Sermon 18 ~~~ {The Marks of the New Birth}

“So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8

The first mark, Wesley tells us (Gal 3:26) is faith. It is the foundational mark and it is profoundly life changing, it is deeply rooted in the personal relationship we have with the Lord and is fed by daily spending time with Scripture, meeting in fellowship, meditating on the word and prayer.

He takes time to give out to those who say that to sin habitually is against the concept of the new birth. But what he is really saying here is that one of the marks of the new birth is not sinning. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ. In one of the previous sermons he said sin was still around us but that we didn’t allow it reign in us as we did before the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

He again touches on the fruit of the Spirit and living in joy, peace and love. And then he comes to hope which I preached on Sunday week. Secular hope, real hope and a quasi real hope that many people attending church – a hedging bets with a pick and mix religion that many of our pews are filled with (across all churches)

Sometimes I think I am afraid to repeat myself but Wesley has no fear – he spends a good amount of time in this sermon again pointing out the greatest commandment ” love the Lord your God with all.. and love your neighbour …” I shall be less afraid now!

Finally he touches on good works as being the result of a transformed life – a mark of the new birth not to gain reputation either here or in heaven but that we are compelled to good works in His strength.

Sermon 17~~~{The Circumcision of the Heart}

“Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.”

Romans 2:29

I am listening to a guy in America preach about tithing and how we do that. Is it 10%, are we ticking the box or is it a budgeted amount that we can afford. Is it worship?

The way we are in every aspect of our lives proves that our hearts have been circumsized. So we give to the utmost, we love to the utmost, we show mercy to the utmost, and why?

Because it is not about following the law it is about living under grace. In gratitude, with a thankful heart our lives are given over to Him. It is not about our selfish desires it is about being turned inside out, emptied out, not in the expectation of being filled up or that we will be turned backwise right.

Wesley points out this is not some new fangled doctrine, he hasn’t plucked it out of the air; this is the word of God, it is written about by Paul and it is a part of our root faith. Interestingly he was preaching of the conviction of the Spirit before his strange warming of his own heart. Thus proving in prevenient grace we can be changed little by little until that dramatic moment of baptism by the Holy Spirit.

Oh I just love Wesley’s sermons, they speak to me now as if he were in the room. I know I can’t do justice to his rhetoric in the recordings but I felt compelled to try – to lift the words off the page and make them three dimensional once more. Can’t wait to meet him…

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.”