Annotation to Sermon III

The text is quoted by St. Paul from some unknown source: 'Wherefore he saith.' Severian, who has been followed by many modern commentators, thinks it was a verse from an early Christian hymn:
'E-YCLpe, 6 KUOC68WV,
Kai eLY60-7-a eK T@V PCKP@,V,
Kat 'e7rLoa6O-Ct C'Ot 6 XPLO-T6S.
If 'so, it was most happily chosen by the greatest of Christian hymnwriters as his text on this occasion.
I. 1. On original sin, see note on Sermon V, sec. i.
2. 'Birth from above.' This is the rendering of the phrase in John iii. 3, adopted by Coverdale and the Bishops' Bible of l572. The more usual rendering is 'again.' The papyri furnish examples of both meanings, Westcott, after a full discussion of the passage, decides in favour of 'again.'
It is observable that regeneration is here described (1) as figured out, not effected, by baptism; (2) as the beginning, not the complete attainment, of sanctification. Cf. Sermon 1, ii. 6.
7. The 'sinews and flesh' are taken to mean the outward form of religion.
9 Cf. with this and the two following sections, Sermon XV, i. 6-10.
11. The phrase 9'XeyXos llve@,aa7-or does not occur in the New Testament. It was probably suggested by John xvi. 8, 'He shall convict (iXi-itet) the world in respect of sin, etc.,' and Heb. xi. 1, 'Faith is the IXe7Xot of things not seen.' The preacher does not distinguish so accurately as his brother the witness Of our own spirit and the witness of the Spirit of God.
12. 'Child of the devil.' But see note on Sermon II, i. 13.
II. 1. 'Cast thyself into them.' A curious application of the story of Jonah; as Jonah escaped the storm by being cast into the sea, so we, to escape God's judgements, must acquiesce in them, judge ourselves by His standards.
5. Compare Augustine, Confessions, I. 1: 'Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it finds rest in Theo.' And John Wesley's translation of Tersteegen's hymn, 'Verborgne Gottesliebe du,' made at Savannah in 1736, and printed in Psalms and Hymns, 1738; Hymn 531 in the present Hymnbook. My heart s pained, nor can it be
At rest, till it finds rest in Thee.
9. The reference is to the Collect at the beginning of the Communion Service: 'Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit.'
10. 'Anointed with the Holy Ghost.' Evidently a reminiscence of Acts x. 38; it is said there, not of every Christian, but of our Lord. This is the sort of slip which can hardly be avoided at times by one whose memory is so richly stored with Scripture phrases as Charles Wesley's was. The late Dr. Pope was usually very happy in his use of Scripture; but once in the Didsbury Chapel he is reported to have said, speaking of the providential care of God, 'Yes, brethren, we are not ignorant of his devices.' Then suddenly recollecting the context, he ejaculated in horror, 'I beg your pardon!' The next quotation is even less appropriate. 'Pure religion' should rather be translated 'Pure and undefiled religious service, or observance'; and it is defined, in contradistinction to the Pharisaic idea of ecclesiastical ceremonial, as 'visiting the fatherless and the widow,' etc. The passage has no relation to the main contention of this paragraph.
11. 'Agonizing.' Charles Wesley takes this as the closest representative in English of the Greek i-y&,Yireo-Oe in Luke xiii. 24. In the Notes John translates it, 'Agonize. Strive as in an agony.' But none of the English versions has dared to adopt it.
III. 6. 'Neither is it possible,' etc. But John Wesley wrote to his brother Samuel on October 23, 1738, five months after his conversion, 'This witness of the Spirit I have not.' He writes again in November, 'This witness, I believe, is necessary for my salvation. How far invincible ignorance may excuse others, I know not.' The question is proposed in Minutes, August 2, 1745 (Charles being present): 'Q. 1. Is an assurance of God's pardoning love absolutely necessary to our being in His favour?' The gist of the answers is: '(1) There may be exempt cases; (2) We incline to think it is not necessary to outward holiness; (3) In regard to Papists, Quakers, and others who deny that they have it, love hopeth all things; (4) As to those who die without it, we determine nothing; we leave his soul in the hands of Him that made it; (5) We allow that there may be infinite degrees in seeing God.' The question is discussed again in Minutes, June 16, 1747. After proving that the doctrine of assurance is scriptural, he asks (Q. 10) whether matter of fact does not prove that justifying faith does not necessarily imply assurance; and two cases are specifically mentioned under the disguise of initials. The answer is, 'This contains the very strength of the cause'; and the explanation which follows is not at all decisive. There may be exempt cases; general doctrines must not be grounded on a few experiments; a moral life does not prove that a man has faith; we do not know enough to judge certainly about these persons. But if they have not conscious faith, they are not Christian believers; yet it is not to be supposed that they can die in such a state. In 1745 John Wesley writes to John Smith probably a pseudonym for Thomas Secker), 'I will still believe, none is a true Christian till he experiences it,' i.e. the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which none can have 'without perceiving it as clearly as he does the light of the sun.' But on the other hand, John Wesley, in a letter to Charles (Works, xii. 113), says, 'If justifying faith necessarily implies such an explicit assurance of pardon, then every one who has it not ... is under the wrath and under the curse of God. But this is a supposition contrary to Scripture as well as to experience.' In Sermon XIV (1767) he allows that there may be a real degree of long-suffering, of gentleness, of fidelity, meekness, temperance, before we have a testimony of our acceptance; though we are not to rest here, but continually to cry to God for the witness of the Spirit.
In a letter to Melville Horne, Fletcher's successor at Madeley, John Wesley says, 'When fifty years ago my brother Charles and I, in the simplicity of our hearts, told the good people of England that unless they knew their sins were forgiven, they were under the wrath and curse of God, I marvel, Melville, they did not stone us! The Methodists, hope, know better now; we preach assurance as we always did, as a common privilege of the children of God; but we do not enforce it, under the pain of damnation, denounced on all who enjoy it not.' (Southey's Life of Wesley, 1st ed., i. 295.)
Wesley is right in saying that this 'is the main doctrine of the Methodists.' Christianity is not a creed nor a system of ethics; it is an experience, and therefore must be experienced. But he allows that there are degrees in this experience; and if he had more explicitly admitted that through prejudice, or ignorance, or false humility, or temperament, different people may describe their experience in different terms; and if he had not at times complicated the question by his anxiety to determine what will happen to good people who die without having felt able to profess that they enjoyed a definite assurance of salvation, it is hard to see how any objection to his doctrine could be maintained.
7. The temptation to call his opponents names is one to which an impassioned orator is peculiarly liable. The word Antichrist is only used by St. John, and he employs it in a perfectly definite sense. It is 'he who denies that Jesus is the Messiah'; it is the spirit 'which confesseth not that Jesus is from God'; it is exhibited by those 'who do not confess Jesus the Messiah coming in flesh.' There is no justification for applying it as the preacher does here.
9. The references are as follows:
Article xvii: The doctrine of Election is full of comfort 'to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ.'
Office for Ordering of Deacons: 'Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this Office and Ministration?'
Order for Visitation of Sick: 'The Almighty Lord . . . make thee know and feel that there is none other Name under heaven given to man, in whom, and through whom, thou mayest receive health and salvation, but only the name of our Lord Jesus.'
Order for Holy Communion: 'Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit.'
Order for Confirmation: 'Strengthen them . . . with the Holy Ghost the Comforter.'
Office for Ordering of Priests: 'Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands.'
10. The word 'enthusiast' was almost always used in the eighteenth century in the sense of 'one who holds extravagant and visionary religious opinions,' 'one who pretends to special divine illumination.' No term of abuse was more often applied to the early Methodists. Horace Walpole, in a letter dated October 10, 1766, in describing a sermon by John Wesley, says, 'Towards the end he exalted his voice, and acted very ugly enthusiasm'; in other words, he appealed to the feelings of his hearers--a terrible lapse from the good form which was the crown of all the virtues with the correct eighteenth-century wits. For a more detailed denunciation of the sins of the time, see Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, Part II, sec. ii.
The 'falling away' is a quotation from 2 Thess. ii. 8. NMatever St. Paul meant by it, he was certainly not thinking of the eighteenth century. But there has hardly ever been an earnest reformer since the beginning of the Christian era who has not thought that he was living in the days of the great Apostasis!
12. 'This place' is, of course, the University of Oxford. For a fuller and more severe indictment of it, see the latter part of Sermon IV and Sermon CXXXIV.
15. England was engaged in a war against Spain. Vernon's attacks on Carthagena and Santiago had miserably failed; and Walpole, after twenty-one years of power, found himself on January 21, 1742, with a bare majority of three in the House, and resigned. Carteret and his 'drunken administration' came into office; and he threw himself with vigour into the war on behalf of Maria Theresa. Meanwhile, the Young Pretender was watching the course of events, and was preparing for the attempt to regain the throne, which came to a head in 1745. Well might the preacher look forward with anxiety into the future!