Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greater than John the Baptist

"It may be granted, (1.) That David, in the general course of his life, was one of the holiest men among the Jews. And, (2.) That the holiest men among the Jews did sometimes commit sin. But if you would hence infer that all Christians do, and must commit sin, as long as they live; this consequence we utterly deny. It will never follow from those premises. Those who argue thus seem never to have considered that declaration of our Lord, Matt. xi, 11, 'Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.'

In these words then our Lord declares two things: (1.) That before his coming in the flesh, among all the children of men, there had not been one greater than John the Baptist: whence it evidently follows that neither Abraham, David, nor any Jew, was greater than John. (2.) That he who is least in the kingdom of God (in that kingdom which he came to set up on earth, and which the violent now began to take by force) is greater than he. Not a greater prophet (as some have interpreted the word) for this is palpably false in fact: but greater in the grace of God, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we cannot measure the privileges of real Christians by those formerly given to the Jews. 'Their ministration,' or dispensation, we allow 'was glorious;' but ours 'exceeds in glory.' So that whosoever would bring down the Christian dispensation to the Jewish standard, doth 'greatly err, neither knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.'" ~ John Wesley

Saturday, September 18, 2010

From faith to faith of assurance

"Are there not many pious and judicious ministers in the Churches of England and Scotland, as well as among the dissenters, who dare not countenance the present revival of the power of godliness, chiefly because they hear us sometimes unguardedly assert that none have any faith but such as have the faith of assurance; and that the wrath of God actually abides on all those who have not that faith? If we warily allowed the faith of the inferior dispensations, which such divines clearly see in the Scriptures, and feel in themselves; would not their prejudices be softened, and their minds prepared to receive what we advance in defence of the faith of assurance?

. . . You are afraid that the doctrine of this Essay will make 'seekers rest in Laodicean lukewarmness;' but permit me to observe that the seekers you speak of are either forward hypocrites, or sincere penitents. If they are forward hypocrites, preaching to them the faith of assurance will never make them either humble or sincere. On the contrary, they will probably catch . . . at an assurance of their own making; and so they will profess to have the faith for which you contend, when in fact they have only the name and notion of it. The religious world swarms with instances of this kind.

If, on the other hand, the seekers for whom you seem concerned are sincere penitents; far from being hurt, they will be greatly benefited by our doctrine: for it will at once keep them from chilling, despairing fears, and from false, Crispian [Antinomian] comforts; the two opposite extremes into which upright, unwary mourners are most apt to run. Thus our doctrine, instead of being dangerous to sincere seekers, will prove a Scriptural clue, in following which they will happily avoid the gloomy haunts of Pharisaic despair, and the enchanted ground of Antinomian presumption." ~ John Fletcher of Madeley

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two extremes to avoid

"You still seem to take it for granted that there is no true faith, but an explicit faith in Christ; and no explicit faith in Christ, but the faith of full assurance . . . There are two extremes in the doctrine of faith which should be carefully avoided by every Christian: the one is . . . that an adulterous murderer may have true, saving faith in the height of his complicated crimes: and the other is that . . . there is no saving faith but that which actually cleanses us from all inbred sin, and opens a present heaven in our breasts.

"The middle path of truth lies exactly between those opposite mistakes, and that path I endeavour to point out. As, on the one hand, it never came into my mind that an impenitent murderer can have even the saving faith of a heathen: so, on the other hand, it never entered my thoughts, that a penitent can believe with the faith of full assurance when he will: for this faith depends not only upon our general belief of the truth revealed to us, but also upon a peculiar operation of God, or revelation of his powerful arm.

"It is always attended with a manifestation of 'the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.' And such a manifestation God in general grants to none but them that groan deeply under 'the spirit of bondage unto fear,' as Paul did while he remained blind at Damascus;— or them that are peculiarly faithful to the grace of their inferior dispensation, and pray as earnestly for 'power from on high,' as the apostles did after our Lord's ascension." ~ John Fletcher of Madeley

A fool's paradise

"Few of us know what it is 'to cry out of the deep,' to pray and believe, till in the name of Jesus we force our way beyond flesh and blood, come within the reach of the eternal world, conflict in an agony with the powers of darkness, vanquish Apollyon in all his attacks, and continue wrestling till the day of eternity break upon us, and the God of Jacob 'bless us with all spiritual benedictions in heavenly places.'

"John Bunyan's pilgrim, the old Puritans, and the first Quakers, had such engagements, and gained such victories; but they soon got over the hedge of internal activity, into the smooth easy path of Laodicean formality. Most of us, called Methodists, have already followed them; and when we are in that snare, Satan scorns to conflict with us; puny flesh and blood are more than a match for us.

"We fall asleep under their bewitching power, and begin to dream strange dreams. 'Our salvation is finished, we have got above legality, we live without frames and feelings, we have attained Christian liberty, we are perfect in Christ, we have nothing to do, our covenant is sure,' True! But unhappily it is a covenant with the flesh. Satan, who is too wise to break it by rousing us in the spirit, leaves us to our delusions; and we think ourselves in the kingdom of God, when we are only in a fool's paradise." ~ John Fletcher of Madeley