A summary in modern English of the Sermon “Almost Christian,”” by John Wesley (#2 from Sermons on Several Occasions)
John Wesley and his brother, Charles Wesley, were two important leaders of the early Methodist movement. They lived during the eighteenth century and were both Anglican priests. At the time, John and Charles never intended to start a new denomination. They wanted to revive the Church England, but their ministry sparked a revival that spread like wildfire throughout the world. Today, John and Charles Wesley are viewed as the founders of the Methodist denomination.
I wrote the following summary of “The Almost Christian,” for a class I am currently teaching. I encourage you to read the original, but I understand that many people find Wesley’s language to be somewhat antiquated. Writing this summary was fun, and I wanted to share it with anyone who might be interested. I hope you enjoy it and that it brings you closer to God! Wesley is my favorite theologian.
“Almost Christian”– Summary in modern English
In this sermon, John Wesley examines “what does it mean to be a true Christian?” He asserts that we must give our WHOLE selves to God. It does no good to be “almost a Christian.”
Doing what is morally right does not make a person a Christian. Wesley explains that even “common heathens,” had good morals and lived ethical lives. He argues that the people of Ancient Greece and Rome were highly ethical and gave us many classics of philosophical thought; however, despite their goodness and morality, they were not Christian.
When Wesley uses the phrase “heathens,” he does not intend it to be an insult. Instead, he is simply using the commonly accepted term of the time for people who never encountered Christianity. Wesley highlights the point that even the “heathens,” or “pagans,” who lived before the time of Christ, could still be good people. Their writings show us they were deeply philosophical and had a moral code; however, this morality did not make them Christian.
Who is only “almost” or “not quite” a Christian?
- Following the commandments in the Bible does not make a person Christian. Something more than abiding by the law of the Old and New Testaments is needed.
- Doing kind deeds for others does not make a person a Christian
- Abstaining from drink and being generous to others does not make a person a Christian
- Taking sacraments or going to church does not make a person a Christian
- Praying and studying the Bible does not make a person a Christian
- Even “sincerity,” and genuinely wanting to be good does not make a person a Christian.
- Avoiding sin does not make a person a Christian.
Wesley’s Personal Testimony
In this sermon, Wesley testifies that he did all of the above things: he prayed, studied the Bible, helped the poor, avoided sin, and lived a life that was moral and upright. But—despite all this—he insists that those things did not make him a Christian. He felt convinced that his faith was “not quite” complete. His conscience told him that something was missing. “At this time,” he writess “I was only almost a Christian.”
HOLY LOVE and FAITH in Christ are the key to Christianity
According to Wesley, for a person to be more than “almost” Christian, they must be filled with HOLY LOVE and have faith in Christ.
It is important to remember that when Wesley talks about love, he is not talking about earthly love. Instead, he is referring to HOLY LOVE. Holy love is different than earthly love. The human heart is wicked and following our earthly desires is dangerous. HOLY LOVE is focused on GOD.
HOLY LOVE means loving God and our neighbor. It also is inextricably linked to faith in Christ. Wesley continues his sermon by speaking more about each point and using scriptural references.
First: LOVE GOD and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR (Matthew 22:36-40)
According to Wesley, true Christians desire nothing but God. They are “crucified” to the world. They are “dead to pride.” They are “less then nothing in their own eyes.”
“He that loves the Lord his God, his spirit continually rejoices in God… his delight is in the Lord.”– John Wesley
For a Biblical description of Holy Love, refer to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
SECOND: FAITH in CHRIST is KEY to being a Christian
Faith in Christ means more than just mentally or logically believing that Jesus is the Son of God. It means more than believing all that is written in the Old and New Testament. Wesley points out that even the demons who Jesus encountered recognized him as the Lord. Instead, true FAITH IN CHRIST is a conviction that rests deep within our souls.
The True Christian believes in the tenants of the Christian Religion, but they ALSO have a deep belief that, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, their own personal sins, as well as the sins of the world, are forgiven. This faith purifies the heart and fills it with holy love and is filled with the Joy of God.
Are we entirely Christian?
As Wesley draws to the end of his sermon, he brings it home by encouraging people to examine their hearts. He emphasizes that, despite our best efforts, there are many among us who fail to live a life that is morally good, or “lives up to the example of heathen honesty.”
Sadly, there are many in our world today who are NOT even almost Christian.
What about us? Are we almost Christian?
Are we truly, entirely, completely, Christian?
“Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart,” asks Wesley. “Do you desire nothing but Him? … Do you Love your neighbor as yourself?” Do you love everyone, even if they are your enemy? Do you believe that Christ died for your sins and the sins of the world?”
Near the end of his sermon, Wesley issues a warning, saying that “if any man die without this faith and love,” it would be better for him to have never been born.
He then closes his sermon with the hope and the prayer that all people everywhere become entirely truly completely Christian.
About the author: Rev. Rebecca L. Holland is a United Methodist pastor and author. Her most recent book Hope for the Broken is available from Touch Point Press. She serves two churches in Pennsylvania.