1. Now in the being almost a Christian is implied,
First, heathen honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question
of this; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean not that
which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers only, but
such as the common Heathens expected one of another, and many of
them actually practiced. By the rules of this they were taught,
that they ought not to be unjust; not to take away their neighbors
goods, either by robbery or theft; not to oppress the poor, neither
to use extortion toward any; not to cheat, or over-reach either
the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them; to
defraud no man of his right; and, if it were possible, to owe no man
2. Again: The common Heathens allowed, that
some regard was to be paid to truth, as well as to justice. And accordingly,
they not only held him in abomination who was forsworn, who
called God to witness to a lie; but him also who was known to be
a slanderer of his neighbor, who falsely accused any man. And,
indeed, little better did they esteem willful liars of any sort;
accounting them the disgrace of human kind, and the pests of society.
3. Yet again: There was a sort of love and
assistance which they expected one from another. They expected
whatever assistance any one could give another, without prejudice
to himself. And this they extended not only to those little offices
of humanity which are performed without any expense or labor, but
likewise to the feeding the hungry, if they had food to spare;
the clothing the naked with their own superfluous raiment;
and, in general, the giving, to any that needed, such things as
they needed not themselves. Thus far, in the lowest account of
it, heathen honesty went; the first thing implied in the being almost
2) A Form of Godliness
4. A Second thing implied in the 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. He taketh not the name of
God in vain; he blesseth and curseth not; he sweareth not at all,
but his communication is, Yea, yea; Nay, nay. He profanes not the
day of the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger
that is within his gates. He not only avoids all actual adultery,
fornication, and uncleanness, but every word, or look, that either
directly or indirectly tends thereto; nay, and all idle words,
abstaining both from detraction, backbiting, tale-bearing, evil
speaking, and from "all foolish talking and jesting,"
eutrapelia, a kind of virtue in the heathen moralists
account; briefly, from all conversation that is not "good
to the use of edifying," and that, consequently, "grieves
the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption."
5. He abstains from "wine wherein is
excess;" from revellings and gluttony. He avoids, as much
as in him lies, all strife and contention, continually endeavoring
to live peaceably with all men. And, if he suffer wrong, he
avengeth not himself, neither returns evil for evil. He is no
railer, no brawler, no scoffer, either at the faults or infirmities
of his neighbor. He does not willingly wrong, hurt, or grieve any
man; but in all things acts and speaks by that plain rule, "Whatsoever
thou wouldest not he should do unto thee, that do not thou to another."
6. And in doing good, he does not confine himself
to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labors and suffers for
the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. In spite
of toil or pain, "whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth
it with his might;" whether it be for his friends or for his
enemies, for the evil or for the good. For, being "not slothful"
in this or in any "business," as he "hath opportunity"
he doeth "good," all manner of good, "to all men;"
and to their souls as well as their bodies. He reproves the wicked,
instructs the ignorant, confirms the wavering, quickens the good,
and comforts the afflicted. He labors to awaken those that sleep;
to lead those whom God hath already awakened to the "fountain
opened for sin and for uncleanness," that they may wash therein
and be clean; and to stir up those who are saved, through faith, to
adorn the gospel of Christ in all things.
7. He that hath the form of godliness, uses
also the means of grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities.
He constantly frequents the house of God; and that, not as
the manner of some is, who come into the presence of the Most High,
either loaded with gold and costly apparel, or in all the gaudy vanity
of dress, and either by their unseasonable civilities to each other,
or the impertinent gaiety of their behavior, disclaim all pretensions
to the form as well as to the power of godliness. Would to God there
were none even among ourselves who fall under the same condemnation!
who come into this house, it may be, gazing about, or with all the
signs of the most listless, careless indifference, though sometimes
they may seem to use a prayer to God for his blessing on what they
are entering upon; who, during that awful service, are either asleep,
or reclined in the most convenient posture for it; or, as though they
supposed God was asleep, talking with one another, or looking round,
as utterly void of employment: Neither let these be accused of the
form of godliness. No; he who has even this behaves with seriousness
and attention in every part of that solemn service. More especially
when he approaches the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or
careless behavior, but with an air, gesture, and deportment, which
speaks nothing else but, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
8. To this, if we add the constant use of
family prayer, by those who are masters of families, and the setting
times apart for private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness
of behavior; he who uniformly practices this outward religion, has
the form of godliness. There needs but one thing more in order to
his being almost a Christian, and that is, sincerity.
9. By sincerity I mean, a real, inward principle
of religion, from whence these outward actions flow. And, indeed,
if we have not this, we have not heathen honesty; no, not so much
of it as will answer the demand of a heathen Epicurean poet Even this
poor wretch, in his sober intervals, is able to testify,
Oderunt peceare boni, virtutis amore;
Oderunt peceare mali, formidine paenae.
So that, if a man only abstains from doing
evil in order to avoid punishment, Non pasces in cruce corvos, f13
saith the Pagan; there, "thou hast thy reward." But even
he will not allow such a harmless man as this to be so much as a good
Heathen. If, then, any man, from the same motive, viz., to avoid punishment,
to avoid the loss of his friends, or his gain, or his reputation,
should not only abstain from doing evil, but also do ever so much
good; yea, and use all the means of grace; yet we could not, with
any propriety, say, this man is even almost a Christian. If he has
no better principle in his heart, he is only a hypocrite altogether.
10. Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied
in the being almost a Christian; a real design to serve God, a
hearty desire to do his will. It is necessarily implied, that
a man have a sincere view of pleasing God in all things; in all
his conversation; in all his actions; in all he does, or leaves undone.
This design, if any man be almost a Christian, runs through the whole
tenor of his life. This is the moving principle, both in his doing
good, his abstaining from evil, and his using the ordinances of God.
11. But here it will probably be inquired,
"Is it possible that any man living should go so far as this,
and, nevertheless, be only almost a Christian? What more than this
can be implied in the being a Christian altogether?" I answer,
First, that it is possible to go thus far, and yet be but almost a
Christian, I learn, not only from the oracles of God, but also from
the sure testimony of experience.
12. Brethren, great is "my boldness towards
you in this behalf." And "forgive me this wrong," if
I declare my own folly upon the house-top, for yours and the gospels
sake. Suffer me, then, to speak freely of myself, even as of
another man. I am content to be abased, so ye may be exalted, and
to be yet more vile for the glory of my Lord.
13. I did go thus far for many years,
as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil,
and to have a conscience void of offense; redeeming the time; buying
up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and
carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace;
endeavoring after a steady seriousness of behavior, at all times,
and in all places; 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.
II. What is implied
in being altogether a Christian
If it be inquired, "What more than
this is implied in the being altogether a Christian?" I answer,
1) The Love of God
1. First. The love of God. For thus saith his
word, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength."
Such a love is this, as engrosses the whole heart, as takes up
all the affections, as fills the entire capacity of the soul, and
employs the utmost extent of all its faculties. He that thus loves
the Lord his God, his spirit continually "rejoiceth in God his
Savior." His delight is in the Lord, his Lord and his
All, to whom "in everything he giveth thanks. All his desire
is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name." His heart
is ever crying out, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there
is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." Indeed, what can
he desire beside God? Not the world, or the things of the world: For
he is "crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him."
He is crucified to "the desire of the flesh, the desire of the
eye, and the pride of life." Yea, he is dead to pride of every
kind: For "love is not puffed up;" but "he that dwelling
in love dwelleth in God, and God in him," is less than nothing
in his own eyes.
2) The Love of Man
2. The Second thing implied in the being altogether
a, Christian, is, the love of our neighbor. For thus said our Lord
in the following words, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
If any man ask, "Who is my neighbor?" we reply, Every man
in the world; every child of His who is the Father of the spirits
of all flesh. Nor may we in anywise except our enemies, or the enemies
of God and their own souls. But every Christian loveth these also
as himself, yea, "as Christ loved us." He that would more
fully understand what manner of love this is, may consider
St. Pauls description of it. It is "long suffering and
kind." It "envieth not." It is not rash or hasty in
judging. It "is not puffed up;" but maketh him that loves,
the least, the servant of all. Love "doth not behave itself unseemly;"
but becometh "all things to all men." She "seeketh
not her own;" but only the good of others, that they may be saved.
"Love is not provoked." It casteth out wrath, which he who
hath is wanting in love. "It thinketh no evil. It rejoiceth not
in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. It covereth all things, believeth
all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
3) Living Faith
3. There is yet one thing more that may be
separately considered, though it cannot actually be separate from
the preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian;
and that is the ground of all, even faith. Very excellent things
are spoken of this throughout the oracles of God. "Every one,"
saith the beloved disciple, "that believeth, is born of God."
"To as many as received him, gave he power to become the sons
of God, even to them that believe on his name." And, "this
is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
Yea, our Lord himself declares, "He that believeth in the
Son hath everlasting life; and cometh not into condemnation, but is
passed from death unto life."
4. But here let no man deceive his own soul.
"It is diligently to be noted, the faith which bringeth not
forth repentance, and love, and all good works, is not that right
living faith, but a dead and devilish one. For, even the devils
believe that Christ was born of a virgin; that he brought all kinds
of miracles, declaring himself very God; that, for our sakes, he suffered
a most painful death, to redeem us from death everlasting; that
he rose again the third day; that he ascended into heaven; and sitteth
at the right hand of the Father, and at the end of the world shall
come again to judge both the quick and dead. These articles of our
faith the devils believe, and so they believe all that is written
in the Old and New Testament. And yet for all this faith, they
be but devils. They remain still in their damnable estate, lacking
the very true Christian faith."
5. "The right and true Christian faith
is," (to go on in the words of our own Church,) "not
only to believe that holy Scripture and the articles of our faith
are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved
from everlasting damnation by Christ. It is a sure trust and
confidence which a man hath in God, that, by the merits of Christ,
his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favor of God; whereof
doth follow a loving heart, to obey his commandments."
6. Now, whosoever has this faith, which
"purifies the heart" (by the power of God, who dwelleth
therein) from pride, anger, desire, "from all unrighteousness,"
from "all filthiness of flesh and spirit;" which fills
it with love stronger than death, both to God and to all mankind;
love that doeth the works of God, glorying to spend and to be spent
for all men, and that endureth with joy, not only the reproach of
Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever
the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict;
whosoever has this faith, thus working by love, is not almost only,
but altogether, a Christian.
7. But who are the living witnesses of these
things? I beseech you, brethren, as in the presence of that
God before whom "hell and destruction are without a covering,
how much more the hearts of the children of men!"
that each of you would ask his own heart, "Am I of that number?
Do I so far practice justice, mercy, and truth, as even the rules
of heathen honesty require? If so, have I the very outside of a Christian?
the form of godliness? Do I abstain from evil, from whatsoever
is forbidden in the written word of God? Do I, whatever good my hand
findeth to do, do it with my might? Do I seriously use all the ordinances
of God at all opportunities? And, is all this done with a sincere
design and desire to please God in all things?"
8. Are not many of you conscious, that you
never came thus far; that you have not been even almost a Christian;
that you have not come up to the standard of heathen honesty, at least,
not to the form of Christian godliness? Much less hath God
seen sincerity in you, a real design of pleasing him in all things.
You never so much as intended to devote all your words and works,
your business, studies, diversions, to his glory. You never even designed
or desired, that whatsoever you did should be done "in the name
of the Lord Jesus," and as such should be "a spiritual sacrifice,
acceptable to God through Christ."
9. But, supposing you had, do good designs
and good desires make a Christian? By no means, unless they are brought
to good effect. "Hell is paved," saith one, "with
good intentions." The great question of all, then,
still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can
you cry out, "My God, and my All?" Do you desire nothing
but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight,
your crown of rejoicing? And is this commandment written in your heart,
"That he who loveth God love his brother also?" Do you then
love your neighbor as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies,
even the enemies of God, as your own soul? as Christ loved you? Yea,
dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee?
Hast thou faith in his blood? Believest thou the Lamb of God hath
taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of
the sea? that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against
thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross? Hast thou
indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins?
And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a
child of God?
10. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who now standeth in the midst of us, knoweth, that if any man die
with out this faith and this love, good it were for him that he had
never been born. Awake, then, thou that sleepest, and call upon thy
God: Call in the day when he may be found. Let him not rest, till
he make "his goodness to pass before thee," till he proclaim
unto thee the name of the Lord: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful
and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression,
and sin." Let no man persuade thee, by vain words, to rest
short of this prize of thy high calling. But cry unto Him day and
night, who, "while we were without strength, died for the ungodly"
until thou knowest in whom thou hast believed, and canst say, "My
Lord, and my God!" Remember "always to pray, and not
to faint," till thou also canst lift up thy hand unto heaven,
and declare to Him that liveth forever and ever, "Lord, thou
knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee."
11. May we all thus experience what it is
to be, not almost only, but altogether Christians; 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!
The Works of John Wesley, Sermon
2, The Almost Christian
Preached at St. Marys, Oxford, before the University, On July