Here are two fascinating quotes from one of John Wesley’s later sermons called “On Living Without God.”
I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart, rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of the Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. “Without holines,” I own, “no man shall see the Lord;” but I dare not add, “or clear ideas.”
And this about those who are outside “the Christian dispensation”:
I have no authority from the word of God “to judge those that are without;” nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to Him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.
I remember the first time I read Romans 14 seriously and closely. I wondered why we Christians did not take that chapter more seriously. And here is John Wesley – although he does not quote Romans 14 – doing just that.
It appears that – like Jesus – Wesley was much more interested in getting the people who profess love of God to live up to their own faith than he was in condemning and castigating those who do not know themselves to be children of God.
Indeed, the entire sermon is about Christians who are practical atheists. It is an appeal to them to open their spiritual senses to the world invisible. Rather than argue over flying spaghetti monsters, he sees the work to be in building up genuine faith within the household of God. As has been pointed out so many times, early Methodism was a renewal movement much more than it was an apologetic or even evangelistic one.
It is true that times have changed and our world is not Wesley’s. But I wonder if the more fruitful work for us is not with those “without” but in stoking up the fires of the Holy Spirit among those who bear the name of Christ. Perhaps the best evangelism would be to show the world what being Christians really looked like.