THE LAW AND GOSPEL AS EXPLAINED BY JOHN WESLEY (Part 2)

Mr. Joseph D. McPherson

THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2017. Volume 36.

Dec. 16, 2017



Question: How are we to view the rela- tionship of the law with the gospel?

Wesley: There is … the closest connection that can be conceived, between the law and the gospel. On the one hand, the law continually makes way for, and points us to, the gospel; on the other, the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbor, to be meek, humble, or holy: We feel that we are not suffcient for these things; yea, that "with man this is impossible:" But we see a promise of God, to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy: We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings; it is done unto us according to our faith; and "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us," through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

We may yet farther observe, that every command in holy writ is only a covered promise. For by that solemn declaration, "This is the covenant I will make after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws in your minds, and write them in your hearts," God hath engaged to give whatsoever he commands. Does he command us then to "pray without ceasing?" to "rejoice evermore?" to be "holy as He is holy?" It is enough: He will work in us this very thing: It shall be unto us according to his word.

Question: Is it not possible that there may be those in this more enlightened time who, be- ing favored with peculiar and divine revelation demonstrate a necessity for some distinctive and accommodating changes in the moral law?

Wesley: We cannot be at a loss what to think of those who, in all ages of the Church, have undertaken to change or supersede some commands of God, as they professed, by the peculiar direction of his Spirit. Christ has here given us an infallible rule, whereby to judge of all such pretensions. Christianity, as it includes the whole moral law of God both by way of injunction and of promise, if we will hear him is designed of God to be the last of all his dispensations. There is no other to come after this. This is to endure till the consummation of all things. Of consequence, all such new revelations are of Satan, and not of God; and all pretenses to another more perfect dispensation fall to the ground of course. "Heaven and earth shall pass away;" but this word "shall not pass away."

Question: Why are we to take seriously the Master's promises to those who, on the one hand, consider obedience to his commandments lightly and relatively inconsequential and those on the other hand who do and faithfully teach them?

Wesley: Who, what are they, that make the preaching of the law a character of reproach? Do they not see on whom the reproach must fall, on whose head it must light at last? Whosoever on this ground despiseth us, despiseth Him that sent us. For did ever any man preach the law like Him, even when he came not to condemn but to save the world; when he came purposely to "bring life and immortality to light through the gospel?" Can any preach the law more expressly, more rigorously, than Christ does in these words? And who is he that shall amend them? Who is he that shall instruct the Son of God how to preach? Who will teach him a better way of delivering the message which he hath received of the Father?

Question: When our Lord uses the term "these commandments," what all is he including in such language, and how serious are the consequences of breaking so much as one of them?

Wesley: "These commandments," we may observe, is a term used by our Lord as an equivalent with the law, or the law and the Prophets, which is the same thing, seeing the Prophets added nothing to the law, but only declared, explained, or enforced it, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

"Whosoever shall break one of these least com- mandments," especially if it be done willfully or presumptuously: - One; - for "he that keepeth the whole law, and" thus "offends in one point, is guilty of all;" the wrath of God abideth on him, as surely as if he had broken every one. So that no allowance is made for one darling lust; no reserve for one idol; no excuse for refraining from all besides, and only giving way to one bosom sin. What God demands is, an entire obedience; we are to have an eye to all his commandments; otherwise we lose all the labor we take in keeping some, and our poor souls for ever and ever.

Question: What is Christ's attitude toward those who consider some commandments to be less significant and less demanding of our obedience?

Wesley: "One of these least," or one of the least of these commandments: Here is another excuse cut off, whereby many, who cannot deceive God, miserably deceive their own souls. "This sin," saith the sinner, "is it not a little one? Will not the Lord spare me in this thing? Surely he will not be extreme to mark this, since I do not offend in the greater matters of the law." Vain hope! Speaking after the manner of men, we may term these great, and those little, commandments; but, in reality, they are not so. If we use propriety of speech, there is no such thing as a little sin; every sin being a transgression of the holy and perfect law, and an affront on the great Majesty of heaven.

Question: Jesus warns not only against breaking what might be considered by some to be the "least of the commandments" but extends that warning also to those who teach others to break them. Who and by what means are the breaking of God's commandments too often taught, and what are the inevitable con- sequences of such evil teaching?

Wesley: In some sense it may be said, that whosoever openly breaks any commandment teaches others to do the same; for example speaks, and many times louder than precept. In this sense, it is apparent, every open drunkard is a teacher of drunkenness; every Sabbathbreaker is con- stantly teaching his neighbor to profane the day of the Lord. But this is not all: An habitual breaker of the law is seldom content to stop here; he general- ly teaches other men to do so too, by word as well as example; especially when he hardens his neck, and hateth to be reproved. Such a sinner soon commences an advocate for sin; he defends what he is resolved not to forsake; he excuses the sin which he will not leave, and thus directly teaches every sin which he commits.

"He shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven;" -that is, shall have no part therein. He is a stranger to the kingdom of heaven which is on earth; he hath no portion in that inheritance; no share of that "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Nor, by consequence, can he have any part in the glory which shall be revealed.

But if those who even thus break, and teach others to break, "one of the least of these com- mandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven," shall have no part in the kingdom of Christ and of God; if even these shall be cast into "outer darkness, where is wailing and gnashing of teeth;" then where will they appear, whom our Lord chiefly and primarily intends in these words, - they who, bearing the character of Teachers sent from God, do nevertheless themselves break his commandments; yea, and openly teach others so to do; being corrupt both in life and doctrine?

These are of several sorts. Of the first sort are they who live in some willful, habitual sin. Now, if an ordinary sinner teaches by his example, how much more a sinful Minister, - even if he does not attempt to defend, excuse, or extenuate his sin! If he does, he is a murderer indeed; yea, the mur- derer general of his congregation. He peoples the regions of death. He is the choicest instrument of the prince of darkness. When he goes hence, "hell from beneath is moved to meet him at his coming." Nor can he sink into the bottomless pit, without dragging a multitude after him.

Next to these are the goodnatured, good sort of men; who live an easy, harmless life, neither troubling themselves with outward sin, nor with inward holiness; men who are remarkable neither one way nor the other, neither for religion nor irreligious; who are very regular both in public and private, but do not pretend to be any stricter than their neighbors. A Minister of this kind breaks not one or a few only of the least commandments of God; but all the great and weighty branches of his law which relate to the power of godliness, and all that require us to "pass the time of our sojourning in fear," to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling," to have our "loins always girt, and our lights burning," to "strive," or agonize, "to enter in at the strait gate." And he teaches men so, by the whole form of his life, and the general tenor of his preaching, which uniformly tends to soothe those in their pleasing dream who imagine themselves Christians and are not; to persuade all who attend upon his ministry to sleep on and take their rest. No marvel, therefore, if both he, and they that follow him, wake together in everlasting burnings!

But above all these, in the highest rank of the enemies of the gospel of Christ, are they who openly and explicitly "judge the law" itself, and "speak evil of the law;" who teach men to break (lusai, to dissolve, to loose, to untie, the obligation of ) not one only, whether of the least, or of the greatest, but all the commandments at a stroke; who teach, without any cover, in so many words, - "What did our Lord do with the law? He abolished it. There is but one duty, which is that of believing. All commands are unfit for our times. From any demand of the law, no man is obliged now to go one step, or give away one farthing, to eat or omit one morsel." This is, indeed, carrying matters with a high hand; this is withstanding our Lord to the face, and telling him that he understood not how to deliver the message on which he was sent. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! Father, for- give them; for they know not what they do!

The most surprising of all the circumstances that attend this strong delusion, is, that they who are given up to it, really believe that they honor Christ by overthrowing his law, and that they are magnifying his office, while they are destroying his doctrine! Yea, they honor him just as Judas did, when he said, "Hail, Master! and kissed him." And he may as justly say to every one of them, "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" It is no other than betraying him with a kiss, to talk of his blood, and take away his crown; to set light by any part of his law, under pretense of advanc- ing his gospel. Nor, indeed, can any one escape this charge, who preaches faith in any such a manner as either directly or indirectly tends to set aside any branch of obedience; who preaches Christ so as to disannul, or weaken in anywise, the least of the commandments of God.

Question: If obedience to the commandments is to be so meticulously observed and enforced, as stated by our Lord, what kind of faith must we have that can possibly complement and harmonize with such adherence to the moral law?

Wesley: It is impossible, indeed, to have too high an esteem for "the faith of God's elect." And we must all declare, "By grace ye are saved through faith; not of works, lest any man should boast." We must cry aloud to every penitent sinner, "Be- lieve in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But, at the same time, we must take care to let all men know, we esteem no faith but that which worketh by love; and that we are not saved by faith, unless so far as we are delivered from the power as well as the guilt of sin. And when we say, "Believe, and thou shalt be saved;" we do not mean, "Believe, and thou shalt step from sin to heaven, without any holiness coming between; faith supplying the place of holiness;" but, "Believe, and thou shalt be holy; believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt have peace and power together: Thou shalt have power from Him in whom thou believest, to trample sin under thy feet; power to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and to serve him with all thy strength: Thou shalt have power, 'by patient continuance in well doing, to seek for glory, and honor, and immortality;' thou shalt both do and teach all the commandments of God, from the least even to the greatest: Thou shalt teach them by thy life as well as thy words, and so 'be called great in the kingdom of heaven.'"

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