Do Methodists talk about this?

John Wesley’s sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” is a head-scratcher.

In it, he is trying to chart a middle course between two extremes. On one hand are those who mistake their own ideas and reveries for the Holy Spirit speaking to them. On the other are those — in part in reaction to the first group — who deny the Holy Spirit speaks to us at all. Wesley says his purpose in the sermon is to teach us how to avoid the mistakes of the first group without rejecting the gift of God like the second group.

My problem with this sermon is not that I cannot follow Wesley’s point. I have read him enough that I often forget that his manner of writing is not always easy for 21st century readers to follow. No, my problem with the sermon is that I do not feel the heat at the core of it.

The entire sermon reads as if Wesley is drawing careful distinctions and is aware of risks and dangers of a rash argument. He navigates shoals and reefs that I do not see, but by watching his movements know are there.

But in our day in the United Methodist Church I cannot find the these dangerous waters. I am not aware of any argument within United Methodism or between the UMC and some other branch of the Christian faith that sounds like the issue that so concerned Wesley in this sermon.

Perhaps this is a sign that our church has wrecked on the reef that Wesley calls the natural mind. We no longer argue about what it means to say the Spirit witnesses to our spirit because we have become the very people Wesley was trying to guard against. We have given up the gift of God that he was contending for.

Here is what he said the Spirit tells us:

The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.

Wesley argued that we cannot love God until the Spirit impresses this upon our spirit. This is, in fact, the very foundation of faith and holiness. And it is a work of the Holy Spirit, not some assertion on our part or decision for Christ that we make. Rather, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

I cannot recall hearing such things being discussed by United Methodists. Have you?

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5 thoughts on “Do Methodists talk about this?

  1. John I have not heard any related subject in my lifetime. There is a deep void of Wesleyan study in the church. I have been blessed with a passion to know and understand of His works and to find a common or multitudes of them that blessme with a warming of the heart.

    On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, John Meunier wrote: > John Meunier posted: “John Wesley’s sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” is a head-scratcher. In it, he is trying to chart a middle course between two extremes. On one hand are those who mistake their own ideas and reveries for the Holy Spirit speaking to them. On the other a” >

  2. I need to revisit this sermon soon as I’m currently engaged in an independent study with Dr. Kalas on preaching the Holy Spirit, but I feel you are on target. I shared an excerpt of your post with a couple of people this morning.

    If my memory serves me correctly Wesley described the witness of the Spirit as a gift common to all believers. He further noted that the primary reason people do not experience it is that they haven’t been taught to expect it.

    That reality was true in my life. I encountered God and His assurance only after I’d been in an environment that was open to God’s full work. It has been a tremendous gift to me that I continue to carry, but I doubt I would have had that encounter at any church I’d attended growing up.

    My primary reason for seeking to study preaching the Holy Spirit was because I have not heard many United Methodists discuss the Holy Spirit with openness and fluency.

    I hope to help remedy this error.

    • I’d love to hear your further thoughts about this, John. It sounds like you and JW are on the same page here. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of John Wesley’s preaching was trying to teach people what to expect and how to spot the work of grace when it happened.

  3. Hey John, I didn’t get a chance to respond when you originally posted this, but we’re actually having a holy conference with some pastors here in northern VA this afternoon about the Holy Spirit and I’m going to use Wesley’s sermons and your thoughts here. Distinguishing my own impulses from the Spirit’s “You need to say this and do this now” has been a tricky journey for me that I’m still working through. Thanks for this resource.

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