Sermon 16 ~~~{The Means of Grace}

“Ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.”

Mal. 3:7a

It is necessary to contextualise this sermon: John Wesley was a minister in the Church of England and he preached within the walls of C of E churches as well as his well known evangelical outdoor preaching. Whenever he preached he robed up, as in he put on the robes of a Minister no matter where he was. So although he was preaching about inward growth and the work of the Spirit he did it within the confines of the liturgy of the established church. He did not preach to people to ignore the rituals but to embrace them as being useful, helpful and a way to know more of the Lord.

This sermon therefore is not a rhetoric against the ordinances or rituals of the church but it does raise questions about them. To Wesley, who believed these means of grace to be a way to know Christ, prayer and devotion, meditation and partaking in the Lord’s Supper were vital to a person not only growing in faith but also a very real way in which God could meet a seeker or ‘almost Christian’ or mature in the faith Christian or an all-in-all Christian.

If we do not believe we are communicating with the Living God when we pray – why do we do it?

He describes the means of grace as the outward signs, words or actions, ordained by God to be the ordinary channels whereby He conveys to us prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace.

The chief means of grace is prayer whether the secret prayers of the heart in our own language, private prayers locked in a press or public praying with ordinary folk like us in as part of a congregation. Secondly reading, hearing and meditating on scripture, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.

There is no power in the stuff we do, no power in prayer or the words of Scripture or indeed Communion but that God alone who is the giver of every good gift, the author of all grace, that the whole power is of him and him alone, so that any blessing we receive through one of these means of grace, is given by His power not because we stood in a particular way, or bowed really low or lived a life in a distinct or peculiar way.

Wesley talks of profit which we no longer use in his understanding of the word. Useful and helpful would translate well into his phrase:

We allow, likewise, that all outward means whatever, if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all, cannot conduce, in any degree, either to the knowledge or love of God.

People contend that Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace in particular is not effectively theologically sound. However if a boat was capsizing all the people on board will be praying, and praying to God because in that moment of facing death clarity is everything. They say “How can a person pray who does not have faith?” But to say this belittles God’s immense power and love.

Wesley often spoke about Communion as a means of grace and in the last year I have been on a journey of discovery with the Lord’s Supper and I can think of nothing more beautiful than celebrating Communion and seeing someone being beautifully brought to the foot of the Cross and confessing & repenting for the first time.

Wesley ends this sermon with these amazing and challenging words:

You see, you know,
you feel, God is all in all. Be abased. Sink down before him. Give him all the praise. “Let
God in all things be glorified through Christ Jesus”. Let all your bones cry out,” My song
shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: With my mouth will I ever be telling of
thy truth, from one generation to another!”


Sermon 15~~~The Great Assize

“We shall all stand before the judgement-seat of Christ.”

Rom. 14:10

What is interesting in this sermon, apart from the content which is standard Judgement Day stuff – lots of scripture all jumbled up to form a coherent group but taken entirely out of context, is the footnotes.  Wesley was a royalist, as in he was loyal to George II, this was a surprise to me considering the arguments across the table as he was growing up, but that was a different monarch. He also put his robes on to do his bible study and when he stopped to preach in the open air. He possibly wouldn’t approve of the careless way I turned up to lead Bible study on Tuesday night.

Many of the concepts in this sermon show that Wesley was living in a time when people studied the Scriptures in relation to their present condition. So imagining gates and a whole bunch of humans going to the right or left, in that age, the timing would have been worked out. How long would it take all these people to be processed? And many of these thought provoking ideas, and Wesley felt compelled to address them. But why?

In the background of Wesley’s preaching were people who picked up on every little detail, so I can understand why he crossed his ‘t’ and dotted his ‘i’ but I think that when he didn’t have full revelation he rationalised. It is something we all do.

The thing that is weird about this sermon is where it was preached in relation to all the long words, lengthy Latin quotes and difficult concepts. It was preached in Bedford before judges and officers of the court. I thought at first it was preached in a prison and imagined all the inmates sitting quietly for an hour or more and wondered how much would have been retained. I think the judges, as they were back then possibly snoozed a little. It is a tough read.

Sermon 14 ~~~The Repentance of Believers

“Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

Mark 1:15

Following on from “On sin and believers” and quite rightly because if we are to say we still sin as believers then we have to explain this through to its conclusion so we can stay believers.

That’s the tension: we come before the throne of grace, ask for forgiveness and accept the forgiveness and then we spend a few moments without sin in our lives, but we live in a broken world so to think we don’t sin is arrogance. It is to suggest we are totally sanctified, totally perfect and therefore in need of no god, let alone the God.

Wesley was preaching at a time when people were hungry to have a personal relationship with God against a backdrop of the latter part of the Enlightenment. The world was suddenly changing at a rate of knots and religion and the way “church” was done, was being discussed and debated across Europe. A charismatic preacher could turn a crowd to Christ but equally could turn people to anything they chose. Wesley stood close to Scripture, he spent many hours pouring over the Bible in devotion not just in order to preach but in personal devotion. Whenever he heard what he considered heresy he had to act on it and this comes out in these two parallel sermons.

During the Enlightenment philosophers and intellectuals yearned to know everything about everything. One on his deathbed allegedly said “Light, more light,” they wanted to reason and rationalise everything and religion was one of the topics that was debated.

Wesley was the voice of reason for the common person. He preached for middle ground between differing views. This is how I historically have viewed Methodism, as the middle ground, “friend of everyone, enemy of none.”

Sermon 13 ~~~On Sin in Believers

This is one of those sermons that gives you an “a ha” moment. Like we pray all the time asking for forgiveness in general terms, going back to Adam and original sin. We say we are a bunch of sinners but when we say it, are we really saying:

“Well you lot might have done something wrong this week, but me, well I am living above reproach. There is nothing in my life that is sinful.”

And why do we think like that >>> Because we have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, we are free from the chains of sin. So sin isn’t in our life, is it?

Wesley nails this, absolutely. Yes there is sin in our life, we get frustrated at being in the wrong queue in the Post Office yet again as people sail in ‘counter number 1’ but we are in ‘counter number 2’ queue and the guy two in front not only has a humongous parcel for Outer Mongolia and needs a receipt in triplicate and did we mention it is “FRAGILE” and the toddler with the woman behind him is taking all the cards out of the display and stamping on them whilst mother, blissfully unaware is on the phone getting the latest goss. The man in front of us is coughing and sneezing like he should be in bed, rather than spreading germs and does he have to turn around every time and apolgise with candles of snot hanging from his nose as spittle leaves his mouth in a trajectory course for our face and we smile sweetly as we notice “Outer Mongolia” man is paying in coin, not even silver but copper, 1,2,3. Of course we get frustrated and angry.

For that moment.

That is the difference, here. That is the difference, we are angry for a moment and then we ask the Lord to take that thought captive and free us from it.

We are not seeped in sin, but we do sin. If we were seeped in sin, we might take out our wee .22 and lose the queue entirely or when it is our turn at the counter we might attack verbally the counter assistant, who is entirely blameless.

Now there’s a point. Someone, totally blameless getting in the neck because we are having a hard time.

Someone, totally blameless, died in excruciating agony so we might live, so we might be free from the chains of sin.

What a Saviour!

Sermon 11~~~Discourse II {The witness of the spirit }

This is a solid piece of scripturally and doctrinally sound argument. Wesley is arguing against basically two opinions, that living in the Spirit is an experiential thing alone without scripture, reason or tradition and conversely that the Spirit does not dwell within at all.
The problem we are faced with, as believers who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit is that it is so personal and individual and exactly what we need as individuals that to describe it to someone would be nigh on impossible but also unbelievable and not helpful.
The only evidence that can be seen from the outside looking in is the fruit of Spirit, those special gifts from God. But there are those who puff themselves up because they believe they have been given a spiritual gift from God of prophecy or interpretation, for example. Not that they don’t have one of those gifts but that they then neglect the fruit. And not everyone who has been blessed with a gift of the Spirit so neglects the fruit.
Wesley listens to the argument: “The greatest contenders for it are some of the proudest and most uncharitable of men.” and like Wesley I concur that those people we are going hear, they are going to thrust themselves forward into the limelight but for everyone like this there are hundreds and thousands that Wesley describes as:

“firmest contenders for it are eminently meek and lowly in heart; and, indeed, in all other respects also, True followers of their lamb-like Lord.”

Meekness & Humility in a person is so much more attractive than pushy, in your face, “look at me and what I can do”
Interestingly Wesley talks of the fruit being evidenced in a person’s life preveniently. By the grace of God, to encourage us to move forward into true discipleship and believing we are introduced to one or two of the fruit of the Spirit. This is amazing and explains to my rational mind many of the things that happened to me and others before we were baptised by the Holy Spirit.
He ends by encouraging and challenging his readers to keep in the book of God, the Bible, keep in relationship with the Lord, remember the time when we cried out “Abba Father,” remember the peace that settled on us that passeth all understanding, the expelling of doubt and fear which are not of God.
Romans 8:16

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”