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John Wesley On Entering & Seeking First the Kingdom — An Excerpt From "John Wesley's Teachings: Society and Ethics"
Last month we took a serious look at a serious Anglican minister and Christian theologian of yore, John Wesley. He was ministering and writing in a time of great upheaval within England specifically and Europe broadly, which makes him ideally suited to speak to our own measurable upheaval.
Using a new resource on his teachings by Thomas Oden, John Wesley's Teachings: Society and Ethics, we've explored Wesley's pastoral wisdom on ethics and society, as well as criticism's of his teachings and our readings of them. A few weeks ago we excerpted a section on judging others.
Today we explore Wesley's teachings on entering and seeking the Kingdom of God. Because I've written on the subject myself, having explored recent evangelical appropriations of Kingdom language, I was particularly intrigued to read how Wesley would approach the Kingdom language of Jesus.
From the excerpt below Wesley seems to have equated the Kingdom with the rule of God over the individual heart. In his words: “Let him reign without a rival. Let him possess all your heart, and rule alone. Let him be your one desire, your joy, your love.” And what is produced by letting God reign is righteousness, which is love of God and love of others. For Wesley the Kingdom wasn't merely about community transformation, but individual transformation; social changes were incidental to personal ones.
Wesley firmly rooted his Christian ethic in Jesus' so-called Sermon on the Mount, saying it acted as “a summary of the Christian life, beginning with repentance and proceeding through justification to perfect love.” (179-180) Evangelicals would do well to follow Wesley's lead, especially how they view and talk about the Kingdom of God.
-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)
A. Seek First His Kingdom
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is the sure and only way to be “constantly supplied.”
Seeking God first means that “before ye give place to any other thought or care, let it be your concern that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who ‘gave his only begotten Son,’ to the end that, believing in him, ‘ye might not perish, but have everlasting life’) may reign in your heart, may manifest himself in your soul, and dwell and rule there; that he may ‘cast down every high thing which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’”
Before you seek any worldly value, seek the one who created all worldly values. He redeemed you in order that you might be free to believe and trust and love him as who he is. “Let him reign without a rival. Let him possess all your heart, and rule alone. Let him be your one desire, your joy, your love.” With eternity secure, everything in time and space will fall into its proper place.
1. Seek the Realm of God’s Righteousness First
“Righteousness is the fruit of God’s reigning in the heart. And what is righteousness, but love — the love of God and of all mankind, flowing from faith in Jesus Christ, and producing humbleness of mind, meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, patience, deadness to the world; and every right disposition of heart, toward God and toward man.” The righteousness you are seeking is God’s “own free gift to us, for the sake of Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom alone it is purchased for us. And it is his work; it is he alone that worketh it in us, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” In doing so you are not seeking a righteousness gained by your own merit under the law….
Those who remain willfully ignorant of this gift continue to go “about to establish their own righteousness.” They worked hard to establish an “outside righteousness which might very properly be termed their own,” instead of receiving the gift “wrought by the Spirit of God.” Trusting only in their own strength, they refused to receive the righteousness freely given by God, which is available for all who believe.
2. All These Things Will Be Added
Seek the peace and love of God, and you will find more — “the kingdom that cannot be moved; but also what you seek not” — all these things, in relation to this first thing sought. You will find on your way to the eternal kingdom “all outward things, so far as they are expedient for you.” Cast you all your care upon him who knows your wants and needs.
3. Tomorrow and Today
a. So Take No Thought for the Morrow
Therefore, within the frame of trusting first in God’s righteousness, “take no thought for the morrow.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” “Take . . . no thought of how to lay up treasures on earth, how to increase in worldly substance ... or more money than is required from day to day for the plain, reasonable purposes of life. . . . Do not trouble yourself now, with thinking what you shall do at a season which is yet afar off. . . . Why should you perplex yourself without need?”
Some in despair are tempted to say, “O how I will praise God when the light of his countenance shall be again lifted up upon my soul! How will I exhort others to praise him, when his love is again shed abroad in my heart! Then I will do thus and thus.” Wesley cautioned that you will not do it then if you will not do it now.
In his own words, Jesus said: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” To not have is to reject God’s pardoning gift of righteousness. “He that is faithful in that which is least,” however little, whether of worldly substance or spiritual value, “will be faithful in that which is much.” If you will hide one talent, you will hide five.
b. Let Tomorrow Worry about Itself — Live Today
Jesus on the mount taught how to live today. “Tomorrow will worry about itself.” When temptation comes, grace will come. “In greater trials you will have greater strength. When sufferings abound, the consolations of God will, in the same proportion, abound also. So that, in every situation, the grace of God will be sufficient for you.” (pgs. 259-262)
John Wesley's Teachings: Society and Ethics
By Thomas Oden
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