Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lessons from the Methodists–Part 2 of 3

wesley_thumb14John Wesley’s disciples, called Methodists, methodically sought to obey the Lord in all areas of their lives by observing three main rules:

1. Do no harm.
2. Do as much good possible.
3. Use every means of grace that God has given.

This simple, small-group discipleship saved souls, transformed families, and changed British society.

The first post in this series looked at the outcome of the first area of change in the lifestyle of Wesley’s disciples: “Do no harm.” Today’s  post will focus on the second area of change: “Do as much good as possible.”

They Left off Doing Evil, and Learned to Do Well.

In small discipleship groups, Methodist believers held one another responsible for renouncing self-destructive behaviors such as drunkenness, violence, and sexual immorality. These participative gatherings also provided the vehicle for helping one another to do good and develop good habits.

In their discipleship, everyone was encouraged to give what they could to whomever among them had need.  Methodists used what they earned judiciously and frugally, so that they would have more to give. Whether it be a set of clothes and shoes so a brother could work, or simply meal to give him his strength, they supported one another. They also gave generously to the fatherless and the widow.

Their doing of good was not limited to alms for the poor, however. There was little of that comparatively. In a society where everyone was a beggar, giving out bread was not going to change things. Methodists became wise to see when handouts led to dependency or enabled people to continue in their destructive addictions. The idle were admonished to work to support themselves, rather than beg or steal. Whoever possessed a certain skill would mentor another disciple in the trade.

The “doing good” of the Methodists really revealed itself in their use of money. They worked diligently, wasted little, and saved much. When there was opportunity, they invested to start new businesses, which employed workers and supported families.  Business owners were encouraged to do business with other believers, hiring from among them, and partnering with other Methodists. Likewise, all were encouraged to support the businesses of believers.

Their businesses were good, too.  Each disciple was held accountable to neither run, nor support businesses that endangered the bodies or souls of men. No taverns, nothing requiring lying, nothing necessitating the use of dangerous substances or chemicals. They honored God in all things.

By doing good one for another, the Methodists gave themselves upward mobility. Poverty was left behind by the employment of diligence in work, honesty in business, and caring for one another’s needs. Since all were working for the same Master, our Lord Jesus, they were able to trust one another and depend upon one another.

So, it became true for the methodically obedient disciples of John Wesley, what was written of the early church. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44 

Not a Self-help Gospel

It must be pointed out, that all of the good works of John Wesley’s disciples came in response to what God had done for them. These discipleship groups were not self-help groups of people seeking to find a better model for living life. They better resembled small churches. In these little communities, disciples were taught to observe all things Jesus has commanded.  Membership in one of these small groups was actually a requirement for believers to be members of the Methodist church.

Methodists learned to see themselves as “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” They never claimed anything of God could be gotten a result of their own effort. Rather, they sought to live free from sin, because they had been forgiven of sin.

Not Heaven on Earth, but Maybe a Glimpse of Heaven.

Life improved, but it did not become easy for the Methodists. Over time, society changed for the better, but there were still the many challenges of death and disease to overcome. Even so, one can see how the life that Jesus came to give, and give abundantly, permeates every part of a society and blesses a socieitty.

Here on earth, we will never find a Utopia. The curse of sin still stains everything in this world. The change in British society, however, from despair to hope, is a picture on a small scale of how God intended things to be. Only in the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth, will his people see it fully.

Next

In the third post in this series, we will look at what using every means of grace God has given meant for the disciples of John Wesley.

 

Notes

This series of posts and the information with respect to Wesley’s revival contained therein is mostly a summary of an excellent piece written by Charles White and Robby Butler for Mission Frontiers outlining the impact of John Wesley’s ministry. The full article is available for download as a PDF file by clicking the picture below. I highly recommend it.

john-wesley-cpm

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