To begin our next story, we need to fast-forward about 1,700 years. John Wesley was born on June 17, 1703, in the small town of Epworth in northeastern England. Here are just a few descriptive phrases about this England into which John Wesley was born.
England had just come out of a bloody civil war. Political tensions were high. There was extreme poverty.
Regular employment was uncertain. Housing was often inadequate and unaffordable.
Pure drinking water was scarce. Food was in short supply. Disease was rampant.
Alcohol, violence, prostitution, and gambling were popular means to escape feelings of desperation and hopelessness.
Children as young as four or five were employed as chimney sweeps or in mines and factories. Life was insecure. (I got these excerpts from a biography of Wesley’s life by Charles Yrigoyen. Its title is, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart & Life. It’s a great biography and could be used very profitably in a small group.)
That was the condition of England that still existed as John Wesley began his ministry. It has some pretty remarkable similarities to our own day, doesn’t it?
I wish I could spend a few hours with you telling you all that Wesley preached and did. But here’s the short version of his ministry (and this is key): He preached the whole Gospel for the whole person.
He didn’t preach merely a Gospel message that promised heaven once you died. It, of course, included that… but it was much bigger than that. He preached a Gospel – the biblical Gospel – that changed lives in the here and now.
And as people were won for Christ, Wesley made sure that they were discipled. That means that he encouraged them to get involved in what we would call Bible studies, small groups, accountability groups. It would be in those settings that they would worship God, study his Word, take communion, pray for each other, hold each other accountable for growing in holiness.
As the Apostle Peter would put it, they were seeking to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wesley gave these early Methodists “General Rules” that served to keep them moving in the right direction. Our church family here at Southside studied a basic summary and explanation of those rules a few years ago when we all read the book, Three Simple Rules, by Rueben Job. I want to share just a few of these rules so that you can get a sense of what was being emphasized…
“It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
- The taking of the name of God in vain.
- Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
- Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil,
- The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
- Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation;
- Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
- Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:
- To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
- To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with;
- By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith; helping each other in business,.
- By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily;
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
- The public worship of God.
- The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
- The Supper of the Lord.
- Family and private prayer.
- Searching the Scriptures.
Now let me ask you something: What might happen to a city where genuinely Spirit-empowered, Spirit-guided people were faithfully and regularly practicing these things? Well, I’ll tell you what happened in England. It turned England upside down, just like it began to do in Rome 1,700 years earlier.
The Methodist movement, according to secular historians with no special fondness for the church, saved England from the same bloody revolution that happened in France.
But there was a cost. There’s always a cost of discipleship… which is why Jesus wants us to count the cost before we commit our lives to him.
These disciples of Jesus Christ, called Methodists, were insulted, slandered, attacked in newspapers. And just like what happened in Thessalonica 1,700 years before… mobs physically attacks them. They were beaten, their houses were burned down, their property was stolen: Simply because they were Methodists!
And so, what happened? Did they give up and return to their old ways of living? Far from it! Methodists grew in faith and numbers. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was declared in more places with greater impact. Lives were changed. That little corner of the world called England was transformed. What a great witness for Christ!
As I draw to a close, let me leave you with two big ideas.
Scripture says that the early disciples turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it. History shows us that John Wesley and the early Methodists turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it.
And so here’s my first big idea: The Gospel of the Kingdom doesn’t actually turn the world upside down. It turns it right-side up!
You see, our fallen, sinful, broken world is already upside down. It’s values, beliefs, attitudes, desires, actions –and all the rest – are contrary to those of God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to set things right – in every sphere of life.
But that far-reaching, socially impacting, worldwide transformation that we all want has to first begin in the hearts of individuals. Each of us must become new creatures in Christ who will faithfully follow him as his disciples. Only then, as we take our new life – our new values, beliefs, attitudes, desires, and actions – with us, wherever we go, can we transform the world… or at least our little corner of it.
It starts with us. It moves to our families. It affects our church, our workplaces, our friendships, our community, our city, our state, our country, and eventually our world. But we have to first start where we are. We have to first be faithful where we are.
That’s my first big idea.
Here’s my second big idea: As followers of Jesus Christ, and spiritual descendents of the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, this is YOUR spiritual legacy as United Methodists. You see, their stories belong to you. In fact, this is YOUR story. You are a part of it.
And so, let me ask you this: What legacy will you leave to those who follow you? How will you keep the story going?
Grace and Truth,