From John Wesley’s journal April 2, 1764:
I explained at large the nature of Christian Perfection. Many who had doubted of it before were fully satisfied. It remains only to experience what we believe.
Here is the experience that we have wrestled against its will into a four-fold “method” that treats experience as a source of theological ideas. As this short entry demonstrates, experience is not the source of doctrine for Wesley, but the confirmation or expression of it.
And, indeed, experience did not settle the argument for Wesley. In the sermon linked to above — which may or may not have been what he spoke of to those people referenced in his journal entry — Wesley wrote briefly about the place of experience, reason, and Scripture in the development of his theological ideas about Christian perfection:
If any doubt of this privilege of the sons of God, the question is not to be decided by abstract reasonings, which may be drawn out into an endless length, and leave the point just as it was before. Neither is it to be determined by the experience of this or that particular person. Many may suppose they do not commit sin, when they do; but this proves nothing either way. To the law and to the testimony we appeal. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” [Rom. 3:4] By his Word will we abide, and that alone. Hereby we ought to be judged. (emphasis added)
Experience is what we wait for and hope for after we have believed the Word of God. Neither it nor reason, however, tell us what we should await.
We may not have any desire to follow Wesley’s method and argument, but we do him a disservice if we claim by his name something he did not himself practice.
The ideas below are most commonly associated with John Wesley’s sermon “The More Excellent Way,” but these words come from a letter he wrote in 1770:
I have frequently observed that there are two very different ranks of Christians, both of whom may be in the favour of God, — a higher and a lower rank. The latter avoid all known sin, do much good, use all the means of grace, but have little of the life of God in their souls, and are much conformed to the world. The former make the Bible their whole rule, and their sole aim is the will and image of God. This they steadily and uniformly pursue, through honour and dishonour, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; considering one point only, “How may I attain most the mind that was in Christ, and how may I please him most?”
Do you see evidence of these two ranks of Christians? Should we — like Wesley — urge those of the lower rank to aspire to the higher, if such ranks exist?
Go read Kevin Watson’s passionate and deeply challenging post.
We are dying because what we are for is not enough. Our imagination and energy have drifted away from proclaiming the gospel with passion, energy, and conviction. When we encounter broken people, too often we are unsure if Jesus is enough.
Jesus is more than enough. And the truth is that he is all that we really have to offer. Thanks be to God, in Christ we are offered forgiveness of real sins, and freedom from sin’s pull on our lives. And as long as we are alive, we have the incredible opportunity to share this message of reconciliation and healing with the world.
Francis Chan said that if he had only one thing to tell people about, it would be to speak of the holiness of God — which he said almost no one really gets right.
One thing I admire about Chan in this video is the way he speaks what he feels is the necessary truth in a way that strikes me as loving and humble.
I notice as well, I’ve been linking to a lot of Calvinists recently. Where are the Wesleyan preachers talking and preaching in serious ways about holiness, sanctification, and other Wesleyan themes?
Fellow Hoosier United Methodist Adam Roe wrote an extensive and interesting comment on a recent post that featured John Piper and Tim Keller — two noted Calvinists — talking about sanctification.
The whole comment is here and worth reading. Here is part that I thought really hit home.
Our problem is that we do not allow the weight of Wesley’s theology to work itself out in our churches, so we create moralities that we perceive to be more easily accomplished and acceptable to our neighbors. Everyone likes a neighbor who participates in flood relief. Few people “like” a pastor who preaches strongly on the corruption of the human heart and the futility of good works as a means of self-justification. If we would just let our theology of the law play out, though, we would realize we don’t need moralisms because the law is a great equalizer. It accuses all of us all the time, and bids us to turn our attentions back to our sole hope and salvation…Jesus. When we are thusly humbled and rightly oriented, we are then prepared to truly serve our neighbors for Christ.