Our People Die Well
Both John and Charles Wesley, founders of the movement that became known as Methodism, claimed that their followers were distinguished, among other things, by how they faced death. This book is the account of the deaths of many of those early Methodists, including John and Charles Wesley. The stories are often inspiring, sometimes melancholy, but always informative of the theology and practice of the original Wesleyans.
Many contemporary observers bore witness to the unusual confidence in which the followers of the Wesleys faced death. One doctor who attended the death beds of several of them wrote, "I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but [are] calm, and patient, and resigned to the last."
John Wesley taught that it was God's will and design for every true Christian to have the "full assurance of faith." He believed that only sin or medical/psychological problems could dim the luster of full assurance. Consequently, he taught that a dying saint should have a holy anticipation of leaving this life and going to heaven. His followers listened to him and embraced the promises found in God's Word about the consolation we have in Christ. He disagreed with those writers (mostly Calvinists) who taught that God sometimes hides Himself from the believer, causing momentary doubt, fear, and even spiritual depression. As Wesley put it, "It is repugnant to the very nature of God [that He would withdraw His felt presence from the believer]. It is utterly beneath his majesty and wisdom . . . to play bo-peep with his creatures."
I understand Wesley's concern here; but there is a long theological and devotional tradition, found in the early Fathers, in the mystics of the church, in the Reformers, and in the post-Reformation period, that asserts that sometimes the Lord "hides Himself" from the believer so that there is a temporary loss of the sense of His presence. Isaiah wrote, "Yes, You are a God who hides Himself, God of Israel, Savior." Isaiah 45:15 (HCSB)
But I'm digressing. My point is not to quibble about Wesley's theology. In fact, I have much greater disagreements with him than this minor issue. My point is that he talked about death and how to be prepared for it; he encouraged his people to seek the full assurance of faith that comes by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit; and his people did just that. They lived--and died--in the wonderful, scintillating assurance of the blessedness of salvation and the hope of eternal life in heaven.
I recommend the book, even though I don't recommend much of Wesley's theology. Importantly, I urge our people to live and die in the full assurance of the love of Christ and with a strong confidence of our destiny with Christ.
One final note. It is a theological irony that Wesley denied the doctrine of eternal security but affirmed the doctrine of present assurance of salvation. What's ironic about it? Well, simply put, Wesley taught that you could have a ravishing and emotionally-charged assurance of salvation today and then go out and do some horrible things and consequently forfeit both your assurance and your actual salvation. You could be saved, then lost again. To me, that is ironic. And just plain wrong.
I appreciate Wesley's place in history; but I must side with the despised Calvinists [he loved Whitefield but hated Calvinism] and Reformed theologians who believe that every believer in Christ has the privilege of both personal assurance of salvation and eternal security in the Savior. We do not believe that the doctrine of eternal security encourages lawlessness and loose morals. On the contrary, our conviction is that a bright assurance coupled with confidence in Christ's power to hold onto us gives us the encouragement we need to "persevere to the end."
Alan Day, Senior Pastor
Copyright 2009: Alan Day, Senior Pastor
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