As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are looking at some of the people that have stood out in the history of the church. This past Sunday we focused on John Wesley.
John Wesley was born in Epworth on June 1703 to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Living a full life he died in March of 1791, having spent most of his life preaching the Gospel and making disciples in Methodist Societies. He was well known during his lifetime, and the following was written about him in The Gentleman’s Magazine after his passing (link).
He was noted as a zealous reformer:
He now appeared as a zealous reformer, and the great leader in a sect no way differing in essentials from the Church of England. His peculiar opinions were justification by faith, and Christian perfection; … however he might enforce its possibility, he always disclaimed having attained himself …
and humanitarian to the needy:
The great point in which his name and mission will be honoured is this: he directed his labour towards those who had no instructor; to the highways and hedges; to the mines in Cornwall and the colliers in Kingswood. … By the humane and active endeavours of him and his brother Charles, a sense of decency, and morals, and religion was introduced into the lowest classes of mankind; the ignorant instructed, the wretched relieved, and the abandoned reclaimed.
and as an extraordinary individual:
On a review of the character of this extraordinary man, it appears, that though he was endowed with eminent talents, he was more distinguished by their use, then even by their possession…
for in every respect, … he must be considered as one of the most extraordinary characters this or any age ever produced
Wesley was a man of great ability and compassion for the lost and ignored in his day. But even with all of his talents there were many important people that helped shape him and his ministry. The class explored some of the people that most impacted him; including his mother, and the enthusiast William Law who both helped Wesley become the disciplined man that he was. Others covered in class were William Morgan, who introduced him to prison ministry; Peter Bohler, who encouraged him during his times of doubt; and George Whitefield, who introduced him to field preaching.
The altogether Christian
Wesley struggled with doubt until his Aldersgate experience, in which his heart was strangely warmed. However, he never stopped studying the Scriptures and had friends he could turn. These are good lessons when we experience our own times of doubting.
In 1741, a few years after the Aldersgate experience, Wesley examined the “almost Christian” (Sermon 2) and asked “what is implied in the being altogether a Christian?”
- First. The love of God.
- The Second thing … is, the love of our neighbour.
- There is yet one thing more …
There is yet one thing more that may be separately considered, though it cannot actually be separate from the preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian; and that is the ground of all, even faith.
Wesley (rightly) understood faith as more than intellectual assent. But as a sincere trust in Christ.
The right and true Christian faith is not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the Articles of our Faith are true, but … a sure trust and confidence … that, by the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he [is] reconciled to God
Taking his points straight out of James, Wesley included the warning: “but here let no man deceive his own soul.”
the faith which bringeth not forth repentance, and love, and all good works, is not that right living faith, but a dead and devilish one.
Rather, whosoever has a “faith thus working by love is not almost only, but altogether, a Christian.”
The slides used in class are available here (John Wesley Calmly Considered (pdf))