2. The Almost Christian

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This post is part of a series of study guides on the Sermons of John Wesley that I'm putting together, mostly as a way to structure my own reading. Most of the sermons can be read for free online here or here

Date and location

July 25, 1741

St. Mary's, Oxford University

Scripture

"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (Acts 26:28)

Outline

  1. Traits of an 'Almost Christian'
    1. Heathen virtue
      1. honesty
      2. justice
      3. love and hospitality
    2. Form of godliness
      1. Avoids things the gospel forbids
      2. Works hard at doing good, including evangelism and discipling others
      3. Does these things as often as possible
      4. Leads family in prayer (if head of household)
    3. Does all this with absolute sincerity
      1. The almost Christian really wants to serve God and do his will
    4. Can one do all this and be only 'almost' a Christian?
      1. Wesley claims he did this for years!
  2. Altogether Christian
    1. Love for God
    2. Love for neighbors
    3. Faith
      1. But not a devil's faith, i.e. not merely intellectual assent
      2. Christian faith is rather a sure trust and confidence
    4. Exhortation

In his own words

"I beseech you, brethren, as in the presence of that God before whom 'hell and destruction are without a covering: how much more the hearts of the children of men!' - that each of you would ask his own heart, 'Am I of that number? Do I so far practise justice, mercy, and truth, as even the rules of heathen honesty require? If so, have I the very <i>outside of a Christian? The form of godliness? Do I abstain from evil, from whatsoever is forbidden in the written Word of God? Do I, whatever good my hand findeth to do, do it with all my might? Do I seriously use all the ordinances of God at all opportunities? And is all this done with a sincere design to please God in all things?

Are not many of you conscious that you never came thus far? That you have not been even 'almost a Christian'? […] The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, 'My God and my all'? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?" (II.7-9)

Preach it today

  1. First, although Wesley is using this text in a classical Puritan way, one has to admit that it isn't the most faithful interpretation of this verse. After all, Agrippa, who speaks this line, is not an 'almost Christian' at all in the way Wesley intends. He would likely get poor marks from his preaching professor here! Oh well.
  2. This sermon is a rhetorical powerhouse. When I first read this years ago, as Wesley built up such a high moral and religious standard for the Almost Christian, the sermon had the impact that I imagine Wesley intended: I was genuinely wondering what he was leaving for the Altogether Christian! Great example of creating an 'itch' in preaching - then 'scratching' it.
  3. Being a Christian is not about becoming a good person. The Almost Christian is a fantastic and virtuous human being, and the world would be a much better place if it was full of Almost Christians. But though she is in many ways virtuous, she not yet a Christian!
  4. Being a Christian is about who and how you love - and where your trust and confidence in life lies. I'm hearing anachronistic echoes of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections here!
  5. But an altogether Christian that loves and trusts and is fully confident in God will be morally transformed. No room to rest on your laurels here - holiness matters.