John Wesley’s Letter to the Moravians
The Conversation at Gray’s Walk Inn is in response to this letter.
John Wesley, a Presbyter of the Church of God in England, to the Church of God at Hernhuth in Upper Lusatia.
- It may seem strange, that such a one as I am should take upon me to write to you. You I believe to be dear children of God, through faith which is in Jesus. Me you believe (as some of you have declared) to be “a child of the devil, a servant of corruption.” Yet, whatsoever I am, or whatsoever you are, I beseech you to weigh the following words: if haply God, “who sendeth by whom he will send,” may give you light thereby; although “the mist of darkness,” (as one of you affirms) should be reserved for me for ever.
- My design is, freely and plainly to speak whatsoever I have seen or heard among you, in any part of your Church, which seems not agreeable to the Gospel of Christ. And my hope is, that the God whom you serve, will give you throughly [sic] to weigh what is spoken; and if in any thing “ye have been otherwise minded” than the truth is, “will reveal even this to you.”
- And First, with regard to Christian salvation, even the present salvation which is through faith, I have heard some of you affirm,
- that it does not imply the proper taking away of our sins, the cleansing of our souls from all sin, but only the tearing the system of sin in pieces.
- That it does not imply liberty from sinful thoughts.
- I have heard some of you affirm, on the other hand,
- That it does imply liberty from the commandments of God, so that one who is saved through faith, is not obliged or bound to obey them, does not do anything such as a commandment, or as a duty. To support which they have affirmed, that there is no command in the New Testament but to believe; that there is no duty required therein, but that of believing; and that to a believer there is no commandment at all.
- That it does imply liberty to conform to the world,* by taking on useless, if not trifling subjects; by joining in wordly diversions in order to do good; by putting on of gold and costly apparel**, or by continuing in those professions, the gain of which depends on ministering hereto.
[* The brethren answer to this, “We believe it much better to discourse out of the newspapers, than to chatter about holy things to no purpose.” Perhaps so. But what is this to the point? I believe both the one and the other to be useless, and therefore an abomination to the Lord. This objection then stands in full force, the fact alleged being rather defended than denied. The joining in wordly diversions in order to do good, (another charge which cannot be denied,) I think would admit of the same defence, viz, “That there are other things as bad.”][**”We wear”, say the brethren, “neither gold nor silver.” You forget. I have seen it with my eyes. “But we judge no body that does.” How! Then you must judge both St. Peter and Paul false witnesses before God. “And because those profession that minister thereto [to sin, to what God has flatly forbidden] relate to trade, and trade is a thing relating to the magistrate, we, therefore let all these things alone, entirely suspending our judgement concerning them.” What miserable work is here! Becaus trade relates to the magistrate, am I not to consider whether my trade be innocent or sinful? Then, the keeper of a Venetian brother is cleared. The magistrate shall answer for him to God!]
- That it does imply liberty to avoid persecution***, by not reproving even those who sin in your sight; by not letting your light shine before those men who love darkness rather than light; by not using plainness of speech, and a frank, open carraige to all men. Nay, by a close, dark, reserved conversation, and behavior, especially toward strangers. And in many of you I have more than once found (what you called, “being wise as serpents”) much subtlety, much evasions and disguise, much guile and dissimulation. You appeard to be what you were not, or not to be what you were. You so studied “to become all things to all men,” as to take the color and shape of any that were near you. So that your practice was indeed no proof of your judgement; but only an indication of your design, nulli laedere os; [to hurt a bone of none;] and of your conformity to that (not scriptural) maxim, Sinere mundum vadere ut vult: Nam vult vadere, (To let the world go as it will; for it will go.)[This fact you also grant, and defend thus: — “The power of reproving relates either to outward things or to the heart. Nobody has any right to the former, but the magistrate.” (Alas! alas! what casuistry this is?) “And if one will speak to the heart, he must be first sure that the Savior has already go hold of it.” What then must become of all other men? O how pleasing is all this to flesh and blood! ]
- Secondly, With regard to that faith through which we are saved, I have heard many of you say, “A man may have justifying faith and not know it.” Others of you, who are now in England, (particularly Mr. Molther,) I have heard affirm*, that there is no such thing as weak faith; that there are no degrees in faith; that there is no justifying faith, where there is ever any doubt; that there is no justifying faith without the plerophory of faith, the clear, abiding witness of the Spirit; that there is no justifying faith, where there is not, in the full, proper sense, a new or clean heart; and that those who have not these two gifts, are only awakened, not justified.[In the preface to the second Journal, the Moravian Church is cleared from this mistake.]
- Thirdly, As to the way of faith, here are many among us, whom some of your brethren have advised (what it is not to be supposed they would as yet speak to me, or in their public preaching* but not to those ordinances which our church terms “means of grace”, till they have such a faith as implies a clean heart, and excludes all possibility of doubting. They have advised them, till then, not to search the Scriptures, not to pray, not to communicate; and have often affirmed, that to do these things, is seeking salvation by works; and that till these works are laid aside, no man can receive faith; for, “No man”, say they, “can do these things without trusting in them: if he does not trust in them, why does he do them?”[The substance of the answer to this and the following paragraphs is, 1. That none ought to communicate till he has faith, that is, a sure trust in the mercy of God through Christ. This is granting the charge. 2. That “if the Methodists hold, this sacrament is a means of getting faith, they must act according to their persuasion.” We do hold it, and know it to be so, to many of those who are previously convinced of sin,]
- To those who answered, “It is our duty to use the ordinances of God,” they replied, “There are no ordinances of Christ, the use of which is now bound upon Christians as a duty, or which we are commanded to use. As to those you mention in particular, (viz. prayer, communicating, and searching the Scripture,) if a man have faith he need not; if he have not, he must not use them. A believer may use them, though not as enjoined; but an unbeliever (as before defined) may not.”
- To those who answered, “I hope God will through these means convey his grace to my soul,” they replied, “There is no such thing as a means of grace; Christ has not ordained any such in his Church. But if there were, they are nothing to you; for you are dead; you have no faith; and you cannot work while you are dead. Therefore, let these things alone till you have faith.”
- And some of our English brethren, who are joined with yours, have said openly, “You will never have faith til you leave running about to church and sacrament, and societies.” Another of them has said, (in his public expounding,) “As many go to hell by praying as by thieving.” Another, “I knew one, who, leaning over the back of a chair, received a great gift. But he must kneel down to give God thanks: so he lost it immediately. And I know not whether he will ever have it again.” And yet another, “You have lost your first joy: therefore you pray: that is the devil. You read the Bible: that is the devil. You communicate: that is the devil.”
- Let not any of you, my brethren, say, “We are not chargeable with what they speak.” Indeed you are: for you can hinder it if you will. Therefore, if you do not, it must be charged upon you. If you do not use the power which is in your hands, and thereby prevent their speaking thus, you do, in effect, speak thus yourselves. You make their words your own; and are, accordingly, chargeable with every ill consequence which may flow therefrom.
- Fourthly, With regard to your Church, you greatly, yea, above measure, exalt yourselves and despise others. I have scarce heard one Moravian brother, in my life, own his Church to be wrong in any thing. I have scarce heard any of you (I think not one in England) own himself to be wrong in any thing. Some of you have set it up (as indeed you ought to do, if it be infallible) as the judge of all the earth, of all persons (as well as doctrines) therein: and you have accordingly passed sentence upon them at once, by their agreement or disagreement with your Church. Some of you ahve said, that there is no true Church on earth but yours; yea, that there is no true Christians out of it. And your own members you require to have implicit faith in her decisions, and to pay implicit obedience to her directions.[“A religion”, you say, “and a Church, are not all one: a religion is an assembly wherein the Holy Scriptures are taught after a prescribed rule.” This is too narrow a definition. For there are many Pagan (as well as Mohammetan) religions. Rather, a religion is, a method of worshipping God, whether in a right or a wrong manner. “The Lord has such a peculiar hand in the several constitutions of religion, that one ought to repsect every one of them.” I cannot possibly: I cannot respect, either the Jewish (as it is now) or the Romish religion. You add, “A Church (I will not examine whether there are any in this present age, or whether there is no other beside ours) is a congregation of sinners who have obtained forgiveness of sins. That such a congregation should be in an error, cannot easily happen.” I find no reason, therefore, to retract any thing which is advanced on this or any of the following heads.]
- Fifthly, You have not the ancient, but the modern Mystics, as the best interpreters of Scripture: and in conformity to these, you mix much of man’s wisdom with the wisdom of God: you greatly refine the plain religion taught by the letter of Holy Writ, and philosophize on almost every part of it, to accommodate it to the Mystic theory. Hence you talk much, in a manner wholly unsupported by Scripture, against mixing nature with grace, against imagination, and concerning the animal spirits, mimicking the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence your brethren zealously caution us against animal joy, against natural love of one another, and against selfish love of God; against which (or any of them) there is no one caution in all the Bible. And they have, in truth, greatly lessened, and had well nigh destroyed, brotherly love from among us.
- In conformity to the Mystics, you likewise greatly check joy in the Holy Ghost, by such cautions against sensible comforts, as have no tittle of Scripture to support them. Hence also your brethren here damp the zeal of babes in Christ, talking much of false zeal, forbidding them to declare what God hath done for their souls, even when their hearts burn within them to declare it, and comparing those to uncorked bottles, who simply and artlessly speak of the ability which God giveth.
- Hence, Lastly, it is, that you undervalue good works, (especially works of outward mercy,) never publicly insisting on the necessity of them, nor declaring their weight and excellency. Hence, when some of your brethren have spoken of them, they put them on a wrong foot; viz. “If you find yourself moved, if your heart is free to it, then reprove, exhort, relieve.” By this means, you wholly avoid the taking up your cross, in order to do good; and also substitute an uncertain, precarious inward motion, in the place of the plain written word. Nay, one of your members has said of good works in general (whether works of piety or of charity,) “A believer is no more obliged to do these works of the Law, than a subject of the king of England is obliged to obey the laws of the king of France.”
- My brethren, whether you will hear, or whether ye will forbear, I have now delivered my own soul. And this I have chosen to do in an artless manner, that if any thing should come home to your hearts, the effect might evidently flow, not from the wisdom of man, but from the power of God.
August 8, 1740