A modern take on John Wesley’s 2nd Sermon
My thoughts on this. Wesley is speaking to Christians, not the unchurched. Today I would say that the “almost Christians” are saved, but they simply haven’t grown in their spirituality and understanding. They are baby Christians. They attend Church every Sunday, and are generally good, but they don’t take the next step. They don’t grow in their Christianity. They are stifled and do not really understand just how wonderful being an authentic Christian can be. These are the “Frozen Chosen.” They go to Church, they profess Christ, but they don’t go any further than that. Wesley was truly on fire for God and tended to preach such sermons that upset the listeners to the point he was rejected and told to “never return.” I have tried to put this sermon into as much modern language as possible, but even then I think you will see why many churches in the mid 1700s would get angry at his teachings. Actually, many churches today would as well. What do you think?
Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741.
Acts 26:28-29 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian? Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am.”
How many people go this far, and do not take the final step to accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, to accepting him as their personal savior? Ever since Christ’s sacrifice for us, there have been in every age and nation people who were almost persuaded to become Christians. But if they do not take the next step of acceptance, they achieve nothing by almost becoming a Christian. It is important for us to consider two questions: First, what is implied in being almost? Secondly, what does it mean to be an authentic Christian?
So what good is it to become almost a Christian? Most people in the world are not evil. They are not generally raised to do bad things, or to treat others unjustly; most were not taught to steal, oppress others, to cheat, or defraud other people. Even non-Christians seek justice. Most people do not set out to lie about others, or falsely accuse people of supposed crimes, but this does occur, even in the most civilized of societies today. Most civilized people hold those who commit these types of crimes as criminal and disgraceful, even pests to society.
Most people in the world today expect love and assistance from one another. Many do many good and righteous acts for others such as feeding the hungry, giving aid to those in need. Indeed this is what Christians are called to do, so these almost Christians are not far off the mark, but they are still almost Christians.
Many almost Christians keep to the teachings of Jesus. They do not take the name of God in vain, avoids adultery, sexual promiscuity, and live very moral lives. Many abstain from excess drinking, reveling, and gluttony. Most want to live in peace with others, and they are not brawlers, racists, or thugs. This person would not deliberately due bad things to hurt others and even live by the golden rule, to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
The almost Christian may work hard to do good works for others. This person seems to be a Godly person in his actions and life. He may even say that he is a Christian, attend church, partake of the means of Grace, and may even try to lead others to Christ. This person may have a family prayer life, and practice all the forms of religion. We may refer to these people as being “religious”, but there is a problem. They need one more thing to become a true Christian. They need sincerity and the faith to truly accept Christ into their lives. Sincerity is the inward principle of belief in Christ. It is from this faith, this true belief, that our Christian actions flow. For indeed, if we don’t have this crucial faith in Christ, we are just good people, maybe we are only almost Christians. An ancient poet once said, “Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue; Wicked men avoid sin from fear of punishment.” This means that a person who does not break the laws of society, may only be doing it to avoid punishment. If he/she is doing so out of love for others, not just to avoid punishment, then he/she may be an almost Christian. If a person has no real principles in their heart, then they are nothing more than hypocrites.
So an almost Christian may be sincere, may even want to serve God in all things. Of course the question that is now asked is, “Is it possible that any person should go so far as this, and nevertheless, be almost a Christian?” John Wesley answered, “It is possible to go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian. I learn, not only from the oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of experience.” He asks that those who are listening (reading this) “suffer me, then, to speak freely of myself, even as of another man. I am content to be abased, so ye may be exalted, and to be yet more vile for the glory of my Lord.” He is about to tell his own personal account of how he was an almost Christian.
He says he went for many years speaking against all evil, and with a hope to avoid offending others, doing good works to all men and using the public and private “means of grace.” He constantly monitored his behavior to appear to be a Christian, and he was sincere in his actions. He desired to “fight the good fight,” and to “lay hold of eternal life.” Yet he doubted his own faith in Christ. He did not have a true personal relationship with God. He was “almost a Christian.” If anyone studies John Wesley’s life they know how he came to America as a missionary, but failed utterly, and soon returned to England. It was only after attending a special meeting at Aldersgate that he came to understand that God died for him, personally, and he felt his heart filled with the Holy Spirit. It was at this point that his life changed, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and became the founder of Methodism.
So what does it mean to be an authentic Christian? First, it means to know the love of God. The Bible teaches, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Such a love fills our hearts with affection, and fills our soul to capacity. The Christian that truly loves the Lord has a spirit that continually rejoices in God his Savior. This person’s delight is in the Lord, our All-in-All. It is this person’s true desire to serve God in all aspects of their life. Their heart is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon the earth that I desire besides Thee.” Indeed what can such a person desire more than God’s love and mercy. Not the world, or the things of this world, for he is crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him.” This person attempts to overcome the carnal desires of the flesh, the eye, and pride. The true Christian should be dead to pride of every kind for love is not “puffed up” but “he that dwelling in love, dwells in God, and God in him.”
The second thing that is implied in being an authentic Christian is, the love of our neighbors. For Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If any person asks, Who is my neighbor? We should reply Every person in the world; every child is God’s child. This includes our enemies, the enemies of God, and any who stand against us. We are called to love even those who are difficult or hard to love. We should love them as Christ loved us. Paul explained this love for us. He described it as a love that is “long suffering and kind.” It does not envy others. It is not rash or hasty, and does not judge others. It is “not puffed up,” but makes us the least of mankind, a servant to all. This person seeks to do good to all others that they might be saved. “Love is not provoked.” It is not wrathful, thinks of no evil, and rejoices in the truth. This kind of love covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things in the name of the Lord.
Finally, the authentic Christian has faith. John said, “Every one that believes is born to God.” He gives the Holy Spirit to every one of us, all we have to do is believe that Jesus was the son of God who died for our sins so that we may have everlasting life in him. For “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” God declares, “He that believes in the Son has everlasting life; and comes not into condemnation, but is passed from death into life.”
Wesley then warns us not to deceive ourselves. False faith does not bring about true repentance, love, good works, and is not the living faith, but a dead and devilish one. Even devils believe that Christ was born of a virgin; that he performed miracles, declared himself the son of God, and suffered a painful death to redeem all humanity from death everlasting, that he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will return one day to judge the quick and the dead. Yet for all this faith, they are still devils.
The authentic Christian faith is “not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the Articles of our Faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ. It is a sure trust and confidence in God, that our sins are forgiven and by Christ we are reconciled with God, and have the loving heart for others, and attempt to obey his commandments. Whoever has this kind of authentic faith “purifies the heart” (by the power of God, who dwells within us) from “pride, anger, desire, from all unrighteousness” from “all filthiness of flesh and spirit;” which fills it with love stronger than death, both to God and to all people, love that does the works of God, that endures all troubles with joy, even when mocked, ridiculed, and despised by others. These folks use the wisdom God gave them that with their true faith and working by love, are truly authentic Christians.
So now we should ask ourselves, looking into our own hearts, “Am I an authentic Christian, or an almost Christian? Do I practice justice, mercy, and truth as God would have me do it? Do I act like a Christian, but do not have true faith? Do I stay away from evil things, and keep the commandments? Do I always look for ways to do good and help others? Do I keep to the word of God and do as Jesus instructed, not to judge, but to love others, to represent Christ on earth to them, so that they might come to know the power and saving Grace of God? Do I do all these things with the sincere desire to please God in every aspect of my life?”
Now, many of us may realize that we have never quite come that far, that we have been good at almost being a Christian, but has God seen true sincerity and faith in you? Do you devote all your words, works, business, studies, and diversions to His glory?
So you have tried, you generally do good works, and have a general desire to be a Christian. Remember that “Hell is paved with good intentions.” The great question still remains then, Is the love of God in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All!” Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? Is this commandment written in your heart? “He that loves God loves his brother also.” Do you love your neighbors as yourself? Do you love every person, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? As Christ loved you? Do you truly believe that Christ loved you, and died for you personally? That Jesus has taken away your sins and cast them as a stone into the depths of the sea? That he has blotted out everything bad that you have done in your life by nailing your sins to the cross? Do you believe that you have been redeemed, saved, by his blood? Does you spirit bear witness that you are a child of God?
Jesus knows you. Do not rest until you can proclaim salvation in the name of God. “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” Do not rest short of becoming an authentic Christian. Cry out and pray to him daily until we know in whom we truly believe and can say, “My Lord, and my God!” Remember to always pray until you can no longer lift your hands to heaven, and declare to the Lord, “Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love thee.”
May we all experience what it is to be, not almost, but altogether a true and authentic Christian; justified by His free grace, through the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus; knowing we have eternal peace through Him; rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God; and having the love of God filling our hearts, by the Holy Spirit filling us with His love