This is the 33rd sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!
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 doctrine and belief.
“A Caution against Bigotry” is the 33rd sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon is written in the context of Wesley’s leadership of Methodism as a renewal movement within the Church of England and the tensions that were often just below the surface between his ordination as a priest in the Church of England and his leadership of Methodism. Wesley’s use of lay preachers, in particular, was controversial and is an important part of the background of this sermon [see III.5-12 of this sermon]. In other words, the sermon should be read in part as an appeal for not interfering with lay preachers whose ministry bears fruit [they are “casting out devils”] by leaders within the Church of England. The sermon has a variety of intriguing applications in the contemporary context.
In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “A Caution against Bigotry.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.
‘But what is a sufficient, reasonable proof that a man does (in the sense above) cast out devils?’ The answer is easy. Is there full proof, first, that a person before us was a gross, open sinner? Secondly, that he is not so now; that he has broke off his sins, and lives a Christian life? And thirdly, that his change was wrought by his hearing this man preach? If these three points be plain and undeniable, then you have sufficient, reasonable proof, such as you cannot resist without willful sin, that this man casts out devils. [III.3]
One sentence summary:
This sermon warns against interfering with the work of people outside of your own tribe whom God is using to bring sinners to repentance and from evil to good.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not us. And Jesus said, Forbid him not.”
– Mark 9: 38-39
Outline of “A Caution against Bigotry”
1. Wesley introduces the context of Mark 9: 38-39.
2. What is the relevance of this passage, “Seeing no man now ‘casts out devils”?
3. This sermon will show “first, in what sense men may, and do now, ‘cast out devils’; secondly, what we may understand by, ‘He followeth not us.’ I shall thirdly, explain our Lord’s direction, “Forbid him not,’ and conclude with an inference from the whole.”
I. First, “in what sense men may, and do now, ‘cast out devils.'”
1. “We should remember that (according to the scriptural account) as God dwells and works in the children of light, so the devil dwells and works in the children of darkness.”
2. The devil is one “who ‘ruleth the darkness’ or wickedness ‘of this world’, of worldly men and all their dark designs and actions, by keeping possession of their hearts, setting up his throne there, and bringing every thought into obedience to himself.”
3. “It is therefore an unquestionable truth that the god and prince of this world still possesses all who know not God… It was then his aim to drive mankind into superstition. Therefore he wrought as openly as he could. But ’tis his aim to drive us into infidelity. Therefore he works as privately as he can; for the more secret he is, the more he prevails.”
4. “There are countries even now where he works as openly as aforetime… But with you he is pursuing a different point. He is to make you idolize yourselves, to make you wiser in your own eyes than God himself, than all the oracles of God.”
5. “The prince of darkness therefore does not appear while he rules over these his willing subjects. The conqueror holds his captives so much the safer because they imagine themselves at liberty. Thus the ‘strong one armed keepeth his house, and his goods are in peace’: neither the deist nor nominal Christian suspects he is there; so he and they are perfectly at peace with each other.”
6. “He blinds the eyes of their understanding so that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ cannot shine upon them. He chains their souls down to earth and hell with the chains of their own vile affections. He binds them down to the earth by love of the world, love of money, of pleasure, of praise. And by pride, envy, anger, hate, revenge, he causes their souls to draw nigh unto hell; acting the more secure and uncontrolled because they know not that he acts at all.”
7. Wesley uses the example of “the admired, the virtuous Romans” to show how easily we can see the “cause from its effects.”
8. Dion Cassius is cited to illustrate the “gluttony and lewdness” of Rome.
9. “As gross and palpable are the works of the devil among many (if not all) the modern heathens.”
10. “It were to be wished that none but heathens had practised such gross, palpable works of the devil. But we dare not say so. Even in cruelty and bloodshed, how little have the Christians come behind them!… Our own countrymen, too, have wantoned in blood, and exterminated whole nations: plainly proving thereby what spirit it is that dwells and works in the children of disobedience.”
11. “These monsters might almost make us overlook the works of the devil that are wrought in our own country. But, alas! We cannot open our eyes even here without seeing them on every side. It is small proof of his power that common swearers, drunkards, whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, robbers, sodomites, murderers, are still found in every part of our land?”
12. “He less openly but no less effectually works in dissemblers, talebearers, liars, slanderers; in oppressors and extortioners; in the perjured, the seller of his friend, his honor, his conscience, his country.”
13. “If you consider this you cannot but see in what sense men may now also ‘cast out devils’; yea, and every minister of Christ does cast them out, if his Lord’s work prosper in his hand. By the power of God attending his Word he brings these sinners to repentance: an entire inward as well as outward change, from all evil to all good. And this is in a sound sense to ‘cast out devils,’ out of the souls wherein they had hitherto dwelt.”
14. “All this is indeed the work of God. It is God alone who can cast out Satan. But he is generally pleased to do this by man, as an instrument in his hand.”
II. What does Mark 9: 38-39 mean by “He followeth not us.”
1. At one level, it means it is someone we do not know.
2. At another level it may mean, “He is not of our party.”
3. Third, it may mean, “He differs from us in our religious opinions.” Given the variety of Christian traditions, it is not surprising that there are many different opinions in the Christian church.
4. Fourth, the phrase may refer to difference in practice (such as the administration of the sacrament). “Now the unavoidable consequence of any of these differences will be that he who thus differs from us must separate himself with regard to those points from our society. In this respect therefore ‘he followeth not us;’ he is ‘not (as we phrase it) of our church.'”
5. “In a far stronger sense ‘he followeth not us’ who is not only of a different church, but of such a church as we account to be in many respects anti scriptural and antichristian: a church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice.”
6. Once there is disagreement in opinions and practice, sharpness and bitterness often arise. “An almost necessary consequence of this will be, they will speak in the same manner as they think of us. They will set themselves in opposition to us, and, as far as they are able hinder our work, seeing it does not appear to them to be the work of God, but either of man or of the devil.”
7. Wesley thinks the Gospel of Mark means it in a lower sense, but he put it in the strongest terms possible so that “being forewarned of the temptation in its full strength we may in no case yield to it and fight against God.”
III. An explanation of Jesus’s command “Forbid him not.”
1. If we see someone we don’t know and is not a part of our Church, who differs from us in judgment, practice, and affection, “casting out devils” we should not interfere with their work.
2. Because of our own prejudices, it will be very difficult for us to believe someone who is not apart of us is indeed “casting out devils.”
3. What is the proof that someone has “cast out devils?” “The answer is easy. Is there full proof, first, that a person before us was a gross, open sinner? Secondly, that he is not so now; that he has broke off his sins, and lives a Christian life? And thirdly, that his change was wrought by his hearing this man preach? If these three points be plain and undeniable, then you have sufficient, reasonable proof, such as you cannot resist without willful sin, that this man casts out devils.”
4. If so, “forbid him not.” If you succeeded in interfering with this work and convinced the person to stop, “many souls might perish in their iniquity, but their blood would God require at your hands.”
5. Don’t forbid laity from “casting out devils.”
6. Wesley engages the concern “I do not know that he is sent of God.” He responds by citing John 9: 30, 33.
7. Wesley argues that it is “highly expedient” that preachers have and outward as well as an inward call. But he denies that it is “absolutely necessary.”
8. Wesley argues that the apostolic age gives warrant for lay preaching. [Wesley used lay preachers extensively, which was controversial within the Church of England.]
9. Before someone is ordained, their lives should be examined to see if they are “holy and unblameable.” And they should be given a chance to preach to see “whether they have such gifts as are absolutely and indispensably necessary in order to edify the church of Christ.”
10. “‘But what if a man has these? And has brought sinners to repentance? And yet the bishop will not ordain him?’ Then the bishop does ‘forbid him to cast out devils.’ But I dare not forbid him.”
11. “And whosoever thou art that dearest God, ‘forbid him not,’ either directly or indirectly.”
12. “Yea, if you would observe our Lord’s direction in its full meaning and extent, then remember his word, ‘He that is not for us is against us, and he that gatherers not with me, scattereth.’ He that gathereth not men into the kingdom of God assuredly scatters them from it. For there can be no neuter in this war: everyone is either on God’s side or on Satan’s.”
IV. “If we willingly fail in any of these points, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him ‘because he followeth not us,’ then we are ‘bigots.'”
1. “This is the inference I draw from what has been said. But the term ‘bigotry,’ I fear, as frequently as it is used, is almost as little understood as ‘enthusiasm.’ It is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party, opinion, Church, and religion. Therefore he is a bigot who is so fond of any of these, so strongly attached to them, as to forbid any who casts out devils, because he differs from himself in any or all these particulars.”
2. “You beware of this.” Do not directly or indirectly forbid anyone from “casting out devils.”
3. “Examine yourself: ‘Do I not indirectly, at least, forbid him on any of these grounds? Am I not sorry that God should thus own and bless a man that holds such erroneous opinions? Do I not discourage him because he is not of my Church?… Do I show no anger, contempt, or unkindness of any sort, either in my words or actions?”
4. Wesley puts it as strongly as he can by naming groups his audience would be most likely to despise if they were “casting out devils.”
5. “If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving.”
6. A final caution: someone else’s bigotry does not justify your own.
Read “A Caution against Bigotry” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first thirty-one Standard Sermons:
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. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!
There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.
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.