Tearing ’em to pieces

In a letter to a Methodist preacher in 1750, John Wesley cautioned Joseph Cownley against preaching nothing but God’s love and thereby neglecting the law. Here are Wesley’s words:

Let the Law always prepare for the Gospel. I scare ever spoke more earnestly here of the love of God in Christ than last night: But it was after I had been tearing the unawakened to pieces. Go thou and do likewise.

Remember, Wesley preached in many churches once, but far fewer twice.

It is true, the love of God in Christ alone feeds his children; but even they are to be guided as well as fed; yea, and often physicked too: And the bulk of our hearers must be purged before they are fed; else we only feed the disease. Beware of all honey. It is the best extreme; but it is an extreme.

I really wrestle with how to follow this advice of Wesley. It is hard to preach the law, especially in congregations where few people are bold and open sinners and most believe themselves to be good, earnest Christians. The specter of hypocrisy and legalism hovers over my shoulder whenever I try to do this. I never come close to tearing them to pieces.

Just last week, I was preaching on Matthew 10:24-39. It was not a Law text, really. It was about the apostles getting abused in word and body and about not being worthy of Jesus if they did not love Jesus more than family and did not take up there cross.

It was a tough sermon for me to preach. I was determined not to preach it in a way that rounded off the hard edges of that text, but I’m sure my distress over the text showed in the preaching — as well as not managing my week terribly well and not leaving myself enough time to work on it. Thank you lectionary for forcing me to attempt it.

Wesley writes in this letter — and elsewhere — that he too finds the preaching of Gospel pleasing. He suggests that he preached Law because it was necessary to the salvation of his hearers.

His insistence on these points stands as a challenge to me. Do I need more Law in my preaching? Am I tearing the unawakened to pieces?



8 thoughts on “Tearing ’em to pieces

  1. Hey John! This is where I think our Lutheran friends have some very helpful observations. If you ever get a chance, pick up a copy of C.F.W. Walther’s “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.” I think Wesley and Luther are pretty much on the same wavelength in matters of law and gospel, but Lutherans have done a much better job of making law/gospel a centerpiece of their theology.

    1. Thank you, Adam. Won’t it be cool when they finally invent the matrix and we can just download this stuff directly into our brains. Not sure I’ll find the time to read the book you suggest, but I’m sure it would be helpful to me to do so.

    2. You are right on the Lutherans and there are a few others to consider.

      Pope Frances, who made Times Cover, seems to know how to lead, follow the law and apply grace.

      Pope Frances excommunicated Greg Reynolds a priest from Australia. Reynolds supported full inclusion of homosexuals and women in the pulpit positions the RCC does not support.

      Pope Frances excommunicates the mafia.
      “Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated,” From outdoor mass in Calabria

      The Pope has also put measures in place to crack down on child abusers in the church and rightly compensate victims, denounce greed and excessive consumerism.

       Pope Francis spoke out against about legislation in Malta that would allow homosexual couples to adopt children Sunday times of Malta Dec. 29.

      German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was stripped of his bishopness for over spending.

      Grace extended by Pope Frances includes:

      Washing the feet of the disabled.
      He invited a boy with Down’s Syndrome for a ride in the Popemobile
      Pope Francis embraced Vinicio Riva a horribly disfigured man who most would shun.
      He called a rape victim he read about in the news to console her.
      The Pope, in person and dressed down, feeds the hungry.
      When Pope Frances saw a sign asking him to “Please stop”. Pope Frances halted his convoy and blessed a disabled woman.

      This Pope knows how to lead and understands law and grace running parallel to one another.
      And the people love him.

  2. The seminary cross…never getting to read what you want, when you want. Blessings to you, my friend! 🙂

  3. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip,or in love and with a gentle spirit? 1 Corintians 4:21

  4. When the law provides safe streets to walk at night we like the law.
    When the law is protecting our property and person we support the law.
    When we are provided restitution for a loss by law we love the law!
    It is only when the hand of the law is turned against our person that we hate the law.
    If everyone walked the Christian walk as described in scripture we would not need the law but that is not reality.
    The reality is we have to guard our person and property against the lawless.
    We have to guard our children to protect them from madmen.
    We have to lock our doors, our schools and churches against thieves.
    We have to oversee the elderly and handicapped so they are not abused and taken advantage of.
    We have to guard our money against unscrupulous persons.

    What the lawless do is exercise their right to do what ever they please to satisfy a need.
    What God demands is restraint on freedom for the better of mankind.

    Reading Moses appeal to the thousands that stood before him.
    This is how Moses taught the people.

    4 Then Moses said to the people, “Obey all the laws that I am teaching you, and you will live and occupy the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add anything to what I command you, and do not take anything away. Obey the commands of the Lord your God that I have given you. …..
    5 “I have taught you all the laws, as the Lord my God told me to do….

    6 Obey them faithfully, and this will show the people of other nations how wise you are. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, ‘What wisdom and understanding this great nation has!’
    7 “No other nation, no matter how great, has a god who is so near when they need him as the Lord our God is to us. He answers us whenever we call for help. 
    8 No other nation, no matter how great, has laws so just as those that I have taught you today. 

    9 Be on your guard! Make certain that you do not forget, as long as you live, what you have seen with your own eyes. Tell your children and your grandchildren 10 about the day you stood in the presence of the Lord your God at Mount Sinai
    when he said to me, ‘Assemble the people. I want them to hear what I have to say, so that they will learn to obey me as long as they live and so that they will teach their children to do the same.’ Deuteronomy 4 GNT

  5. Like Wesley…Paul’s Gospel had teeth. It bit hard into the kingdom of darkness and ripped chunks from it wherever it came. He didn’t make his message smooth and soft in order to suit the fancies of the religious majority. His Gospel was a sharp word that exalted Christ, lifted the cross up high, proclaimed total commitment to Christ the King, and utterly stripped man of all self-reliance, shattering self-righteousness, tearing down false religion, and leaving men stripped bare before God in utter dependence on His free grace alone to save them.

    Paul’s Gospel was indeed offensive, highly offensive….and likewise should yours be I would think. He boasted that his message contained “the offense of the cross” and would not dare to cause such offense to cease. To him, the fact that there was such an offense was proof that he was preaching the true Gospel. He knew that the true Gospel would stir up devils and provoke the wrath of wicked men, and thus at times cause offense. And he continued to preach this true Gospel to the very end, even though it was “foolishness to those who are perishing”, because he knew that it was the power of God to those who believed and embraced it, resulting in salvation (1 Cor. 1:21).

    In addition to demolishing Satanic strongholds and turning multitudes from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, the result of preaching this was angry mobs, getting stoned, being whipped and scourged, getting thrown into prison, being hated everywhere he went, and ultimately being beheaded in Rome.

    What your church needs…what we all need is for you to simply preach the full Gospel out of love for those who hear. To do any less would be a watered down Gospel….and what kind of devotion and love towards your hearers would that be?

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