Overcoming darkness

A British newspaper’s review of the new (and last) Harry Potter movie sums up the movie’s message this way:

This is monumental cinema, awash with gorgeous tones, and carrying an ultimate message that will resonate with every viewer, young or old: there is darkness in all of us, but we can overcome it.

The young John Wesley would have endorsed this idea. We have darkness in us. We can overcome it. Indeed, he wrote as much in a 1730 sermon called “The Image of God.” This sermon is not in his standard sermons published online, but was collected by Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology.

In that sermon, Wesley preaches about knowledge and good works. He clearly thinks that earnest effort and diligent use of the means of grace will rectify the damage done by sin. In the words of the review, Wesley preached that we can overcome our darkness.

Wesley’s Aldersgate crisis was brought on by the depth of his conviction that his own labor would root out the sin and darkness in his soul. His frantic piety was driven by his desire to recreate his own heart.

For Wesley, these were times of great spiritual futility. After his new birth experience, he looked back at his earlier faith as no faith at all. He knew well the bitter failures of trying to overcome darkness by his own effort. He would write in later sermons that he had no more religion than a stone in those years.

It was only when he stopped trying to establish his own righteousness, when he stopped trying to overcome his darkness by his own light, that he found the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. When he put his trust and faith in Jesus Christ, he found the means to overthrow the power of sin in his life. The power he needed did not come from within himself.

Please don’t put me in the anti-Harry Potter crowd because of this post. I love the books and have enjoyed the movies. They are clearly indebted to Christian themes. But the reviewer’s comment reminded me of a common misconception that plagued John Wesley. It still plagues many of us today.