Monday, March 22  While I was persuading Mr Welch not to concern himself in this disturbance, I heard Mrs Hawkins cry out: Murder! and walked away. Returning out of the woods, I was informed by Mr Welch that poor blockhead Mrs Welch had joined with Mrs Hawkins and the Devil in their slanders of…
One of Wesley’s later sermons was “On God’s Vineyard” which was written in 1779. This sermon reads like a reflection of how God has worked through Wesley’s life and some observations Wesley made. One such observation was about the new birth.
Wesley was a man who wasn’t satisfied with ‘outward’ religion. Wesley believed that in order to be a “real” Christian, one needed to be changed inwardly. He writes:
“They know, the new birth implies as great a change in the soul, in him that is “born of the Spirit,” as was wrought in his body when he was born of a woman: Not an outward change only, as from drunkenness to sobriety, from robbery or theft to honesty; (this is the poor, dry, miserable conceit of those that know nothing of real religion;) but an inward change from all unholy, to all holy tempers, — from pride to humility, from passionateness to meekness, from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation; in a word, from an earthly, sensual, devilish mind, to the mind that was in Christ Jesus.”
Wesley compares the new birth to spiritual birth and at the same time contrasts it with merely an outward change (i.e. drunkenness to sobriety). Wesley’s point is that the “great change” is also a real change, not content with outward behavior only but a real transformation of one’s inner life (or world). Going from “pride to humility,” “passionateness to meekness” and “from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation” is no small feat. It is such a great change that Wesley describes it as being changed from a “devilish mind” to the “mind that was in Christ.”
I find myself in a denomination that is concerned about it’s life. In North America, attendance is down, membership is down, churches are closing and it seems like it is a stretch to find things to celebrate. Statistics are watched closely. Any church that has growth is studied and, at times, used as a model. Books are written. Conference are formed. All this takes place so that churches, who aren’t having statistical success, can discover the secrets of healthy growth. After all, no one wants to die, not even a denomination.
In this type of culture, one fixated on life and survival, evangelism is seen as the key. If we would evangelize, people would come to Christ and to the church. That is the belief anyway. Of course we look past the fact that there are many Christians who do not attend weekly services at all, but that is another issue. Yet, it seems feasible that if we were able to evangelize well, then our churches (and statistics) would be healthy.
Evangelism has always seemed mysterious to me. At various times Jesus was more interested in sending people away, or saying things that caused them to leave (see John 6) than getting them to sign up for his mission. I don’t think it was that he didn’t want people to respond to his message. I think he just knew that people needed to hear what he was really saying and respond to that. He didn’t sugar coat things. If they were going to be followers, well, he wanted them to know that it was going to be hard, and require much sacrifice.
As I contemplate evangelism, I wonder if we have the same edge that Jesus had. We are wanting our churches to grow. Our evangelism usually focuses around someone’s felt needs. We are to discover those felt needs, and help them see how Jesus (or actually the church) can meet those needs. While I agree that Jesus can meet our needs I wonder if our felt needs are the ones that really need to be met.
Reading through Wesley’s sermon “Justification by Faith” and ran across this nice quote where Wesley addresses “good works” before one is justified:
5. If it be objected, “Nay, but a man, before he is justified, may feed the hungry, or clothe the naked; and these are good works;” the answer is easy: He may do these, even before he is justified; and these are, in one sense, “good works;” they are “good and profitable to men.” But it does not follow, that they are, strictly speaking, good in themselves, or good in the sight of God. All truly “good works” (to use the words of our Church) “follow after justification;” and they are therefore good and “acceptable to God in Christ,” because they “spring out of a true and living faith.” By a parity of reason, all “works done before justification are not good,” in the Christian sense, “forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ;” (though from some kind of faith in God they may spring;) “yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not” (how strange soever it may appear to some) “but they have the nature of sin.”
6. Perhaps those who doubt of this have not duly considered the weighty reason which is here assigned, why no works done before justification can be truly and properly good. The argument plainly runs thus: —
No works are good, which are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done.
But no works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done:
Therefore, no works done before justification are good.
Yet, on the authority of God’s Word, and our own Church, I must repeat the question, “Hast thou received the Holy Ghost?” If thou hast not, thou art not yet a Christian. (From Sermon 3: Awake Thou Sleeper) As I read through John Wesley’s sermons I am amazed at how often he defined a Christian…