Sanctification in Early Pentecostal Thought: Part 2


This is the concluding essay on sanctification in early Pentecostal thought. It picks up with the understanding of sanctification by J. H. King. At the conclusion of the discussion on King, a summary of the two essays is provided.

Joseph Hillary King

In his earlier years, Joseph Hillary King (d. 1946) was a part of the “Holiness-oriented Methodist camp.”[i] He would eventually receive the “second blessing” and would be an ardent supporter of this doctrine for most of his life. King was fiercely opposed to finished work teaching, so much so that he decried it as “near being a ‘damnable heresy.’”[ii] King was introduced to the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit through the preaching of and personal conversations with G. B. Cashwell, who himself had received his personal Pentecost at the Azusa Street meetings. After struggling for a brief time over this new teaching, King received his own Spirit baptism with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues. He would go on to be the founder and first bishop of the Pentecostal Holiness Church.[iii]

Unlike Durham, King was able to formally formulate his theological thoughts on sanctification and other early Holiness Pentecostal doctrinal distinctives in his Passover to Pentecost, originally published in 1911. Given this works importance to early Holiness Pentecostal theology, and the fact that it was King’s “chief theological contribution” to the movement, the majority of what follows interacts almost exclusively with Passover to Pentecost.[iv]

The Need for Sanctification

King readily recognized the need for conversion. One was a sinner in desperate need of God to intervene and change one’s life. One was in a fallen state because of one’s relationship with Adam. In Adam all died. The exact nature of this relationship is difficult to determine. King seemed to refer to Adam in terms of federal headship one moment and then in terms of natural headship in the next. For instance, with reference to Adam as humanity’s federal head, King wrote, “We being potentially in Adam, the head of the race, we participated in his sin of disobedience.”[v] However, elsewhere he used natural headship language: “Every soul was in the first man germinally when he was made.”[vi] King even went so far as to quote Hebrews 7:9–10 that the entire human race was present in Adam’s loins. In any case, it is because of Adam’s sin that human beings inherit original sin from Adam.[vii]

King made sure to distinguish between sins and sin. For King “[s]ins are actual; sin is original.”[viii] It is sin, or the “sin principle” that is transmitted from Adam to all people. The sin principle is in effect the capacity to sin.

Despite being born into this state, no one is guilty as a sinner before God until one commits a specific sin, what King would call “sins.”[ix] No one would be held accountable for any one of these “sins” prior to an age of accountability.[x] This state of innocence was based upon a “unique interpretation of the atonement.”[xi] King argued;

The atonement in its virtual institution preceded the sin and fall of man. It was in this respect an accomplished fact in the mind of God. And everyone in Adam was potentially in the atonement before the first sin, and because of this, Adam was prevented from dropping into the abyss of eternal night the moment he sinned. And also those germinally in him, being potentially in Christ at the same time, were delivered from the guilt of the first sin and its obligatory punishable demerit.[xii]

Because of this “universally applied aspect of the atonement,”[xiii] all people “are born into this world in a state of acceptance with God, through the merits of Christ’s death unconditionally applied” to them.[xiv] Essentially for King, all human beings, although born with the capacity to sin, are in a state similar to that of Adam prior to the fall. This does not lead King to believe that someone might pass the test as it were, and thus earn salvation for oneself. Rather, he clearly indicated that in childhood one gives in to this “unholy principle within and openly [sins] against the law,” thus becoming a “rebel in God’s sight.”[xv] Nor is one quick to cry out to God for forgiveness. Rather, one “[keeps] on sinning for years until [one is] loaded with guilt.”[xvi] It would seem that his unlikely application of the atonement served to assure King and his readers that infants and children who died would not be consigned to hell, but instead go to be with the Lord. It also impacted his understanding of one’s reconciliation with God. It is also interesting to note that King’s understanding of the atonement also included Christ dying in a “special sense” for the “church … those who have been called out of the world and saved.”[xvii]

Two Stage Salvation

King believed salvation was applied through two stages. The first was conversion or what he also called “initial salvation.”[xviii] It was through conversion that one’s relationship with God was reestablished. When one was converted, one was forgiven of one’s sins, that is, sins one actually committed against God.[xix] One was no longer an enemy of God, but his child.

The second stage of salvation was sanctification, which was also called the “second blessing,” or even “full salvation.”[xx] For King and most holiness advocates, sanctification is a work of God’s grace, separate, distinct, and “subsequent to regeneration.”[xxi] In sanctification the sin nature was removed, thus fully cleansing the believer and making one ready to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[xxii] The Adamic nature remains in the one who is converted, although it is “held in check by the grace of regeneration.”[xxiii] It is only when one experiences “the second work of grace” that the “remaining sin from the converted soul” is removed.[xxiv] Sanctification is a gift God gives in his own time. It is to be desired and expected, and in some sense sought.[xxv]

Perfection and Progress

The removal of the sin nature did not result in sinless perfection. Although King did speak of the Christian being “perfect,” he did not mean unable to sin.[xxvi] King clearly stated, “Full cleansing from all sin is not perfection; it is complete deliverance from sin.”[xxvii] While the statement is clear, it is unclear precisely what the difference is between “deliverance from sin” and “sinless perfection” as it pertains to second blessing theology.

Nor did “complete deliverance from sin” necessarily keep one from growth in holiness. King believed that holiness in one’s personal life begat the desire to be more like God, who is altogether holy. This was because holiness in the individual enabled one to see more clearly just how utterly holy God is. This clearer vision of God’s holiness created humility in the sanctified believer through the realization that there were great vistas of holiness in which to grow. King summed up his progressive understanding of sanctification this way: “The purer we are, the clearer our vision of God; and the clearer the vision, the greater the sense of contrast; and the greater the contrast, the more we aspire to be like Him.”[xxviii]

Renewal of the Image

King did not give much attention in his writings to the topic of newness or renewal of the image of God in humankind. However, in Passover to Pentecost he did provide a brief glimpse as to how he might more fully address this topic. Commenting on Colossians 3, King wrote,

This crucifixion of the old man was after they had been raised up with Christ, and He had become their life. They were alive in Him. Because of this relation, this possession of life, they were to get rid of the old man and be wholly renewed in the image of His holiness. This is a second work of cleansing also.[xxix]

So for King renewal of the image of God was something that took place at sanctification, which for him was a definite act subsequent to regeneration.

Spirit Baptism: Gateway to the Victorious Life

Similar to Durham, King believed that prior to baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit principally acted upon the Christian, rather than indwelling the believer. It was only after one was Spirit baptized that one would become indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[xxx] This experience enabled the Spirit to “fill and control” the believer.[xxxi]

The evidence for this greater experience of God was speaking in tongues, that is, speech unknown to the speaker.[xxxii] King (2004) gave additional evidence, one that would manifest itself in the life of the Spirit-filled believer, boldness in proclaiming the gospel.[xxxiii]

King also believed baptism of the Holy Spirit entailed a “progressive dimension of pentecostal existence.”[xxxiv] It served as the beginning of the Spirit-filled journey. King wrote, “The baptism of the Holy Ghost is the beginning of the fullness of God imparted to believers.”[xxxv] The goal of the journey was to be holy, perfect as one’s heavenly Father. To this end one was to strive to become more holy, and Spirit baptism was key to attain perfection. This perfection is not easy nor “instantaneous or epochal; it is the result of instruction, discipline, severe testings, sufferings, that cover a long series in a life’s pilgrimage.”[xxxvi] One can see that for King, Spirit baptism played an important role in growing in holiness.

Further up, and Further in

According to Jacobsen, King considered growth in holiness something that continued to take place in the eternal state.[xxxvii] The following statement may indicate that Jacobsen is correct in his assessment of King in this instance. With regard to the Christian’s life in the eternal state, King wrote the following:

We will be going on to higher realms, and entering into new dispensations. The ages of eternity are numberless and endless, and each will be different in some extent from the other. This distinctiveness implies change, but not decay; it is change of improvement, or new revelations, of glories, imparting new joys. Progress necessitates change, but it is change upward so far as heaven is concerned. It is change produced by the saints reaching higher ground.[xxxviii]

While one cannot know for certain, it at least seems possible to read into these words that King envisioned growth of some sort in the new heaven and new earth. This growth may very well have been growth in holiness.


While both the finished work and holiness Pentecostals’ views taught that sanctification was necessary because all were affected by Adam’s sin, the two differed as to when sanctification became necessary. Durham believed it was necessary from birth, while one may argue that King believed it was not necessary until one committed a sin against God, thus coming under condemnation. Both believed that when a Christian was converted one’s old fallen nature was removed and one received a new nature. King also spoke of the renewal of the image of God in the sanctified Christian. Both asserted that sanctification purified and cleansed one from sin.

Finished work Pentecostals believed that sanctification began at salvation, progressed throughout the Christian’s life, and was completed at death. Early second blessing Pentecostals believed that sanctification did not begin at conversion, but was a second definite experience subsequent to regeneration. They also included an element of growth in holiness as part of the Christian life.

Both groups also clearly taught that one did not receive the Spirit when saved or sanctified. The Spirit only acted upon the believer from without. Only when one received the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the believer indwelt by the Spirit. This event also contributed to one’s growth in grace.

[i] Vinson H. Synan, “King, Joseph Hillary,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, edited by Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Mass (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 822.

[ii] J. H. King, From Passover to Pentecost, revised ed. (Franklin Springs, GA: LifeSprings Resources), 85.

[iii] Synan, “King, Joseph Hillary,” 822.

[iv] Ibid., 823.

[v] King, Passover to Pentecost, 16.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid., 16, 18.

[viii] Ibid., 16.

[ix] Ibid., 16–17.

[x] Ibid., 11.

[xi] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003), 177.

[xii] King, Passover, 83.

[xiii] Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 178.

[xiv] King, Passover, 11.

[xv] Ibid., 18.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid., 75.

[xviii] Ibid., 9.

[xix] Ibid., 16.

[xx] Ibid., 9.

[xxi] Ibid., 18.

[xxii] Ibid., 18–19, 101.

[xxiii] Ibid., 18.

[xxiv] Ibid., 19.

[xxv] Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit, 185.

[xxvi] Kind, Passover, 101.

[xxvii] J. H. King, Christ—God’s Love Gift, edited by B. E. Underwood (Franklin Springs, GA: Advocate Press, 1969), 138.

[xxviii] King, Passover, 63.

[xxix] Ibid., 76.

[xxx] Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit, 186.

[xxxi] King, Passover, 102.

[xxxii] Ibid., 98.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 93.

[xxxiv] Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit, 191.

[xxxv] King, Passover, 98.

[xxxvi] King, Christ—God’s Love Gift, 138.

[xxxvii] Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit, 192.

[xxxviii] King, Christ—God’s Love Gift, 61.


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