John Wesley wrote the following as a preface to a tract he called THE CHARACTER OF A METHODIST: He wrote “SINCE the name first came abroad into the world, many have been at a loss to know what a Methodist is; what are the principles and the practice of those who are commonly called by that name; and what the distinguishing marks [are] of this sect…”
And with that introduction, he began, in 17 points, to logically argue what one could look for that would help identify what a Methodist was really like.
This, then, in today’s words, was the essence of his response…
- THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His agreeing to this doctrine or embracing that belief have nothing to do with it. So anyone who imagines that a Methodist is someone with a certain dogma mistakes the truth completely. Yes, we do believe that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and so we are distinguished from Jews, Muslims, and atheists. We believe the written word of God to be the only needed source of guidance for us to live the Christian life; and so there is a fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic Church and us. We believe Jesus Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and so we are clearly different from groups like the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, and others like them. But as to all of the other disagreements in Christianity, if they aren’t at odds with those basics of the faith, then we think and let think. Our individual beliefs on those things, whatever they are not what makes us Methodists.
- Neither are words or phrases of any sort. We don’t get hung up on a particular religious way of talking. We prefer to make our conversations and our preaching as easy to understand for those who are new as well as those who’ve been in the church for years.
- Nor do we desire to be distinguished by meaningless practices or habits that try to show how religious we are. Our religion isn’t about what we wear or what we do or don’t do, or eat or wear. Unless instructions are specifically found in the word of God, you won’t find it being a Methodist practice.
- Nor can you define a Methodist by how we make our beliefs and practice try to stand up to a particular Scripture passage. We recognize that our faith is a gift God gives us and we grow into clearer understanding as we go to ALL of the Scriptures… not just by setting up tests by which we judge and evaluate each other based on some favorite Scripture. In other words, we don’t look to the Bible as a way to compare ourselves with others. That would be as bad as a woman who decides she is absolutely virtuous just because she isn’t a prostitute; or a man who convinces himself that he is truly honest just because he does not rob or steal. Methodists, and Christians in general, can’t be seen just by trying to compare them to others.
- So you might ask: “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist?” Wesley answers: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit;” a Methodist is one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength.” God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul.
- A Methodist is happy in God. He has “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and overflowing his soul with peace and joy. Having found forgiveness of his sins through Jesus, he can’t help but rejoice, whenever he looks back on the horrible pit out of which he has been delivered. He can’t help but rejoice, whenever he looks on the way his life is now, because he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- A Methodist is one who has hope because of Christ and thus gives thanks to God in all things, for he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he gives thanks from his heart to God who directs his life; knowing that every good gift comes from above. He therefore can cast all his care on God in all things, making his request known to him with thanksgiving.
- In fact, a Methodist is known as one who “prays without ceasing.” Not that a methodist is always in the house of prayer; though he doesn’t miss a chance to go to church when he can. Neither is he always physically on his knees in prayer. But he’s one that offers God his very heart, and in the times of praying or even in the times of silence, his heart is ever lifted up to God. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually.
- And while a Methodist can be known by the way they love God, by praying without ceasing, by rejoicing evermore, and in giving thanks in everything, there’s another commandment written in his heart that says, If you love God, then love your fellow humans also. As Jesus said it, a Methodist loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all. That someone comes along who’s not personally known to him, is no irrelevant. Even if someone comes along that dislikes him or wants to harm him, a Methodist “loves his enemies.” And if it isn’t in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” still he’ll pray for those who “despitefully use him and persecute him.”
- For a true Methodist is “pure in heart.” By that we mean that a methodist seeks, and lets, the love of God purify his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. A Methodist forgives, if he had a quarrel against someone else; in the same way that God through Christ has forgiven him.
- In the same way, a Methodist tries to do the will of God. His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but to please God. God then reigns alone in his life.
- And in the same way that you can tell a tree by the fruit it bears: an apple on a tree reveals that it is an apple tree and oranges hanging from the branches reveals the orange tree, so it is that you’ll be able to tell a Methodist by the fruit of his life… his actions and attitudes, behaviors and choices will show that this is a person who is connected to Jesus Christ. Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath commanded, he does.
- A Methodist seeks to love God by obeying God as much as he can. For his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength. He continually presents his soul and body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God; entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, and all he is, to his glory.
- So, by consequence, whatever the Methodist does, it is done for God. His business and entertainment, as well as his prayers, all serve this great end. Whether he sit in his house or walk by the way, whether he lie down or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life; whether he put on his clothes, or go to work, or eat and drink, it all is meant to give glory to God. His one invariable rule is this, “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
- Nor does the Methodist take his cues from the world around him. He knows that sin does not stop being sinful, just because everyone else is doing it. Even his very thought life is directed not by the society in which we live, but by the Scripture passage that says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.”
- Finally, as he has time, he does good to others… whether neighbors or strangers, friends or enemies. A Methodist reaches out physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so that those others that God brings into their path, might meet Jesus through them.
- These are the principles and practices of our group; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do we desire to be distinguished from others.
You might say, But the things you’ve described are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!”
Yep! You got it!
John Wesley meant that very thing. He said: I would to God that everyone understood this truth that we vehemently refuse to be distinguished from others, by any but the common principles of plain, old Christianity. In fact, we renounce and detest all other marks of distinction.
And that’s who a Methodist is… he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.
- By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labor to
distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world, from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatever denomination they be, we have no real desire to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after Christ. Like Jesus said: “Whoever does the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Wesley hoped that Methodists would be known by our Christianity… that there would be no other divisions among ourselves. He paraphrased a Scriptural passage and asked “Is your heart right, as my heart is with yours? If it be, then give me your hand. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.
Like Paul so long ago, Wesley would ask: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose.” “Lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.”