What would happen if we started following Jesus seriously, if we let nothing in the way of loving God with all our heart and soul and strength? What would happen if all our passion and energy were mustered for the Kingdom of God, and we lived our life merely devoted to Him? A look at the life of John Wesley might encourage us in this regard.
In Aldersgate, north London, there once was a little Moravian chapel. There, on the 24th of May, 1738, a weary Anglican priest and failed missionary to America named John Wesley heard the gospel. His life was transformed, and this transformation would bear fruit in millions around the world.
Here in my country, almost every little town, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, has a Methodist church or chapel – there are nearly four times as many as any other denomination, which speaks to their zeal for the gospel and evangelism much like that of the Moravians.
Wesley had a vision for renewing the larger body of Christ especially in the context of spiritual apathy, nominal faith and widespread immorality. It was never about starting his “own” denomination or a tradition, but simply about reaching people wherever they were and getting them to be committed to Christ in all aspects of life. This is something valuable today as many churches and networks already exist – how then do we bless and exhort our fellow Christians? Not by converting people to our particular denominational umbrella, but simply edifying the body of Christ as a whole, encouraging and strengthening what remains. Avoiding labels, insularism and antagonism towards “other” groups, we should aim put Jesus at the center and draw near to those who do, that we may build His Kingdom together.
“What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength.” God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!”
(Wesley, 1742 – Source)
If there is one marker of what Christians should be as a people of God, it should be love, passionate love. John Wesley called this being a “methodist”, a name ironically adopted from the slurs of their critics. Some called it being an “enthusiast”. A modern person might say “on fire for God”. We could call it “mere devotion” to Christ. These are all essentially the same thing.
These are the principles and practices of our sect; these are the marks of a true Methodist… If any man say, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity,–the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. And whosoever is what I preach, (let him be called what he will, for names change not the nature of things,) he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.
By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labor to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world, from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after what they know they have not yet attained. No: “Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
(Wesley, 1742 – Source)
Interestingly, early “Methodists” believed that community was the best context for discipleship. They thus organized “class meetings” or small groups in which men and women practiced accountability, prayed, exhorted one another and studied the Scriptures together. This grew from Wesley’s own experiences growing with a band of friends committed to spiritual discipline in his days as an Oxford student. They were pejoratively nicknamed the “Holy Club”.
However, there was a difference between Wesley’s “Holy Club” of his youth and his life after that Aldersgate transformation. In all his seeking, fasting, study of Scripture and tireless volunteering for various charitable causes before, he had not yet experienced transformation in his own life. This changed at Aldersgate.
“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (Wesley, 1738)
Afterwards, however, Wesley did not forsake any of the things he did before. He still preached the gospel tirelessly and spent his life building God’s kingdom. Here are some quotes from Wesley about various aspects of “mere devotion” and “Kingdom Christianity” that you might find encouraging, organized by theme.
Preaching the Gospel
- You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work… Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord. (Source)
- Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth. (Source)
- For indeed he “prays without ceasing.” It is given him “always to pray, and not to faint.” (Source)
- But his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places. In this he is never hindered, muchless interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and everywhere “seeing Him that is invisible.” (Source)
Loving One Another
And while he thus always exercises his love to God, by praying without ceasing, rejoicing evermore, and in everything giving thanks, this commandment is written in his heart, “That he who loveth God, love his brother also.” And he accordingly loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind, to every child of “the Father of the spirits of all flesh.” That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love; no, nor that he is known to be such as he approves not, that he repays hatred for his good-will. (Source)
For he “loves his enemies;” yea, and the enemies of God, “the evil and the unthankful.” And if it be not in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” yet he ceases not to pray for them, though they continue to spurn his love, and still “despitefully use him and persecute him.” (Source)
He cannot “speak evil” of his neighbour, any more than he can lie either for God or man. He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot speak “idle words;” “no corrupt communication” ever “comes out of his mouth,” as is all that “which is” not “good to the use of edifying,” not “fit to minister grace to the hearers.” But “whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things areas justly “of good report,” he thinks, and speaks, and acts, “adorning the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in all things.” (Source)
For he is “pure in heart.” The love of God has purified his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. It hath cleansed him from pride and haughtiness of spirit, whereof alone cometh contention. And he hath now “put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering:” so that he “forebears and forgives, if he had a quarrel against any; even as God in Christ hath forgiven him.” And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is utterly cut off. For none can take from him what he desires; seeing he “loves not the world, nor” any of “the things of the world ;” being now “crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him;” being dead to all that is in the world, both to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” For “all his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name.” (Source)
Agreeable to this his one desire, is the one design of his life, namely, “not to do his own will, but the will of Him that sent him.” His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He has a single eye. And because “his eye is single, his whole body is full of light.” Indeed, where the loving eye of the soul is continually fixed upon God, there can be no darkness at all, “but the whole is light; as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten the house.” God then reigns alone. All that is in the soul is holiness to the Lord. There is not a motion in his heart, but is according to his will. Every thought that arises points to Him, and is in obedience to the law of Christ. (Source)
“Unto the place from whence all the rivers came thither let them flow again. Other sacrifices from us he would not; but the living sacrifice of the heart he hath chosen. Let it be continual offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love. And let no creature be suffered to share with him: For he is a jealous God. His throne will he not divide with another: He will reign without a rival. Be no design, no desire admitted there, but what has Him for its ultimate object. This is the way where in those children of God once walked, who, being dead, still speak to us:” Desire not to live, but to praise his name: Let all your thoughts, words, and works, tend to his glory. Set your heart firm on him, and on other things only as they are in and from him. Let your soul be filled with so entire a love of him, that you may love nothing but for his sake.” “Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to his glory in all your actions.” “Fix your eye upon the blessed hope of your calling, and make all the things of the world minister unto it.” For then, and not till then is that “mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus;” when, in every motion of our heart, in every word of our tongue, in every work of our hands, we “pursue nothing but in relation to him, and in subordination to his pleasure;” when we, too, neither think, nor speak, nor act, to fulfil our “own will, but the will of him that sent us;” when, whether we;’ eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.” (Source)
And the tree is known by its fruits. For as he loves God, so he keeps his commandments; not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to “keep the whole law, and offend in one point;” but has, in all points, “a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man.” Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath enjoined, he doeth; and that whether it be little or great, hard or easy, joyous or grievous to the flesh. He “runs the way of God’s commandments,” now he hath set his heart at liberty. It is his glory so to do; it is his daily crown of rejoicing, “to do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven;” knowing it is the highest privilege of “the angels of God, of those that excel in strength, to fulfill his commandments, and hearken to the voice of his word.” (Source)
All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might. For his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength. He continually presents his soul and body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, and all he is, to his glory. All the talents he has received, he constantly employs according to his Master’s will; every power and faculty of his soul, every member of his body. Once he “yielded” them “unto sin” and the devil, “as instruments of unrighteousness;” but now, “being alive from the dead, he yields” them all “as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Source)
By consequence, whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God. In all his employments of every kind, he not only aims at this, (which is implied in having a single eye,) but actually attains it. His business and refreshments, as well as his prayers, all serve this great end. Whether he sit in his house or walk by the way, whether he lie down or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life; whether he put on his apparel, or labour, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labour, it all tends to advance the glory of God, by peace and good-will among men. His one invariable rule is this, “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Source)
- Nor do the customs of the world at all hinder his “running the race that is set before him.” He knows that vice does not lose its nature, though it becomes ever so fashionable: and remembers, that “every man is to give an account of himself to God.” He cannot, therefore, “follow” even “a multitude to do evil.” (Source)
- He cannot “fare sumptuously every day,” or “make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Source)
- He cannot “lay up treasures upon earth,” any more than he can take fire into his bosom. (Source)
- He cannot “adorn himself,” on any pretense, “with gold or costly apparel.” (Source)
Caring for the Poor
This is the way to understand the things of God; Meditate thereon day and night; So shall you attain the best knowledge; even to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. And this knowledge will lead you, to love Him, because he hath first loved us: yea, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Will there not then be all that mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus? And in consequence of this, while you joyfully experience all the holy tempers described in this book, you will likewise be outwardly holy as He that hath called you is holy, in all manner of conversation. (Source)
If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable, to set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose? At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: is you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one? To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it? In order to know his will, you should. (Source)
Learning from the Early Church
The Scriptures are a complete rule of faith and practice; and they are clear in all necessary points. And yet their clearness does not prove that they need not be explained, nor their completeness that they need not be enforced. The esteeming of the writings of the first three centuries, not equally with, but next to, the Scriptures, never carried any more yet into dangerous errors, nor probably ever will. But it has brought many out of dangerous errors… I exceedingly reverence them, (Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyprian, Macarius and Ephraim Syrus,) as well as their writings, and esteem them very highly in love. (Source)
And herein it is more especially my desire, first, to guard those who are just setting their faces toward heaven (and who, having little acquaintance with the things of God, are the more liable to be turned out of the way), from formality, from mere outside religion, which has almost driven heart-religion out of the world; and, secondly, so warn those who know the religion of the heart, the faith which worketh by love, lest at any time they make void the law through faith, and so fall back into the snare of the devil. (Source)
Looking across the writings of John Wesley, you see a passion for exhorting fellow Christians to follow “earnestly” after God. His exhortations were drawn, as best he could, from Scriptures themselves, and woven together in practice. He points us back to Christ as a guide and emphasizes the importance of “heart-religion”, a personal relationship. Faith and belief necessitated love and obedience. Perhaps this aspect of Wesley’s life and legacy can inspire us.