Five Keys to Wesley's Success
Rev. Steve Stanley
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2014. Volume 32.
Date Posted May. 28, 2013
The dictum and directive of early Methodism and of John Wesley, was to "spread scriptural holiness throughout the land." In the "Large Minutes" of 1763, Wesley summarized the objective and methodology by which scriptural holiness would thus spread. The objective was "to reform the nation, particularly the church." He envisioned that the preaching of holiness would achieve results beyond those in the individual's life, results that would revive an apathetic church and rectify issues of iniquity and injustice in the nation. He called on his preachers to bear in mind that their business was "to save souls." Not preaching, or entertaining, or building of buildings except as these tended toward the salvation of souls. A holy and transformed heart would bear the Heavenly Father's concern for the bodies and souls of one's neighbors. Thus, Methodism nearly from its inception addressed both the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Believing that the Kingdom of God is a present reality, Wesley sought to make practical present application of the teachings of Scripture and to urge his followers to do the same. Thus, among the earliest pronouncements of the "Christian Duties" of a Methodist were instructions for doing good "to the bodies" and "to the souls" "to all men."
The modern reader will now ask, "But what of his method?" Ours is an age of standardization and assembly lines. We long to seize upon a plan and replicate it. Wesley's era was less so. His was an age of craftsmen and apprentices, each one of whom - working within the parameters of their calling - would be distinguished in some measure by the distinctive ways in which they executed their craft. Therefore, Wesley, convicted that the Word of God and of Christ, Our Savior enjoin us to go into the world and make disciples of the nations, concluded that the task would dictate the methodology. Only in this conviction would this straight-laced son of the Anglican Church be persuaded by friend George Whitefield to the extent that he "consented to become more vile" and largely abandon the church buildings to preach Christ's glorious Good News in the fields and streets of the country. Scriptural holiness must be spread. If the people would not attend the churches, or if Christ's messengers were prohibited from preaching in the churches, then they would have to carry the message out into "the highways and byways" until all heard.
It was so in the matter of social work, too. The strictly-observed Christian Sabbath became a time of both worship and training through Wesley's early adoption of (what was then a novelty) the Sunday Schools begun by Robert Raikes. Wesley wrote, "I verily think these Sunday Schools are one of the noblest specimens of charity which have been set on foot in England since William the Conqueror." The schools taught the Scriptures along with "reading, writing, and arithmetic." They enforced morality and good manners, fed nutritious meals to the children, and rewarded progress in tangible ways. They taught trade skills right alongside the catechism. Wesley's method was rooted in real-world experience. He did not merely pray "thy Kingdom come," he employed the most necessary and beneficial methods to achieve that worthy goal.
Thus, in the Methodist societies, spiritual conferencing (gathering in small groups for spiritual examination and accountability) was joined with care of the poor, the needy, the aged, and the sick. Taking Jesus' own example, Wesley adapted his methods to the immediate situation never forgetting that the methods must be such as bring glory to God and comport to the teachings of His Word. Keeping God's Word and will as the irreplaceable foundation of their work, Wesley and the Methodists were unafraid to innovate and adapt to accomplish the mission of saving the lost and reforming the nation. The world was not only their parish, it became a laboratory for discovering the most fruitful means of delivering the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of holistic ministry, as well.
Wesley faced enormous opposition from people who cared more about preserving old but unproductive methods of evangelizing than about the effectiveness of the work. He was lampooned in the British press, the British stage, and British pulpits. He was held up as an object of scorn and dismissed as but one part of a fleeting religious fad. But he proved more durable than his accusers and lived to be exonerated by the fruit of thousands of converts. Not every plan of his succeeded. Not every method proved useful. Yet, his greatest genius was in living by the bedrock conviction that the Book of God was a trustworthy chart and the Holy Spirit an infallible Guide. With these the path unfolded before him as he walked in their light.
Thus, Wesley advised,
Beware, lastly, of imagining you shall obtain the end without using the means conducive to it. God can give the end without any means at all; but you have no reason to think he will. Therefore constantly and carefully use all those means which He has appointed to be the ordinary channels of His grace. Use every means which either reason or Scripture recommends, as conducive (through the free love of God in Christ) either to the obtaining or increasing any of the gifts of God. Thus expect a daily growth in that pure and holy religion which the world always did, and always will, call enthusiasm; but which to all who are saved from real enthusiasm - from merely nominal Christianity - is the wisdom of God, and the power of God, the glorious image of the Most High, righteousness and peace, a "fountain of living water, springing up into everlasting life!"(see footnote reference below)
"The Nature of Enthusiasm," Sermon #44, and 39.