Unlike Collins’ Wesley on Salvation, which was only based on Wesley’s Standard Sermons; this book is based on all the works of John Wesley! This is the “order of salvation”–the Gospel of Jesus Christ, explained in a brief theological manner.
IN CHAPTER 1, Wesley says original sin is a reality that simply cannot be denied by any real Christian. Original sin is the problem, but the Gospel is the solution to it. They are complementary realities. We must not be as the Deists, who deny the existence of original sin, who preach a humanistic view of nature; and deny the supernatural. Original sin is an inherited, corrupt nature passed down from Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1; 6:5; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-21). The fruits of original sin are practical atheism, idolatry, pride, self-will, etc: pride of education and of physical beauty, materialism, and man-pleasing.
At the same time: all men have original sin–all men have prevenient grace (that is, the conscience of the Holy Spirit): “the true Light that gives light to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9). By preaching on creation and the moral law, the conscience can awaken the lost to their need for salvation by faith in the cross of Jesus (Romans 1; p. 41). In the prick of conscience, all men have an irresistible grace (and this is the only gift from God which is irresistible): and it will either condemn or reward them at death. But in the revelation of the Gospel (justification and sanctification), all men have a resistible grace–which again, leads to Heaven or Hell. They must freely CHOOSE the Gospel (not because they haven’t heard, but because they have a conscience from the Holy Spirit, which if they follow it, will eventually lead them to hearing and believing the Gospel).
IN CHAPTER 2, Wesley says when people just begin to spiritually awaken, it comes through preaching the moral law, death, Hell, Judgment Day, and Heaven. An emphasis should be laid on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Only a little emphasis on the cross. [In a recent e-mail, Collins said Wesley preached 100% Law followed by 100% Grace (the Gospel); this is in contrast to the notion that Wesley preached “90% law and 10% grace”–and I have yet to find this quote in Wesley’s works. Perhaps Collins is right.] However, only misery will result if only the moral law is preached…immediately the people must be exhorted to live the Christian life (faith in the cross followed by a progress in righteousness). The initial repentance (firm resolve to live your whole life for Jesus)–is followed by an entire life of obedience to God’s commandments, and continuing to repent from sin. And false notions of salvation are done away with–such as: “If you just go to church, say your prayers, and be a nice person–then you’ll go to Heaven.”
IN CHAPTER 3, which is entitled, “Justification by Grace Through Faith,” Wesley says there are three stages that a Christian goes through on a psychological level:
(1) Ignorance of God (pre-conversion/practical atheism).
(2) Fear of God (sincere obedience out of fear of Hell).
(3) Love of God (childlike love of your Father God).
Romans 7 and the struggle with the flesh is the fear of God; but Romans 8 is the love of God.
Romans 8:1-17 (the love of God)–is the saved state–it is living in the state of justification. It is a faith that Jesus not only died for the sins of the world in general, but that He specifically died for your past sins (Rom. 3:25). It’s a faith that God has forgiven your sins through the judicial punishment of His Son; and that you surely trust Jesus to save you from going to Hell.
This faith can be received in an instant–as a divine revelation in the heart, not just as a doctrine in the mind; it is a faith in “penal substitution“; and it is supernaturally implanted in the heart by the Holy Spirit, received freely by your choice to yield to its saving influence. This remains as a deep impression and inner vision: “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.” O! How I love Him too! I believe Christ gave Himself for me! And, on the cross, of all things! That is, I now have a personal faith in the doctrine of penal substitution (the atonement); and God is no longer angry at me for my sins! Hallelujah!
IN CHAPTER 4, Wesley says within the few moments we are forgiven of our sins, being justified by faith in the cross (penal substitution)–the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. This is regeneration; or being “born again.” What happens as a result of this:–is an inward, moral change–a desire to live a righteous life for Christ. Faith, hope, and love begin to be lived out in accordance with the moral law:–and from the heart (Heb. 8:10; Rom. 5:5; 1 John 5:3). Water baptism is a prophetic symbol of the inward cleansing of regeneration.
IN CHAPTER 5, Wesley says assurance of salvation, or the substance of saving faith, is a prophetic impression left on the heart that your sins are forgiven (justification); and you have experienced an inward transformation to grow in righteousness during your life (regeneration). There are rational evidences of this:–that is, ways you can know if you’re probably saved (based purely on reason): (1) Faith, hope, and love are in your life. (2) Obedience to God’s commandments. (3) Inwardly feeling the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). (4) Having a clean conscience before God. (5) Using the Bible as the moral guidebook of your life.
But reasoning these things out is not good enough to know if you’re really saved. They are only marks, signs, probabilities, or inferences that you’re saved. The strongest evidence of salvation is the direct witness of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s heart. This is a prophetic impression in the heart that carries with it several revelations: (1) I am God’s child. (2) Jesus loves me. (3) Jesus died for my sins. (4) My sins are forgiven. (5) I am reconciled with God; or I have peace with God. [(6) My (John) personal addition–a healthy fear of going to Hell for backsliders or apostates.] This is what Wesley called “the proper Christian faith”–it is what saving faith is: assurance of salvation. While the rational evidences have a reassuring element–there is no greater assurance than the witness of the Spirit by the experience of direct revelation. Only this mystical, spiritual experience will give Christians the perseverance they need to stand for Christ during trials and tribulations. A Christian’s mind may get cloudy at times, when tested–but the Holy Spirit bypasses intellectual confusion, and reassures: “You are My child now, because I love you, and My only Son died for you; and so, we are now in a clean relationship because you are putting your faith in Him.”
But carnal Pentecostal/Charismatics beware! Don’t only rest in so-called “rhema” words and spiritual experiences. If your subjective experiences say, “You are God’s child,” but you live your life as if the devil is your father–then THINK AGAIN–and turn to the rational evidences to see whether you have strayed from the true Christian faith, and if you need to repent, and return to the Captain of your salvation (Heb. 2:10).
And rationalist Christians (Fundamentalists and Evangelicals) beware! It’s not good enough to rely merely on the rational evidences to prove to yourself that you’re saved. In a way, they serve as a “checklist” to test the state of your soul: for you to see whether or not your present life lines up with them. But on the other hand, they are not a “checklist” in the sense that they are a “to do list” for earning God’s favor or forgiveness. You simply cannot earn your salvation by trying to conform your life to the rational evidences (that would be legalism, or works-justification). The only definite, sure way to know if you’re living in the state of salvation is: (1) The Holy Spirit directly speaks to your heart that, “You’re sins are forgiven you, through Christ alone; and you are now God’s child.” (2) It “just so happens” that the general tenor of your Christian life reflects the rational evidences. You are a foolish rationalist if you reject the direct witness of the Holy Spirit–and are probably not saved.
Faith (or the direct witness of the Holy Spirit) is experienced in various degrees, at different times in the Christian life. At times, it may be mixed with doubts and fears; at others, strong assurance and confidence. But generally speaking (except for times of sickness, trial, and Biblical ignorance)–the fear of the Lord is not enough to save a Christian. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and only the beginning (Ps. 111:10). If a man has been genuinely saved by the Holy Spirit, through faith in penal substitution, then his faith will grow into a childlike love of God, where “there is no fear in love” (1 John 4:18). He no longer experiences a life of drudgery and servitude under God, but now has a Father-son relationship based on love (see Romans 7-8).
As a general rule, saving faith is a clear sense of sins forgiven, of being God’s adopted child, and is driven by a desire for living a righteous life.
But there are exceptions to this rule. In times of trial, sickness, or ignorance of the Bible–a weak sense of faith is present (Rom. 14). There is much vacillation between flesh and Spirit. In such a circumstance, the Christian is saved, but just barely hanging on to God.
But, in the end–Wesley concludes a “real Christian” is the one with strong faith; who sees himself as God’s child, and not merely as God’s servant. This gives him the mind of Christ; and so, he is not afraid to die.
IN CHAPTER 6, entitled “Sanctification by Grace Through Faith,” Wesley says regeneration, or the new birth, occurred only at the beginning of the Christian life. A power from the Holy Spirit was put into the heart: a desire for righteousness by faith. But now that this power has been received, it is the Christian’s personal responsibility to “work out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Php. 2:12). As the Christian presses on toward perfection, growing in the moral commandments of God, such as the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)–he will meet many obstacles along the way; many trials, tribulations, and temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Knowing all too well that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), the Christian’s life from now on is characterized by resisting sin from inside himself, and sin from outside himself. He goes “onward, as a Christian soldier, marching as to war.” He will not let men, himself, or the devil drag him down to Hell. But in the fear of the Lord, he is intent on obeying whatever moral commandments of God there are in the Bible; and he yields to the influence of his conscience, when convicted by the Holy Spirit throughout his life. With his feet, he is now walking on the old paths of Biblical wisdom (Jer. 6:16). And, as he runs away from Hell, “fleeing from the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7)–he takes care to remember that though he stands by God’s grace for the moment, it still remains possible for him to fall into sin, temptation, and HELL (1 Cor. 10:12)–but God helping him, God has “with the temptation also made a way of escape, that he may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Christian does not have to give in–sin is always avoidable with the Holy Spirit’s help!
As the Christian continues his life in the pursuit of God, and His righteousness, he finds that within himself there is something wrong. He says to himself, so many times: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:18). Why is this? Because, at this point in his Christian walk, his will power and the Holy Spirit in him have not united strongly enough. This will take time to strengthen. Like Paul, he can relate: “In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). The hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” makes perfect sense:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
It is likely the Christian will outwardly sin by accident, as we all do; but it is definitely guaranteed that the Christian will inwardly sin very often–especially in the beginning of his Christian life. This is because the flesh–that is, the human body–actually has a sinful nature. And were it not for faith in penal substitution, the inward sin nature (original sin) would be more than enough reason for us to be damned forever in Hell. Yet, at least according to Wesley, Christians may hope that one day the Holy Spirit will give them a “second blessing” of righteousness, of a completely higher level than the blessing of regeneration. And controversial though it is, Wesley maintains, it can eradicate all original sin from within the Christian–and he can, to a certain extent, experience a state of sinlessness (both inwardly and outwardly)!
But most, if not all, of the Christian life consists of a war against sin. And there are no “lone rangers,” no solo warriors. If the Christian is to be a soldier of righteousness, then it stands to reason he must join the army of other like-minded soldiers. He must take heed to Hebrews 10:25: Christians are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” There are to be no desert hermits without Christian friends. [It is here that Wesley introduces a “new measure” of his own: class meetings (cell groups for new Christians), band meetings (cell groups for Christians trying to grow in righteousness, openly confessing sins), and select societies (cell groups for Christians seeking the “second blessing” of entire sanctification).]
“Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:17). And since salvation is based on faith (Eph. 2:8), that means the faith we initially received without works at our conversion–is not the same faith we continue with throughout our Christian life. The essence of this faith is: “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.” But it doesn’t stop there. I’m not on my deathbed; and I’m not the thief on the cross who was only justified by faith alone (Luke 23:41-43). I’ve got the rest of my life to live; and God will hold me accountable for everything I think, feel, say, and do! On the Day of Judgment, God will judge me according to my works–what I do (Rev. 20:12). There will be much time, and many opportunities, for me as a Christian, not only to heed Christ’s commandment to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11)–but also to fill up my life with many positive things, and good works pleasing to God, and helpful to mankind. (Not because I am a great man: “There, but for the grace of God, go I!”–where would I be if it weren’t for God? HELL!) All good works glorify God, because although they are not perfect works, they are inspired by the Holy Spirit: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Php. 4:13). If it were not for His grace and regeneration–then “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).
But to speak as one who has received the gift of regeneration–Christians should do all the good works they can before they die. “Good works” may be divided into two categories: works of piety and works of mercy. The works of piety deal with the Christian’s personal relationship with God: public prayer, family prayer, private prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Bible Study, and fasting. The works of mercy are for the Christian’s relationship to mankind: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, entertaining strangers, visiting prisoners, visiting the sick, and preaching the Gospel.
This is how to open yourself up to greater anointings from the Holy Spirit [and to wait for entire sanctification]. By this we fulfill the two great commandments to love God and love man (Matt. 22:37-39)–which fulfills all the moral law. Whatever other good works there are than these can be found in a “vigorous, universal obedience, in a zealous keeping of all of the commandments, in watchfulness and painfulness, in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily” (p. 161).
Christian Perfection: According to John Wesley
In some Christians, very godly and righteous ones, who conscientiously obey the moral law, and keep works of piety and mercy alive–the year before they die, they can experience a state of almost sinlessness! This is very rare; Wesley called this state “Christian perfection” or “entire sanctification.” The love of God is shed abroad in the heart (Rom. 5:5), to such a degree, as to be called “perfect love” (1 John 4:18)–and the fear of God is no more; only the love of God. The entire Christian life up until this point has been one long transition from “the fear of the Lord” to “the love of God.” By “Christian perfection” is not meant perfect knowledge, freedom from mistakes, freedom from weakness, or from handicaps; it does not mean to be without temptation; nor does it mean (strangely enough) there is no room for spiritual growth.
Christian perfection is a state where one is no longer a “baby Christian,” but is instead an “adult Christian.” It consists of: (1) Freedom from evil thoughts such as ill will, lust, envy, practical atheism, etc. (2) Freedom from evil feelings like pride, self-will, and love of the world. But unlike the Puritans, Wesley maintains that those Christians who reach this state are completely cleansed from inbred, original sin! They are almost as holy as Adam was before the Fall–at least inwardly. Wesley insisted this state could be experienced in this life–that is, before death! No more original sin?! Yes, that’s what Wesley preached as possible. And before death! However, this can only be experienced in very rare situations, with very righteous men and women of God; and at least–according to Wesley’s experience with some of the most devout Methodists–this state only lasts as a continuous state of perfectly righteous love for about one year–and usually the year before death (or it occurs on the deathbed). At least, that’s what Wesley preached.
IN CHAPTER 7, Wesley reminds: you are going to die! Its just a matter of fact–and the Bible shows us that after we die, we enter into eternity. [The wicked will be cast into Hell; but the righteous into Abraham’s Bosom (even now–Wesley believed Luke 16 applies to today, not just Old Testament times, nor just before the resurrection of Christ).] The dead remain there till Judgment Day, when they will be “judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12, NIV). [Only after Judgment Day do the saints enter into Heaven.]