Wesley in the World Today
By Hal Knight
Holy Week and Easter take us to the heart of the gospel. For John and Charles Wesley, they take us to the heart of God.
Many in their day, just as in ours, saw the cross of Jesus Christ as the ground for our forgiveness and the means of our reconciliation with God. The Wesleys certainly agreed with this, but they also saw something more. Here is how Charles Wesley expressed it:
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
bore all my sins upon tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
[The United Methodist Hymnal, 287]
The immortal God, who is free of death, freely becomes human to die for our sins, out of love for us. This is Love divine, love so immense, so deep, that words fail to grasp its fullness. This is the love God is, and out of that love salvation comes:
to bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified.
us back to God, that is, to reconcile us to God,
and to become the means by which our sins
can be forgiven.
It is our coming to know this love that enables us to love: “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19 NRSV). Salvation for the Wesleys was not only forgiveness of sins but a new life in which we recover the image of God in which we were originally created, the image of divine love. But John Wesley believed God would not only enable us to recover that image but to surpass it. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image and knew God’s love, he said, but they did not know it as a divine love that suffers and dies for us on a cross. We do know the full extent of God’s love, and because we do we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to have that same love in us. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (I John 3:16).
Death is indeed a formidable enemy, and it seems in every age to have the last word. But we know a risen Christ, and with that the knowledge that the last word is not death, but love. As Charles Wesley proclaimed,
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!
[The United Methodist Hymnal, 302]