Summary: This sermon focuses on John Wesley’s understanding of salvation and uses illustrations from Wesley’s life to bring the point home.
We are continuing our series of John Wesley’s sermons today – today’s sermon is about salvation. Really – what does it take to be saved? This sermon described what “saved” means – it talks about what is required and it talks about what faith means. As Wesley says, this is a “serious inquiry.” Before we go any further….
John Wesley struggled with the assurance of salvation for a lot of his life. He was ordained a minister in the Church of England in 17XX. He was seminary trained. He had followed in his father’s footsteps (his father was also a minister). He had been raised with a mother who taught Bible study in her home (in the 1700’s it was rare for a woman to teach Bible at all). He was mired in the tradition and in religion from the time he was a little boy. He trained at Oxford and became a minister. Realize that he was preaching and teaching and going about the business of the church. This is a man who is walking the walk. He meets with his fellows to pray; he reads Scripture constantly, he talks and thinks about God.
After a period he was sent to Georgia – remember at this point that going to the ENGLISH colonies in America to the wilds of Georgia is not like traveling today. Wesley went to Georgia before the war for independence. He went primarily to ‘save the souls’ of the Native American peoples – whom everyone assumed were not yet saved.
But something strange happened on the trip to America. The ship was in a horrible storm. And it seemed certain that everyone on board would be lost. In the midst of that terror of a storm John Wesley was petrified – truly afraid and very worried. And in the midst of the storm John Wesley looked over to see several Christians riding out the storm as if it were nothing. They were praying and it seemed that they were at peace. Later, when the storm was over and none of them had perished John Wesley asked them and they confirmed that they were at peace even in the midst of the storm. It’s not that they “knew” that everything would be all right – it was that they were certain that nothing – not life nor death – could keep them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Wesley, the minister, didn’t have that assurance. And after his trip home from America (we’ll talk some other time about what a disaster that trip was) Wesley went to a mentor in England and confessed that he had no assurance that he was saved. That he didn’t have that peace that surpasses all understanding. Basically Wesley could intellectually get the concept that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died for our sins – but it didn’t seem personal to Wesley.
He asked his mentor if he should quit the ministry. And his mentor promptly said “no.” Wesley said, then what shall I do? And his mentor said, “preach until such assurance comes.”
That story is important because it helps us all to see that salvation is a big issue – it’s huge and important – important enough that we should think of it a lot and we should talk to our friends about it. But that story is also great because it shows us that these are not easy concepts these are things that real, and faithful, people struggle with.
So, let’s start where John Wesley started – he started by answering the question, “What is salvation.” I love this,
“The salvation which is here spoken of is not what is frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness. It is not the soul’s going to paradise…it is not the blessing that lies on the other side of death.”
Wesley points out that the words are not future tense – it’s not you will be saved – it’s you are saved. And that should make a difference in our lives NOW. When Wesley says ‘salvation’ he means,
“The entire work of God from the first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory….[it is] the desires after God, which, if we yield to them, increase more and more; all that ‘light’ wherewith the Son of God ‘englightens everyone’ …showing every [person] to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”
And Wesley says salvation has two parts – both of which come by grace through faith. Salvation includes Pardon (which Wesley calls Justification) and Moving on to Perfection in Love (which Wesley calls Sanctification). For Wesley Salvation means we are pardoned for our sins and then God continues to work in us, perfecting us.