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Blake, Methodism, and “Christian Perfection”


Christopher Z. Hobson

This essay argues that Blake rejected John Wesley’s teaching of “Christian perfection” and examines the implications of this rejection for Blake’s ideas of morality, conduct, and social and sexual freedom. More specifically, it intervenes in discussions of Blake’s relation to eighteenth-century evangelicalism by proposing, at least on the issue of perfectionism as opposed to the persistence of sin, his greater affinity with the Methodism of George Whitefield than with Wesley’s. I maintain that Blake’s sense of sin was close to Whitefield’s, though distinct, and also that he rejected claims of perfectibility, such as Wesley’s, on the basis of this sense and because they provided justification for self-appointed elites. These concerns first become prominent in Milton and Jerusalem, despite some earlier foreshadowing. They exist in a productive tension with Blake’s belief in the holiness of the body, one correlating with his sense of the redeemed world as a cooperative society of imperfect beings.


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