Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Spirit" -> John Wesley On Discipline

By all descriptions, John Wesley could be both irritating and gracious. He could be tolerant beyonds all expectations, and he could be severe in his approach. However, he was a Holy Man of God, and he is the closest thing that we have to the apostles that we have seen in the last 300 years. To ignore Wesley and his thoughts is to miss one of the greatest spirits this world has ever known--and you will be poorer (pun intended) for not studying him.

Wesley was somewhat tortured later in life by what he saw as the failure of Heaven on Earth. He had the belief that through Christian discipline, we should be able to change the world. By in large, Wesley always started from personal Holiness, and if you cannot understand this, you cannot really understand his worldview. For him, we first get ourselves right with God, then we go to do God's work.

There are a series of Spiritual disciplines that Wesley expected his followers to adhere to. What we think are our disciplines (going to Church once a week, trying to read the Bible, giving some money to the poor) are a far shout away from Wesley's expectations.

I would say his expectations would shock virtually any Christian today.

Let's us look at his expectations on fasting:

And I fear there are now thousand of Methodists...who..have entirely left off fasting; who are so far from fasting twice in the week...that they do not fast twice in the month. Yea, are there not some of you who do not fast one day from the beginning of the year to the end? But what excuse can there be for this?...; but for any who profess to believe the Scripture to be the word of God. Since, according to this, the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven, than the man that never prays.

Wesley says that if we do not fast, we will not make it to heaven. Wesley wanted to see his flock fast twice a week and commitment themselves to prayer.

Let's look at Wesley's personal example of dealing with the poor.

Wesley had his heart broken by seeing so many of the poor of England in horrible conditions. Similar to the conditions that we might see in Africa today, was the conditions of the poor in London.

One of my favorite stories about Wesley came when he was over 80 years old, which he tells in his journal.

Tuesday, 4.--At this season we usually distribute coals and bread among the poor of the society. But I now considered, they wanted clothes, as well as food. So on this and the four following days I walked through the town and begged two hundred pounds in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work as most of the streets were filled with melting snow, which often lay ankle deep; so that my feet were steeped in snow water nearly from morning till evening. I held it out pretty well till Saturday evening; but I was laid up with a violent flux, which increased every hour till, at six in the morning, Dr. Whitehead called upon me. His first draught made me quite easy; and three or four more perfected the cure. If he lives some years, I expect he will be one of the most eminent physicians in Europe.

So clearly, Wesley had high expectations about the Christian disciplines. I this light, he was disappointed that those that he reached for Christ did not seem to remember where they came from, and how they should act toward others in the future. Because of this, he started to wonder aloud if Christian could create Heavan on Earth.

John Wesley, Sermon #116 talkes about the ironic nature of Christianity.

Does it not seem (and yet this cannot be) that Christianity, true scriptural Christianity, has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. Now, if there be no way to prevent this, Christianity is inconsistent with itself, and, of consequence, cannot stand, cannot continue long among any people; since, wherever it generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.

This refrain should seen familiar to you, if you've read my previous posts. John Wesley is describing nothing more than the hedonistic treadmill. If we accpet Christ, explore the Christian disciplines, we then run the risk of being swallowed up in the results of living a good life and the good things that come from this.

So somewhere, as we start our journey toward what will be a better life for ourselves, we need to draw lines. We need to determine where we will stop. Every person, before he builds a house, determines how big of a house that he would like to build. If you don't do this, you will never make the right investments, and you'll never know when to stop building.

So the question for all of us: What are the goals that you have for your mind, your body, and your spirit.

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