By Hal Knight
Love was at the center of John Wesley’s theology and ministry from beginning to end. It was at Oxford in 1725, 13 years prior to his famous Aldersgate experience, that Wesley became convinced that to be a Christian was to obey the two great commandments of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. On his death bed in 1791, Wesley with great exertion asked “Where is my sermon on The Love of God? Take it and spread it abroad; give it to everyone.” Ten thousand copies of “God’s Love to Fallen Man” were printed and given away. (Albert Outler, in The Works of John Wesley, vol.2, Abingdon, 1985, p. 422)
One way to sum up Wesley’s theology is with these three points: God is love, We were created in God’s image but no longer bear that image, and Salvation is how God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit restores us to that image; enabling us to love as God loves.
The foundation of Wesley’s theology and practice is that God is love (I John 4:8). Commenting on this verse in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament he says that “God is often styled holy, righteous, wise but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom ... as he is said to be love: intimating that this is ... His reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all His other perfections.”
Everything God is and does is governed by love. In many of his hymns, Charles Wesley makes this point more succinctly when he calls God “Love Divine.”
The depth of that love is revealed in Jesus Christ, most especially in what John Wesley calls “that amazing display of the Son of God’s love” to us through his death on a cross. Charles Wesley gives expression to this amazing love when he writes “O Love divine, what hast thou done! The immortal God hath died for me! ... Th’ immortal God for me hath died: My Lord, my Love, is crucified!” (UM Hymnal #287)
Encountering this love will change your heart and life. Commenting on “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19) John Wesley wrote that “This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any say less ... In one of his most famous hymns Charles Wesley depicts a sinner wrestling with God as Jacob did in the Old Testament. “Speak,” the sinner says, “or thou never hence shalt move, and tell me if thy name is Love.” Then comes the new birth: “‘Tis Loved ‘tis Love! Thou diedst for me ... The morning breaks, the shadows flee, pure Universal Love thou art.” This love is indeed for everyone: “To me, to all, thy mercies move; thy nature and thy name is Love.” (UM Hymnal #386)
On his death bed John Wesley still yearned for all persons to know the wondrous, amazing, transforming love of God. As his heirs may we in both word and deed spread the good news of God’s love abroad, sharing it with everyone.