The Character of a Methodist
As we begin the new year, let me remind us of what it means to be a Wesleyan/Methodist Christian. In John Wesley’s 1741 sermon and influential tract, “Character of a Methodist,” Wesley describes the kind of person he hopes the Methodist movement will produce. Wesley taught that true faith is not just believing or doing. The Methodist movement is about life and world transformation. In response to the question, “What is a Methodist?” Wesley summarizes,
“A Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto him;’ one who ‘loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength.’ God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out – ‘Whom have I in Heaven but thee, and there is none upon Earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Though art the strength of my heart and my portion for ever!’”
In this same tract, Wesley also writes what a Methodist is not; that we do not all think, talk or act the same. We do not focus on a single idea. Our personal opinions, right or wrong, do not mark us as Methodists. Rather we think and let think. Wesley goes on to say that a Methodist is devoted to God, adores God, rejoices in God, trusts in God, prays to God, seeks to please God and believes that all scripture is inspired by God. A Methodist loves people, is pure in heart, does good toward all people and demonstrates fruits of a living faith. Certainly, all of this reminds us of the Three General Rules:
1. Do no harm.
2. Do good.
3. Stay in love with God.
Wesley’s thinking was based on his favorite scripture: Mark 12:29-33.
Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, teacher! So clear-cut and accurate — that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!” (MSG)
In summary, to be a Methodist (for Wesley) was about “becoming.”
“By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith do we labor to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world.”
For me, there are three prayers that guide my spiritual work: The Lord’s Prayer, Wesley’s Covenant Prayer and the Serenity Prayer (United Methodist Hymnal, 459). I believe the “Marks of a Methodist” begin with John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer (United Methodist Hymnal, 607), which he adapted for Methodists. It is most often used at midnight watch services or at New Year services when we commit or recommit ourselves to something spiritually new.
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me
with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to
thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
As we start 2022 together, let us be reminded of our Methodist roots as we find our new future. Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is my prayer for you as we look forward to a fruitful and promising new year.
Bishop Farr, Missouri Conference
of The United Methodist Church