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THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN
AUTHOR: Wesley, John
PUBLISHED ON: April 9, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN
PUBLISHED IN: Sermons

  John Wesley: SERMON II: THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN

  PREACHED AT ST. MARY’S, OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
  ON JULY 25, 1741.

  Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. – ACTS XXVI. 28.

  AND many there are who go thus far: ever since the Christian
religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and
nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians. But seeing it
avails nothing before God to go only thus far it highly imports us
to consider, –

  I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN BEING ALMOST,
  II. WHAT IN BEING ALTOGETHER, A CHRISTIAN.

  I. (i.) 1. Now, in the being almost a Christian is implied,
first, heathen honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question
of this; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean, not
that which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers
only, but such as the common Heathens expected one of another, and
many of them actually practised. By the rules of this they were
taught that they ought not to be unjust; not to take away their
neighbour’s goods, either by robbery or theft; not to oppress the
poor, neither to use extortion toward any; not to cheat or
overreach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had
with them; to defraud no man of his right; and, if it were
possible, to owe no man anything.

  2. Again: the common Heathens allowed, that some regard was to
be paid to truth, as well as to justice. And, accordingly, they not
only held him in abomination who was forsworn, who called God to
witness to a lie; but him also who was known to be a slanderer of
his neighbour, who falsely accused any man. And indeed, little
better did they esteem wilful liars of any sort, accounting them
the disgrace of human kind, and the pests of society.

  3. Yet again: there was a sort of love and assistance which they
expected one from another. They expected whatever assistance any
one could give another, without prejudice to himself. And this they
extended not only to those little offices of humanity which are
performed without any expense or labour, but likewise to the
feeding the hungry, if they had food to spare; the clothing the
naked with their own superfluous raiment; and, in general. the
giving, to any that needed, such things as they needed not
themselves. Thus far, in the lowest account of it, heathen honesty
went; the first thing implied in the being almost a Christian.

  (ii.) 4. A second thing implied in the being almost a Christian
is, the having a form of godliness; of that godliness which is
prescribed in the gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a
real Christian. Accordingly, the almost Christian does nothing
which the gospel forbids. He taketh not the name of God in vain; he
blesseth, and curseth not; he sweareth not at all, but his
communication is, yea, yea; nay, nay. He profanes not the day of
the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger that
is within his gates. He not only avoids all actual adultery,
fornication, and uncleanness, but every word or look that either
directly or indirectly tends thereto; nay, and all idle words,
abstaining both from detraction, backbiting, talebearing, evil
speaking, and from ‘all foolish talking and Jesting’ – eutrapelia
, a kind of virtue in the heathen moralist’s account – briefly,
from all conversation that is not ‘good to the use of edifying,’
and that, consequently, ‘grieves the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we
are sealed to the day of redemption.’

  5. He abstains from ‘wine wherein is excess’; from revellings
and gluttony. He avoids, as much as in him lies, all strife and
contention, continually endeavouring to live peaceably with all
men. And, if he suffer wrong, he avengeth not himself, neither
returns evil for evil. He is no railer, no brawler, no scoffer,
either at the faults or infirmities of his neighbour. He does not
willingly wrong, hurt, or grieve any man; but in all things act and
speaks by that plain rule, ‘Whatsoever thou wouldest not he should
do unto thee, that do not thou to another.’

  6. And in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and
easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of
many, that by all means he may help some. In spite of toil or pain,
‘whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth it with his might’;
whether it be for his friends, or for his enemies; for the evil, or
for the good. For being ‘not slothful’ in this, or in any
‘business,’ as he ‘hath opportunity’ he doeth ‘good,’ all manner of
good, ‘to all men’; and to their souls as well as their bodies. He
reproves the wicked, instructs the ignorant, confirms the wavering,
quickens the good, and comforts the afflicted. He labours to awaken
those that sleep; to lead those whom God hath already awakened to
the ‘Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,’ that they may
wash therein and be clean; and to stir up those who are saved
through faith, to adorn the gospel of Christ in all things.

  7. He that hath the form of godliness uses also the means of
grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. He constantly
frequents the house of God; and that, not as the manner of some is,
who come into the presence of the Most High, either loaded with
gold and costly apparel, or in all the gaudy vanity of dress, and
either by their unseasonable civilities to each other, or the
impertinent gaiety of their behaviour, disclaim all pretensions to
the form as well as to the power of godliness. Would to God there
were none even among ourselves who fall under the same
condemnation! who come into this house, it may be, gazing about, or
with all the signs of the most listless, careless indifference,
though sometimes they may seem to use a prayer to God for His
blessing on what they are entering upon; who, during that awful
service, are either asleep, or reclined in the most convenient
posture for it; or, as though they supposed God was asleep, talking
with one another, or looking round, as utterly void of employment.
Neither let these be accused of the form of godliness. No; he who
has even this, behaves with seriousness and attention, in every
part of that solemn service. More especially, when he approaches
the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or careless
behaviour, but with an air, gesture, and deportment which speaks
nothing else but ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’

  8. To this, if we add the constant use of family prayer, by
those who are masters of families, and the setting times apart for
private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness of behaviour; he
who uniformly practises this outward religion, has the form of
godliness. There needs but one thing more in order to his being
almost a Christian, and that is, sincerity.

  (iii.) 9. By sincerity I mean, a real, inward principle of
religion, from whence these outward actions flow. And, indeed if we
have not this, we have not heathen honesty; no, not so much of it
as will answer the demand of a heathen Epicurean poet. Even this
poor wretch, in his sober intervals, is able to testify,

  Oderunt peccare boni, virtutis amore;
  Oderunt peccare mali, formidine poen .

  Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue
  Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment.

  So that, if a man only abstains from doing evil in order to
avoid punishment, Non pasces in cruce corvos; Thou shalt not be
hanged, saith the Pagan; there, ‘thou hast thy reward.’ But even he
will not allow such a harmless man as this to be so much as a good
Heathen. If, then, any man, from the same motive, viz. to avoid
punishment, to avoid the loss of his friends, or his gain, or his
reputation, should not only abstain from doing evil, but also do
ever so much good; yea, and use all the means of grace; yet we
could not with any propriety say, this man is even almost a
Christian! If he has no better principle in his heart, he is only
a hypocrite altogether.

  10. Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied in the being
almost a Christian; a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to
do His will. It is necessarily implied, that a man have a sincere
view of pleasing God in all things; in all his conversation; in all
his actions; in all he does or leaves undone. This design, if any
man be almost a Christian, runs through the whole tenor of his
life. This is the moving principle, both in his doing good, his
abstaining from evil, and his using the ordinances of God.

  11. But here it will probably be inquired, ‘Is it possible that
any man living should go so far as this, and, nevertheless, be only
almost a Christian? What more than this, can be implied in the
being a Christian altogether? I answer, first, that it is possible
to go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian: I learn, not
only from the oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of
experience.

  12. Brethren, great is ‘my boldness towards you in this behalf.’
And ‘forgive me this wrong,’ if I declare my own folly upon the
house-top, for yours and the gospel’s sake. – Suffer me, then, to
speak freely of myself, even as of another man. I am content to be
abased, so ye may be exalted, and to be yet more vile for the glory
of my Lord.

  13. I did go thus far for many years, as many of this place can
testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a
conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every
opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully
using all the public and all the private means of grace;
endeavouring after a steady seriousness of behaviour, at all times,
and in all places; and, God is my record, before whom I stand,
doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a
hearty desire to do His will in all things; to please Him who had
called me to ‘fight the good fight,’ and to ‘lay hold of eternal
life.’ Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost,
that all this time I was but almost a Christian.

  II. If it be inquired, ‘What more than this is implied in the
being altogether a Christian?’ I answer,

  (i.) 1. First, The love of God. For thus saith His word, ‘Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy
soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ Such a
love is this, as engrosses the whole heart, as rakes up all the
affections, as fills the entire capacity of the soul and employs
the utmost extent of all its faculties. He that thus loves the Lord
his God, his spirit continually ‘rejoiceth in God his Saviour.’ His
delight is in the Lord, his Lord and his All, to whom ‘in
everything he giveth thanks. All his desire is unto God, and to the
remembrance of His name.’ His heart is ever crying out, ‘Whom have
I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire
beside Thee.’ Indeed, what can he desire beside God? Not the world,
or the things of the world: for he is ‘crucified to the world, and
the world crucified to him.’ He is crucified to ‘the desire of the
flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life.’ Yea, he is
dead to pride of every kind: for ‘love is not puffed up’ but ‘he
that dwelling in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him,’ is less
than nothing in his own eyes.

  (ii.) 2. The second thing implied in the being altogether a
Christian is, the love of our neighbour. For thus said our Lord in
the following words, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ If
any man ask, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ we reply, Every man in the
world; every child of His who is the Father of the spirits of all
flesh. Nor may we in any wise except our enemies or the enemies of
God and their own souls. But every Christian loveth these also as
himself, yea, ‘as Christ loved us.’ He that would more fully
understand what manner of love this is, may consider St. Paul’s
description of it. It is ‘long-suffering and kind.’ It ‘envieth
not.’ It is not rash or hasty in judging. It ‘is not puffed up’;
but maketh him that loves, the least, the servant of all. Love
‘doth not behave itself unseemly’, but becometh ‘all things to all
men.’ She ‘seeketh not her own’; but only the good of others, that
they may be saved. ‘Love is not provoked.’ It casteth out wrath,
which he who hath is wanting in love. ‘It thinketh no evil. It
rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. It covereth
all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all
things.’

  (iii.) 3. There is yet one thing more that may be separately
considered. though it cannot actually be separate from the
preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian;
and that is the ground of all, even faith Very excellent things are
spoken of this throughout the oracles of God. ‘Every one, saith the
beloved disciple, ‘that believeth is born of God.’ ‘To as many as
received Him, gave He power to become the sons of God. even to them
that believe on His name.’ And ‘this is the victory that overcometh
the world, even our faith.’ Yea, our Lord Himself declares, ‘He
that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; and cometh not
into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.’

  4. But here let no man deceive his own soul. ‘It is diligently
to be noted, the faith which bringeth not forth repentance, and
love, and all good works, is not that right living faith, but a
dead and devilish one. For, even the devils believe that Christ was
born of a virgin: that He wrought all kinds of miracles, declaring
Himself very God: that, for our sakes, He suffered a most painful
death, to redeem us from death everlasting; that He rose again the
third day: that He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right
hand of the Father and at the end of the world shall come again to
judge both the quick and dead. These articles of our faith the
devils believe, and so they believe all that is written in the Old
and New Testament. And yet for all this faith, they be but devils.
They remain still in their damnable estate lacking the very true
Christian faith.’

  5. ‘The right and true Christian faith is (to go on m the words
of our own Church), ‘not only to believe that Holy Scripture and
the Articles of our Faith are true, but also to have a sure trust
and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ. It
is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that, by
the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to
the favour of God; whereof doth follow a loving heart, to obey His
commandments.’

  6. Now, whosoever has this faith, which ‘purifies the heart’ (by
the power of God, who dwelleth therein) from ‘pride, anger, desire,
from all unrighteousness’ from ‘all filthiness of flesh and
spirit’; which fills it with love stronger than death, both to God
and to all mankind; love that doeth the works of God, glorying to
spend and to be spent for all men, and that endureth with joy, not
only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated
of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of
men or devils to inflict, – whosoever has this faith thus working
by love is not almost only, but altogether, a Christian.

  7. But who are the living witnesses of these things? I beseech
you, brethren, as in the presence of that God before whom ‘hell and
destruction are without a covering – how much more the hearts of
the children of men?’ – that each of you would ask his own heart,
‘Am I of that number? Do I so far practise justice, mercy, and
truth, as even the rules of heathen honesty require? If so, have I
the very outside of a Christian? the form of godliness? Do I
abstain from evil – from whatsoever is forbidden in the written
Word of God? Do I, whatever good my hand findeth to do, do it with
my might? Do I seriously use all the ordinances of God at all
opportunities? And is all this done with a sincere design and
desire to please God in all things?’

  8. Are not many of you conscious, that you never came thus far;
that you have not been even almost a Christian; that you have not
come up to the standard of heathen honesty; at least, not to the
form of Christian godliness? – much less hath God seen sincerity in
you, a real design of pleasing Him in all things. You never so much
as intended to devote all your words and works. your business,
studies, diversions, to His glory. You never even designed or
desired, that whatsoever you did should be done ‘in the name of the
Lord Jesus, and as such should be ‘a spiritual sacrifice,
acceptable to God through Christ.

  9. But, supposing you had, do good designs and good desires make
a Christian? By no means, unless they are brought to good effect.
‘Hell is paved,’ saith one, ‘with good intentions.’ The great
question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed
abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, ‘My God, and my All’? Do you
desire nothing but Him? Are you happy in God? Is He your glory,
your delight, your crown of rejoicing? And is this commandment
written in your heart, ‘That he who loveth God love his brother
also’? Do you then love your neighbour as yourself? Do you love
every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own
soul? as Christ loved you? Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved
thee, and gave Himself for thee? Hast thou faith in His blood?
Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast
them as a stone into the depth of the sea? that He hath blotted out
the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way,
nailing it to His cross? Hast thou indeed redemption through His
blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth His Spirit bear
witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God?

  10. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who now
standeth in the midst of us, knoweth, that if any man die without
this faith and this love, good it were for him that he had never
been born. Awake, then, thou that sleepest, and call upon thy God:
call in the day when He may be found. Let Him not rest, till He
make His ‘goodness to pass before thee’; till He proclaim unto thee
the name of the Lord, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and
gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression,
and sin.’ Let no man persuade thee, by vain words, to rest short of
this prize of thy high calling. But cry unto Him day and night,
who, ‘while we were without strength, died for the ungodly,’ until
thou knowest in whom thou hast believed, and canst say, ‘My Lord,
and my God!’ Remember, ‘always to pray, and not to faint,’ till
thou also canst lift up thy hand unto heaven, and declare to Him
that liveth for ever and ever, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou
knowest that I love Thee.’

  11. May we all thus experience what it is to be, not almost
only; but altogether Christians; being justified freely by His
grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus; knowing we have
peace with God through Jesus Christ; rejoicing in hope of the glory
of God; and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by
the Holy Ghost given unto us!

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