Wesley's impolite enthusiasm for the Name

October 8th, 2014
Statue of John Wesley in front of Wesley's Chapel (CC-Mike Peel)

I've just read Chapter 4 of Adam Hamilton's Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It. There is so much good stuff in here. I am just blown away and humbled by John Wesley's passion. Rev. Hamilton describes Wesley's decision to "be more vile": to follow the lead of the younger Methodist George Whitefield and engage in field preaching to the impoverished coal miners around Kingswood, outside the walls of a church building, far past the vestiges of polite orderly English worship. This was a big step for John Wesley — and one to which I have to confess I still have not caught up going on 300 years later.

How can we submit today to "be more vile"? How should we?

I could air my own list of failings, personal and theological and imaginative, that have prevented me from inviting others to Jesus as radically as Wesley did. But instead I'm going to point toward the kind of conviction that led Wesley to overcome his obstacles and minister the way he did. I do this as a prayer that his passion and conviction will transform me, and inspire you, and be for the revival of us all.

As Rev. Hamilton records, Wesley was convinced that everyone — no matter how far outside the church or far from Christian community — can respond to God's grace, come to Jesus and be saved. Wesley was convinced that:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Rom. 10:13-15)

Everyone who calls on the all sufficient, all inclusive (Col. 1:16-17) name of JESUS will be saved. St. Paul quotes Joel 2:32, which St. Peter also quotes immediately after the fiery outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:21), right before he declares Jesus crucified and risen. To orient one's life and ministry in line with this truth is to be right in the center of God's will and of the Holy Spirit's action in the world. Whatever 'orthodoxy' means, it is just the logical outworking of the truth that is in the name of Jesus, as he is declared in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord can be saved. If we aim at orthodoxy rather than Jesus, we get something ossified which impedes the declaration of his name. If we aim at the embodied proclamation of the saving name of Jesus, we get Spirit-filled orthodoxy: We become living letters, manifesting the truth that is in Jesus, shot through with sanctifying grace, even though we'll never have time to work it all out on paper.

And Wesley didn't have altar calls at the end of his outdoor sermons! He invited those who heard him declare Jesus to come to a "religious society" meeting, a Methodist small group, for encouragement and confession, for prayer and praise.

"And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?"

Preachers and evangelists (laity and bi-vocational ministers even more than full-time clergy) are needed. "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" says St. Paul.

Will I? Will you?

comments powered by Disqus