Several years ago I read a column by Donald W. Haynes — and its content has stayed with me. Haynes used to write a regular “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter. (I always appreciated what he had to say.)
The one I’m thinking of was titled “Like Wesley, do we seek an ‘inward witness’?” It appeared in November of 2012. It was about the experience of the assurance of salvation. First, Haynes talks about Wesley’s religious life prior to his famous Aldersgate experience. Was he seeking God? Certainly. Was he seeking a holy life? Certainly. Did he have faith? Yes. But, there was a vital and missing element: an experience of inward assurance. It was this that he found at the prayer meeting at Aldersgate. Haynes writes:
Wesley’s doctrine was sound and his self-discipline was exemplary, but he still lacked what Paul called “witness of the spirit.” Wesley admitted later that he did not understand his father, when the old Anglican on his death bed in April 1735 told him that “inward witness” was the “strongest proof of Christianity.”Surely, many of us know how Wesley must have felt. In the years since revival altar calls gave way to confirmation classes, very little has been said in most United Methodist churches about an experience of assurance that one’s sins are forgiven. Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist children once learned a little chorus: “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart . . . down in my heart today.” The second stanza was the same except the last line, “down in my heart to stay.”
How many of us must confess—while we believe that God loves us, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we are to reach out with deeds of kindness and acts of mercy—we still have a missing link in our relationship with God? Deep in our soul, there is an empty spot which only the Holy Spirit can fill. Is this not the Achilles heel of multiple millions of Christians? Is this not one important clue to the net loss of 650,000 United Methodists already in the 21st century?
‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’ — Romans 8:16.
But what is the witness of the Spirit?
“The original word μαρτυρία may be rendered either (as it is in several places) the witness, or less ambiguously, the testimony, or the record: So it is rendered in our translation (1 John 5:11), ‘This is the record,’ the testimony, the sum of what God testifies in all the inspired writings, ‘that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’ The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our spirit: He is the Person testifying. What he testifies to us is, ‘that we are the children of God.’ The immediate result of this testimony is, ‘the fruit of the Spirit;’ namely, ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness:’ and without these, the testimony itself cannot continue. For it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward sin; in a word, by whatever grieves the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)
- “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” [Implied answer: no.]
- “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
- “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”
- “Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”
- “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
- “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
And I was reminded again of the vital relationship between faith and works in the teachings of the Bible. Genuine faith must eventuate in good works — in obedience to God and service to others. While I am never in a position to judge the genuineness of another person’s faith — nonetheless, faith must always make a difference.
And, this is one of the reasons I am thankful for the Wesleyan holiness tradition where my early faith was nurtured. Here are some themes that I especially appreciate in the Wesleyan perspective on faith: (more…)