Wesley begins this sermon in a defence of Christians born of the Spirit who were called enthusiastic in his day. His introductory paragraphs are not really an introduction to his main points, more like a side address. The world calls us mad when we talk about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Basically the world doesn’t mind us when we feed them or clothe them, so don’t even mind if we pray for them but if we begin to talk about the changes wrought in our lives in any sense inwardly then we are called mad and this rings true today as it ever did before.
Wesley’s main thrust though is not about enthusiasm per se but fanaticism. He considers fanatics dangerous because it undermines the very real efforts of ordinary Christians to bring people to Christ. Now he doesn’t mince words in this sermon, he talks of madness and delusions. People who were workers of miracles, prophets and charismatic leaders all came under scrutiny by him.
He has sound advice for anyone who thinks God is telling them to do something, study the Bible. Ask yourself where will I be most holy, do the most good and be the most use for God?
Being useful in God’s service is particularly important to him. And that is key really. If we have a dream or a vision that God is calling us to do something, especially if it something which is going to turn your life upside down. We have to be sure we can be useful in that situation. For example I would love God to direct me to go to Lanzarote and minister to the people there. But I know that is not his plan for me, I like sunshine, I have mates there, I would enjoy myself thoroughly. But I am of more use going on a train to Dublin to spend two hours with someone in crisis, I am of more use when after fourteen hours with someone they are refreshed and able to continue on, I am of more use sitting on the floor with someone who has no hope for however long they need me. Does it intrude in my life? Am I uncomfortable? It is a part of my life, my family adjusts, yes sometimes it is cringingly uncomfortable, but I am of use so I don’t run.
It is like mid study – a phone call that lasts more than an hour, study time lost – yes but listening to someone in need is what God wants me to do. And he wants us all to do that. We are a people who listen. We are a people who are there for other people and for each other. We are a people who are not mad, or fanatical, but we are a compassionate people, a people who care.
John Wesley cared for all these people he called fanatics, he so wanted them to come to know “true religion” that of the transformed heart. He loved his fellow believers, the waverers, the barely there and the unbelievers. He was scathing – but to get a response. We need to respond to God’s call not fanatically but with love, grace and mercy, just as Jesus did.