John Wesley Muses on Christian Perfection

Removing soon after to another College, I executed a resolution which I was before convinced was of the utmost importance, —shaking off at once all my trifling acquaintance, I began to see more and more the value of time. I applied myself closer to study. I watched more carefully against actual sins: I advised others to be religious, according to that scheme of religion by which I modeled my own life. But meeting now with Mr. Law’s “Christian Perfection” and “Serious Call,” although I was offended at many parts of both, yet they convinced me more than ever of the exceeding height and breadth and depth of the law of God. The light flowed in so mightily upon my soul, that every thing appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help, and resolved not to prolong the time of obeying Him as I had never done before. And by my continued endeavour to keep His whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I was persuaded that I should be accepted of Him, and that I was even then in a state of salvation.

Journal, 1.99

I am struck by where the focus is here in Wesley’s writing. It seems to be on him. What are your impressions?

Doing Our Part

But he who raised Christ up from the dead will raise us up also if we do his will and walk in his commandments and love what he loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in his teaching.

—Polycarp, The Epistle to the Philippians 2.

The Futility of Self-Help

That we may have to strive after goodness with an effort of our will is one of the lies invented by the mediocre part of ourselves in its fear of being destroyed. Such an effort does not threaten it in any way, it does not even disturb its comfort not even when it entails a great deal of fatigue and suffering. For the mediocre part of ourselves is not afraid of fatigue and suffering; it is afraid of being killed. There are people who try to raise their souls like a man continually taking standing jumps in the hopes that, if he jumps higher every day, a time may come when he will no longer fall back but will go right up to the sky. Thus occupied he cannot look at the sky. We cannot take a single step toward heaven. It is not in our power to travel in a vertical direction. If however we look heavenward for a long time, God comes and takes us up. He raises us easily.

—Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Notable and Quotable

The reason we believe that Jesus Christ is coming back is that he said so. Some people maintain that he expected his parousia (‘coming’) to take place within the lifetime of his contemporaries, and that he was mistaken. But since he confessed that he did not himself know the date of his return, it is extremely unlikely that he would have taught when it would take place. What he surely intended by his urgent predictions was to persuade his followers to ‘watch’, because they did not know when the time would come. As we look forward to the parousia, we should neither ‘demythologize’ it (denying that it will be an event of history) nor ’embroider’ it (decorating it with our own speculative fancies). Instead, if we are wise and humble, we will acknowledge that much remains mysterious, and we will be careful not to go beyond the plain teaching of Scripture. While refusing to dogmatize over details, we can then affirm at least that the Lord’s coming will be personal (‘this same Jesus’, ‘the Lord himself’ — Acts 1:11; 1 Thes. 4:16), visible (‘every eye will see him’ — Rev. 1:7), universal and undisputed (‘like the lightning’ — Lk. 17:24), and glorious (in ‘the majesty of his power’ — 2 Thes. 1:9).  ‘He will come again in glory’, says the Nicene Creed; his second coming will be as spectacular has his first was lowly and obscure.

—Dr. John R.W. Stott

A Lenten Prayer

Almighty God, who sees that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us, both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Carlo Carretto Cuts to the Chase

We are not happy because we are unforgiving, and we are unforgiving because we feel superior to others. Mercy is the fruit of the highest degree of love, because love creates equals, and a greater love makes us inferior. First let us establish three premises: Those who do not love feel superior to everyone else. Those who love feel equal to everyone else. Those who love much gladly take the lower place. Each one of us can identify his position somewhere along this spectrum, which comprises the three degrees of the spiritual life here on earth: Death for those who do not love. Life for those who love. Holiness for those who love much. The beatitude of the merciful relates, like all the beatitudes, to the realm of holiness and we have to admit that Jesus set his sights high when he had the courage and confidence to place this lofty ideal before us. It is the beatitude that he himself lived to the full, stooping, out of love, to the lowest place, even to the extent of being rejected as a common criminal, fit only to be hung on a gibbet.

In Search of the Beyond

From the Methodist Hymnal

O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done!

O love divine, what hast thou done!
Th’ incarnate God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree!
The Son of God for me hath died.
My Lord, my Love, is crucified:

Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels near to God;
Believe, believe the record true,
Ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood;
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified.

Behold him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Savior die,
And say, was ever grief like his?
Come, feel with me his blood applied:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified. Amen.

—Charles Wesley

John Wesley on the Effects of Christian Perfection

Monday, 30, and the two following days, I examined the society at Bristol, and was surprised to find fifty members fewer than I left in it last October. One reason is, Christian Perfection has been little insisted on; and wherever this is not done, be the Preachers ever so eloquent, there is little increase, either in the number or the grace of the hearers.

Journal, 3. 237

I find Wesley’s observation here fascinating. Did you catch it? He thinks the key to church growth is Christian perfection. What do you think? What are the implications to Wesley’s thinking?

John Wesley on Christian Perfection (2)

What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighhour as thyself:” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets:” These contain the whole of Christian perfection.

Sermon 76, On Perfection, 6. 413

From the Morning Scriptures

Well, kind of. 🙂

For some reason the Lectionary excluded these passages but I want to comment on them anyway because they tell a good story of how we are meant to live life and how God equips us to do so if we will let him.

Now when the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, “I am the LORD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.

—Exodus 6:28-7:6 (TNIV)

Here we see another example of human intransigence, and from Moses no less! Once again Moses complains to God that he is not equipped to fulfill God’s call to him. He reminds God that he is not a good speaker, something that he considers to be a bit of a problem considering that God wants him to speak to pharaoh on his behalf and on behalf of God’s people.

But did you notice God’s gracious response to Moses’ complaint? God does not get angry that Moses is balking at his commands yet again. Instead, God reminds Moses that he will equip him with everything he needs to accomplish his work. Moses will be “like God to Pharaoh.” In other words, God will equip Moses and Aaron with everything they need to speak to pharaoh on God’s behalf.

Do you resist God’s call to you? Are you reluctant to accept God’s gracious promise to be with you to help you accomplish his will for you and others through you? Do you think you have a better plan than God’s? Do you trust God enough to count and rely on his help and his Presence? Moses and Aaron ultimately obeyed God, despite Moses’ repeated reservations and protestations, and as Jesus reminded us, obedience is ultimately the name of the game.

As you observe a holy Lent (or even if you are not trying to do so), do you go through life relying on the Power of God to see you through life or are you choosing to be a rugged individualist and see things through on your own? If you are pursuing the latter course, how’s that working for you?

John Wesley on Christian Perfection (1)

A year or two after, Mr. Law’s “Christian Perfection” and “Serious Call” were put into my hands. These convinced me, more than ever, of the absolute impossibility of being half a Christian; and I determined, through his grace, (the absolute necessity of which I was deeply sensible of,) to be all devoted to God, to give him all my soul, my body, and my substance.

A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 11. 367

Do you agree with Wesley that there is no such thing as being “half a Christian”? That we are Christians based solely on the grace and mercy of God? Is it possible for us to give God all our soul, body, and substance? Tell us about your experience with this.