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

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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