Enjoyment of God

William Law’s book “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” is a convicting work that is certainly worthy of its status as a classic in Christian literature.  In chapter 14 of that work he writes (emphasis mine):

I take it for granted, that every Christian, that is in health, is up early in the morning; for it is much more reasonable to suppose a person up early, because he is a Christian, than because he is a labourer, or a tradesman, or a servant, or has business that wants him.

We naturally conceive some abhorrence of a man that is in bed, when he should be at his labour, or in his shop. We cannot tell how to think anything good of him, who is such a slave to drowsiness, as to neglect his business for it.

Let this therefore teach us to conceive, how odious we must appear in the sight of heaven, if we are in bed, shut up in sleep and darkness, when we should be praising God; and are such slaves to drowsiness, as to neglect our devotions for it.

For if he is to be blamed as a slothful drone, that rather chooses the lazy indulgence of sleep, than to perform his proper share of worldly business; how much more is he to be reproached, that had rather lie folded up in a bed, than be raising up his heart to God in acts of praise and adoration?

Prayer is the nearest approach to God, and the highest enjoyment of him, that we are capable of in this life.

It is the noblest exercise of the soul, the most exalted use of our best faculties, and the highest imitation of the blessed inhabitants of heaven.

When our hearts are full of God, sending up holy desires to the throne of grace, we are then in our highest state, we are upon the utmost heights of human greatness; we are not before kings and princes, but in the presence and audience of the Lord of all the world, and can be no higher, till death is swallowed up in glory.

On the other hand, sleep is the poorest, dullest refreshment of the body, that is so far from being intended as an enjoyment, that we are forced to receive it either in a state of insensibility, or in the folly of dreams.

Sleep is such a dull, stupid state of existence, that even amongst mere animals, we despise those most, which are most drowsy.

He therefore that chooses, to enlarge the slothful indulgence of sleep, rather than be early at his devotions to God, chooses the dullest refreshment of the body, before the highest, noblest employment of the soul; he chooses that state, which is a reproach to mere animals, rather than that exercise, which is the glory of Angels.

You will perhaps say, though you rise late, yet you are always careful of your devotions when you are up.

It may be so. But what then? Is it well done of you to rise late, because you pray when you are up? Is it pardonable to waste great part of the day in bed, because some time after you say your prayers?

It is as much your duty to rise to pray, as to pray when you are risen. And if you are late at your prayers, you offer to God the prayers of an idle, slothful worshipper, that rises to prayers, as idle servants rise to their labour.

Ascension Day

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.  (Acts 1:6-12, ESV)

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(Image created by Gustave Dore)

Joy in Christ

“Let everything you do be done for God, both deeds and words; and refer all that is yours to Christ; and constantly turn your soul to God; and lean your thought on the power of Christ, as if in some harbour by the divine light of the Saviour it were resting from all talk and action.

And often by day communicate your thoughts to men, but most of all to God at night as well as by day; for let not much sleep prevail to keep you from your prayers and hymns to God, since long sleep is a rival of death.  Show yourself always a partner of Christ who makes the divine ray shine from heaven; let Christ be to you continual and unceasing joy.”
(Clement of Alexandria)

John Wesley

The Life and Teachings of John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley is recognized as the founder of Methodism.  The term “Wesleyan” is still seen today in the names of churches, colleges, and theological concepts; it reflects the legacy established by this eighteenth-century preacher.

In 1703 John Wesley was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England to Samuel and Susanna Wesley.  His father was a rector in the Anglican Church.  The young Wesley was educated at the Charterhouse in London, as well as Christ Church at Oxford, where he received his B.A. in 1724 and his M.A. in 1727.  After graduation he joined his father at the parish in Wroot and was ordained to the ministry the following year.  During his time at Oxford, Wesley was a serious student, with a keen interest in both logic and religion.  However, it was not until 1725 that his “religious” conversion took place.  That was a critical point in the young man’s life, as he was prompted to consider what direction he would go with his life.  Through a number of important influences, including the encouragement of his mother and his reading of Thomas à Kempis, he decided that religion would be his life’s business.

Wesley’s decision to make religion his life business led to his ordination as a deacon in 1725 and then to joining his father in church work at Wroot.  He was his father’s curate (a rector’s assistant) from 1727 to 1729, after which he returned to Oxford.  At Oxford he took over the leadership of the “Holy Club,” a small group of students that had been organized by his brother Charles.  That organization would later come to be called “Methodist,” picking up that name from their methodical approach to Bible study.  They were also known for their strict self-denial, which included acts of charity.  It was during that time at Oxford that both of the Wesley brothers came to be influenced by William Law, an English mystic.  Wesley observed that at this point in his life he did not understand justification by faith, which led to his seeking justification through his own righteous works.  It was also during this time that Wesley developed his views on Christian perfection, which later became recognized as a hallmark of the Methodist movement.

In 1735 Wesley left Oxford and traveled to Georgia as a missionary.  His experience there was disastrous.  Like his father, Wesley was a member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.  The Society invited Wesley to be a volunteer missionary to Georgia, a colony that had been recently founded by his father’s friend Colonel James Oglethorpe.  He became a parish priest in Savannah, an office in which he served with some success.  However, he also became enthralled with Sophey Hopkey, the niece of Georgia’s chief magistrate, Thomas Causton.  His failed courtship of Sophey caused him to become critical of both Causton and Oglethorpe, and he believed them to be guilty of mismanagement.  Causton brought together a grand jury that indicted Wesley on trumped-up charges, which indictment prompted him to leave Georgia in 1737.  He had, however, helped to strengthen the congregation in Savannah.  Therefore, his experience in Georgia was not entirely a failure despite his somewhat dishonorable departure.

After returning to England, Wesley experienced an evangelical conversion at a society meeting in London on May 24, 1738.  That experience changed his life.  He became convinced that the activities of the Methodist society could be empowered by grace and the Holy Spirit, working through faith in Jesus Christ.  A revival started less than a year after Wesley’s conversion and continued until his death in 1791.  That revival began his fifty-two year itinerant preaching ministry.  During that ministry, Wesley preached over 40,000 sermons while averaging 4,000 miles of travel each year.  However, Wesley can be distinguished from other evangelists in that he did more than just preach.  A unique feature of his ministry was the formation of societies to assist in the strengthening of the people who were awakened and converted during the revival.  Those societies moved across the Atlantic in the 1760s.  The Methodist Societies remained essentially a lay movement.  However, in both America and England the societies were largely influenced by the style and discipline of Wesley himself.

The Methodist movement continued to grow in America, particularly under the leadership of Francis Asbury, who had been appointed by Wesley to serve in America.  The American Methodists wrote to Wesley in 1784 and asked for assistance due to their numerical growth.  Wesley’s response was the ordination of a number of men who would establish an independent Methodist Church in America.  Those men had Wesley’s authority to ordain itinerants.  The itinerants had the authority to preach, but not to serve the sacraments, not even to the many Methodists who did not have access to the sacraments.  The birth of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America can be traced to the Christmas Conference of 1784.

At the Christmas Conference Wesley appointed men to lead the American Methodist movement in America.  It was also at that conference that a number of other church-related documents known as Wesley’s “General Plan” were approved.  Included in those approved documents, which were used as the doctrinal basis of British Methodism, were Wesley’s Standard Sermons and Notes on the New Testament, as well as his abridged versions of the Articles of Religion.  Most modern Wesleyan traditions still retain at least a trace of the “General Plan.”  In the aftermath of the Christmas Conference Wesley’s direct church authority began to decline.  His theological and spiritual legacy could still be seen in Methodism, but the American Methodists began to reject his direct involvement in their affairs.  Wesley was still loved by the American Methodists, but he was losing his ability to have a direct role in the church in America.  Throughout the years, Wesley’s influence has still been apparent in Methodism.  Some of the specific emphases that Wesley passed on include social justice, pietistic holiness, evangelism, and discipline.

In his theology Wesley emphasized justification by faith alone.  Another emphasis of his was the pursuit of holiness, with the goal of that holiness being what he called “Christian perfection” (the belief that it is possible for the Christian to not sin).  He believed strongly in the supernatural, while also appealing to Scripture, reason, and the church fathers to support his intellectual claims.  Later in his life he also increasingly appealed to experience to support his arguments.  Wesley valued liturgical prayer, Eucharistic devotion, and extemporaneous worship.  The personal characteristics that made him an effective leader include his magnetism, his organizational abilities, and his capacity for self-discipline.  Another interesting characteristic of Wesley is his emphasis on charitable giving.  He had a distrust of the rich and was aware of the (often negative) effects that wealth can have on the spiritual life.  In his mind, the only legitimate reason to pursue money was for the sake of being able to give to those in need.

There are many movements and denominations that trace their roots back to Wesley and could therefore be characterized as being in the Wesleyan tradition.  The legacy of Wesley can be seen primarily in the various Methodist denominations, although traces of his legacy can also be seen in other groups, including the Holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, and the Church of the Nazarene.  The Wesleyan tradition has historically been Arminian, as was Wesley himself.  Free will was an important aspect of Wesley’s theology, and is an aspect that separates Wesleyans from Calvinists.  However, the primary distinction between Wesleyans and Calvinists can be seen in sanctification.  Wesley’s issue with Calvinism stemmed from his belief that justification should lead to sanctification, and that faith should lead to works.  The theology of Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition could be summarized as using justification by faith as the “gateway” to holiness or sanctification.

Baptismal Confession of Faith

The baptism of believers upon their confession of faith is a significant component of Anabaptist theology.  This is an example of the confession of faith that should accompany baptism.  

I believe in one true, eternal, and almighty God, who is the Creator and Preserver of all visible and invisible things.

I believe in Jesus Christ, as the only begotten Son of God, that He is the only Savior of mankind, that He died upon the cross, and gave Himself as a ransom for my sins, that through Him I might have eternal life.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son; that He is an abiding Comforter, sanctifies the hearts of men, and guides them into all truth.

I am truly sorry for my past sins, and willingly renounce Satan, the world, and all works of darkness and my own carnal will and sinful desires.

I promise by the grace of God and the aid of the Holy Spirit to submit myself to Christ and His Word, and to faithfully abide in the same until death.