I have been reading and rereading some of John Wesley’s sermons as part of my own spiritual growth. I will be the first to admit that as a Methodist, I don’t know Wesley’s sermons as well as I probably should. That said, Wesley’s sermon “The New Birth” (#45 in his standard sermons), really did an excellent job of explaining the need to be “born again.” According to Wesley, because humanity is “‘born in sin’ we ‘must be born again.'”
He then provides an excellent illustration about the difference before and after a child is born,
“Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of any other sense. I has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, nor any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born that we say, he begins to live. For as soon as he is born he begins to see the light and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time all that other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before.”
Then Wesley talks about how a spiritual new birth changes a person,
“While a man is in a mere natural state, before he is born of God, he has, in a spiritual sense, eyes and sees not; a thick impenetrable veil lies upon them. He has ears, but hears not; he is utterly deaf to what he is most of all concerned to hear. His other spiritual senses are all locked up; he is in the same condition as if he had them not. He has no knowledge of God, no intercourse with him; he is not at all acquainted with him. He has no true knowledge of the things of God, either of spiritual or eternal things. Therefore, though he is a living man, he is a dead Christian. But as soon as he is born of God there is a total change in all these particulars.”
When we are born again, our eyes are opened to the things of God; our ears can hear the voice of God; We are able to feel the Spirit of God in our hearts. “All his spiritual senses are then ‘exercised to discern’ spiritual ‘good and evil. By the use of these he is daily increasing in the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, and of all the things pertaining to his inward kingdom. And now he may properly be said to live.”
When we respond to God’s grace at work in our lives, when we seek New Birth through Jesus- our spiritual senses become alive- becoming able to perceive, begin to understand, and respond to the leading of God’s Spirit. It is this new birth that makes us truly alive.
As I began to preach on a regular basis I found myself wondering what JW thought on this topic or that, so I began to read his sermons and other writings. While we don’t always land in the same theological spot, I have found myself “channeling” his work on many occasions. This sermon has been especially helpful when navigating the universalist waters that seem to be swirling today. Thanks for this, Steve.
Thanks for the comment Sally. Wesley was very clear that being “born again” is much more than baptisms, church attendance, receiving communion or good works. A very good reminder in the waters that we swim in today!