I am currently writing on Wesley’s doctrine of humanity. His theology is firmly grounded in a traditional understanding of original sin, and his words concerning the natural state of humanity (apart from Christ) ring as true today as they did in the 18th century.
Sermon #44, ‘Original Sin’
The Scripture avers that ‘by one man’s disobedience all men were constituted sinners’; that ‘in Adam all died’, spiritually died, lost the life and the image of God; that fallen, sinful Adam then ‘begot a son in his own likeness’; nor was it possible he should beget him in any other, for ‘who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’ That consequently we, as well as other men, ‘were by nature’ ‘dead in trespasses and sins, ‘without hope, without God in the world’, and therefore ‘children of wrath’; that every man may say ‘I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin did my mother conceive me;’ that ‘there is no difference, in that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,’ of that glorious image of God wherein man was originally created.
Going on to show that natural religion cannot bring us to a true knowledge of God, Wesley paints a portrait of fallen humanity.
- And having no knowledge, we can have no love of God.
- We have by nature not only no love, but no fear of God.
- Thus are all men ‘atheists in the world’.
With the result that “We ‘have set up our idols in our heart’; and to these we bow down, and worship them. We worship ourselves when we pay that honour to ourselves which is due to God only.”
Wesley’s aim in presenting the state of natural humanity is simple and clear. In order to know which cure is needed, one must first understand the disease. And what is the cure?
Ye were born in sin; therefore ‘ye must be born again’, ‘born of God’. By nature ye are wholly corrupted; by grace ye shall be wholly renewed. ‘In Adam ye all died;’ in the second Adam, ‘in Christ, ye all are made alive.’ You ‘that were dead in sins hath he quickened’.
And here you will notice that Wesley is speaking, not to heathens or the lost, but to those who profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the church. And his exhortation to them still stands today:
He hath already given you a principle of life, even ‘faith in him who loved you, and gave himself for you‘! Now ‘go on’ ‘from faith to faith’, until your whole sickness be healed, and all that ‘mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’!