The Character of a Methodist

By John Wesley

Few Methodists today are aware that Methodism’s founder wrote a profound definition of the Methodist character. We have preserved the ideas of Wesley but tried to express them in 20th century language.  -Charles W. Keysor, Editor

The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort … his accepting this or that scheme of religion … his embracing any particular set of notions … or mouthing the judgements of one man or another. All these are quite wide of the point.

Therefore, whoever imagines that a Methodist is a man of such and such opinion is sadly ignorant. We do believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” This distinguishes us from all non-Christians. We believe that the written Word of God is the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice in our lives. And this distinguishes us from the Roman Catholic Church.

We believe that Christ is the eternal, supreme God. This distinguishes us from those who consider Jesus Christ to be less than divine.

But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. This means that whether or not these secondary opinions are right or wrong, they are NOT the distinguishing marks of a Methodist.

Neither are words or phrases of any sort. For our religion does not depend on any peculiar way of speaking. We do not rely upon any quaint or uncommon expressions. The most obvious, easy words which convey the truth most effectively — these we Methodists prefer, in daily speech and when we speak about the things of God. We never de­part from the most common, ordinary way of speaking — un­less it be to express Scriptural truths in the words of Scripture. And we don’t suppose any Christian will condemn us for this!

We don’t put on airs by repeating certain Scriptural expressions — unless these are used by the inspired writers themselves.

Our religion does not consist of doing only those things which God has not forbidden. It is not a matter of our clothes or the way we walk; whether our heads are covered; or in abstaining from marriage or from food and drink. (All these things can be good if they are received gratefully and used reverently as blessings given to us by God.) Nobody who knows the truth will try to identify a Methodist by any of these outward appearances.

Nor is a Methodist identified because he bases his religion on any particular part of God’s truth. By “salvation,” the Methodist means holiness of heart and life. This springs from true faith, and nothing else. Can even a nominal Christian deny this?

This concept of faith does not mean we are declaring God’s Law to be void through faith. God forbid such a perverted conclusion! Instead, we Methodists believe that faith is the means by which God’s Law is established.

There are too many people who make a religion out of 1) doing no harm, or 2) doing good. (And often these two together.) God knows, we Methodists do not fall into this mistaken way of defining our Christianity! Experience proves that many people struggle vainly for a long, long time with this false idea of religion consisting of good works (or no bad works)! In the end, these deluded people have no religion at all; they are no better off than when they started!

THEN WHAT IS THE DISTINGUISHING MARK OF A METHODIST? WHO IS A METHODIST?

A Methodist is a person who has the love of God in his heart. This is a gift of God’s Holy Spirit. And the same Spirit causes a Methodist to love the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, with all his strength.

God is the joy of a Methodist’s heart; the desire of his soul, which cries out constantly, “Whom have I in heaven but You, Lord?” There is nothing on earth that I desire but You, my God and my All! You are the strength of my life. You, Lord, are all that I need.”

Naturally the Methodist is happy in God. Yes, he is always happy because the Methodist has within him that “well of water” which Christ promised. It floods up to overflowing, bringing glorious assurance of the life that never ends. Therefore, the Methodist is a person in whom God’s peace and joy are constantly evident.

The Methodist does not fear God’s wrath for himself. Perfect love has banished fear of God’s punishment from the Meth­ odist’s heart. For this reason, he is able to rejoice evermore. He does not rejoice in himself or in his achievements. Instead the Methodist rejoices in God, who is his Lord and his Savior.

The Methodist acknowledges God as his Father. Why? Because the Methodist has received from Jesus Christ the power to become a glad and grateful son of the Father.

The Methodist is one who realizes that He belongs to God instead of satan. This is redemption. It is possible only because Jesus gave His life on the cross. He shed His blood to make atonement for the sins of all who believe in Him. The Methodist trusts in Christ alone for his salvation. The Methodist knows that the blood of Jesus has cleansed him from all sin. Through Christ and Christ alone the Methodist has received forgiveness for his sins.

The Methodist never forgets this. And the Methodist shudders as he considers the eternal punishment from which he has been delivered by Jesus Christ. The Methodist gives thanks that God loved him enough to spare him — to blot out his transgressions and iniquities … to atone for them with the shed blood and broken body of His beloved Son.

Having personally experienced deliverance from God’s wrath, the Methodist cannot help rejoicing. He rejoices every time he thinks of his narrow escape from eternal destruction. He rejoices that by God’s kindness he, a sinner, has been placed in a new and right relationship with his Creator. This miracle has been accomplished through Jesus Christ, the Methodist’s beloved Savior.

Whoever thus believes experiences the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness. This clear and certain inner recognition is witness that the Methodist is a son of God by faith. This truth is made known to the Methodist as God sends His own Spirit to bear witness deep within the mind and soul of the Methodist, enabling him to cry out “Father, My Father!” This is the inner witness of God’s Holy Spirit, testifying to the Methodist of his adoption into God’s own family.

The Methodist rejoices because he looks forward confidently to seeing the glory of Christ fully revealed one day. This expectation is a source of great joy, and the Methodist exalts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to the Father’s abundant mercy He has caused me to be re-born so I can enjoy this eternal hope which never fades or tarnishes. This is an inheritance of faith. It cannot be stolen, lost, or destroyed in any way. It is a pure and permanent hope. God has reserved its fulfillment in eternity for me!”

Having this great hope, the Methodist gives thanks to God at all times, and in all circumstances. For the Methodist knows that God expects His children to be always grateful.

The Methodist receives every happening cheerfully, declaring “Good is the will of the Lord.” Whether the Lord gives or takes away, the Methodist blesses the name of the Lord.

Another characteristic of the Methodist: he has learned to be content, whether he has much or little. When humiliation comes, the Methodist accepts this gladly as the Father’s will. When prosperity and good fortune come, the Methodist likewise gives God the credit. The Methodist accepts all circumstances gladly, knowing that these are God’s doing, intended for his ultimate good.

Whether he is in leisure or suffering pain … whether he is sick or in good health … whether he lives or dies, the Methodist gives thanks to God from the very depths of his heart. For the Methodist trusts that God’s ways are always good … that every wonderful and perfect gift comes to us from God, into whose providential hand the Methodist has committed his body and soul.

The Methodist knows no paralyzing frustration and anxiety! For the Methodist has thankfully cast his every care upon God, never failing to let God know all about his needs and problems.

The Methodist never stops praying. It is second nature for him to pray and not to be discouraged. This does NOT mean that the Methodist is always praying in a church building! (Though it goes without saying that the Methodist misses no opportunity for public worship.) The Methodist is often on his knees in humility before God, but he does not spend all his time in contemplation.

Nor does the Methodist try to beat God’s ears with many words. For the Holy Spirit speaks to God on behalf of the Methodist, expressing his innermost hopes and longings which human words cannot articulate. This alone is true prayer; the language of the heart which overflows with joy, sometimes is best expressed in holy silence before God.

The Methodist’s whole self is tuned to God’s will — at all times, and in all circumstances. Nothing can sever the bond that unites the Methodist and his God. This constant sense of closeness and communion can­ not be broken by business, leisure, or conversation. This closeness to God is the true sign of the Methodist’s love for His Creator and Redeemer. Therefore, the Methodist walks with God, being constantly aware of Him who is invisible and immortal.

Inscribed indelibly on the Methodist’s heart is the truth that “he who loves God loves his brother also.” This means that the Methodist cares about his neighbor as much as the Methodist cares about himself!

His heart is full of love — for everyone. This love does not stop with the Methodist’s personal acquaintances; it encircles all mankind. Even those who hate the Methodist receive love in return. For like Jesus, the Methodist loves his enemies. And the Methodist loves even God’s enemies, the evil and the unthankful. If the Methodist cannot possibly do good to his enemies, still the Methodist prays for those who trouble and insult him. This is what it means to be “pure in heart.”

The Methodist can experience this purity because God has cleansed the Methodist’s heart, washing away all urge for revenge … all envy … all wrath … all desire for harming another person. Every unkind inclination is gone … every evil lust and desire too. Pride has been purged out of the Methodist mind and heart. Gone also is haughtiness which always causes friction between people.

In place of these “human” weaknesses, the Methodist has taken the character of Christ. This is evident in a true Methodist’s meekness patience in the face of frustration absence of pride … honest estimate of his own strengths and weaknesses.

If anybody causes him trouble, embarrassment or discomfort, the Methodist can forgive. Because God, for the sake of Christ, has forgiven the Methodist for his sins. All of this means that a Methodist never has reason to quarrel and fight with anybody, regardless how great the provocation. And why should the Methodist fight? Nobody can take from him what he considers most important: God and the things of God. The Methodist is immune to conflict because he has crucified his “old self” which used to be directed by the desires and the standards of the lower nature.

There is one great desire which motivates the Methodist: to do not his own will, but God’s. The Methodist’s single intention is to please God. This absorption with God fills the Methodist’s life with radiance, joy, peace at all times. Because the Methodist is focused on God to the exclusion of all else, the light which is God fills the Methodist’s whole being. Thus, he is a child of Light.

So, God reigns alone and supreme within the Methodist. No motion of the Methodist’s mind or conscience is out of tune with God’s gracious, sovereign will. A Methodist’s every thought and action points to the Lord.

Anybody can identify a tree by its fruits. So also, the Methodist is known because his life bears the fruit for God: keeping of all the commandments from the greatest to the very least. The Methodist            conscience is clear before God. Whatever God forbids; that the Methodist avoids. Whatever God has commanded, the Methodist does, whether this involves joy or grief, ease or great difficulty, gain or loss. Because the Methodist has been set at liberty by God’s Spirit, he finds his deepest satisfaction in doing God’s will, on earth even as it is in heaven.

The Methodist keeps ALL God’s commandments — not half-heartedly, but with enthusiasm and gladness. The Methodist’s obedience to God is in direct proportion to his love for God. And this “perfect love” is the source of the Methodist’s desire to obey God’s Law 100 percent.

All this means that the Meth­odist is continually offering his whole self to God … holding back nothing, but giving all to increase the glory of God in the world.

TO BE CONCLUDED IN THE FALL ISSUE

John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist church.

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