Saturday, February 04, 2006

Spiritual voice (25): from "Christian Perfection" by John Wesley

[John Wesley (1703-1791) was the son of an Anglican clergyman. While at Oxford, he and a group of friends banded together to encourage one another to live a holy life. Their methodical approach to holiness led others at the college to refer to them as “Methodists.” He once attended a prayer meeting at which the leader read Luther’s preface to the letter to the Galatians. It was then that he first understood that God love him---even him---and the Gospel became rooted in his heart. With his heart “strangely warmed,” he embarked on an unusual preaching ministry, especially to the common folk in the English countryside. His impact upon England was dramatic during his lifetime, and even more dramatic on America after his death as many Methodist preachers crisscrossed the frontier with his message. The following excerpts come from his famous work “Christian Perfection.” In that book, Wesley gives practical advice to those who want to move toward perfection, which for Wesley did not mean a state of sinlessness, but a desire to be fully in love with God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.]

The first advice I would give to those who have been saved from sin by grace is to watch and pray continually against pride. For it is pride not only to ascribe what we have to ourselves, but also to think we have what we do not. One man, for instance, ascribed his knowledge to God and was therefore humble. But then he thought he had more than everyone else which is dangerous pride.

We often think that we have no need of anyone else’s advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as the parts of a body so that we cannot say to another, “I have no need of you.”

Even to imagine that those who are not saved cannot teach you is a very great and serious mistake. Dominion is not found in grace. Not observing this has led some into many mistakes and certainly into pride. Beware even the appearance of pride! Let there be in you that lowly mind which was in Christ Jesus. Be clothed with humility. Let modesty appear in all your words and actions.

One way we do this is to own any fault we have. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong, do you refrain from acknowledging it. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God---in fact, it will further it. Be open and honest when you are rebuked and so not seek to evade it or disguise it. Rather, let it appear just as it is and you will thereby not hinder but adorn the gospel.

Also, beware of the daughter of pride: enthusiasm. By enthusiasm I mean the tendency to hastily ascribe everything to God, supposing dreams and voices and visions to be special revelations that God has given you. While they may be from God, they may also be from the devil. Therefore, “believe not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they be of God.” Test all things by the written word of God, and let all bow down before it.

You are in danger of enthusiasm every time you depart even a little from the Scriptures. We must never depart from the plain meaning of Scripture, and we must always take it in the context in which it was written. But keep in mind that we must not despise reason, knowledge, or human learning, every one of which is a gift of God and was given to serve a purpose.

One general inlet to enthusiasm is expecting the end without the means: expecting knowledge for instance without searching the Scriptures and consulting with the people of God, or expecting spiritual strength without constant prayer and steady watchfulness, or expecting God to bless you without hearing the word of God at every moment.

Another inlet to enthusiasm may be the very desire to “grow in grace.” For some people this will continually lead them to seek “new” grace and thereby lead us to seek something other than new degrees of loving God and our neighbor. Some will think they have come upon a new grace when they have discovered what it means to be “one with Christ” or to “die with Christ.” When we take a fresh teaching from the Scriptures to heart, we must not conclude that it is a new gift. We have all of these things when we are justified; all that remains is that we experience them in higher degrees.

We should always remember that love is the highest gift of God. All of our revelations and gifts are little things compared to love. There is nothing higher in religion. If you are looking for anything else, you are looking wide of the mark. Settle in your heart that from this moment on you will aim at nothing more than that love described in the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians. You can go no higher than this.

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