I recently came across an old photocopy of an article entitled “The Character of a Methodist.” It was written by John Wesley in the mid-1700’s, when the early Methodists were apparently the object of criticism by those who were not part of the Methodist movement and therefore did not understand its power or purpose. Wesley had written “The Character of a Methodist” because much of the criticism he encountered was based on rumor and half-truths about the Methodist people. These words lie at the heart of this rich article, as a statement about the chief distinguishing mark of the people called Methodist:
“‘What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?’ I answer: A Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy [Spirit] given unto him;’ 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; which is constantly crying out , ‘whom have I in heaven but thee?’ and ‘there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!’”
In this brief, amazing statement we can see the essence of John Wesley’s ministry. His words are simply stated, scriptural, and ready for practical application. Further, they reveal the passion for holiness and purity of heart that was the benchmark of the Methodist movement in its beginning.
It’s that passion for holiness and a pure heart that continues to call to me today, even as the world around us continues to simmer in a spiritual and emotional cauldron. On one hand, it seems that rage, prejudices, threats, and cries for vengeance are everywhere. On the other hand, protesters are calling for peace, restraint, and patience. It can be a bit confusing if we listen to all the opinions. But our focus is not on listening to opinions–our focus is on seeing to it that the love of God reigns in our hearts. More than ever our world needs for us to be a people who desire nothing but God, and God’s righteousness. The mark of Methodists in John Wesley’s day continues to be a powerful standard for us today. Yet holding up John Wesley’s words as our standard brings to mind a rhetorical question which Jesus asked 2000 years ago: “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke18:8)
I think for you and me a faithful response to the current world events might be to enter into a time of confession. We need to check our hearts, and see whether they are yet big enough to be worthy vessels of the Holy Spirit’s love. To see whether our own desires, ambitions, and thoughts are worthy of God’s Kingdom. To see whether the love of God is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.”
How can we know if God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts? Jesus said we’ll “know the tree by its fruit.” (Luke 6:44) And if the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control—if these are not yet the distinguishing marks of our lives, then perhaps the next faithful step is to grow silent and still, and let God minister to us. Ours task is “to be still, and know that the Lord is God,” until such time as we desire God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We must confess and turn to God until we can say with our whole heart “whom have I in heaven but you, Lord?”
What is the state of your soul today? When will you talk to God about it? When will you listen for God’s reply?
February 20, 2012