The Prevailing Emphasis of John Wesley by Maxie Dunnam
If not the most, one of the most prevailing emphasis of the Bible is salvation. Immediately after the beautiful story of creation, including the creation of us humans, the story of “the fall” becomes central. By our deliberate act, we separated ourselves from God, and from that point on, the restoration of that relationship dominates the Biblical narrative.
As John Wesley testified to being “a man of one book,” it is not difficult to see salvation as his prevailing emphasis. There was a uniqueness to that emphasis. Unlike many other teachers and preachers, he did not put the emphasis solely on our coming into the Christian life in confessing, repenting, and trusting Christ as Savior and receiving forgiveness.
Wesley’s understanding was broader. He used the term salvation to refer to the entire saving activity of God in human lives. Thus, in the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition, we talk about “going on to salvation.”
In a letter to his brother Samuel on October 30, 1738, he wrote:
“Dear Brother, with regard to my own character, and my doctrine likewise, I shall answer you plainly. By a Christian I mean one who so believes in Christ as that sin hath no more dominion over him; and in this obvious sense of the word I was not a Christian till May the 24th last past. For till then sin had the dominion over me, although I fought with it continually; but surely then, from that time to this it hath not (dominion) – such is the free grace of God in Christ.”*
In Wesley’s mind and experience, there was full salvation.
The two pivotal dynamics of full salvation are justification and sanctification. Both are works of grace. In justification, we are pardoned and reconciled to God; the restoration of the image of God in us is begun, which is the beginning of sanctification.
Justification may be the miracle of a moment, but sanctification is the process of a lifetime. The dynamic process of sanctification is to work out in fact what is already true in principle. In position, in our relationship to God in Jesus Christ, we are new persons; that is justification and new birth. Now our condition, the actual life we live, must be brought into harmony with our position. That is sanctification.
Justification and the new birth, is the starting point of sanctification. Over and over, in his journal, he confirmed personal testimony of salvation working in the lives of believers.
I believe [the new birth] to be an inward thing; a change from inward wickedness to inward goodness; an entire change of our inmost nature from the image of the devil (wherein we are born) to the image of God; a change from the love of the creature to the love of the Creator; from earthly and sensual to heavenly and holy affections, in a word, a change from the tempers of the spirit of darkness to those of the angels of God in heaven!
What a possibility! from the tempers of the spirit of darkness to those of the angels of God in heaven! Sanctification … saved to the utmost. So we pray as we sing:
Finish, then, thy new creation pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored thee;
changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.