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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

John Wesley: God’s Love To Fallen Man

The following portions of a sermon by John Wesley [1703-1791] indicate the power and appeal of simple and direct language so characteristic of this great English divine.

How innumerable are the benefits which God conveys to the children of men through the channel of sufferings, so that it might well be said,

“What are termed afflictions in the language of men are in the language of God styled blessings.” Indeed, had there been no suffering in the world, a considerable part of religion, yea, and in some respects, the most excellent part, could have had no place therein: since the very existence of it depends on our suffering: so that had there been no pain it could have had no being. Upon this foundation, even our suffering, it is evident all our passive graces are built; yea, the noblest of all Christian graces, love enduring all things. Here is the ground for resigna­tion to God, enabling us to say from the heart, in every trying hour, “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.” “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” And what a glorious spectacle is this! Did it not constrain even a heathen to cry out, “Ecce spectaculum Deo dignum!” See a sight worthy of God: a good man struggling with adversity, and superior to it. Here is the ground for confidence in God, both with regard to what we feel and with regard to what we should fear, were it not that our soul is calmly stayed on him. What room could there be for trust in God if there was no such thing as pain or danger? Who might not say then, “The cup which my Father had given me, shall I not drink it?” It is by sufferings that our faith is tried, and, therefore, made more acceptable to God. It is in the day of trouble that we have occasion to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. And this is well pleasing to God, that we should own him in the face of danger; in defiance of sorrow, sickness, pain, or death.

Again: Had there been neither natural nor moral evil in the world, what must have become of patience, meekness, gentleness, long-suffering? It is manifest they could have had no being: seeing all these have evil for their object. If, therefore, evil had never entered into the world, neither could these have had any place in it. For who could have returned good for evil, had there been no evil-doer in the universe? How had it been possible, on that supposition, to overcome evil with good?

Will you say, “But all of these graces might have been divinely infused into the hearts of men.” Undoubtedly they might: but if they had, there would have been no use or exercise for them. Whereas in the present state of things we can never long want occasion to exercise them. And the more they are exercised, the more all our graces are strengthened and increased. And in the same proportion as our resignation, our confidence in God, our patience and fortitude, our meekness, gentleness, and long- suffering, together with our faith and love of God and man increase, must our happiness increase, even in the present world.

Yet again: As God’s permission of Adam’s fall gave all his posterity a thousand opportunities of suffering, and thereby of exercising all those passive graces which increase both their holiness and happiness: so it gives them opportunities of doing good in numberless instances, of exercising themselves in various good works, which otherwise could have had no being. And what exertions of benevolence, of compassion, of godlike mercy, had been totally prevented! Who could then have said to the lover of men—

Thy mind throughout my life be shown, 
While listening to the wretches’ cry, 
The widow’s or the orphan’s groan; 
On mercy’s wings I swiftly fly, 
The poor and needy to relieve; 
Myself, my all for them to give? 

It is the just observation of a benevolent man— 

All worldly joys are less, 
Than that one joy of doing kindnesses. 

Surely in keeping this commandment, if no other, there is great reward. “As we have time, let us do good unto all men”; good of every kind and in every degree. Accordingly the more good we do (other circumstances being equal), the happier we shall be. The more we deal our bread to the hungry, and cover the naked with garments; the more we relieve the stranger, and visit them that are sick or in prison: the more kind offices we do to those that groan under the various evils of human life,—the more comfort we receive even in the present world; the greater the recompense we have in our own bosom.

To sum up: As the more holy we are upon earth, the more happy we must be (seeing there is an inseparable connection between holiness and happiness); as the more good we do to others, the more of present reward redounds into our own bosom: even as our sufferings for God lead us to rejoice in him “with joy unspeakable and full of glory ; therefore the fall of Adam first, by giving us an opportunity of being far more holy; secondly, by giving us the occasions of doing innumerable good works which otherwise could not have been done; and, thirdly, by putting it into our power to suffer for God, whereby ‘ the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us”; may be of such advantage to the children of men even in the present life, as they will not thoroughly comprehend till they attain life everlasting.

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