Monday, February 22, 2010

Degrees of justifying faith

John Wesley's Journal entry from December 31, 1739 —

"I had a long and particular conversation with Mr. Molther himself. I weighed all his words with the utmost care; desired him to explain what I did not understand; asked him again and again, 'Do I not mistake what you say? Is this your meaning, or is it not?' So that I think, if God has given me any measure of understanding, I could not mistake him much. As soon as I came home, I besought God to assist me, and not suffer 'the blind to go out of the way.'

I then wrote down what I conceived to be the difference between us, in the following words: — As to faith, you believe,

1. There are no degrees of faith, and that no man has any degree of it, before all things in him are become new, before he has the full assurance of faith, the abiding witness of the Spirit, or the clear perception that Christ dwelleth in him.

2. Accordingly you believe, there is no justifying faith, or state of justification, short of this.

Whereas I believe,

1. There are degrees in faith; and that a man may have some degree of it, before all things in him are become new; before he has the full assurance of faith, the abiding witness of the Spirit, or the clear perception that Christ dwelleth in him.

2. Accordingly, I believe there is a degree of justifying faith (and consequently, a state of justification) short of, and commonly antecedent to, this.
" ~ John Wesley

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A common progression

The partial testimony of a Moravian named Albinus Feder, as recorded by John Wesley in his journal entry of August 12th, 1738.

“I, for three years fought against sin with all my might, by fasting and prayer, and all the other means of grace. But notwithstanding all my endeavors, I gained no ground; sin still prevailed over me; till at last, not knowing what to do farther, I was on the very brink of despair. Then it was, that, having no other refuge left, I fled to my Savior as one lost and undone, and that had no hope but in His power and free mercy.

"In that moment I found my heart at rest, in good hope that my sins were forgiven; of which I had a stronger assurance six weeks after, when I received the Lord’s Supper here. But I dare not affirm, I am a child of God; neither have I the seal of the Spirit. Yet I go on quietly doing my Savior’s will, taking shelter in his wounds, from all trouble and sin, and knowing He will perfect his work in his own time.

“Martin Döber, when I described my state to him, said he had known very many believers who, if he asked the question, would not have dared to affirm, that they were the children of God. And he added, ‘It is very common for persons to receive remission of sins, or justification through faith in the blood of Christ, before they receive the full assurance of faith; which God many times withholds, till he has tried whether they will work together with him in the use of the first gift.

"Nor is there any need (continued he, Döber) to incite any one to seek that assurance by telling him, the faith he has is nothing. This will be more likely to drive him to despair, than to encourage him to press forward. His single business, who has received the first gift, is, to believe on, and to hold fast that whereunto he hath attained: To go on, doing his Lord’s will, according to the ability God hath already given; cheerfully and faithfully to use what he has received, without solicitude for the rest.’” ~ Albinus Feder

Justification and full assurance

The partial testimony of a Moravian named Michael Linner, as recorded by John Wesley in his journal entry of August 12th, 1738.

“About fourteen years ago, I was more than ever convinced that I was wholly different from what God required me to be. I consulted his word again and again; but it spoke nothing but condemnation; till at last I could not read, nor indeed do any thing else, having no hope and no spirit left in me.

"I had been in this state for several days, when, being musing by myself, these words came strongly into my mind, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life.’ I thought, ‘All? Then I am one. Then He is given for me. But I am a sinner. And he came to save sinners.’

"Immediately my burden dropped off, and my heart was at rest. “But the full assurance of faith I had not yet; nor for the two years I continued in Moravia . . . after some time it pleased our Lord to manifest himself more clearly to my soul, and give me that full sense of acceptance in him which excludes all doubt and fear.

Indeed the leading of the Spirit is different in different souls. His more usual method, I believe, is, to give, in one and the same moment, the forgiveness of sins, and a full assurance of that forgiveness. Yet in many He works as He did in me: Giving first the remission of sins, and, after some weeks or months or years, the full assurance of it.” ~ Michael Linner

The recognition of an extreme view

The partial testimony of a Moravian named Christian David, as recorded by John Wesley in his journal entry of August 12th, 1738.

"Our constant inquiries were, —’Is Christ formed in you? Have you a new heart? Is your soul renewed in the image of God? Is the whole body of sin destroyed in you? Are you fully assured, beyond all doubt or fear, that you are a child of God? In what manner, and at what moment, did you receive that full assurance?’ If a man could not answer all these questions, we judged he had no true faith. Nor would we permit any to receive the Lord’s Supper among us till he could.

“In this persuasion we were, when I went to Greenland, five years ago. There I had a correspondence by letter with a Danish Minister on the head of justification. And it pleased God to show me by him, (though he was by no means a holy man, but openly guilty of gross sins,) that we had now leaned too much to this hand, and were run into another extreme . . . I now clearly saw, we ought not to insist on any thing we feel any more than any thing we do, as if it were necessary previous to justification, or the remission of sins.

"I saw that least of all ought we so to insist on the full assurance of faith, or the destruction of the body of sin, and the extinction of all its motions, as to exclude those who had not attained this from the Lord’s table, or to deny that they had any faith at all. I plainly perceived, this full assurance was a distinct gift from justifying faith, and often not given till long after it; and that justification does not imply that sin should not stir in us, but only that it should not conquer.

“And now first it was that I had that full assurance of my own reconciliation to God, through Christ. For many years I had had the forgiveness of my sins, and a measure of the peace of God; but I had not till now that witness of his Spirit, which shuts out all doubt and fear . . .

"Now three years since, we have all chiefly insisted on Christ given for us . . . which if we rightly believe, Christ will surely be formed in us. And this preaching we have always found to be accompanied with power, and to have the blessing of God following it. By this, believers receive a steady purpose of heart, and a more unshaken resolution, to endure with a free and cheerful spirit whatsoever our Lord is pleased to lay upon them.” ~ Christian David

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The depth of initial sanctification

"The right and true Christian faith is ' . . . a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that, by the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; whereof doth follow a loving heart, to obey his commandments.'

Now, whosoever has this faith, which 'purifies the heart' (by the power of God, who dwelleth therein) 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 mankind; love that doeth the works of God, glorying to spend and to be spent for all men, and that endureth with joy, not only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict, --whosoever has this faith thus working by love is not almost only, but altogether, a Christian." ~ John Wesley

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A supernatural change of heart

"The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, I Tim. 1:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever, Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before . . .

After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing . . . And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me . . . The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceeding different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy . . . They were of a more inward, pure, soul animating and refreshing nature . . .

I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders." ~ Jonathan Edwards

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mistaking religious emotion for grace

"I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious talk with other boys; and used to meet with them to pray together. I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion. My mind was much engaged in it, and had much self-righteous pleasure; and it was my delight to abound in religious duties. I with some of my schoolmates joined together, and built a booth in a swamp, in a very retired spot, for a place of prayer. And besides, I had particular secret places of my own in the woods, where I used to retire by myself; and was from time to time much affected. My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element when engaged in religious duties. And I am ready to think, many are deceived with such affections, and such a kind of delight as I then had in religion, and mistake it for grace." - Jonathan Edwards

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The pangs of a spiritual birth

This is an excerpt from a letter written by John Wesley, just a few days before he experienced the new birth at Aldersgate.

John Wesley's journal, May 19, 1738: "I know every thought, every temper of my soul, ought to bear God’s image and superscription. But how am I fallen from the glory of God! I feel that ‘I am sold under sin.’ I know, that I too deserve nothing but wrath, being full of all abominations: And having no good thing in me, to atone for them, or to remove the wrath of God. All my works, my righteousness, my prayers, need an atonement for themselves. So that my mouth is stopped. I have nothing to plead. God is holy, I am unholy. God is a consuming fire: I am altogether a sinner, meet to be consumed.

Yet I hear a voice (and is it not the voice of God?) saying, ‘Believe, and thou shalt be saved. He that believeth is passed from death unto life. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’

O let no one deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained this faith! By its fruits we shall know. Do we already feel ‘peace with God,’ and ‘joy in the Holy Ghost?’ Does ‘his Spirit bear witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God?’ Alas, with mine He does not. Nor, I fear, with yours. O thou Savior of men, save us from trusting in anything but Thee! Draw us after Thee! Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing; and let nothing separate us from thy love, in time or in eternity.”