The day began peacefully in the English village of Pensford as men, women, and children made their way to a large green area on the village outskirts. The great preacher, John Wesley, would be there, and people were eager to hear him.
Being short in stature,¹ Wesley climbed onto a table and preached the gospel he found in Jesus Christ, explaining it was twofold.
First, all are sinners in need of a Savior; no one can save themselves, no matter how “good” they try to be. Justification is by faith alone.
Second, God offers freedom from the power of sin. Salvation could not be complete without this promise of the gospel, Wesley explained. All children of God are given freedom from the guilt of sin through justification and its power through sanctification.²
As Wesley preached, a rumble grew louder. A mob, hired by local clerics, was soon upon them, pushing along an agitated, bloodied bull. The bull, however, refused to charge into Wesley and the crowd, instead running around them as they “quietly sang praise to God and prayed for about an hour.”
Frustrated, the mob grabbed the bull and forced it into the table where Wesley was standing. As he fell, friends caught him and quickly carried him to another area, where he continued preaching. Meanwhile, “the rabble wreaked their vengeance on the table, which they tore bit from bit.”³
This was just one of many disruptions John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, and his followers faced as they preached, as Wesley called it, “scriptural Christianity.” Sometimes stones were hurled; other times Methodist preachers were smeared with sewage and beaten.⁴
Mobs often raided Methodist homes, “destroying furniture and goods, plundering whatever they chose, and brutally abusing men, women, and children.”⁵
Nevertheless, assured of God’s presence, Wesley and his compatriots pressed on. By the end of his life, adherents to Wesley’s teachings numbered more than 100,000.
Perfect Harmony of Law and Gospel
But why the viciousness against Wesley and his teachings? Why the hatred? Because he dared to preach the truth.
“There is,” said Wesley, “the closest connection . . . 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. . . .‘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.”⁶
Today, as in the eighteenth century, some consider those who affirm Wesley’s scriptural teachings to be “legalists,” or worse. Wesley’s response to negative allegations is revealing:
“Some allege that the doctrines of these men [himself and associates] are false, erroneous . . . new and unheard-of till of late. . . . Others allege, ‘Their doctrine is too strict; they make the way to heaven too narrow.’ . . . This is in truth the original objection, . . . and is secretly at the bottom of a thousand more, which appear in various forms. But do they make the way to heaven any narrower than our Lord and His apostles made it? Is their doctrine stricter than that of the Bible?”⁷
Wesley always used Scripture to make his points, often quoting Jesus, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”(Matt. 5:48, KJV).
Was this “perfectionism”? No! Wesley knew his and every human heart was full of wickedness. But he also knew the power of God to take a sinful heart and make it pure.
Ellen White strongly affirmed Wesley’s teachings, stating, “Wesley declared the perfect harmony of the law and the gospel. . . . Thus while preaching the gospel of the grace of God, Wesley, like his Master, sought to ‘magnify the law, and make it honorable.’”⁸
The Everlasting Gospel
We Seventh-day Adventists are called to proclaim the “everlasting gospel”: “Then I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth . . . saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come’” (Rev. 14:6, 7).
While the judgment may frighten some, Scripture is filled with the hope of forgiveness and restoration—not only in heaven, but on earth, so that we can be living witnesses of the power of God. He urges us, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
These are not idle words; God does not give us impossibilities. He invites us to share His truth, His love, His gospel, His power through the indwelling of His Spirit in our lives today.
A wonderful passage about the saving power of Christ in the gospel message, and what He does in and through us, has this message: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all . . . , teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you” (Titus 2:11-15).
The book Steps to Christ has a marvelous explanation of the power of the gospel working in our lives through Christ’s all-encompassing righteousness that includes His justifying and sanctifying power. I encourage you to read the chapter “The Test of Discipleship.” Notice this powerful explanation and summary of this whole saving process: “So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.”9
May we fully understand God’s great theme of salvation and His gospel message of full restoration in Him to be shared with the world as we approach Christ’s soon return. Let us proclaim this message with the Holy Spirit’s power, pleading for the latter rain so that all will fully grasp Christ’s gospel message and its ultimately all-encompassing aspects of justification and sanctification.
Ellen White observed: “The gospel is to be presented, not as a lifeless theory, but as a living force to change the life. God desires that the receivers of His grace shall be witnesses to its power. . . . He would have His servants bear testimony to the fact that through His grace men may possess Christlikeness of character, and may rejoice in the assurance of His great love. . . . Words alone cannot tell it. Let it be reflected in the character and manifested in the life. Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple. . . . In everyone Christ’s long-suffering love, His holiness, meekness, mercy, and truth, are to be manifested to the world.”10
¹ Ray Comfort, Wesley Gold (Orlando, Fla.: Bridge-Logos, 2007), p. 47.
² Summarized by Andrew Dragos in “The Gospel According to John Wesley Offers Freedom In Christ,” www.seedbed.com/the-gospel-according-to-john-wesley-offers-freedom-in-christ/.
³ Journal of John Wesley, www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.iv.x.html
⁴ Hugh J. Hughes, Life of Howell Harris, the Welsh Reformer (Newport, Wales: William Jones, 1892), p. 142.
⁵ Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911),p. 259.
⁶ John Wesley, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,” Discourse 5, biblehub.com/library/wesley/sermons_on_several_occasions/sermon_25_upon_our_lords.htm
⁷ John Wesley, “The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., (New York: J. Emory and B. Waugh, , 1831), vol. 5, p. 152.
⁸ E. G. White, pp. 263, 264.
⁹ Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 63.
¹⁰ Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), pp. 826, 827.
President of the Worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church •
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and on Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.