Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrines and beliefs.
John Wesley preached the sermon “The Almost Christian” at St. Mary’s, Oxford University as one of the University sermons on July 25, 1741. In this sermon, Wesley contrasted nominal (or almost) and real (or altogether) Christianity.
This was the second of four sermons Wesley preached at St. Mary’s that formed the beginning of Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. “The Almost Christian” is the second of the sermons in the Standard Sermons that are a key part of the formal doctrine of many Wesleyan/Methodist denominations.
In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Almost Christian.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself (check out the resources at the end of this post).
‘The right and true Christian faith is’ (to go on in the words of our own Church) ‘not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ’ – it is a ‘sure trust and confidence’ which a man hath in God ‘that by the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God’ – ‘whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.’
Now whosoever has this faith which ‘purifies the heart,’ by the power of God who dwelleth therein, from pride, anger, desire, ‘from all unrighteousness,’ ‘from all filthiness of flesh and spirit’; which fills it with love stronger than death both to God and to all mankind – love that doth the works of God, glorying to spend and to be spent for all men, and that endureth with joy, not only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict; whosoever has this faith, thus ‘working by love,’ is not almost only, but altogether a Christian. [II.5-6]
One sentence summary:
While an almost Christian lives an outwardly Christian life in every way, an altogether Christian adds to this love for God and neighbor, and genuine faith (trust and confidence) in God’s love for them through the merits of Jesus Christ.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” – Acts 26:28 (KJV)
Concise outline of “The Almost Christian”
First, what is implied in being almost a Christian
Secondly, what is implied in being altogether a Christian
I. What is implied in being almost a Christian?
1. Heathen honesty – they are concerned for justice
2. They are concerned for the truth
3. They expected love and assistance from one another
4. An almost Christian has a form of godliness – does nothing which the gospel forbids
5. And almost Christian avoids strife and contention and seeks to live peaceably with all men
6. An almost Christian does as much good to as many people as he possibly can
7. They use all of the means of grace at all opportunities
8. They use family and private prayer and are sincere
9. They are sincere in that all these actions come from more than merely a desire to avoid punishment, the loss of friends, or to gain money or reputation – these motivations make one a hypocrite and not even an almost Christian
10. An almost Christian has a real design to serve God and a hearty desire to do his will
11. What more than this can be implied in being altogether Christian?
12. Wesley testifies that he himself did all of the above and was only almost a Christian
II. What more than this is implied in being altogether Christian?
1. Love of God that engrosses the whole heart and fills the entire capacity of the soul. He is crucified to the desire of the flesh, desire of the eye, and the pride of life.
2. Love of neighbor
3. One more thing is needed to be an altogether Christian: faith
4. True faith brings forth repentance and love and all good works
5. Definition of faith: “The right and true Christian faith is not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ – it is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God that by the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favor of God – whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.”
6. Whosoever has this faith is an altogether Christian
7. Who are the living witnesses of these things?
8. Are not many of you not even almost Christians?
9. Good designs and good desires do not make a Christian.
10. God knows that if anyone dies without this faith and love, it would be better for them if they had never been born.
11. May we all then experience what it is to be not almost only, but altogether Christian!
Read “The Almost Christian” in its entirety.
Check out my short summary of Wesley’s sermon “Salvation by Faith.”
I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.