For the next three weeks we are going to talk John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules for developing a life as an intentional Christian. But first we must consider the context of Wesley’s passion and how his rules relate to our own time and circumstances.
It all begins at a time of great political, economic and social change in the mid-eighteenth century in England; and the speakers leading the change were George Whitefield and John Wesley. When George Whitefield preached, he would often attract 20,000 people, some times more than 30,000. Whitefield’s message was all about change. “Come ye poor, lost, and undone sinner,” he would say at the end of his sermons, “come just as you are to Christ.” This was an invitation to let God change their hearts through Jesus Christ. It was actually Whitefield who got John Wesley started as a revival preacher. And within just a few years Wesley was drawing thousands as well to his message of change of heart and life through Christ. All over England Whitefield and Wesley were household names. Where they differed however was on what happened after people confessed their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to change. Wesley believed that there was a need for the new converts to be connected with a fellowship where they could grow spiritually.
John Wesley said that his revival movement was like starting a fire – the initial blaze burns bright, but a fire needs to be fed and tended for the blaze to continue. Without continued attention, Wesley realized those who were initially fired up, would quickly burn out. Deep and lasting change required something beyond the first step. It required intentional Discipleship.
I can understand what Wesley was saying. Maybe you have experienced something incredible in worship (I sure hope so), or maybe read something or watched a television program that made your faith take a big jump forward; or maybe you’ve had a personal crisis it has moved you closer to God and your faith was ignited and you were on fire and were going to change the world. But after a day or two, the fire goes away and it’s back to the same old same old. Wesley knew that faith is precious and also fragile. Our faith needs nurturing.
Interestingly, The Church of England in John Wesley’s day is much like ours today -in decline and disarray and church attendance was at an all-time low. Discipleship was not even on the radar. Even the great cathedrals, like Westminster & St. Paul have many times had worship attendance of less than a dozen. Many of the people were not baptized, and had absolutely no knowledge of the Bible and God’s love for them. Sound familiar? The nation itself was in disarray. England was just beginning its transition into the age of industrialization. The struggling poor, who were the largest part of the population, worked in the dangerous coal mines or the depressing workhouses of London. They lived in the deepest kind of poverty. Historians remark that the fabric of England was in shreds, another civil war was likely, and the survival as a nation was in jeopardy.
Those same pessimistic historians credit one man, John Wesley, and his Methodist preachers with not only reviving the Christian faith in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and America, but in saving England itself – both politically as well as spiritually.
Wesley realized that his Methodists needed a simple guide for living the Christian life in between worship and their society meetings. They needed something profoundly Biblical and Christ-like, yet easy to remember and live. So John Wesley gave them The General Rules, or what you and I can call The Three Simple Rules:
1. Do No Harm
2. Do good.
3. Stay in love with God.
John Wesley would often say that spiritual growth was like moving into a house. Our first step of faith is like stepping on to the porch and then God opens the door by grace and invites us in. But when we move into a house we don’t just stay in the living room forever do we – we go into the other rooms of the house. Spiritual growth is about expanding and growing – going into new rooms. . This is where the three simple rules can help us. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.