What one choice lies at the core of Methodism?

In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley traces his own thinking about holiness and spiritual life over the course of his ministry.

He writes that in 1725 he became convinced that our lives are lived in the light of a single choice. From moment to moment we either live as a sacrifice to God or we live as a sacrifice to the devil. There is no third option or middle ground or gray zone.

As I recall, Wesley elsewhere does acknowledge the existence of matters of indifference. God does not care, for instance, if you prefer grape or strawberry jelly on your toast.

But, in the end, Wesley insists, our lives are either turned toward God or away from God. He does not recognize the vast space we carve out under the name “my time.” For Wesley, time dedicated to our own inclinations is time given over to the devil.

Yes, there is a strongly pessimistic view of human nature at the very core of Wesleyan theology. John Wesley was no romantic.

When I ponder this, I sense in my self a resistance. I have lived my whole life in a culture that tells me to trust myself and lifts up as the authentic life not one lived as a sacrifice to God but one lived in harmony with my own inner impulses. The very first step, the first conviction, of Wesley’s theology is at odds with the animating spirit of the culture in which I have lived my whole life.

And so, I find myself forced to decide whether I share Wesley’s conviction. Is my life at this very moment being lived either in darkness or in light, with no room for any option between these two? Is doing my own thing the devil’s invitation?

The biblical place my mind goes to here is Revelation and the great judgment. I notice that there is only one choice: lake of fire or life.

I also recall one of my favorite verses, 1 John 5: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

It feels like an impossible standard. I despair over being able to reach it and understand why Wesley’s contemporaries accused him of making the standard of true Christianity to high for people to attain.

The great purity of intention and action held out as necessary seems unreachable because it is. Wesley would teach over and over that we can only have the kind of holiness he sought by the grace of God, which we must seek and expect.

And so I find myself with my Bible in my hand wanting the chance to talk with Rev. Wesley of 1725. Show me how this conviction came to take hold of your heart do firmly. I want to see whether my heart beats in a similar manner.


3 thoughts on “What one choice lies at the core of Methodism?

  1. Thanks John.

    I tend to think in terms of black and white, light and dark, the broad path or the narrow way. Yet I know I share in the human struggle with trying to find another way, sitting on the fence, or creating shades of gray.

    But when I add a third option, you only add to the confusion and conflict. When I sit on the fence, I get nowhere, I just get splinters. When I look for gray I enter the shadows or twilight, which is the hardest time of the day to see.

    Wesley did have a pessimistic view of human nature. Or did he have a pessimistic view of the sinful nature in humanity, in human beings? Is there a difference?

    I tend toward a more optimistic view of human nature, because I see human nature as the image of God in which He created us, and the sinful nature as the corruption of that image. So I guess I am optimistic about human nature as originally created, but more pessimistic about its present corrupted form.

    So with my view of holiness, I am pessimistic about the power of sin in our lives, but optimistic about the power and grace of God to make us holy, to sanctify us entirely.

    And to me, that leaves no room for third ways, middle grounds, sitting on fences, shades of gray, or shifting shadow.

    Indeed, God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. And if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

    Entire sanctification is the great choice at the heart of Methodism. May we faithfully preach, teach, and live it, making the most of the time because the days are evil.

  2. Modern Wesleyans often have a sanguinary view of human nature, contra Wesley. In 1725, Wesley was still a long way from his moment of (relative) consolation on May 24, 1738. He remained beset with concern for his soul and fear for others. We need more (healthy) fear.

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