Wednesday, March 5, 2008

John & Charles Wesley

Wednesday March 5, 2008
Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

On Monday, we celebrated the feast of John and Charles Wesley. I have been very intrigued by the Wesleys. I first came to be interested in them when I read about John Wesley’s interest and carefully reading of the Church Fathers and Eastern Orthodox writers.

But the Wesleys, for the most part, are misunderstood today. No doubt, we remember the Wesley brothers best as the founders of the Methodist Church. But in fact both Wesleys were baptized as Anglicans, the sons of an Anglican priest. They were ordained priests in the Anglican Church (John in 1728 and Charles in 1735) and they lived their entire lives as priests in the Anglican Church. And, what many people don’t remember is that they both died as Anglicans. It was the Wesleys’ followers who essentially established the Methodist Church based on the Wesley’s method of holiness.

The Anglican Church at the time of the Wesley’s conversion was a bleak place. It had become a complacent and boring church. It had lost all its meaning and purpose. John and Charles were simply looking for a way to find some spiritual meaning in their lives and to live out their sense of conversion. They did it by establishing a simple method of living one’s life as a faithful Christina.

The first part of the Wesley’s method was Prayer

For John Wesley prayer was the basis of all Christian living. He wrote in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:

“’Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.

“All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.”

One of the best ways Wesley felt we could pray was by praying the Daily Office according to the Book of Common Prayer.

The second method was Scripture Study

John Wesley read the Scriptures every day, usually early in the day or late in the evening. Because he was a scripture scholar, he read the scriptures in their original languages of Greek and Hebrew and he also wrote commentaries on the Bible.
Wesley advised the following regarding Scripture study

1. First, to set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening to read Scriptures.

2. To read one chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament and if unable to do that, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?

3. To read scriptures to know the whole will of God.

4. To read scriptures with the intention of finding mean in such “grand, fundamental doctrines” such as Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.

5. “Serious and earnest prayer” should be constantly used before reading scriptures because seeing "scripture can only be understood thro' the same Spirit whereby it was given." “Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts.”

6. He also suggested that, while reading scripture, we are to “frequently…pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short.”

Wesley’s third method was Fasting

John Wesley, in his younger days, fasted every Wednesday and Friday. Later in his life he fasted only on Fridays. Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., in his biography, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life writes:

Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus and his followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.

John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life, 1996.

Wesley also held a deep faith in Holy Communion, which was pretty unsual for his time. In his day, Anglicans received Communion maybe once or twice a year. Wesley believed that a Christian should receive Communion as often as possible.

The Wesleys’ Method is, I think, still very helpful to all Christians still. The best honor we can give the Wesleys is trying to take their Method of holiness to heart and practice it our lives.

In closing, I am going to share the prayer John Wesley’s so-called Covenant Prayer.

...Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both... Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Let us pray.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

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