Monday, April 12, 2010

Wesley and Romans

I took an assignment that frankly is a bit of a stretch for me, but I'll give it my best shot. It's the influence of Romans on Wesley. I thought I'd take some notes here. I might add that the next installment of A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition is now on the seminary Dean's blog.

1. The starting point is surely Aldersgate, May 24, 1738. Wesley had been wrestling with the idea that you could be assured you were saved. "In the evening I went quite unwillingly to a society on Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." (Wesley's Journal).

Bud Bence pointed me to the part of the Preface to which he thinks Wesley is referring. It reads, "Faith is the divine work in us. It changes us and makes us born anew of God... Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure, so certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God's grace makes us glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all his creatures: and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith."

Romans was thus key to Wesley's belief not only in justification by faith (which he took from Luther) but also in the assurance of faith (which he took from the Moravians and experienced through Luther's idea of justification by faith).

2. Nine of the 44 standard sermons Wesley published in 1746, 48, 50, and 60 were on Romans. These sermons are roughly laid out along the lines of Wesley's ordo salutis, the order of salvation. Interestingly, the sermons on Romans congeal around issues relating to justification and assurance, as well as awakening and the law. Romans does not here feature in relation to Wesley's doctrine of entire sanctification.

8 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And what or how do you define those that have "experienced" such assurance of faith, as well as justification by faith...that have left faith, as it is prescribed in scripture, or church dogma?

Faith cannot in this sense be prescribed if it is a "work of the Holy Spirit", can it? So, those who believe such doctrines, must also believe in God's sovereign work.(a friend of mine used to comment about how the Baptists always say that such and such a week, their church would have a revival, as if humans controlled revivals.)

It seems to me that some presume too much when it comes to faith. This is why what is in the real world is much more to be studied and/or understood, than supernaturalistic surmises, speculations, etc.

Bob MacDonald said...

Ken - you write "and experienced through Luther's idea of justification by faith". I don't know Mr Wesley though I have sung anthems by both the older and younger Wesley - same name at least, but I doubt that salvation by idea is sufficient. There is a desperation in the intellectual world that somehow understanding, meaning, and explanation bring relief. This is I think - ha ha - not true to the real physical and sensible needs of the human. -

@Angie - no I am not an agnostic or an atheist.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Bob,
1.) Are your suggesting that those that have left "the faith" haven't developed appropriately, i.e. moral character?

2.) What then is your "plan" on judging a specific individual? activism? compassion ministry? preaching? teaching? or will any job do? and is the choice left to the individual to choose, or will that be chosen for the individual by some "elect"?

3.) what will satisfy your thrist for "proofs of faith"?

4.)Is all of the concern for "moral development' because of moral failings of our country/culture?

5.)Since you are not an agnostic or atheist, then you must believe that scripture is absolute, and a reality, itself. That is scary. Liberty is not what you value, when it comes to things of faith, as faith is prescriptive. This is a progressive or theocratic view in the political realm. And it leads to allignment with Islam's/Israel's judges. Any modern nation state understands the dangers of alligning political and spiritual ideolgies. This is why Jefferson protected liberty through the separation of Church and State.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Must I remind you of what has happened historically in Calvin's Geneva, or the Puritan's "commonwealth"? But, maybe you agree with chopping off someone's arm or stoning an adulterer...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Bob MacDonald said...

Angie - My ha ha was laughing at myself since I used the phrase 'I think'. Surely a non-sensual phrase. I certainly agree that the real world is to be studied - but there are severe limitations to such study.

As to Christian assurance, I would not dare define it. Any more than I would the assurance of God's mercy in any covenant. But I would claim it for myself through the gift and sacrifice of Christ. And that is what Romans is about - even though that letter needs reinterpreting in every age.

Wesley would not have given you any more definitive explanation because he could not. Such things come from God by faith and are not provable to anyone else. At least that's all I can say at the moment.

Marc said...

So weird that God would only have mercy on those who believed that he was merciful. A case of Positive Thinking 200 years (or 2000?) ahead of it's time!

Bob MacDonald said...

Marc - I am not sure if you were responding to me - but for the record, I did not draw any conclusion that God would only show mercy on those who believe.

And Angie - thanks for pointing out to me what conclusions might be drawn by others from what I write. My faith is definitely not in the absolutism of scripture nor should you dictate what I must value as a consequence of faith. No one - not even I - have the information to dictate what I must value as a consequence of faith.

An engineer might infer that faith is related to the software bootstrap that the mind searches out in its quest for mechanism, and she might be right, but her conclusion would be incomplete. The bootstrap is thrown away after execution. Faith is not. It permeates all thought and action without exception, and in defiance of the second law, it hopes for an eternal gravitas of glory. (See Ken's next post!)