Wesley’s Sermon Reprints: The Almost Christian
AND MANY THERE ARE who go thus far: ever since the Christian Religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation, who were “almost persuaded to be Christians.” But seeing it avails nothing before God, to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider,
First, What is implied in being almost:
Secondly, What in being altogether a Christian.
I. 1. Now, in the being almost a Christian is implied, first Heathen Honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question of this; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean, not that which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers only, but such as the common heathens expected of one another, and many of them actually practiced. By the rules of this they were taught, that they ought not to be unjust: Not to take away their neighbor’s goods, either by robbery or theft: Not to oppress the poor, neither to use extortion toward any: Not to cheat or overreach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them: To defraud no man of his right; and, if it were possible, to owe no man any thing.
2. Again, the common heathens allowed, that some regard was to be paid to truth as well as to justice…
3. Yet, again, there was a sort of love and assistance, which they expected one from another…
II. 4. A second thing implied in the being almost a Christian, is the having a Form of Godliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly,the almost Christian does nothing which the gospel forbids. He taketh not the name of God in vain: He blesseth and curseth not; he sweareth not at all, but his communication is yea, yea; nay, nay. He profanes not the day of the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger that is within his gates. He not only avoids all actual adultery, fornication, and uncleanliness, but every word or look, that either directly or indirectly tends thereto…
6. And in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. In spite of toil or pain, “Whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth it with his might;” whether it be for his friends, or for his enemies, for the evil, or for the good. For, being not slothful in this, or in any business, as he hath opportunity he doth good, all manner of good, to all men, and to their souls as well as their bodies…
7. He hath the form of godliness, uses the means of grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. He constantly frequents the house of God; and … behaves with seriousness and attention, in every part of the solemn service. More especially when he approaches the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or careless behaviour, but with an air, gesture, and deportment which speaks nothing else, but “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
8. To this, if we add, the constant use of Family Prayer, by those who are masters of families, and the setting times apart for private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness of behaviour: he who uniformly practices this outward religion, has the form of godliness. There needs but one thing more in order to his being almost a Christian, and that is, Sincerity.
III. 9. By Sincerity, I mean, a real, inward principle of religion, from whence these outward actions flow. And, indeed, if we have not this, we have not heathen honesty; no, not so much of it as will answer the demand of a heathen epicurean poet. Even this poor wretch, in his sober intervals, is able to testify:
Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue: Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment.
So that, if a man only abstain from doing evil in order to avoid punishment, “Thou shall be hanged” saith the Pagan; there, “Thou hast thy reward.” But even he will not allow such a harmless man as this, to be so much as a good heathen. If then, any man, from the same motive, viz. to avoid punishment to avoid the loss of his friends, or his gain, This reputation, should not only abstain from doing evil, but also do ever so much good; yea, and use all the means of grace; yet we could not, with any propriety say, This man is even almost a Christian. If he have no better principle in his heart, he is also a hypocrite altogether.
10. Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied in the being almost a Christian: A real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will: it is necessarily implied, that a man have a sincere view of pleasing God in all things: in all his conversation; in all his actions; in all he does, or leaves undone. This design, if any man be almost a Christian, runs through the whole tenor of his life. This is the moving principle, both in his doing good, his abstaining from evil, and his using the ordinances of God.
11. But here it will probably be inquired, is it possible, that any man living should go as far as this, and, nevertheless, be only almost a Christian? What more than this can be implied, in the being a Christian altogether? I answer first, That it is possible to go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian, I learn not only from the Oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of experience…
13. I did go thus for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace; endeavouring, after a steady seriousness of behaviour, at all times, and in all places: and God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do his will in all things; to please him who had called me to “fight the good fight,” and to “lay hold on eternal life.” Yet my own conscience beareth me witness, in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.
II. If it be enquired, What more than this is implied in the being altogether a Christian? I answer,
I. 1. First the love of God. For thus saith his word. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Such a love of God is this, as engrosses the whole heart, as takes up all the affections, as fills the entire capacity of the soul, and employs the utmost extent of all its faculties. He that thus loves the Lord his God, his spirit continually “rejoiceth in God his Saviour”…
II. 2. … The second thing implied in the being altogether a Christian, is, The love of our neighbor. For thus said our Lord, in the following words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If any man ask who is my neighbor; we reply, every man in the world; every child of his who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Nor may we in any wise except our enemies, or the enemies of God and their own souls. But every Christian loveth these also as himself, yea, “as Christ loveth us.”
III. 3. There is yet one thing more that may be separately considered, though it cannot be actually separate from the preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian, and that is the ground of all, even faith…
4. But here let no man deceive his own soul. “It is diligently to be noted, the faith which bringeth not forth repentance and love, and all good works, is not that right living faith which is here spoken of, but a dead and devilish one…”
6. Now, whatsoever has this faith, which purifies the heart, (by the power of God, who dwelleth therein,) from pride, anger, desire, from all unrighteousness, from all filthiness of flesh or spirit; which fills it with love stronger than death, both to God and to all mankind; love that doth the works of God, glorying to spend and be spent for all men, and that endureth with joy, not only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict: whosoever has this faith, thus working by love is not almost only, but altogether a Christian.
7. But who are the living witnesses of these things? I beseech you, brethren, as in the presence of that God, before whom “hell and destruction are without a covering; how much more the hearts of the children of men:” that each of you would ask his own heart, “Am I of that number? Do I so far practice justice, mercy, and truth, as even the rules of heathen honesty require? If so, have I the very outside of a Christian? The form of godliness? Do I abstain from evil from whatsoever is forbidden in the written word of God? Do I, whatever good my hand findeth to do, do it with my might? Do I seriously use all the ordinances of God at all opportunities? And, is all this done, with a sincere design and desire to please God in all things?
8. Are not many of you conscious, that you never came thus fan that you have not been even almost a Christian? That you have not come up to the standard of heathen honesty; at least, not to the form of Christian godliness: Much less hath God seen sincerity in you, a real design of pleasing him in all things. You never so much as intended to devote all your words and works, your business, studies, diversions, to his glory. You never even designed or desired, that whatsoever you did should be “done in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and as such, should be “a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.”
9. But, supposing you had, 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 neighbor 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 sin, and cast them as a stone into the depths of the sea? That he hath blotted out the hand-writing 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? . ..
11. May we all thus experience what it is, to be not almost only, but altogether Christians! Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus: knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ: rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us!
By John Wesley
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #2 in 1983]
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