Research Center > The Finished Work Doctrine (1910)


William H. Durham and the
Doctrine of Sanctification

By: Ray Shelton

Dec. 1, 1973

The great majority of the early pentecostal believers, influenced by their former holiness connections, accepted the teaching concerning sanctification as a second definite work of grace, "definite experience" in which a man is cleansed from "inbred sin" and the sinful nature is eradicated. [1] The early pentecostal leaders like Charles F. Parhan of Kansas and W. J. Seymour, the apostle of Azusa Street, adopted the position of the Fire-Baptized Holiness group, founded by B. H. Irwin, who taught three definite works of grace or experiences: the new birth, sanctification and the "baptism of fire," the last experience being interpreted according to Acts 2:4. [2] Sanctification as a "second blessing" which cleansed the seeker from inbred sin prepared for a third experience, the reception of the Holy Spirit. They taught that one must be entirely sanctified to be filled with the Holy Spirit, for He will not fill an unclean vessel. The southern holiness denominations, led by King, Mason, and Tomlinson, had been founded as the result of the second work controversy in Methodism. [3]

As the pentecostal movement spread, a large number of men began to enter the movement from non-holiness backgrounds, notably from the Baptist Church. They knew nothing of the "second blessing" and understood sanctification as a continuous process, i.e., they taught the "progressive" nature of sanctification and not "instantaneous" act or experience. Such a man was William H. Durham of Chicago, Illinois. He was the pastor of the well known North Avenue Mission in Chicago. In 1907 he traveled to Los Angeles and Azusa Street as a skeptic. He returned as an ardent proponent of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The supernatural experiences at Azusa Street Mission had overwhelmed him. They revolutionized his ministry at the modest mission on North Avenue. "People began to come in considerable numbers. Soon our little place would not hold them... We had meetings every night -- sometimes all night." [4]

"At some services there were as many as twenty-five ministers from out of town 'tarrying for the gift of the Holy Spirit.' One of these men was A. H. Argue, who was to carry message of Pentecostalism to his native Canada (Winnipeg). Another was Eudorus N. Bell of Fort Worth, who subsequently became the first chairman of the Assembles of God." [5]

By the end of 1907, Durham's mission had become the center of midwestern pentecostals. From 1907 to 1911 Durham's influence increased among pentecostals through his monthly periodical The Pentecostal Testimony and through his dynamic preaching.

Although Durham had previously preached the holiness view of sanctification, he never preached it again after his return from Los Angeles in 1907.

"From that day to this, I could never preach another sermon on the second work of grace theory. I had held it for years, and continued to do so for some time, but could not preach on the subject again. I could preach Christ and...holiness, as never before, but not as a second work of grace." [6]

At a Chicago pentecostal convention in 1910 Durham preached a sermon in which he sought to "nullify the blessing of sanctification as a second definite work of grace." Calling his new teaching "The Finished Work," Durhan set forth a new view which identified the act of sanctification with the act of conversion and based it on the finish work of Calvary. The primary meaning of the word "sanctify" in the Old and New Testaments is "to dedicate, or consecrate, separate unto, set apart," and in this respect it is used even of God and angels, vessels, houses and garments.

"I began to write against the doctrine that it takes two works of grace to save and cleanse a man. I denied and still deny that God does not deal with the nature of sin at conversion. I deny that a man who is converted or born again is outwardly washed and cleansed but that his heart is left unclean with enmity against God in it... This would not be salvation. Salvation is an inward work. It means a change of heart. It means that old things pass away and that all things become new. It means that all condemnation and guilt is removed. It means that all the old man, or old nature, which was sinful and depraved and which was the very thing in us that was condemned, is crucified with Christ." [7]

"Actually, Durhan and those who grasped his message taught a crucifixion of the old nature, a crucifixion declared to be a fact by the Word (Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20), and made experiential within believers through faith, through reckoning on the historical fact of the Cross. If a lapse should come, through a failure to reckon constantly oneself dead to sin, the principle of reckoning must be placed into operation again. Whereas, one who is taught that the inbred corruption is completely removed is bewildered when sin reappears. If the root is eradicated, whence the fruit? Did it somehow return to its former soil? Must it be eradicated again? How many definite works must be wrought until deliverance is "definite"? Durham inquired: Would it not be much simpler and much more scriptural to observe that, whatever the inward condition, the definite fact of the Cross remained, and the inward condition can be rectified when the Christian begins to reckon again? By accepting sanctification as a work which is based on the finished work of Calvary, the believer starts on a high plane of holy living, and can maintain it by abiding in Christ. In this manner, the object of our faith is not in an experience of sanctification but in the Lord Jesus Christ 'who of God is made unto us... sanctification.'" [8]

Durhan's teaching cut directly across the accepted view of the pentecostals with a holiness background. Many felt that he was attacking the doctrinal foundations of the pentecostal movement. The doctrinal difference came to an early crisis in February, 1911, when Durhan returned to Los Angeles for a preaching session. He sought to preach at the Upper Room Mission, by then the largest pentecostal church in the city, but Pastor Elmer Fisher invite him to leave when his doctrine became known. He then turned to the famed landmark, the Azusa Street Mission, which by then was essentially a local Negro church, still under W. J. Seymour's leadership. Since Seymour was in the East on a preaching tour, Durham was invited to preach in the "mother Church" of pentecostalism. With his dynamic personality and new message Durhan soon filled the old mission nearly emptying the other missions in the city. Azusa experienced a return to its old-time popularity. "On Sunday the place was crowded and five hundred were turned away. The people would not leave their seats between meetings for fear of losing them...The fire began to fall at old Azusa as at the beginning." [9]

Frank Bartleman tells what then happened.

"Then, on May 2nd, I went to Azusa Street and to everyone's surprise found the doors all locked, with chain and padlock. Brother Seymour had hastened back from the east and with his trustees decided to lock Brother Durham out. It was his message they objected to. But they locked God and the saints out also, from the old cradle of power also."

"In a few days Brother Durham rented a large building at the corner of Seventh and Los Angeles Streets. A Thousand people attended the meetings there on Sundays and about four hundred on week nights. Here the 'cloud' rested, and God's glory filled the place. Azusa became deserted." [10]

The news of the event reverberated throughout the pentecostal movement and brought the doctrinal difference into the open. From 1911 to 1914 the battle raged with much acrimony and "carnality" being exhibited on both sides. Once while denouncing the doctrine of entire sanctification, Durham was attacked by a young Irish holiness girl known only as Bridgitt who had been marvelously converted from a life as a prostitute and delivered from the tobacco habit by what she considered to be second work of grace. She went after Brother Durham with her hat pin to register her "pointed opposition" to Durham's teaching. In spite of this opposition the new view became so wide spread in the pentecostal movement that the pentecostal denominations that began after 1911 such as the Assemblies of God incorporated it in their statements of faith. The "finished work" theory did not take hold in the Southern pentecostal group because of their background in the holiness movement. The Church of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the Church of God in Christ stood firmly for the second work of sanctification .

"In these churches the belief in entire sanctification as a second work of grace became a test of orthodoxy, and anyone professing to believe in the 'finished work' was considered a 'false teacher' or a 'deluded Yankee.'" [11]

The effects of the controversy can still be felt today; "indeed, all contemporary pentecostal groups can be classified by their view on the matter." [12]

What lesson can be learned from this man and the events of his ministry? The outpouring of God's Spirit during the early years of the twentieth century that gave birth to the pentecostal movement eventually brought about the correction of doctrine. Jesus said,

"But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth...
He shall glorify me; for He shall take of mine, and shall disclose it to you." (John 16:13-14)

The unscriptural teaching of the second work of grace needed to be replaced by the scriptural teaching concerning the "finished work" of our death and resurrection with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20). Also the subjective nature of the second work of grace needed to be replaced by the objective nature of the finished work teaching. Instead of a believer seeking to die to self to overcome sin, the believer must reckon himself to have died with Christ to sin.

"The Pentecostal movement with its decidedly Arminian emphasis upon subjective experience needed to have its attention focused upon objective facts. There was a need for the Pentecostal view of sanctification to become more Christ-centered, and apparently the only way we could be led to this goal was through the road of controversy." [13]

As the pentecostal movement should have realized from its early years, the recovery of truth is not unaccompanied by controversy and division. The teaching concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues was widely opposed and still is in many Christian circles. The absence of controversy and division is not necessarily the mark of God's approval. And it is not an unmitigated evil to be avoided at all cost. Of course the bitterness and acrimony that accompanied it is to be avoided, but not at the cost of the loss of truth. "Truth in love" must be the watchword in controversy and doctrinal disagreement.

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[1] Kendrick, The Promise Fulfilled, p. 75.

[2] Brumback, Suddenly...From Heaven, p. 99.

[3] Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement, p. 147.

[4] William H. Durham, "A Glimpse of a Gracious Work in Chicago,"
Word and Work, XXXII (May, 1910), 154. Quoted in Nichol,
Pentecostalism, p. 36. See also, Frodsham, p. 38.

[5] Nichol, Pentecostalism, p. 36 (See also, Frodsham, p. 39).

[6] The Pentecostal Testimony, June, 1911. Quoted in Brumback,
Suddenly... From Heaven, p. 98.

[7] Ibid., ( Brumback, p. 99).

[8] Brumback, Suddenly...From Heaven, p. 102.

[9] Bartleman, Another Wave Rolls, In! p. 106.

[10] Ibid., p. 107.

[11] Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement, p. 149.

[12] Kendrick, The Promise Fulfilled, p. 75.

[13] Brumback, Suddenly...From Heaven, p. 105.




Bartleman, Frank, Another Wave Rolls In!
(formerly) What really Happened at "Azusa Street"?
ed. by John Walker. Revised and enlarged edition ed. by John G. Myers,
Voice Publications, Northridge, Calif., 1962.

Brumback, Carl, Suddenly... From Heaven:
A History of the Assemblies of God.
Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Mo., c1961.

Frodsham, Stanley H., "With Signs Folowing"
The Story of the Latter-Day Pentecostal Revival.
Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Mo., c1926.

Kendrick, Klaude, The Promise Fulfilled:
A History of the Modern Pentecostal Movement.
Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Mo., c1961.

Nichol, John Thomas, Pentecostalism.
Harper & Row, Publlishers, New York, Evanston and London, c1966.

Synan, Vinson, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States.
William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, c 1971.

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