In This Message
1. True Religion involves what 3 elements?
2. How is a person Born Again?
3. Why is repentance so important?
4. Why is faith absolutely necessary?
How To Be Born Again
The Way To The Kingdom
by John Wesley
The kingdom of God is at hand: Repent ye and belive
the gospel. Mark 1:15
These words naturally lead us to consider, first, the nature of true
religion, here termed by our Lord, "the kingdom of God," which, saith
he, "is at hand;" and, Secondly, the way thereto, which he points
out in those words, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel."
I. The Nature of True Religion
1. We are, First, to consider the nature of true religion, here termed
by our Lord, "the kingdom of God." The same expression the great Apostle
uses in his Epistle to the Romans, where he likewise explains his
Lords words, saying, "The kingdom of God is not meat and
drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
2. "The kingdom of God," or true religion, "is not meat and drink."
It is well known, that not only the unconverted Jews, but great numbers
of those who had received the faith of Christ, were, notwithstanding,
"zealous of the law," (Acts 2:20,) even the ceremonial law of Moses.
Whatsoever, therefore, they found written therein, either concerning
meat and drink offerings, or the distinction between clean and unclean
meats, they not only observed themselves, but vehemently pressed the
same even on those "among the Gentiles" (or Heathens) "who were turned
to God;" yea, to such a degree, that some of them taught wheresoever
they came among them, "Except ye be circumcised, and keep the law,"
(the whole ritual law,) "ye cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1, 24.)
3. In opposition to these, the Apostle declares, both here and in
many other places, that true religion does not consist in meat
and drink, or in any ritual observances; nor, indeed, in any outward
thing whatever; in anything exterior to the heart; the whole substance
thereof lying in "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
Not in Any Outward Forms or Ceremonies
4. Not in any outward thing; such as forms, or ceremonies, even
of the most excellent kind. Supposing these to be ever so decent
and significant, ever so expressive of inward things: Supposing them
ever so helpful, not only to the vulgar, whose thought reaches little
farther than their sight; but even to men of understanding, men of
stronger capacities, as doubtless they may sometimes be: Yea, supposing
them, as in the case of the Jews, to be appointed by God himself;
yet even during the period of time wherein that appointment remains
in force, true religion does not principally consist therein; nay,
strictly speaking, not at all. How much more must this hold concerning
such rites and forms as are only of human appointment! The religion
of Christ rises infinitely higher, and lies immensely deeper, than
all these. These are good in their place; just so far as they are
in fact subservient to true religion. And it were superstition to
object against them, while they are applied only as occasional helps
to human weakness. But let no man carry them farther. Let no man dream
that they have any intrinsic worth; or that religion cannot subsist
without them. This were to make then an abomination to the Lord.
5. The nature of religion is so far from consisting in these,
in forms of worship, or rites and ceremonies, that it does not properly
consist in any outward actions, of what kind soever. It is true,
a man cannot have any religion who is guilty of vicious, immoral actions;
or who does to others what he would not they should do unto him, if
he were in the same circumstances. And it is also true, that he can
have no real religion who "knows to do good, and doeth it not." Yet
may a man both abstain from outward evil, and do good, and still have
no religion. Yea, two persons may do the same outward work; suppose,
feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked; and, in the mean time,
one of these may be truly religious, and the other have no religion
at all: For the one may act from the love of God and the other from
the love of praise. So manifest it is, that although true religion
naturally leads to every good word and work, yet the real nature thereof
lies deeper still, even in "the hidden man of the heart."
Not in Correct Understanding
6. I say of the heart. For neither does religion consist in orthodoxy,
or right opinions; which, although they are not properly outward things,
are not in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodox
in every point; he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously
defend them against all opposers; he may think justly concerning the
incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever-blessed Trinity, and
every other doctrine contained in the oracles of God; he may assent
to all the three Creeds, that called the Apostles, the
Nicene, and the Athanasian; and yet it is possible he may have no
religion at all, no more than a Jew, Turk, or Pagan. He may be almost
as orthodox as the devil, (though, indeed, not altogether;
for every man errs in something; whereas we cannot well conceive him
to hold any erroneous opinion,) and may, all the while, be as great
a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.
True Religion involves Righteousness, Peace and Joy
7. This alone is religion, truly so called: This alone is in the
sight of God of great price. The Apostle sums it all up in three particulars,
"righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
a) Rigteousness: The Love of God and Man
And, First, righteousness. We cannot be at a loss concerning this,
if we remember the words of our Lord, describing the two grand branches
thereof, on which "hang all the law and the Prophets;" "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and
with all thy soul, and with all thy strength: This is the first
and great commandment;" (Mark 12:30;) the first and great branch
of Christian righteousness. Thou shalt delight thyself in the
Lord thy God; thou shalt seek and find all happiness in him. He shall
be "thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," in time and in eternity.
All thy bones shall say, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there
is none upon earth that I desire beside thee!" Thou shalt hear and
fulfill His word who saith, "My son, give me thy heart." And, having
given him thy heart, thy inmost soul, to reign there without a rival,
thou mayest well cry out, in the fullness of thy heart, "I will love
thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my strong rock, and my defense;
my Savior, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; my buckler,
the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge."
8. And the second commandment is like unto this; the Second great
branch of Christian righteousness is closely and inseparably connected
therewith; even, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Thou shalt love, Thou shalt embrace with the most tender goodwill,
the most earnest and cordial affection, the most inflamed desires
of preventing or removing all evil, and of procuring for him every
possible good, Thy neighbor; that is, not only thy friend,
thy kinsman, or thy acquaintance; not only the virtuous, the friendly,
him that loves thee, that prevents or returns thy kindness; but every
child of man, every human creature, every soul which God hath made;
not excepting him whom thou never hast seen in the flesh, whom thou
knowest not, either by face or name; not excepting him whom thou knowest
to be evil and unthankful, him that still despitefully uses and persecutes
thee: Him thou shalt love as thyself; with the same invariable thirst
after his happiness in every kind; the same unwearied care to screen
him from whatever might grieve or hurt either his soul or body.
9. Now is not this love "the fulfilling of the law?" the sum of
all Christian righteousness? of all inward righteousness;
for it necessarily implies "bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind,"
(seeing "love is not puffed up,") "gentleness, meekness, long suffering:"
(For love "is not provoked;" but "believeth, hopeth, endureth all
things:") And of all outward righteousness; for "love worketh no evil
to his neighbor" either by word or deed. It cannot willingly hurt
or grieve any one. And it is zealous of good works. Every lover of
mankind, as he hath opportunity, "doeth good unto all men," being
(without partiality, and without hypocrisy) "full of mercy and good
b) Peace of God and Joy
10. But true religion, or a heart right toward God and man, implies
happiness as well as holiness. For it is not only "righteousness,"
but also "peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." What peace? "The peace
of God," which God only can give, and the world cannot take away;
the peace which "passeth all understanding," all barely rational conception;
being a supernatural sensation, a divine taste, of "the powers of
the world to come;" such as the natural man knoweth not, how wise
soever in the things of this world; nor, indeed, can he know it, in
his present state, "because it is spiritually discerned." It is
a peace that banishes all doubt, all painful uncertainty; the Spirit
of God bearing witness with the spirit of a Christian, that he is
"a child of God." And it banishes fear, all such fear as hath
torment; the fear of the wrath of God; the fear of hell; the fear
of the devil; and, in particular, the fear of death: He that hath
the peace of God, desiring, if it were the will of God, "to depart,
and to be with Christ."
11. With this peace of God, wherever it is fixed in the soul, there
is also "joy in the Holy Ghost;" joy wrought in the heart by the
Holy Ghost, by the ever-blessed Spirit of God. He it is that worketh
in us that calm, humble rejoicing in God, through Christ Jesus,
"by whom we have now received the atonement," katallaghn, the
reconciliation with God; and that enables us boldly to confirm the
truth of the royal Psalmists declaration, "Blessed is the
man" (or rather, happy) "whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose
sin is covered." He it is that inspires the Christian soul with
that even, solid joy, which arises from the testimony of the Spirit
that he is a child of God; and that gives him to "rejoice with joy
unspeakable, in hope of the glory of God;" hope both of the glorious
image of God, which is in part, and shall be fully, "revealed in him;"
and of that crown of glory which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven
12. This holiness and happiness joined in one, are sometimes styled,
in the inspired writings, "the kingdom of God," (as by our Lord
in the text,) and sometimes, "the kingdom of heaven." It is termed
"the kingdom of God," because it is the immediate fruit of Gods
reigning in the soul. So soon as ever he takes unto himself his mighty
power, and sets up his throne in our hearts, they are instantly filled
with this "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." It
is called "the kingdom of heaven," because it is (in a degree) heaven
opened in the soul. For whosoever they are that experience this, they
can aver before angels and men,
Everlasting life is won, Glory is on earth begun,
according to the constant tenor of Scripture, which everywhere bears
record, God "hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in
his Son. He that hath the Son" (reigning in his heart) "hath life,"
even life everlasting. (1 John 5:11, 12.) For "this is life eternal,
to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
(John 17:3.) And they, to whom this is given, may confidently address
God, though they were in the midst of a fiery furnace,
Thee, Lord, safe shielded by thy power,
Thee, Son of God, JEHOVAH, we adore;
In form of man descending to appear:
To thee be ceaseless hallelujahs given,
Praise, as in heaven thy throne, we offer here;
For where thy presence is displayd, is heaven.
13. And this "kingdom of God," or of heaven, "is at hand." As these
words were originally spoken, they implied that "the time" was then
fulfilled, God being "made manifest in the flesh," when he would set
up his kingdom among men, and reigning the hearts of his people. And
is not the time now fulfilled? For, "Lo! (saith he) I am with you
always," you who preach remission of sins in my name, "even unto the
end of the world." (Matthew 28:20.) Wheresoever, therefore, the gospel
of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand." It is not
far from every one of you. Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so
be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel."
II. The Way To True Religion, How to be Born Again
1. This is the way: Walk ye in it. And, First, "repent;" that
is, know yourselves. This is the first repentance, previous to
faith; even conviction, or self-knowledge. Awake, then, thou that
sleepest. Know thyself to be a sinner, and what manner of sinner
thou art. Know that corruption of thy inmost nature, whereby
thou art very far gone from original righteousness, whereby "the flesh
lusteth" always "contrary to the Spirit," through that "carnal mind"
which "is enmity against God," which "is not subject to the law of
God, neither indeed can be." Know that thou art corrupted in every
power, in every faculty of thy soul; that thou art totally corrupted
in every one of these, all the foundations being out of course. The
eyes of thine understanding are darkened, so that they cannot discern
God, or the things of God. The clouds of ignorance and error rest
upon thee, and cover thee with the shadow of death. Thou knowest nothing
yet as thou oughtest to know, neither God, nor the world, nor thyself.
Thy will is no longer the will of God, but is utterly perverse and
distorted, averse from all good, from all which God loves, and prone
to all evil, to every abomination which God hateth. Thy affections
are alienated from God, and scattered abroad over all the earth. All
thy passions, both thy desires and aversions, thy joys and sorrows,
thy hopes and fears, are out of frame, are either undue in their degree,
or placed on undue objects. So that there is no soundness in thy soul;
but "from the crown of the head, to the sole of the foot," (to use
the strong expression of the Prophet,) there are only "wounds, and
bruises, and putrefying sores."
2. Such is the inbred corruption of thy heart, of thy very inmost
nature. And what manner of branches canst thou expect to grow from
such an evil root? Hence springs unbelief; ever departing from
the living God; saying, "Who is the Lord, that I should serve
him? Tush! Thou, God, carest not for it." Hence independence; afflicting
to be like the Most High. Hence pride, in all its forms; teaching
thee to say, "I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of
nothing." From this evil fountain flow forth the bitter streams of
vanity, thirst of praise, ambition, covetousness, the lust of the
flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. From this arise
anger, hatred, malice, revenge, envy, jealousy, evil surmisings:
From this, all the foolish and hurtful lusts that now "pierce thee
through with many sorrows," and, if not timely prevented, will at
length drown thy soul in everlasting perdition.
3. And what fruits can grow on such branches as these? Only such
as are bitter and evil continually. Of pride cometh contention,
vain boasting, seeking and receiving praise of men, and so robbing
God of that glory which he cannot give unto another. Of the lust
of the flesh, come gluttony or drunkenness, luxury or sensuality
fornication, uncleanness; variously defiling that body which was
designed for a temple of the Holy Ghost: Of unbelief, every evil word
and work. But the time would fail, shouldest thou reckon up all; all
the idle words thou hast spoken, provoking the Most High, grieving
the Holy One of Israel; all the evil works thou hast done,
either wholly evil in themselves, or, at least, not done to the glory
of God. For thy actual sins are more than thou art able to express,
more than the hairs of thy head. Who can number the sands of the sea,
or the drops of rain, or thy iniquities?
4. And knowest thou not that "the wages of sin is death?"
death, not only temporal, but eternal. "The soul that sinneth,
it shall die;" for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. It shall
die the second death. This is the sentence, to "be punished" with
never-ending death, "with everlasting destruction from the presence
of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." Knowest thou not that
every sinner, enocov esi th geennh tou purov, not properly, "is in
danger of hell-fire; "that expression is far too weak; but rather,"
is under the sentence of hell-fire;" doomed already, just dragging
to execution. Thou art guilty of everlasting death. It is the just
reward of thy inward and outward wickedness. It is just that the
sentence should now take place. Dost thou see, dost thou feel this?
Art thou thoroughly convinced that thou deservest Gods wrath,
and everlasting damnation? Would God do thee no wrong, if he now commanded
the earth to open, and swallow thee up? if thou wert now to go down
quick into the pit, into the fire that never shall be quenched? If
God hath given thee truly to repent, Thou hast a deep sense that these
things are so; and that it is of his mere mercy thou art not consumed,
swept away from the face of the earth.
5. And what wilt thou do to appease the wrath of God, to atone
for all thy sins, and to escape the punishment thou hast so justly
deserved? Alas, thou canst do nothing; nothing that will in anywise
make amends to God for one evil work, or word, or thought. If thou
couldest now do all things well, if from this very hour till thou
soul should return to God thou couldest perform perfect, uninterrupted
obedience, even this would not atone for what is past. The not
increasing thy debt would not discharge it. It would still remain
as great as ever. Yea, the present and future obedience of all the
men upon earth, and all the angels in heaven, would never make satisfaction
to the justice of God for one single sin. How vain, then, was the
thought of atoning for thy own sins, by anything thou couldest do!
It costeth far more to redeem one soul, than all mankind is able to
pay. So that were there no other help for a guilty sinner, without
doubt he must have perished everlastingly.
6. But suppose perfect obedience, for the time to come, could
atone for the sins that are past, this would profit thee nothing;
for thou art not able to perform it; no, not in any one point.
Begin now: Make the trial. Shake off that outward sin that so easily
besetteth thee. Thou canst not. How then wilt thou change thy life
from all evil to all good? Indeed, it is impossible to be done, unless
first thy heart be changed. For, so long as the tree remains evil,
it cannot bring forth good fruit. But art thou able to change thy
own heart, from all sin to all holiness? to quicken a soul that is
dead in sin, dead to God, and alive only to the world? No more
than thou art able to quicken a dead body, to raise to life him that
lieth in the grave. Yea, thou art not able to quicken thy soul in
any degree, no more than to give any degree of life to the dead body.
Thou canst do nothing, more or less, in this matter; thou art utterly
without strength. To be deeply sensible of this, how helpless thou
art, as well as how guilty and how sinful, this is that "repentance
not to be repented of, which is the forerunner of the kingdom of God."
7. If to this lively conviction of thy inward and outward sins, of
thy utter guiltiness and helplessness, there be added suitable affections,
sorrow of heart, for having despised thy own mercies,
remorse, and self-condemnation, having thy mouth stopped, shame
to lift up thine eyes to heaven, fear of the wrath of God abiding
on thee, of his curse hanging over thy head, and of the fiery indignation
ready to devour those who forget God, and obey not our Lord Jesus
Christ, earnest desire to escape from that indignation, to
cease from evil, and learn to do well; then I say unto thee,
in the name of the Lord, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God."
One step more and thou shalt enter in. Thou dost "repent." Now, "believe
Believe The Gospel
8. The gospel, (that is, good tidings, good news for guilty, helpless
sinners,) in the largest sense of the word, means, the whole revelation
made to men by Jesus Christ; and sometimes the whole account of what
our Lord did and suffered while he tabernacle among men. The substance
of all is, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;"
or, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,
to the end we might not perish, but have everlasting life;" or,
"He was bruised for our transgressions, he was wounded for our
iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his
stripes we are healed."
9. Believe this, and the kingdom of God is thine. By faith thou
attainest the promise. "He pardoneth and absolveth all that truly
repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel." As soon as ever
God hath spoken to thy heart, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven
thee," his kingdom comes: Thou hast "righteousness, and peace, and
joy in the Holy Ghost."
10. Only beware thou do not deceive thy own soul, with regard
to the nature of this faith. It is not, as some have fondly conceived,
a bare assent to the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our
Creed, or of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament. The
devils believe this, as well as I or thou! And yet they are devils
still. But it is, over and above this, a sure trust in the mercy
of God, through Christ Jesus. It is a confidence in a pardoning
God. It is a divine evidence or conviction that "God was
in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them
their" former "trespasses;" and, in particular, that the Son of
God hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that I, even I, am
now reconciled to God by the a blood of the cross.
11. Dost thou thus believe? Then the peace of God is in thy heart,
and sorrow and sighing flee away. Thou art no longer in doubt
of the love of God; it is clear as the noon-day sun. Thou criest
out, "My song shall be always of the loving kindness of the Lord:
With my mouth will I ever be telling of thy truth, from one generation
to another." Thou art no longer afraid of hell, or death, or him
that had once the power of death, the devil; no, nor painfully afraid
of God himself; only thou hast a tender, filial fear of offending
him. Dost thou believe? Then thy "soul doth magnify the Lord,"
and thy "spirit rejoiceth in God thy Savior." Thou rejoicest in
that thou hast "redemption through his blood even the forgiveness
of sins." Thou rejoicest in that "Spirit of adoption," which crieth
in thy heart, "Abba, Father!" Thou rejoicest in a "hope full of immortality;"
in reaching forth unto the "mark for the prize of thy high calling"
in an earnest expectation of all the good things which God hath prepared
for them that love him.
12. Dost thou now believe? Then "the love of God is" now "shed
abroad in thy heart." Thou lovest him, because he first loved
us. And, because thou lovest God, thou lovest thy brother also. And,
being filled with "love, peace, joy," thou art also filled with "long-suffering,
gentleness, fidelity, goodness, meekness, temperance," and all the
other fruits of the same Spirit; in a word, with whatever dispositions
are holy, are heavenly, or divine. For while thou "beholdest with
open," uncovered "face" (the veil now being taken away) "the glory
of the Lord," his glorious love, and the glorious image wherein thou
was created, thou art "changed into the same image, from glory to
glory, by the Spirit of the Lord."
13. This repentance, this faith, this peace, joy, love, this change
from glory to glory, is what the wisdom of the world has voted to
be madness, mere enthusiasm, utter distraction. But thou, O man
of God, regard them not; be thou moved by none of these things. Thou
knowest in whom thou hast believed. See that no man take thy crown.
Whereunto thou hast already attained, hold fast, and follow, till
thou attain all the great and precious promises. And thou who hast
not yet known him, let not vain men make thee ashamed of the gospel
of Christ. Be thou in nothing terrified by those who speak evil of
the things which they know not. God will soon turn thy heaviness into
joy. O let not thy hands hang down! Yet a little longer, and he will
take away thy fears, and give thee the spirit of a sound mind. He
is nigh "that justifieth: Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ
that died, yea rather, that rose again, who is even now at the right
hand of God, making intercession" for thee.
Now cast thyself on the Lamb of God, with all thy sins, how many
soever they be; and "an entrance shall" now; "be ministered unto thee,
into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!"
Works of John Wesley, Sermon 7, "The Way To The Kingdom"