip initiated the national camp-meeting movement, which became a vital part of the holiness sect.[140]

Inskip wrote, “Every man whose heart is full of the love of God, is full of humility; for there is no man so humble as he whose heart is cleansed from all sin.”[141] He described how many Methodists were hampered by denominational pride. These prideful clergy would maintain intellectual adherence to doctrines such as sanctification however, failed to yearn to the experience of these doctrines.[142] Reflecting on his own life, Inskip relates that early in his ministry, he himself did not possess the necessary humility required of a minister. God had to humble him[143] and later in life; he continued work on the process of rooting out self-will and pride from his own life.[144]

In the Holiness camp-meetings Inskip organized, participants testified of a move of humility within the services. Speaking of the first service of the first national camp-meeting of the National Holiness Association in Vineland, New Jersey, one attendee described the presence of a “deep humility” and “childlike simplicity.”[145]  As the camp-meetings continued, accounts continued to recount the remarkable humbling that was taking place. So great was this influence that seekers at the meetings began to shift their expectations - instead of seeking the emotional response indicative of camp meetings of the past, they came anticipating a movement of God that produced a still and quiet reflection.[146] The power of these meetings was so potent that one occasion, a skeptical news reporter described as being “educated, proud and self-opinionated” traveled to observe the meetings, but after coming under the power of God, was transformed and became “humble as a child.”[147] 


Beverly Carradine


Beverly Carradine, another Methodist minister, and prominent evangelist during the Holiness Movement, also taught the importance of humility. He describes how humility creates a pathway for the Spirit to move among the participants at the Holiness meetings:


Evidently God looks on the heart, sees deeper than we do, and under uncomeliness and awkwardness and even ignorance, beholds honesty of heart, and a whole desire to please Him; and so the Spirit falls with power on the humble audience under the brush arbor, and holds aloof from a congregation regarded as refined and cultivated….[148]


Carradine wrote concerning individual altar experiences during which the process of receiving humility was quite strenuous – “doubtless quite an absurd spectacle to a lot of cultured and worldly wise people, but God understood it all…. Many other styles, no matter how full of grace and dignity, yet had borne no fruit, and obtained no victory.”[149] He shared one account of a preacher who initially opposed him at the meetings but then came under the conviction of God, rendering him humble and apologetic.[150] Those who surrendered themselves humbly received from God.

 Carradine taught humility as a vital posture for the reception of God's various gifts and as integral to all God's blessings from salvation to sanctification.[151] He affirmed that seekers should be just as humble while praying for sanctification as they were at conversion.[152] At one point, Carradine acknowledged a loss of his own holy joy and described his effort to re-experience this godly gift, which he sought by humbling himself before God.[153] He states plainly that sanctification is received by “humble seeking,”[154] and “prayerful waiting upon God.”[155]


William Seymour


William Seymour, a son of former slaves, was a student of Charles Parham, a former Methodist who retained a Wesleyan view of sanctification. Due to prevalent racism and Jim Crow laws, he was excluded from a seat within the lecture room at Parham’s Bethel Bible School in Topeka, KS. However, Seymour, who suffered the loss of an eye after a battle with smallpox, would sit outside the room and dedicate himself as a student, observed to be a humble and eager learner.[156] Through his experiences with Parham, Seymour would witness the manifestation of tongues that developed at the Bethel school in 1901 and would come to embrace the teaching that supernatural gifts should accompany the believer's walk with God.

Seymour traveled to Los Angeles, California, in early 1906 to assume a pastorate. Early in his ministry, he taught the view of tongues as an available gift, which resulted in his departure from this position. However, when the Asberry couple offered him space in their home on Bonnie Brae Street, Seymour began to hold meetings during which the Holy Spirit would fall. Soon these meetings in Los Angeles grew large enough that the facility at Azusa Street was secured.  Given his background, Seymour was a humble vessel for God to use; he had little to boast of.  William Durham notes of Seymour:


He is the meekest man I ever met. He walks and talks with God. His power is in his weakness. He seems to maintain a helpless dependence on God and is as simple-hearted as a little child, and at the same time is so filled with God that you feel the love and power every time you get near him.[157]


To maintain humility and utter dependence upon God in his meetings, Seymour had a habit of burying his head in a shoebox.[158] Even with the high mantle of God upon him, Seymour did not insist on regularly preaching at the mission nor controlling the work.[159] Instead, he waited on the Spirit to lead whoever would speak, and when he did give a homily, it was not longwinded.[160] Such was the humility of Seymour that amongst the congregation who considered him to be leader, he raised no visible platform and erected no pulpit behind which to speak.[161]

The Apostolic Faith published from Azusa Street spoke of humility regularly while infrequently mentioning Seymour's name. A.S. Worrell noted of Seymour that "his strength is in his conscious weakness."[162] Seymour would face the struggles of racial prejudice in California, even from within the movement. However, the humility recorded of the revival emanated from the servant leader, and once the popularity peaked at the Azusa Street mission, he would retreat into relative obscurity.




Gary McGee remarks, “The Azusa Street revival illustrated the fundamental truth about the acquisition of spiritual power: The desire to love others and win the world for Christ begins with brokenness, repentance, and humility.”[163] While Methodism, Holiness and Pentecostal traditions diverged from each other, and at times stood in distinct contrast, the ecumenical advances of the 21st century have built a needed bridge between these movements. That bridge was furthered by the Charismatic Renewal that witnessed members of all denominations embracing the gifts of the Spirit while retaining their doctrinal and denominational backgrounds. The consistent theme in each of these movements, actionable religion enabled by the Holy Spirit and born from a state of deep humility, should be a platform for further dialogue between these branches of the Wesleyan tree. 


[1] Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street: How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles (1925; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital: 2011), loc. 151, Kindle.

[2] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1997), loc. 51-52, Kindle.  “John Wesley, the indomitable founder of Methodism, was also the spiritual and intellectual father of the modern holiness and Pentecostal movements, which arose from Methodism in the last century.”

[3] A prominent list of denominations that consciously identify with a Wesleyan view of sanctification includes the Church of God in Christ (Memphis, TN), Church of God (Cleveland, TN), International Pentecostal Holiness Church (Bethany, OK) and Church of God of Prophecy (Cleveland, TN).

[4] Harold Hunter, “‘Full Communion’: A Pentecostal Prayer,” Ecumenical Trends 37, no. 1 (2008): 1.

[5] This revival took place in a simple environment among humble people. Seekers consciously embraced an experience in which God would strip them of all pride and utterly humble them. The encounter with humility was so widespread it became contagious to seekers and opponents alike.

[6] William Seymour, The Azusa Papers (Sept. 1906-May 1908 as The Apostolic Faith; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital: 2012), 270, Kindle.

[7] David Michel, “Toward an Ecclesiology of Racial Reconciliation: A Pentecostal Perspective” (D.Phil. diss., Chicago Theological Seminary, Oct. 2018), 133.

[8] Seymour, Azusa Papers, 171.

[9] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc. 1364.

[10] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc. 931, 937.

[11] Seymour, Azusa Papers, 38.

[12] Humility is the secret within the context of this quote. Philip Kosloski, “5 Challenging Quotes from ‘The Imitation of Christ,’” Aleteia, Feb. 12, 2018, Aleteia.org/2018/02/5, accessed May 5, 2020.

[13] Robert Edwin Black, “The Social Dimensions of John Wesley’s Ministry as Related to His personal Piety” (D.Phil. diss., Union Theological Seminary, 1984), 32.

[14] J. Steven Harper, “The Devotional Life of John Wesley, 1703-38” (D.Phil. diss., Duke University, 1981), 81.

[15] Kempis, Thomas à. The Imitation of Christ, trans. William Benham (St. Louis, MO: Walrus Books, 2019), 52, 70, Kindle.

[16] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 19.

[17] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 57.

[18] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 50.

[19] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 6.

[20] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 56.

[21] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 9.

[22] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 8.

[23] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 15, 45.

[24] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 10, 7.

[25] Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 11.

[26] Johann Arndt, True Christianity (1868; repr., Cranston, RI: Angelnook Publishing, 2014), 83, Kindle.

[27] Geordan Hammond, “John Wesley and ’Imitating’ Christ,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45, no. 1 (2010): 199.

[28] Arndt, True Christianity, loc. 682. *This Kindle copy varies between page and location numbers when citing text.

[29] Arndt, True Christianity, 67, 30.

[30] Arndt, True Christianity, 68.

[31] Arndt, True Christianity, loc. 12048.

[32] Arndt, True Christianity, 68.

[33] Arndt, True Christianity, loc. 2268, 2431.

[34] Arndt, True Christianity, loc. 4933, 6395.

[35] Arndt, True Christianity, loc. 7431, 7442, 7468.

[36] Arndt, True Christianity, 30.

[37] St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life (1881; repr., E-Saint Library, 2010), loc. 1633, Kindle.

[38] Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, loc. 1526.

[39] Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, loc. 1402.

[40] Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, loc. 1571.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, loc. 2643.

[43] Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, loc. 1418.

[44] John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley (1789, repr., Amazon Services, 2010), 524, Kindle.

[45] Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Dying (1832, repr., Ravenio Books, 2013), loc. 2725, Kindle.

[46] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 219.

[47] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1503.

[48] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1506.

[49] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1825, 1322.

[50] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1478, 1371.

[51] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1361.

[52] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 3618.

[53] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1866.

[54] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1512.

[55] Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, loc. 1503, 3318.

[56] Hammond, “John Wesley and ‘Imitating’ Christ,” 198.

[57] Jan Johnson, “The Role of Spiritual Disciplines in the Life of Madame Guyon,” JanJohnson.org, April 2007, accessed May 2020, available from JanJohnson.org/pdf/Guyon.

[58] Madame Jeanne Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon [7-in-1] – Autobiography, Method of Prayer, Way to God, Song of Songs, Spiritual Torrents, Letters, Poems (Classic Christian eBooks, 2011), loc. 6156, 988, 2258, Kindle.

[59] Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon, loc. 8704, 8450.

[60] Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon, loc. 325.

[61] Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon, loc. 8881, 4302.

[62] Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon, loc. 2613.

[63] Guyon, Works of Madame Jeanne Guyon, loc. 148, 128, 8012.

[64] Kenneth J. Collins, “John Wesley's Assessment of Christian Mysticism,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 28, Winter (1993): 299-318.

[65] John Wesley, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, ed. John Emory, Vol. 7 (New York: J. Emory and B. Waugh, 1831), 563.

[66] François Fénelon, “Christian Counsel / VI. On Humility” in Spiritual Progress (1853; repr., Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), 22, accessed May 2, 2020, https://ccel.org/ccel/f/fenelon/progress/cache/progress.pdf.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Kwang Yul Kim, “A Tension between the Desire to Follow the Example of Jesus’ Life and the Desire to Trust in His Redemptive Work: The Theology of John Wesley Reflected in His Christian Library” (D.Phil. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1992), 69.

[69] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1988), 131.

[70] William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, ed. Paul Miller, (1729. Reprint, Abbotsford, WI: Aneka Press), Revised, Kindle, loc. 3592.

[71] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 302, 289, 3596, 976.

[72] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 427.

[73] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 2045, 1019.

[74] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 3913.

[75] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 3741.

[76] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 3980, 3696.

[77] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 3601, 4556.

[78] Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, loc. 2225.

[79] John E. Griswold, “Mystics and the Authority of Experience in John Wesley’s Theology” (D.Th. diss., Boston University School of Theology, 1999), 59.

[80] Cheryl Hendrix, “William Law’s Character, Works, and Influence,” Asbury Journal 37, no. 4 (1982): 1.

[81] Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, loc. 66.

[82] Wesley Manuscript Journal, in Journal, October 17, 1735;

[83] Geordan Hammond, “Versions of Primitive Christianity: John Wesley's Relations with the Moravians in Georgia, 1735-1737,” Journal of Moravian History 6 (Spring 2009), 31-60, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41179847, accessed May 16, 2020.

[84] Wesley, “Sunday, January 25, 1736,” The Journal of John Wesley, loc. 160.

[85] Wesley, “Tuesday, 24,” The Journal of John Wesley, loc. 738.

[86] Gregory S. Clapper, “John Wesley’s Language of the Heart,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 44, no. 2 (2009): 99.

[87] John Wesley, The Complete Sermons: John Wesley (1872; repr., Hargreaves Publishing: 2013) 284, Kindle.

[88] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 107-108.

[89] John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766; repr., Amazon Services, 2010), 86, Kindle.

[90] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 430. All experience, as well as Scripture, shows this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified…in another instant, the heart is cleansed, from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more

[91] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 429.

[92] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 88-89.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 87.

[95] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 623.

[96] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 86.

[97] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 63.

[98] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 87.

[99]Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 284.

[100] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 75.

[101] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 458.

[102] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 88-89.

[103] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 86.

[104] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 529.

[105] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 459.

[106] Wesley, The Complete Sermons, 465.

[107] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 98.

[108] Wesley, Christian Perfection, 40.

[109] Laurence W. Wood, “Pentecostal Sanctification in John Wesley and Early Methodism,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 34, no. 1 (1999): 48.

[110] John Fletcher, “Letter to Samuel Hatton April 22, 1763,” The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 4, 4 vols. (1835; repr., Amazon Services, 2013), loc. 7695, Kindle.

[111] John Fletcher, The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 3, 4 vols., (1835; repr., Amazon Services, 2013), loc. 2297, Kindle.

[112] John Fletcher, “Letter to Miss Hatton Dec. 1764,” The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 4, loc. 7848.

[113] Fletcher, The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 1, loc. 2860-65.

[114] Fletcher, “Thoughts on Fanaticism,” The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 4, loc. 5628-5630.

[115] John Fletcher, The Works of Reverend John Fletcher, 1, 4 vols., (1835; repr., Amazon Services, 2013), loc. 2297, Kindle.

[116] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 1 – 1772 - Pennsylvania – Wednesday, 22,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 1, 3 vols., ed. Elmer T. Clark (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1958), 75-76, accessed May 2020, available from the Wesleyan Heritage Library at http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-6/wh3-ref/aj-v1.pdf.

[117] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 7 – 1778 - Maryland – Friday, 10,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 1, 549-550.

[118] Asbury, “Chapter 10 – 1781 – Maryland – Sunday, 12-Sunday, 26,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 1, 819-820.

[119] Asbury, “Chapter 10 – 1781 – Delaware – Wednesday, 28,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 1, 808.  This entry is one such example - “My soul is comfortable. I daily find myself greatly humbled.”

[120] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 23 – 1794 – Virginia – Friday, 9,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 2, 3 vols., ed. Elmer T. Clark (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1958), 25, accessed May 2020, available from the Wesleyan Heritage Library at http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-6/wh3-ref/aj-v2.pdf.

[121] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 11 – Letter to Elijah Hedding, Dec. 3, 1808,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 3, 3 vols., ed. Elmer T. Clark (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1958), 746, accessed May 2020, available from the Wesleyan Heritage Library at http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-6/wh3-ref/aj-v3.pdf.  This is one example of several instances when Asbury affirms this.

[122] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 14 – To the British Conference, April. 18, 1815,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 3, 951-952. 

[123] Francis Asbury, “Chapter 13 – To Zachary Miles, Dec. 3, 1812,” The Journals and Letters of Francis Asbury, 3, 868-869.

[124] Jonathan Crowther, The Life of the Reverend Thomas Coke, L.L.D., A Clergyman of the Church of England, but who Laboured among the Wesleyan Methodists for the Last Thirty-Eight Years of His Life (Leeds: Published by Alexander Cumming, 1815),100, GoogleBooks.

[125] Thomas Coke, “2 Chronicles 32:27,” Thomas Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803; repr., Amazon Services, 2019), loc. 48,786, Kindle.

[126] Coke, “Mt. 19:14,” Thomas Coke's Commentary, loc. 126,717; also 145,214.

[127] Coke, “Reflections on Exodus 34:1-29,” Thomas Coke's Commentary, loc. 16,433.

[128] Coke, “Reflections on 1 Samuel 18,” Thomas Coke's Commentary, loc. 38,313.

[129] George Whitefield, The Collected Sermons of George Whitefield (1737; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital, 2015), loc. 9046, Kindle.

[130] Adam Clarke. Entire Sanctification (1874, repr., Amazon Services, 2010), loc. 453, Kindle. 3

[131] Adam Clarke, Clarke on the Whole Bible: Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary (1832, repr., Amazon Services, 2015), loc. 21806, Kindle.

[132] Since Wesley taught a formula or methodology for holiness, critics called his followers Methodists, but it was not a term of endearment.

[133] Vinson H. Synan, “International Pentecostal Holiness Church History (Part 2),” (2017), Oral Roberts University Digital Showcase video, 2:26:49, accessed May 2020, available from https://digitalshowcase.oru.edu/iphch/2/.

[134] Kenneth J. Collins, “Recent Trends in Wesleyan/Holiness Scholarship,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 35, no. 1 (2000): 81.

[135] Phoebe Palmer, The Collected Works of Phoebe Palmer: Six Books in One (Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital, 2015), loc. 14392, 412, 2920, Kindle.

[136] Palmer, The Collected Works, loc. 22553.

[137] Palmer, The Collected Works, loc. 14392, 412, 2920.

[138] Palmer, The Collected Works, loc. 2921.

[139] W. McDonald and John E. Searles, The Life of Rev. John S. Inksip (Wesleyan Heritage Publications, 1998), 185-186, http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-6/wh2-hdm/hdm0131.pdf

[140] Ibid.

[141] John S. Inskip, Holiness Miscellany (1882; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital, 2015), loc. 400, Kindle.

[142] McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 147.

[143] Inskip, Miscellany, loc. 1022 and McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 37.

[144] McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 59.

[145] McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 193.

[146] McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 273-274.

[147] McDonald and Searles, The Life of Rev. John Inskip, 249.

[148] Beverly Carradine, Revival Incidents (1913; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital, 2015), loc. 128, Kindle. Also Beverly Carradine, The Sanctified Life (1897; repr., Wilmore, KY: First Fruits Press, 2015), 609, Kindle.

[149] Carradine, Revival Incidents, 627-662; 637.

[150] Carradine, Revival Incidents, loc. 872.

[151] Beverly Carradine, Heart Talks (1899; repr., Yuma, CO: Jawbone Digital, 2015), 48, Kindle.

[152] Beverly Carradine, Sanctification (1890, repr., Hope Mills, NC: Heritage Bible fellowship, 2011), loc. 333.  From this, it could be inferred that Christian pride had interfered with their process.

[153] Carradine, Sanctified Life, loc. 516.

[154] Carradine, Sanctification, loc. 365.

[155] Carradine, Sanctification, loc. 1145.

[156] Mrs. Parham, The Life of Charles Parham, loc. 1796.

[157] Seymour, Azusa Papers, 204-205.

[158] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc. 897.

[159] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc. 1076, 1361.

[160] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc. 1289.

[161] Bartleman, Azusa Street, loc 888.

[162] Seymour, Azusa Papers, 216.

[163] Gary McGee, “William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival: The Apostolic Faith Mission and the Man Who Led its Revival,” Enrichment Journal 4, no. 4 (1999): 33.