John Wesley’s Answer to the Synoptic Problem

From his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1754)

St. Mark in his Gospel presupposes that of St. Matthew, and supplies what is omitted therein. St. Luke supplies what is omitted by both the former: St. John what is omitted by all three.

St. Matthew particularly points out the fulfilling of the prophecies, for the conviction of the Jews. St. Mark wrote a short compendium, and yet added many remarkable circumstances omitted by St. Matthew, particularly with regard to the Apostles, immediately after they were called. St. Luke treated principally of the office of Christ, and mostly in an historical manner. St. John refuted those who denied his Godhead: each choosing to treat more largely on those things which most suited the time when, and the persons to whom, he wrote.

Funny there is no mention of Q, but I guess we can’t all be post-liberal re/de-constructionists.

Review of Ian J. Maddock, Men of One Book

menofonebookThe academic journal Reviews in Religion and Theology has just published my book review of Ian J. Maddock’s Men of One Book: A Comparison of Two Methodist Preachers, John Wesley and George Whitfield online and in print (Volume 20, Issue 4). If you have any interest in Wesley, Whitefield, Wesleyan theology, or preaching, I recommend this book.

If you have access to the Wiley Digital Library through your school or institution, you can read the review online here:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rirt.12228/full

Wesley as a Happy Puritan? A Response to Dr. Fred Sanders

Dr. Fred Sanders of Biola University today published an article on the Asbury Seedbed (www.seedbed.com) titled “Wesley as a Happy Puritan” in which he argues that Wesley was really just a Puritan in thought and practice and offers up a possible bridge between parties in the modern Calvinism-Arminianism debate on these grounds. Below is my response to Dr. Sanders:

***UPDATE***
You can now view the entire conversation between myself and Dr Sanders on Seedbed at the following address: http://seedbed.com/feed/wesley-as-a-happy-puritan/
***UPDATE***
Thank you for your article, Dr. Sanders. There is no doubt that Wesley was influenced to some degree by the Puritan authors, but this can also be said of many other groups and theological traditions. He was arguably more heavily influenced by the German Moravians into at least the 1740s and owed a great debt to the thought of the Caroline Divines.

Rupp’s appraisal that Wesley was merely doing what the Puritans were trying to do but without interference from the church and state is narrow and ill-informed. To begin with, Wesley met opposition on every front from the Ecclesiastical hierarchy. That he was not fully excluded from the Church of England is a testimony to the high regard given to ordained clergy, not a suggestion that a blind eye was being turned on his activities.The statement that Wesley was “just a committed and contented Church of England man” given as explanation for Wesley’s refusal to renounce the CoE is misleading and vague. Wesley was indeed a committed clergyman of the CoE. He commented on occasion that he saw the 18th Century church as one of the few in history that remained faithful to Primitive Christianity. However, he was anything but content. It was precisely his discontentedness with the message of the church, which did not include salvation by faith alone, which sent him ultimately to the fields at the behest of George Whitefield, and it is this discontent that pressed him to endure unfathomable hardships in his pursuit to bring this Gospel to Britain.You also stated that “while he [Wesley] loved the Anglican liturgy, he insisted that true religion resides in the heart rather than in these (excellent) outward forms and ceremonies.” This is again true, but only partially so. While Wesley emphasized religion of the heart, insofar as that means the transformation and sanctification of the individual, he also saw outward forms such as fasting, works of mercy, and the Eucharist as a means of grace, absolutely critical to the ongoing nurture and sustenance of the soul. He even went so far as to call the Eucharist a converting ordinance, meaning that God’s grace which is given through the ordinance is sufficient to lead the unbeliever into belief. This is a far cry from the Puritan mind.

The similarities between Wesley and the Puritans are no doubt present and interesting for further study, as are the similarities between Wesley and a great many other groups and traditions. Primarily, though, Wesley was a Church of England clergyman and adhered to the great traditions in which he was brought up. His language may be occasionally Puritan, but only where that language is also Anglican. When an over-emphasis is laid upon any one undercurrent of Wesley’s thought there is a danger of falling into a skewed view of his theology and practice, as has been done before with regard to Wesley and the Eastern Fathers. We who would follow in his footsteps (to whatever degree that may be), must be careful to avoid such narrow readings of Wesley, lest we miss the man altogether and find in his place just another Johnathan Edwards, or George Whitfield, or . . .

*** For more, go to: http://seedbed.com/feed/wesley-as-a-happy-puritan/ ***

The fruit of sanctification?

This morning I read a series of Wesley hymns from a section of the hymnal titled “For Believers Interceding for the World.”  Though I do not uniformly endorse everything in those hymns, I was startled to find how seamlessly the parts of three hymns (number 432, 433, and 434) flow together to convey a startling message for believers.

#432

Lord over all, if thou hast made,

Hast ransomed every soul of man,

Why is the grace so long delayed,

Why unfulfilled the saving plan?

The bliss for Adam’s race designed,

When will it reach to all mankind?

The first stanza of this hymn cries out with a lament at the present state of the world.  Why, oh God, when atonement has been made through Christ’s sacrifice, must the world still suffer under the burden of sin?  This question is, of course, rhetorical.  It is not as though the author is asking why all people were not instantly saved in the act of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Rather, he is asking how the world can remain blind to such a gracious gift.

Art thou the God of Jews alone,

And not eh God of Gentiles too?

To Gentiles make thy goodness known,

Thy judgment tot he nations show;

Awake them by the gospel call —

Light of the world, illumine all!

The lament continues with a petition.  The writer proclaims that surely God is God over all the nations as Scripture tells us and beseeches him to make his glory known throughout the world.  Yet the author recognizes that this awakening must come through the recognition that Christ (the light of the world) is Lord.

If we break off the hymn at this point and pick up at the beginning of the next hymn, we get a continuous thought in which the hymnist’s petition is repeated directly to the Son of God.

#433

O Come, though radiant Morning Star,

Again in human darkness shine!

Arise resplendent from afar!

Assert they royalty divine:

Thy sway o’er all the earth maintain,

And now begin thy glorious reign.

Thy kingdom, Lord, we long to see:

Thy sceptre o’er the nations shake;

T’erect that final monarchy,

Edom for thy possession take;

Take (for thou didst their ransom find)

The purchased souls of all mankind.

In these stanzas the petition has in some way turned into a battle cry, calling upon the Lord to take what is rightfully his and to establish his rule upon the earth. But here is where the tone and heart of the message takes a turn.  The writer has proclaimed that it is only God who can establish his righteous kingdom on earth, and has announced that the kingdom incursion has begun through the light of Christ.  Yet how do you suppose that light is to spread and “illumine all” as the writer begs in the first hymn?

Now let thy chosen ones appear,

And valiantly the truth maintain;

Dispread thy gracious kingdom here;

Fly on the rebel sons of men;

Seize them with faith divinely bold,

And force the world into thy fold!

#434

Jesu, the word of mery give;

And let it swiftly run;

And let the priests themselves believe,

And put salvation on.

The call here is for believers to rise up in the name and power of Christ to bring the kingdom of Heaven to earth, and to win the souls of the world for him.  Yet the writer acknowledges that this cannot be done without the grace of God, nor until even those who would call themselves his priests begin to truly believe in him.  When this begins to happen; when the children of God begin to live as though we are a part of His family, co-heirs with Christ, an amazing transformation takes place…

Clothed with the spirit of holiness,

May all thy people prove

The plentitude of gospel grace,

The joy of perfect love.

When the people of God remember the greatest commandments; to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matt 22:37) and recognize that this can only be accomplished through his infinite grace, holiness – perfect love – is the result.  And this is the only means by which we can ever uphold the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39)

Let us live into the call to sanctification.  Let us live lives that glorify God by submitting everything to his good will and loving him through the grace that he freely gives us.  And let us join the hymnist in his petition to Christ on behalf of God’s people that we would press on toward the goal, ever increasing in grace and love:

Jesus, let all thy lovers shine,

Illustrious as the sun;

And bright with borrowed rays divine

Their glorious circuit run.

Beyond the reach of mortals, spread

Their light where’er they go;

And heavenly influences shed

On all the world below,

As giants may they run their race,

Exulting in their might,

As burning luminaries chase

The gloom of hellish night.

As the great Sun of Righteousness

Their healing wings display,

And let their lustre still increase

Unto the perfect day.

*Hymns quoted from A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, The Works of John Wesley, Volume 7. Edited by Franz Hildebrandt and Olover A. Beckerlegge.  Abingdon Press: 1983.

What of Discipleship?

“I was more convinced than ever that the preaching like an apostle without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching there has been for these twenty years all over Pembrookshire. But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connection, and the consequence is that nine in ten of the once awakened are now faster asleep than ever.” John Wesley

Thomas Jackson, ed., The Works of John Wesley, Vol.3, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 144.