I am reading though John Wesley’s Sermons; An Anthology and will post some thoughts on his sermons each Wednesday.
In the sermon The Almost Christian, Wesley set out to move his listeners from almost Christians to Altogether Christians. Wesley preached that “…being ‘almost a Christian’ is the having a form of godliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ- the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly the ‘almost Christian’ does nothing which the gospel forbids.”
The ‘Almost Christian’ has a “form of godliness” without ever really having God. They live a moral life, attend to the sacraments, and pray. The ‘Almost Christian’ practices religion without really having a relationship with God. Wesley writes about himself,
“And God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will in all things, to please him who had called me to ‘fight the good fight’, and to ‘lay hold of eternal life’. Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost that all this time I was but ‘almost a Christian.’
Wesley goes on to share what he means by an ‘Altogether Christian.’ This is the person who goes beyond practices of religion to loving God- and loving their neighbor. This is the believer who “loves the Lord his God, his spirit continually ‘rejoiceth in God his Saviour.” Our neighbor, according to Wesley, is every person and that we much be servants of all.
Wesley also notes that one needs a faith that brings about repentance- reminding his listeners that even the “devils” believe in Christ- but that they remain in their “damnable state.” The faith needed is that which purifies our heart by the power of God from pride, anger, desire and from all unrighteousness. Whoever has this faith “is not almost only, but altogether a Christian.”
Wesley gets personal, reminding his listeners that good intentions are not how one is altogether Christian. He asks his listeners a series of questions aimed at some internal reflection on whether they are an ‘Almost Christian’ or ‘Altogether Christian.’ Wesley ends with this prayer focused on justification and redemption through Jesus:
“May we all thus experience what it is to be not almost only, but altogether Christian! Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus, knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us!”
Amen! And Amen!