The mark of a Methodist

After rehearsing the things that do not mark a Methodist, John Wesley in his “The Character of a Methodist” comes at last to tell us what it is that marks a person as a Methodist:

“What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” (Rom. 5:5) one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!” (Ps. 73:25, 26b)

It is important to read these scriptural quotes in order. From the first, we see that being a Methodist (which in Wesley-speak is just another word for Christian) is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that overflows our hearts. Only subsequently can we speak of loving God with all our heart and crying out in joy to God.

This is where Methodists who follow Wesley get so quickly misunderstood by folks who understand Christianity more in terms of intellectual or willful assent to certain doctrines. Wesley taught and preached that Christianity was more akin to a blind person developing the ability to see. We are born blind to God and dead to the life of the Spirit. We receive faith in Jesus Christ as a gift. We do not decide to believe in him.

The problem — as Wesley saw it — was that most Christians thought they were Christians even though they had never had an experience of the Holy Spirit or the gift of faith in the pardoning love of Jesus Christ.

This Holy Spirit filled faith of Wesley’s was a precursor to 19th century holiness movements and 20th century Pentecostalism. Wesley set up disciplines for the early Methodists that acted like canals and dams to channel the wild flow of the Holy Spirit, but the power was always there and it worked mightily.


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