Scripture: ROMANS 1:17-18
Many people do not understand why we call our Church, Wesley Mission. They do not understand our heritage. They do not understand why we speak of Wesley Church, Wesley Theatre, Wesley Hospital, and have in our foyer a Bible printed in 1650 written in by John Wesley, and a 250 year old chair made by the most famous chairmaker in history, Thomas Chippendale, identified as "JOHN WESLEY's CHAIR".
Many people visit Wesley Mission because of what we are and what we are doing, but few know our history. That is why I am reminding people on this our 186th anniversary. History prepares us for the future. If you do not know from whence you have come, you do not know where you are heading! Historians understand that. I was having dinner with my wife with four eminent church leaders who were commenting on our church's life and witness to the city: The then Anglican Archbishop Donald Robinson, the former Dean of Sydney Dr Stuart Barton Babbage, the head of the University Department of History Professor Ken Cable, and the Chairman of the Government Inquiry into Universities Roderick West. They each commented that in the Uniting Church of Australia, and in the lurching by the church to left and to right to find its new image, Wesley Mission has stood successful and strong because it remains true to it's heritage.
Professor Cable said: "If Wesley Mission is different from other Uniting Churches it is because it has remained true to its heritage and its calling." What is this Wesley heritage we continue? John Wesley was one of the most influential people of eighteenth century England and all church history.
1. THE MAN:
His Parents were remarkable people. His father Samuel was an Anglican clergymen and his mother Susanna, was an amazing woman of spiritual depth. They had nineteen babies, ten surviving. His childhood was marked by a traumatic boyhood experience. He was saved from their burning house in Epworth when aged six, in a way that gave both son and parents the belief that he was "a brand plucked from the burning" for a reason.
His education was at Charterhouse and then a Master of Arts at Oxford. For 13 years he served God as an ordained Anglican priest and missionary. His missionary service was marked by frustrating failure. On his way home from USA, he wrote in His Journal: "I went to America to convert the Indians, but Oh, who shall convert me?"
His warm heart experience was central to his life. His life falls into two parts with the dividing point being May 24th 1738, while aged 35. He felt his heart "strangely warmed" while listening to Martin Luther's introduction to Paul's Letter to the Romans, at a devotional meeting of a group of pietist European Christians, the Moravian Brethren. He wrote: "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart by faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." From that conversion, came a great evangelical movement that swept like a fire throughout Britain, bringing to the world a new kind of Protestantism combining evangelism and social reform. So the 24th May 1738 became Wesley Day ever since.
His travels after his conversion were prodigious. He rode over 225,000 miles on horse back, preaching 44,000 sermons and personally won one hundred and forty thousand converts to Christ.
His death in 1791, saw two hundred thousand Methodists in Britain, Europe and America. His last words were:"The best of all is, God is with us!" On his memorial at Westminster Abbey are his words: "God buries his workmen, but continues His work." Within ten years of his death, one in every thirty Englishman was a Methodist. He fought to the end, and six days before his death wrote to William Wilberforce to urge him to abolish slavery.
2. HIS MESSAGE:
God's grace was seen in God's loving response to our sin and apartness from God. Christ's life, death on the cross for our sins, and resurrection enables us to enter the new life.
Personal Salvation must be acknowledged by all who would be Christian. The message of Christ's salvation must be told to every one. God's grace freely saves all through personal faith.
A Spirit filled life assures us of salvation and enables us to live with spiritual power. The gifts and fruit of the Spirit enables growth in grace until we become mature in Christ and able to serve others.
A transformed society is the result of transformed lives. Personal evangelism combines with social responsibility as seen in Wesley Mission today. A social care for all people, especially the poor, marked the early Methodists. Wesley turned a foundry into a meeting place seating 1500, with rooms for teaching, a free school for sixty children, a shelter for widows, a dispensary for the poor and a cafeteria, - the first Wesley Centre like ours.
The giving of money for practical social care came from people covenanting to give: "a penny a week and a shilling a quarter." We teach the lessons of gaining, saving and giving which enabled Wesley's poor to grow in self-esteem and dignity.
3. HIS METHODS.
1. Restore the Scriptural Christianity. Wesley sought to restore New Testament Christianity, by living the principles and spiritual power that made the early church great. Every year he preached in Oxford urging the reform of the Anglican church by a return to New Testament Christianity. Wesley stood in the restorationist tradition.
2. Renew the Church. They were mocked in trying to brings life into the church as "Enthusiasts" "Bible Moths" "Reformers", but the mocking name that stuck was "Methodists". His brother Charles, taught people by wonderful Hymns. In 1728 Charles established the Oxford Holy Club which John was to lead. Charles was the first Methodist. Charles wrote Christian doctrine in hymns to fit popular songs sung in taverns. "Methodists sang their creeds." On Pentecost Sunday, 21st May 1738, three days before John felt his heart "strangely warmed", Charles was influenced by Luther's introduction to Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, especially the verse, "Christ loved me and gave himself for me". He wrote the first of a phenomenal 6,500 hymns, and on the anniversary of his conversion:
"And can it be that I should gain,
an interest in my Saviour's blood?
Died He for me who caused His pain,
for me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be
That thou, my God shouldst die for me?"
Spiritual discipline was learnt from their devout mother. At Oxford they spent two hours in prayer and Bible reading daily. To help others grow in their faith, especially those who were poor and illiterate, Wesley organised a system of classes, bands and societies, supported by travelling preachers and wrote or edited over 400 books on a variety of Christian teaching. The Classes, were house churches with a local layman or woman as pastor and teacher. The class leader visited each person at home each week to advise, teach, question, correct and comfort the believers, and collect offerings for the poor. The bands brought together about 20% of the classes for mutual confession of sin and prayer. The smaller society was made up of devout people who shared their goods and money in common.
3. Reform the nation. Wesley was a evangelist who held personal evangelism in balance with social responsibility. When people were born again, they had to show the fruit of faith by loving their neighbours. The urban poor of England's Industrial Revolution were evangelised and souls were saved among the coal-miners, iron smelters, quarrymen, ship yard workers, cotton factory hands and servants. He said "Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most." They established credit unions, free schools, dispensaries, attacked factory work conditions, slavery, gambling, piracy, war and political graft. So we hurl ourselves into social reform. The Wesleyan Revival is the greatest example of the impact of a spiritual movement upon the life of a nation.
4. Research the methods. Wesley was pragmatic. His effectiveness dates from the day his friend George Whitefield demonstrated how coal miners would listen to the Gospel preached out of doors.
Wesley said "I should have thought the saving of souls a sin if it had not been done in church." But because it worked, Wesley preached frequently at 5am, in the open air of marketplace and mine-head not for his personal convenience, but because poor people were going to work at that time.
4. HIS MEGA-TRENDS.
John and Charles Wesley established some church growth principles which worked, trends that lasted, mega-trends unaffected by time or culture. Dr J. Edwin Orr, the greatest authority ever on Revival in the church was a lecturer at Wheaton College. He took some students in 1940 in a brief visit to England including the Epworth Rectory. Beside the bed are two worn impressions in the carpet where it was said John Wesley knelt hours in prayer for England's social and spiritual renewal. As the students were getting on the bus, he noticed one was missing. Going back upstairs he found one student kneeling in the carpet kneeholes praying with his face on the bed: "O Lord, do it again! Do it again!". Orr placed a hand on the student's shoulder and said gently, "Come on Billy, we must be going." And rising Billy Graham rejoined the bus.
God will do it again if we are as committed as John and Charles Wesley. They gave to us megatrends that are still vital for the church today.
1. Accept personal salvation as the basis of faith.
2. Believe a plain gospel to reach plain people.
3. Commit every believer to a small nurture group.
4. Demonstrate practical concern for the poor.
5. Expect personal growth and spiritual discipline.
6. Face social problems in Christ's name.
7. Grow the church by whatever good means work.
At the conclusion of almost every sermon, John would call people to repentance and to seek salvation. He would write in his journal: "We offered Christ". So now I offer Christ to you. Receive Him into your heart by faith.
In a church in Chester, England, the congregation erected a plaque which reads: "Near this spot on June 20th 1752, the Rev. John Wesley preached his first sermon in this city. His sermon was "O let me commend my Saviour to you." So on this spot, let me commend my Saviour to you.
Even as you sit in your seats, like John Wesley put your trust in Jesus Christ; hold an assurance, a confidence, a conviction, a certainty that Christ has saved you; and testify to what you have felt in your heart by faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is paramount, then repentance of your sins, then confession of the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life, followed by a life of obedience to your Lord. That is how to find your assurance!
John Wesley's life was turned round by the understanding of one verse of the Bible: Romans 1:17 "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." The Good News is that we are made right with God through our faith. It is our faith in Jesus Christ who lived, died upon the Cross for our sins, was raised from the dead, has ascended into heaven where He reigns as Lord, and who will come again in glory, that saves us. We are made right with God through our faith. By our faith we live, and our life in Christ is full, free and eternal.
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