From hence it manifestly appears, what is the nature of the new birth. It is that great change which God works in the soul when he brings it into life; when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is ‘created anew in Christ Jesus;’ when it is ‘renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness;’ when the love of the world is changed into the love of God; pride into humility; passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind. In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the ‘mind which was in Christ Jesus.’ This is the nature of the new birth: ‘So is every one that is born of the Spirit.’
— John Wesley, Sermon #45: “The New Birth.”
John Wesley lets us know very clearly that preaching alone — however important that is — cannot produce and maintain spiritual awakening:
I was more convinced than ever, that the preaching like an Apostle, without joining together those that are awakened, and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connection; and the consequence is, that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever.
— John Wesley’s Journal: Thursday August 25, 1763.
Afterwards I met the society, and explained to them at large the original design of the Methodists, viz., not to be a distinct party, but to stir up all parties, Christians or Heathens, to worship God in spirit and in truth; but the Church of England in particular; to which they belonged from the beginning. With this view, I have uniformly gone on for fifty years, never varying from the doctrine of the Church at all; nor from her discipline, of choice, but of necessity: So, in a course of years, necessity was laid upon me, (as I have proved elsewhere,)
1. To preach in the open air.
2. To pray extempore.
3. To form societies.
4. To accept of the assistance of Lay Preachers:
And, in a few other instances, to use such means as occurred, to prevent or remove evils that we either felt or feared.
— Journal: April 12, 1789.
Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby, “through grace,” we “are saved by faith;” consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favour of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, shows this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds,” but afterwards puts forth large branches, and becomes a great tree; till, 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, till we “grow up in all things into him that is our Head;” till we attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
— John Wesley, Sermon #83: “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”
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John Wesley saw the Methodist movement as a return to the original life & faith & experience of Christianity. He wanted to return to the faith of the apostles and the early church — to find that same dynamic quality of faith and life that the early Christians had. So, Scripture had a place of central importance in Wesley’s teaching and preaching.
In Wesley’s view, devotion to the teachings of the Scripture is absolutely essential for the task of keeping and renewing the Christian faith.
So, in light of this, I’ve gathered together on this page everything substantive that John Wesley said about the Bible. I have not attempted to “tone down” or alter any of his opinions — though I have updated the language in the first quote. My goal here has been completeness.
Yes, there is some room for argument about what he may have meant by some of these remarks — of course. And, I certainly wouldn’t say the man was in any way infallible.
But, here is what he actually said. (more…)
If you ask, ‘Why then are not all men saved?’ the whole law and the testimony answer, First, Not because of any decree of God; not because it is his pleasure they should die; for, ‘As I live,’ saith the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.’ (Ezek. 18:3, 32) Whatever be the cause of their perishing, it cannot be his will, if the oracles of God are true; for they declare, ‘He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;’ (2 Pet. 3:9) ‘He willeth that all men should be saved.’ And they, Secondly, declare what is the cause why all men are not saved, namely, that they will not be saved: So our Lord expressly, ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye may have life.’ (John 5:40) ‘The power of the Lord is present to heal’ them, but they will not be healed. ‘They reject the counsel,’ the merciful counsel, ‘of God against themselves,’ as did their stiff-necked forefathers. And therefore are they without excuse; because God would save them, but they will not be saved: This is the condemnation, ‘How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not!’ (Matt. 23:37)
— John Wesley, Sermons: “Free Grace.”
It seems to me that John Wesley had a very good attitude toward being corrected for his beliefs and convictions:
But some may say, I have mistaken the way myself, although I take upon me to teach it to others. It is probable many will think this, and it is very possible that I have. But I trust, whereinsoever I have mistaken, my mind is open to conviction. I sincerely desire to be better informed. I say to God and man, ‘What I know not, teach then me!’
Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread, and am therefore unwilling to leave it, labor with me a little; take me by the hand, and lead me as I am able to bear. But be not displeased if I entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace: I can go but feebly and slowly at best; then, I should not be able to go at all. May I not request of you, further, not to give me hard names in ordeal to bring me into the right way. Suppose I were ever so much in the wrong, I doubt this would not set me right. Rather, it would make me run so much the farther from you, and so get more and more out of the way.
Nay, perhaps, if you are angry, so shall I be too; and then there will be small hopes of finding the truth. If once anger arise, ηυτε καπνος, (as Homer somewhere expresses it,) this smoke will so dim the eyes of my soul, that I shall be able to see nothing clearly. For God’s sake, if it be possible to avoid it, let us not provoke one another to wrath. Let us not kindle in each other this fire of hell; much less blow it up into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light, would it not be loss, rather than gain? For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But, if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels!
The God of love forbid we should ever make the trial! May he prepare us for the knowledge of all truth, by filling our hearts with all his love, and with all joy and peace in believing!
— Preface to the Standard Sermons.
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For what end is life bestowed upon the children of men? Why were we sent into the world? For one sole end, and for no other, to prepare for eternity. For this alone we live. For this, and no other purpose, is our life either given or continued. It pleased the all-wise God, at the season which he saw best, to arise in the greatness of his strength, and create the heavens and the earth, and all things that are therein. Having prepared all things for him, He “created man in his own image, after his own likeness.” And what was the end of his creation? It was one, and no other, — that he might know, and love, and enjoy, and serve his great Creator to all eternity.
Remember! You were born for nothing else. You live for nothing else. Your life is continued to you upon earth, for no other purpose than this, that you may know, love, and serve God on earth, and enjoy him to all eternity. Consider! You were not created to please your senses, to gratify your imagination, to gain money, or the praise of men; to seek happiness in any created good, in anything under the sun. All this is “waiting in a vain shadow;” is leading a restless, miserable life, in order to a miserable eternity. On the contrary, you were created for this, and for no other purpose, by seeking and finding happiness in God on earth, to secure the glory of God in heaven. Therefore, let your heart continually say, “This one thing I do,” — having one thing in view, remembering why I was born, and why I am continued in life, — “I press on to the mark.” I aim at the one end of my being, God; even at “God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” He shall be my God for ever and ever, and my guide even unto death.
— John Wesley, Sermon #109 “What is Man?”
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This is the original design of the Church of Christ. It is a body of men compacted together, in order, first, to save each his own soul; then to assist each other in working out their salvation; and, afterwards, as far as in them lies, to save all men from present and future misery, to overturn the kingdom of Satan, and set up the kingdom of Christ. And this ought to be the continued care and endeavour of every member of his Church; otherwise he is not worthy to be called a member thereof, as he is not a living member of Christ.
— John Wesley, Sermon #52: The Reformation of Manners.
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Only beware thou do not deceive thy own soul with regard to the nature of this faith. It is not, as some have fondly conceived, a bare assent to the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our creed, or of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament. The devils believe this, as well as I or thou! And yet they are devils still. But it is, over and above this, a sure trust in the mercy of God, through Christ Jesus. It is a confidence in a pardoning God. It is a divine evidence or conviction that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their’ former ‘trespasses;’ and, in particular, that the Son of God hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that I, even I, am now reconciled to God by the blood of the cross.
Another ground of these, and a thousand mistakes, is, the not considering deeply, that love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love; that all visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all the gifts above-mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to, it.
It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this, —’the heaven of heavens is love.’ There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.
I think it is interesting that such a comment is made at the very outset of the Wesleyan movement. (more…)
It seems especially appropriate in the season of Lent to quote from John Wesley’s Sermon (# 48) on Self Denial:
The denying ourselves and the taking up our cross, in the full extent of the expression, is not a thing of small concern: It is not expedient only, as are some of the circumstantials of religion; but it is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples. It is absolutely necessary, in the very nature of the thing, to our coming after Him and following Him; insomuch that, as far as we do not practice it, we are not his disciples. If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of Him, but of other masters. If we do not take up our cross daily, we do not come after Him, but after the world, or the prince of the world, or our own fleshly mind. If we are not walking in the way of the cross, we are not following Him; we are not treading in his steps; but going back from, or at least wide of, Him.
— Sermon #48 “Self Denial.”
It seems to me that Lent can be a training ground for the practice of self-denial throughout the year. (more…)
To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights: — “Lord, is it not thy word, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou ‘givest liberally, and upbraidest not.’ Thou hast said; ‘If any be willing to do thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know, thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.
— From the “Preface” to the Standard Sermons
“In the highest rank of the enemies of the gospel of Christ, are they who openly and explicitly “judge the law” itself, and “speak evil of the law;” who teach men to break (lusai, to dissolve, to loose, to untie the obligation of) not one only, whether of the least, or of the greatest, but all the commandments at a stroke; who teach, without any cover, in so many words, — “What did our Lord do with the law He abolished it. There is but one duty, which is that of believing. All commands are unfit for our times. From any demand of the law, no man is obliged now to go one step, to give away one farthing, to eat or omit one morsel.” This is, indeed, carrying matters with a high hand; this is withstanding our Lord to the face, and telling him that he understood not how to deliver the message on which He was sent. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!
“The most surprising of all the circumstances that attend this strong delusion, is, that they who are given up to it, really believe that they honour Christ by overthrowing his law, and that they are magnifying his office, while they are destroying his doctrine! Yea, they honour him just as Judas did, when he said, “Hail, Master!” and kissed him. And he may as justly say to every one of them, “Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss” It is no other than betraying him with a kiss, to talk of his blood, and take away his crown; to set light by any part of his law, under pretence of advancing his gospel. Nor, indeed, can anyone escape this charge, who preaches faith in any such manner as either directly or indirectly tends to set aside any branch of obedience; who preaches Christ so as to disannul, or weaken, in anywise, the least of the commandments of God.”
— John Wesley, Sermon # 25 “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon On The Mount: Discourse Five”
Here is an alleged John Wesley quote frequently encountered on Twitter and on Internet quote sites:
Did John Wesley say (as it is claimed, for example, here):
Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.