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One of the more crucial
of John Wesley’s early sermons, preached at Oxford at the beginning of the
Methodist Revival was entitled ‘the almost and the altogether Christian’. John
Wesley was apt to say that you can be as orthodox as the devil, for the devil
knows the truth about Jesus and God, but that truth has not transformed him,
and still not be saved.   For Wesley the
heart of religion was the religion of the heart, by which was meant real
internal conversion of the human mind and spirit by means of the Spirit of
God.  The result of such a genuine
conversion was described by Wesley as follows

Do good designs and good desires
make a Christian? By no means, unless they are brought to good effect.
“Hell is paved,” saith one, “with good intentions.” The
great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in
your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”?  Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy
in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? And is this
commandment written in your heart, “That he who loveth God love his
brother also”? Do you then love your neighbour as yourself? Do you love
every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? as
Christ loved you? Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave
himself for thee? Hast thou faith in his blood? Believest thou the Lamb of God
hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea?
that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out
of the way, nailing it to his cross? Hast thou indeed redemption through his
blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with
thy spirit, that thou art a child of God?

            Wesley placed a lot of emphasis on the internal witness
or testimony of the Holy Spirit, telling a person they are a child of God, and
he placed a lot of emphasis on the character transformation that accompanied
the witness, namely one is filled with a heart full of love for God and others,
and begins to manifest that in one’s life. 
But lest we think that Wesley is just talking about an inner experience
that an individual has and should have if they are a saved person, it becomes
clear the more one reads that Wesley sees the experience as the means of
character transformation which in turn should and can lead to the
transformation not merely of ones ‘tempers’ (attitudes, feelings, inclinations)
but also the transformation of one’s behavior.

            In Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament, Wesley adds a few
telling comments about the fruit of the Spirit.   He says.


— The root of all the rest.

Gentleness — Toward all
men; ignorant and wicked men in particular.

Goodness — The Greek
word means all that is benign, soft, winning, tender, either in temper or

Verse 23

[23] Meekness, temperance: against such
there is no law.

Meekness — Holding all
the affections and passions in even balance.


            Notice that Wesley does not just think the fruit is and
should be manifested between Christians. 
No, he particularly thinks gentleness must be exercised towards
non-believers,  which, it must be said,
is not the normal approach of censorious preachers of his day or ours.  What is especially interesting is the final
comment on meekness, which Wesley equates with keeping all the affections and
passions in even balance.  This
understanding of the term seems almost Stoic, and does not really fully comport
with the way the term is used elsewhere in the NT, even of Christ himself.  Meekness, to be sure, is not weakness, but it
does mean a sort of mild-mannered approach to relating to others, a humble
approach, rather than a rude and arrogant one. 
It also refers to a person who is self-controlled, proactive in the way
he relates to others, rather than reactive.  
In an interesting letter, written near the close of his life, Wesley

“When the witness and
the fruit of the Spirit meet together, there can be no stronger proof that we
are of God.” (John Wesley, letter: 31 March 1787).   It was
not just the inner sense of assurance of salvation, but the evidence of changed
character and behavior that indicated a person was of God.

            In his reflections called ‘Faith and the Assurance of
Faith’, Wesley provides a little chain of logic to help us understand the
relationship between holiness and love and the internal testimony of the Spirit
that we are a child of God.  He
stresses  We must be holy of heart and life before we can be conscious that we
are so.  But we must love God before we
can be holy at all, this being the root of all holiness. Now, we cannot love
God until we know he loves us–‘We love him because he first loved us’ and we
cannot know his love to us until his Spirit first witnesses it to our spirit.
Until then, we cannot believe it.”

            What is striking
about this is not only the clear connection made between knowing God loves us,
and loving God in return which is said to be the root of all holiness. But even
more striking is the statement that we can be holy of heart and mind, and we can
know that we are.   We could equally well
say that the root of spiritual formation is being loved by God, and loving God
in return, which reforms and transforms our character into a more holy
character.   There is no spiritual
formation practice more important than the active loving of God with whole
heart and neighbor and others as self. 
And the interesting by-product of such loving is that we become holy
people, we become set apart for God, we become like God who is both holy and
love.   God is not holiness without love
(thank goodness), nor is God love without holiness (praise God).  God’s love is always a holy, sanctifying,
sin-conquering sin-exterminating love.

            Sometimes what happens in
discussions about Christian maturity and spiritual formation, is that instead
of being encouraged, people get discouraged, because they think that they are
being exhorted to become super-Christians, to strive for a sort of spiritual
life which frankly they don’t see themselves ever achieving.   They are not working on sainthood, they are
working on just being a good Christian person, and it’s all they have time
for.  For those who feel that way, hear
the good news—  Spiritual formation is
not an achievement, it is what goes on invisibly ever day in the life of the true
believer,  even when that believer is
unaware of it.  God in the person of the
Spirit is at work in us every single day, transforming us. Paul puts it this
way, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away,
our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4.17).    It
will be seen that we have reached the point where it’s time to talk about
spiritual formation as it has to do with what the individual Christian does on
his own, and sometimes by himself.

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