O Lord our God, who by your Son Jesus Christ called your apostles and sent them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations: We bless your holy name for your servant Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose labors in propagating your Church among the English people we commemorate today; and we pray that all whom you call and send may do your will, and bide your time, and see your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, the Bible can have no other office or power, than to direct you to Christ. Both by the Bible and by experience we know, that his word and his Spirit act in connexion with each other. And thus it is, that by Christ continually teaching and strengthening him through Scripture, “the man of God is made perfect, and thoroughly furnished for every good word and work.”
—An Extract of a Letter to the Reverend Mr. Law, 9.505
Lest we think that Wesley’s Aldersgate experience took away any future doubts and fears on his part, check out this snippet from his Journal dated October 14, 1738, nearly five months after Aldersgate.
I cannot find in myself the love of God, or of Christ. I have not that joy in the Holy Ghost; no settled, lasting joy. Nor have I such a peace as excludes the possibility either of fear or doubt. When holy men have told me I had no faith I have often doubted whether I had or not.
Contrast this entry from yesterday’s entry about Aldersgate. This is one of the reasons I love Wesley. He was quite honest about his faith journey and here he reminds us that he too has to struggle with his fallen nature and body of sin. Reading this reminds me in good company when I am in the midst of my own struggles. How about you?
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me. Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.
—Galatians 1:18-2:8 (TNIV)
Here we see Paul continuing to build the case for his apostolic authority. In doing so, however, we do not want to miss the fact that Paul is once again building a case for the authority of the Gospel, albeit implicitly here. After all, why would he care about his apostolic authority if the Gospel he was sent to preach was a farce and a sham? What difference would it make? But we do not see any of that here. Instead we see a tacit acknowledgment that the Gospel of God is indeed Good News precisely because it is the Gospel of God.
And so we are faced with a choice. Do we put ourselves in authority over God’s word or do we submit to its authority? How we answer that question has huge ramifications for our lives, both now and after our mortal bodies die. If the Gospel is indeed from God, we have tremendous hope and Good News. We are not dead in our sins. Our mortal bodies will one day be raised and we will get to live an eternity in them. Without the Gospel, we have no hope. We are dead in our sins. No wonder Paul was so adamant about the Gospel and call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. It really was a matter of life and death!
Heavenly Father, who called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It is possible either to sustain and strengthen this burning of the spirit, or to quench it. It is warmed above all by acts of love toward God and our neighbor—this, indeed, is the essence of the spiritual life—by the general fidelity to all God’s commandments, with a quiet conscience, by deeds that are pitiless to our own soul and body, and by prayer and thoughts of God. The spirit is quenched by distraction of the attention from God and God’s works, by excessive anxiety about worldly matters, by indulgence in sensual pleasure, by pandering to carnal desires, and by infatuation with material things. If this spirit is quenched, then the Christ life will be quenched too.
—The Art of Prayer
The Holy Spirit adapts himself to each person. He sees the disposition of each. He sees into our reasoning and our conscience, what we say, what we think, what we believe.
—Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 14.22
The one gift, which is in Christ, is available to everyone in its entirety. What is present in every place is given insofar as we desire to become worthy of it. This gift is with us even to the consummation of the world. This is the consolation of our expectation. This, through the efficacy of the gifts, is the pledge of our future hope. This is the light of the mind, the splendor of the soul. For this reason we must pray for this Holy Spirit.
—Hilary of Poitiers, Trinity 2.35
Any truth spoken by anyone is spoken by the Holy Spirit.
—Ambrosiaster, The Holy Spirit, 1.11.124
The Spirit is in us all and he is the living water which the Lord supplies to those who rightly believe in him and love him.
—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.18.2
You receive not the ancient, but the Modern Mystics, as the best interpreters of Scripture. And in conformity to these, you mix much of man’s wisdom with the wisdom of God: You greatly refine the plain religion taught by the letter of the Holy Writ [the Bible], and philosophize on almost every part of it, to accommodate it to the Mystic theory.
The names and issues change, but here we see that Wesley could well be commenting on that sad spectacle of religious revisionism that is predominant in many of the Christian mainline churches in the West today, a revisionism that seeks to rewrite Scripture in its own image. The old preacher in Ecclesiastes was certainly correct in his assertion that there is nothing new under the sun.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God’s curse! Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any human source, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
—Galatians 1:6-11 (TNIV)
Here you have it. Here is the existential choice each of us must make, intentionally or not. Either the Gospel is what it claims it is or it is a farce and a sham. If it is the former, we have no right to change what is from God nor do we have any basis for trying to do so. If it is the latter, then let’s forget about it and eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will all be dead.
For me and my household, we choose to believe that the Gospel is what it claims to be. What about you and yours?