Introductory Note:

John Wesley (1703–1791) was one of nineteen children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. His father was an Anglican clergyman and his mother was devoted both to God and to her children. John attended Christ Church College at Oxford, was ordained an Anglican minister, and was made a Fellow of Lincoln College. While he was 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.”

Although Wesley grew up a deeply religious man, something was lacking in his heart. On May 24, 1738, he attended a prayer meeting at which the leader read Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. It was then, Wesley wrote, that he first understood that God loved him—even him—and the gospel became rooted in his heart. With his heart “strangely warmed,” Wesley embarked on an unusual preaching ministry, especially to the common folk in the English countryside.

Historians have said that by evangelizing the common people of eighteenth-century England, Wesley saved the country from a bloody revolution. 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.

—James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster

From Christian Perfection

1. The Danger of Pride 

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 not 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 do 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. 

2. The Danger of Enthusiasm 

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 to 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 opportunity. 

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 1 Corinthians. You can go no higher than this.

3. The Danger of Antinomianism, or Lawlessness 

Third, I caution you to beware of antinomianism, which is the belief that there is no need for laws in the life of the believer. That great truth that Christ is the end of the law” may betray us into this belief if we do not consider that Christ himself adopted every point of the moral law! Beware of thinking, Because I have the love of God I do not need holiness,” or Since I pray all the time I have no need for set times of private prayer,” or Because I am spiritual I have no need for self-examination.” 

Instead, let this be our thought: I prize thy commandments above gold or precious stones. O, what love I have found in your laws! All the day long I will study in it.” We must beware of self-indulgence, or of mocking self-denial, fasting, or abstinence. We cannot cry out, Only believe, believe!” and call others legalists” who are trying to live as Scripture teaches. We must remember that by works our faith is made perfect.” 

4. The Danger of Sins of Omission 

Sins of omission are avoiding to do good of any kind when we have the opportunity. We must beware of these sins and, instead, be zealous of good works. Do all the good you possibly can to the bodies and souls of your neighbors. Be active. Give no place to laziness. Be always busy, losing no shred of time. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. 

Also, be slow to speak. It is said, In a multitude of words sin abounds.” Try not to talk too much, or for a long period of time. Not many people can converse profitably beyond an hour’s time. Especially avoid pious chit-chat” or religious gossip. 

5. The Danger of Desiring Anything but God 

Also, beware of desiring anything other than God. Jesus said, If your eye remains single your whole body shall be full of light.” Do not allow the desire for tasteful food or any other pleasure of the senses, the desire of pleasing the eye or the imagination, the desire for money or praise or power, to rule you. While you have the ability to feel these desires, you are not compelled to feel them. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free! 

Be an example to all of denying yourself and taking up your cross daily. Let others see that you are not interested in any pleasure that does not bring you nearer to God, nor regard any pain which does. Let them see that you simply aim at pleasing God in everything. Let the language of your heart sing out with regard to pleasure or pain, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, All’s alike to me, so I in my Lord may live and die!”

6. The Danger of Schism 

Beware of schism, of making a tear in the Church of Christ. Ceasing to have a reciprocal love for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25), is inner disunity which is at the very root of all outward separation. Beware of everything which leads to this separation. Beware of a dividing spirit. 

Therefore, do not say, I am of Paul,” or I am of Apollos.” This is the very thing which caused the schism at Corinth. Do not say, This is my preacher, the best preacher in England. Give me him and you can have all the rest.” All this tends to breed division, to disunite those whom God has joined. 

Do not despise or run down any preacher. Do not exalt anyone above the rest lest you hurt both him and the cause of God. Do not bear hard upon any preacher because of some inconsistency or inaccuracy of expression; no, not even for some mistake, even if you are right. 

Do not even give a single thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Just because someone does not agree with everything you say does not mean that they are sinning. Nor is this or that opinion essential to the work of God. Be patient with those who disagree with you. Do not condemn those who do not see things just as you do, or who think it is their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or a small. 

O, beware of touchiness, of testiness, of an unwillingness to be corrected. Beware of being provoked to anger at the least criticism, and avoiding those who do not accept your word.

Excerpts taken from Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, Editors. HarperCollins, 1993.).

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

Text First Published June 2005 · Last Featured on September 2022