Faith, Hope, And Love Abide
Thus doth God himself answer that weighty question, What is it to be born of God Such, if the appeal be made to the oracles of God, is “every one that is born of the Spirit.” This it is, in the judgment of the Spirit of God, to be a son or a child of God: It is, so to believe in God, through Christ, as “not to commit sin,” and to enjoy at all times, and in all places, that “peace of God which passeth all understanding.” It is, so to hope in God through the Son of his love, as to have not only the “testimony of a good conscience,” but also the Spirit of God “bearing witness with your spirits, that ye are the children of God;” whence cannot but spring the rejoicing in Him, through whom ye “have received the atonement.” It is, so to love God, who hath thus loved you, as you never did love any creature: So that ye are constrained to love all men as yourselves; with a love not only ever burning in your hearts, but flaming out in all your actions and conversations, and making your whole life one “labour of love,” one continued obedience to those commands, “Be ye merciful, as God is merciful;” “Be ye holy, as I the Lord am holy:” “Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” – The Marks Of The New Birth, John Wesley, Sermon 18, John 3:8-37
We Wesleyan Christians have a treasure in the many sermons he preached over his long career. In the midst of our artificial crisis it might well serve all of us to turn to what Wesley said. Especially as the Anonymous 80 insist that this “crisis” is at least in part one of the proper interpretation of Scripture, reading the words of Wesley preaching on these same Scriptures might be a nice beginning out of the mire into which we’ve been led.
For Wesley, the marks of the new birth are found in Scripture. The first is faith:
The true, living, Christian faith, which whosoever hath, is born of God, is not only an assent, an act of the understanding; but a disposition, which God hath wrought in his heart; “a sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God.” This implies, that a man first renounce himself; that, in order to be “found in Christ,” to be accepted through him, he totally rejects all “confidence in the flesh;” that, “having nothing to pay,” having no trust in his own works or righteousness of any kind, he comes to God as a lost, miserable, self-destroyed, self-condemned, undone, helpless sinner; as one whose mouth is utterly stopped, and who is altogether “guilty before God.” Such a sense of sin, (commonly called despair, by those who speak evil of the things they know not,) together with a full conviction, such as no words can express, that of Christ only cometh our salvation, and an earnest desire of that salvation, must precede a living faith, a trust in Him, who “for us paid our ransom by his death, and fulfilled the law of his life.” This faith then, whereby we are born of God, is “not only a belief of all the articles of our faith, but also a true confidence of the mercy of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The second mark of the new birth is hope:
“Ye,” saith St. Peter, whom God hath “begotten again unto a lively hope, are kept by the power of God unto salvation: Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ: In whom, though now ye see him not, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:5, &c.) Unspeakable indeed! It is not for the tongue of man to describe this joy in the Holy Ghost. It is “the hidden manna, which no man knoweth, save he that receiveth it.” But this we know, it not only remains, but overflows, in the depth of affliction. “Are the consolations of God small” with his children, when all earthly comforts fail Not so. But when sufferings most abound, the consolations of his Spirit do much more abound; insomuch that the sons of God “laugh at destruction when it cometh;” at want, pain, hell, and the grave; as knowing Him who “hath the keys of death and hell,” and will shortly “cast them into the bottomless pit;” as hearing even now the great voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:3, 4.)
And, of course, the final mark of the new birth is love:
[T]his is the sign or proof of the love of God, of our keeping the first and great commandment, to keep the rest of his commandments. For true love, if it be once shed abroad in our heart, will constrain us so to do; since, whosoever loves God with all his heart, cannot but serve him with all his strength.
5. A Second fruit then of the love of God (so far as it can be distinguished from it) is universal obedience to him we love, and conformity to his will; obedience to all the commands of God, internal and external; obedience of the heart and of the life; in every temper, and in all manner of conversation. And one of the tempers most obviously implied herein, is, the being “zealous of good works;” the hungering and thirsting to do good, in every possible kind, unto all men; the rejoicing to “spend and be spent for them,” for every child of man; not looking for any recompence in this world, but only in the resurrection of the just.
Where these exist, there are the children of God, by Adoption, able to cry out “Abba! Father!” through the Spirit who turns our groaning in to prayer and praise. Faith, real faith, begins with our understanding of ourselves as sinners, coming before God with nothing except the grace of Jesus Christ, which turns our mourning in to dancing. Hope, real hope, is the fervent, faithful following of the commandments of God, in expectation of that glorious Event when Christ for the Father in the Spirit brings about the New Creation, and all that is praises God. Our hope, flowing from our faith, is the source of our mission and ministry, the root of our claim that we are making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Love is more than just obedience to, but abiding in, the two Great Commandments, with the second flowing naturally from the first, both flowing from our faith and the expression of our lived hope.
Wesley goes on to make clear that baptism alone is not a solace. The New Birth is marked by faith, hope, and love, lived out in service to God and the world, spreading the Gospel of peace that passes understanding, and loving our hurting world. We United Methodists teach, with the historic faith, “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” accomplished as we proclaim, “by Water and the Spirit.” Yet, do we not also insist that whole congregation, as those who bear witness to the baptism, are responsible for the proper spiritual instruction of the one baptized? Are we not, after all, our sibling’s keeper, to make clear that the New Birth, the coming of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful believer, is a mark of our Discipleship?
It is in these Scriptural, theological, and spiritual truths we United Methodists should rest with confidence in our insistence that the nameless who would demand we separate are not just “mistaken” but are antithetical to the Spirit and Word, not just the John Wesley preached, but that is supposed to mark us as adopted children of God? I would demand to know where is the faith, the hope, the love from those anonymous ones. Where is the faith that puts their whole life before God, knowing only Jesus Christ stands between them and condemnation? Where is the hope that is lived out as we anticipate that day all tears are wiped away? Where is the love for our neighbors that would go as far as Jesus went for us? These are the questions, and to them I have no answer that I can accept. They proclaim fidelity to Scripture, through the power of the Spirit, yet I see none of the marks of the New Birth, I read no traces of such in their words.
The least we can do is remember who we are as Wesleyan Christians, and turn to him to discover the questions that need asking and demand answers in the midst of far too much heat and too little light.