John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 28

*God is the Giver

Every good and perfect gift is…from the Father.

James 1:17 NIV

It is true that outward religion is worth nothing without the religion of the heart. “God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 KJV). Therefore, external worship is lost labor without a heart devoted to God. The outward ordinances of God profit much when they advance inward holiness. But when they do not advance it, they are unprofitable and void. And when they are used in the place of inward religion, they are an utter abomination to the Lord.

All outward means whatever, if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all, cannot lead in any degree either to the knowledge or the love of God. Without controversy, the help that is done upon earth, He doeth it Himself. It is He alone who, by His own almighty power, works in us what is pleasing in His sight. All outward things, unless He works in them and by them, are mere weak and beggarly elements. We know there is no inherent power in the words spoken in prayer, in the letter or the sound of the scripture read, or in the bread and wine received in the Lord’s Supper. It is God alone who is the giver of every good gift, the author of all grace. The whole power is in Him, whereby through any of these, there is any blessing conveyed to our souls.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-eighth lesson on prayer, Wesley talks about response-ability; the ability to respond to God in a way pleasing to Him. And He makes the point that it is God alone, by His own almighty power, who works in us what is pleasing in His sight. To participate in what God is doing, we must be able to surrender all our self-will and follow hard after His will. It is a laying down and picking up at the same time. It is emptying ourselves so that He may fill us to overflowing with His Holy Spirit. So along with responsibility comes availability.

Perhaps Jesus expresses it best in John 15:1-11:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 ” You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 ” Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10” If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11” These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

We cannot bear fruit in our own strength. When we try, we become as the unfruitful branches, who, by their lack of fruit, have proven their lack of abiding in the vine. As Wesley says, “All outward things, unless He works in them and by them, are mere weak and beggarly elements.” They become those things that are thrown into the pile and burned. As Wesley concludes, “It is God alone who is the giver of every good gift, the author of all grace. The whole power is in Him, whereby through any of these, there is any blessing conveyed to our souls.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 27

*Love in the Heart

The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5 NKJV

A third scriptural mark of those who are born of God, and the greatest mark of all, is love. It is the love of God, which is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit when we are born again of the Spirit of God.“Because you are sons, “St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out ‘Abba Father!’” (Galatians 4:6 NKJV).By this Spirit, continually looking up to God as their reconciled and loving Father, they cry to Him for their daily bread, for all things needful, whether for soul or body.They continually pour out their hearts before Him, knowing they have those petitions they ask of Him (see 1 John 5:14-15).Their delight is in Him; He is the joy of their hearts.The desire of their soul is toward Him; it is their great satisfaction to do his will.

They love God as their Savior. They love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. They are so joined unto the Lord as to be one spirit. Their souls hang upon the Lord Jesus and count Him the chief among ten thousand. They know what it means of which the psalmist wrote: “You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever” (Psalm 45:2 NKJV).

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-seventh lesson on prayer, Wesley talks about the reciprocal effect the Holy Spirit produces in our hearts when we are born again. As the Holy Spirit pours forth the love of God toward us in our hearts, we are then able to love God; a love impossible before the new birth.

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:1-15, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” 9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– 13for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (NASB).

Because we have received the love of the Father by the Spirit of Christ in us, we are able to love Him back as His beloved children. This is why Wesley can say, “Their delight is in Him; He is the joy of their hearts.The desire of their soul is toward Him; it is their great satisfaction to do his will.They love God as their Savior. They love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. They are so joined unto the Lord as to be one spirit.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 26

*How are we to Wait?

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while He is near.

Isaiah 55:6 NIV

Suppose one knows this salvation to be the gift and the work of God, and suppose further that one is convinced also that one does not have this gift, how might one attain to it?

If you say, “Believe, and you will be saved!” they answer, “True, but how shall I believe?” You reply, “Wait upon God.’

“Well, but how am I to wait? Using the means of grace, or not? Am I to wait for the grace of God, which brings salvation by using the means of grace, or by laying them aside?”

It cannot be conceived that the Word of God should give no direction in so important a point; or that the Son of God, who came down from heaven for us and for our salvation, should have left us without direction with regard to a question in which our salvation is so nearly concerned. And, in fact, He has not left us undirected; He has shown us the way in which we should go. We have only to consult the Word of God. Inquire what is written there. If we simply abide by that, no possible doubt can remain.

According to holy scripture, all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the means which He has ordained—in using, not laying aside, prayer, hearing, reading, and meditating on the scripture; and partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-sixth lesson on prayer, Wesley lays out his case for embracing the means of grace as the proper stance for waiting for full assurance of faith of one’s salvation. As you might remember from previous lessons, means of grace, in Wesley’s thinking, were not graces themselves, but conduits for the dispensing of God’s grace. In “The Sermons of John Wesley; Sermon 16- The Means of Grace,” from where this lesson is taken, in speaking of the centrality of these means in the apostolic church, Wesley says, “…Christ had ordained certain outward means, for conveying his grace into the souls of men. Their constant practice set this beyond all dispute; for so long as ‘all that believed were together, and had all things common,’ (Acts 2:44,) ‘they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers’” (Acts 2:42.).[i] In other words, we are not to put our faith in the constant practice of the means of grace but put our faith in the Christ who dispenses Himself to us through these means of grace. When we are thirsty, we may recognize the water spicket as a means of obtaining water, but we never confuse the means with the substance.

Continuing in Sermon 16, we read, “As to the manner of using them, whereon indeed it wholly depends whether they should convey any grace at all to the user; it behoves us, First, always to retain a lively sense, that God is above all means. Have a care, therefore, of limiting the Almighty. He doeth whatsoever and whensoever it pleaseth him. He can convey his grace, either in or out of any of the means which he hath appointed. 

“Secondly. Before you use any means, let it be deeply impressed on your soul; — there is no power in this. It is, in itself, a poor, dead, empty thing: Separate from God, it is a dry leaf, a shadow. Neither is there any merit in my using this; nothing intrinsically pleasing to God; nothing whereby I deserve any favour at his hands, no, not a drop of water to cool my tongue. But, because God bids, therefore I do; because he directs me to wait in this way, therefore here I wait for his free mercy, whereof cometh my salvation. 

“Thirdly. In using all means, seek God alone. In and through every outward thing, look singly to the power of his Spirit; and the merits of his Son. Beware you do not stick in the work itself; if you do, it is all lost labour. Nothing short of God can satisfy your soul. Therefore, eye him in all, through all, and above all.”[ii] 


[i] Copyright  1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact. Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686. Contact the Webmaster for permission.

[ii] ibid

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 25

*Jesus’ Intercession for Us

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.

Hebrews 10:22 NKJV

By that faith in His life, death, and intercession for us, renewed from moment to moment, we are every whit clean. There is not only now no condemnation for us, but no such desert of punishment as was before, the Lord cleansing both our hearts and our lives.

By the same faith, we feel the power of Christ every moment resting upon us, by which alone we are what we are. By this alone, we are enabled to continue in spiritual life. Without this, regardless of all our present holiness, we should be devils the next moment.

But as long as we retain our faith in Him, we draw water out of the wells of salvation. We lean on our beloved, even Christ in us the hope of glory, who dwells in our hearts by faith.

He likewise is interceding for us at the right hand of God; we receive help from Him to think, speak, and act what is acceptable in His sight.

Thus does He go before us in all our doings, so that all our designs, conversations, and actions are begun, continued, and ended in Him.

Thus also does he cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Him, and worthily magnify His holy name.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-fifth lesson on prayer, Wesley correlates our moment by moment faith in Christ with all the moment by moment benefits we receive from Christ. Hebrews 10:22 is the verse Wesley draws from here but let us read verses 19-25 in order to add context. After lauding the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews continues,

“19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (NASB).

It is only because of Jesus that we have the confidence, or the boldness, to enter the holy place, to draw near in full assurance of faith, and to hold fast the confession of our hope. Faith in the life, death, and intercession of Jesus is the platform on which we build.

In Hebrews 11:1-2 we read “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men [and women] of old gained approval.” Verse 6 adds, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” The words “By faith” are used near 20 times in the rest of Hebrews 11 as an introduction to what we call “the heroes of faith. But we also learn that they died without receiving the promises, but welcomed them from afar.

But we are not so. Hebrews 12 begins, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Jesus finishes in us what was begun in them. Therefore Wesley proclaims, “Thus does He go before us in all our doings, so that all our designs, conversations, and actions are begun, continued, and ended in Him. Thus also does he cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Him, and worthily magnify His holy name.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 24

*Prayer Through Temptation

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation.

2 Peter 2:9 NASB

If darkness is occasioned by manifold, heavy, and unexpected temptations, the best way of removing and preventing this is to teach believers always to expect temptation. They dwell in an evil world, among wicked, subtle, malicious spirits, and have a heart capable of evil. They must be convinced that the whole work of sanctification is not, as they may have imagined, wrought at once. When they first believe, they are as newborn babes who are to gradually grow up. They may expect many storms before they come to the full stature of Christ.

Above all, let them be instructed, when the storm is upon them, not to reason with the devil but to pray. Let them pour out their souls before God and show Him of their trouble. And these are the persons unto whom, chiefly, we are to apply the great and precious promises. Not to the ignorant, till the ignorance is removed. Much less to an impenitent sinner.

To the tempted we may declare the loving-kindness of God. Dwell upon His faithfulness and the virtue of that blood shed for us to cleanse us from all sin. God will bear witness to His Word and bring them out of trouble. He will say, “Arise, shine, for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”

Indeed, that light, if you walk humbly and closely with God, will shine more and more unto the perfect day (see Proverbs 4:18).

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-forth lesson on prayer, Wesley speaks of the need to expect temptation and to pray through temptation to victory. Prayer opens up the way of escape we read of in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Here Paul writes,

1For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

     “6Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” 8Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (NASB).

Humility in our Christian walk and in our prayer life open the door to escape temptations. But often times, new believers come into the church expecting all opposition in their lives to have suddenly vanished.  But, as Wesley states, “They must be convinced that the whole work of sanctification is not, as they may have imagined, wrought at once. When they first believe, they are as newborn babes who are to gradually grow up. They may expect many storms before they come to the full stature of Christ.”

So it is learning to pray through the temptation to victory that helps to grow us up into Christ. Wesley once said, “Every new victory which a soul gains is the effect of a new prayer….In the greatest temptations, a single look to Christ, and the barely pronouncing his name, suffices to overcome the wicked one, so it be done with confidence and calmness of spirit.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 23

*Praying for Mercy

It does not…depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Romans 9:16 NIV

Salvation by faith is an uncomfortable doctrine to the self-righteous. The devil speaks like himself (without either truth or shame) when he declares its discomfort, for salvation by faith is the only comfortable doctrine, very full of comfort, to all self-destroyed, self-condemned sinners. Whoever believes on Him will not be ashamed: And the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. Here is comfort, high as heaven, stronger than death!

What! Mercy for all? For Zacchaeus, a public robber? For Mary Magdalene, a common harlot? The one may say, “Then I, even I, may hope for mercy!” And so you may, afflicted one, whom no one has comforted! God will not cast out your prayer. Perhaps He may say the very next hour, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” So forgiven that they shall reign over you no more. Yes, and the Holy Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.

O glad tidings of great joy, sent unto all people! To everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: And you who have no money, come, buy, and eat (see Isaiah 55:1). Though your sins be like red crimson, though more than the hairs of your head, return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon you; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-third lesson on prayer, Wesley pinpoints the Lord’s great mercy toward us who believe. We can be assured that when the world has beaten us down, when our flesh has had its way with us, and when the devil has heaped shame upon us, that God’s rich mercy is ours for the asking! This is what Wesley refers to in this teaching as a comfortable doctrine to those who are humble and know their need of it. It is only uncomfortable to the self-righteous; those who rely on their good works to gain favor with God.

But mercy is not only needed when we seek salvation, but at every station of life we find ourselves. Psalm 6 shows us a great example of King David crying out for mercy in time of trouble and an inward witness that God has indeed heard his prayer, and will answer his request.

“O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. 3 And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD– how long? 4Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. 5 For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? 6 I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. 7My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries. 8Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my supplication, The LORD receives my prayer. 10All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed” (NASB).

Let us look at verse 4b where is says, “Save me because of Your lovingkindness.” The Hebrew word “hesed” is translated in English as lovingkindness. Hesed denotes a love promised in a covenant relationship. God’s hesed is His persistent, unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy, a relationship in which God seeks after man with love and mercy.

Is it any wonder that King David calls for God’s salvation from his enemies based on God’s hesed, without any merit of his own? This hesed is why Wesley so boldly states, “What! Mercy for all? For Zacchaeus, a public robber? For Mary Magdalene, a common harlot? Then one may say, ‘Then I, even I, may hope for mercy!’ And so you may, afflicted one, whom no one has comforted! God will not cast out your prayer.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 22

*Prayer as a Channel of Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:18 NIV

The chief of the means of grace are: prayer (whether in secret or in the great congregation); searching the scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon); and receiving the Lord’s Supper (eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him). These we believe to be ordained of God as the ordinary channels of conveying His grace to the souls of men and women.

So it was in the early church. But in process of time, the love of many grew cold. Some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion in doing those outward works rather than in a heart renewed after the image of God. Now, the whole value of the means depends on their actually serving the end of religion. Consequently, all these means—when separate from the end—are less than nothing and vanity. If they do not actually lead to the knowledge and love of God, they are not acceptable in His sight. They are rather an abomination before Him, a stink in His nostrils. He is weary of them. And if they are used to try and fulfill the religion they should only serve, they turn God’s arms against Himself and keep Christianity out of the heart instead of being the means by which it is brought in.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-second lesson on prayer, Wesley makes the clear the point that as important as prayer, interacting with God’s word, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper are as channels of grace, we must never allow the mere performance of these to become a substitute for the ultimate end of growing in the grace and knowledge of God as we are conformed into the image of His Son. In other words, ritual must never replace relationship.

In Isaiah 1:11-20, God rebukes Israel for exactly this same sin:

11″ What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. 12″When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13″Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14″I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. 15″So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 16” Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (NASB).

Under the Old Covenant, ritual was the means of grace for God’s people. But even then, God grew weary of their lack of knowledge and love of Him in the midst of all they were performing.

Wesley’s point in this lesson is the same, as he says, “Some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion in doing those outward works rather than in a heart renewed after the image of God. Now, the whole value of the means depends on their actually serving the end of religion. Consequently, all these means—when separate from the end—are less than nothing and vanity. If they do not actually lead to the knowledge and love of God, they are not acceptable in His sight. They are rather an abomination before Him, a stink in His nostrils. He is weary of them.

May it be that under the New Covenant, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, we never try to make a substitute of that blood by the mere performance of prayer, Bible study, and the ordinances of the church. Never think that attending church three times a week means the slightest to God. It is our hearts, not our performance that He deems “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1 NASB).

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 21

*Praying Away the Darkness

He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.

Lamentations 3:33 NASB

Of the various causes of the wilderness state, I dare not rank the bare, arbitrary, sovereign will of God, for he rejoices in the prosperity of His servants and delights not to afflict or grieve the children of men. His invariable will is our sanctification, attended with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He never desires to withdraw His gifts from us (see Romans 11:29); He never deserts us, as some speak. It is we who desert Him.

The most usual cause of inward darkness is sin of some kind, either of commission or omission. This may be observed to darken the soul in a moment, especially if it is a known, a willful, or presumptuous sin. But light is more frequently lost by giving way to sins of omission. This does not immediately quench the Spirit, but gradually and slowly.

The neglect of private prayer, or the hurrying over it, is perhaps the most frequent sin of omission. This lack cannot be supplied by any other means whatever; the life of God in the soul will surely decay and gradually die away.

Another neglect which brings darkness to the soul of a believer is not rebuking a “neighbour” when we see him in a fault but we “suffer sin upon him” (Leviticus 19:17 KJV). By neglecting to reprove him, we make his sin our own. We become accountable for it. By thus grieving the Spirit of God, we lose the light of His countenance.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-first lesson on prayer, Wesley quickly boils down the cause of the wilderness state of the soul to two main factors: neglect of private prayer and the failure to rebuke a neighbor who is in sin. Since we have dealt with a lack of private prayer in other lessons, let us look at what Wesley was getting at with “not rebuking a ‘neighbour’ when we see him in a fault but we ‘suffer sin upon him.’” Let us read Leviticus 19:16-18 to place verse 17 in context: “You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (NASB).  

From a sermon on verse 17, Wesley writes, “I now have only a few words to add, unto you, my brethren, who are vulgarly called “Methodists.” I have never heard or read of any considerable revival of religion which was not attended with a spirit of reproving. I believe it cannot be otherwise; for what is faith unless it worketh by love? Thus it was in every part of England when the present revival of religion began about fifty years ago: all the subjects of that revival—all the Methodists, so called, in every place—were reprovers of outward sin….Come, brethren! In the name of God, let us begin again! Rich or poor, let us all arise as one man! And in any wise let every man “rebuke his neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him”! Then shall all Great Britain and Ireland know that we do not go “a warfare at our own cost.” Yea, “God shall bless us, and all the ends of the world shall fear him.” (WJW 2:520)[i]

Wesley’s point is that to rebuke one’s neighbor is showing love in the same way not slandering, hating, taking vengeance, or bearing a grudge is. It is loving your neighbor as yourself. To not point out a fellow believer’s sin, that is, your neighbor’s sin, is to offer no need for repentance in their life. As Wesley says in this lesson, “By neglecting to reprove him, we make his sin our own. We become accountable for it. By thus grieving the Spirit of God, we lose the light of His countenance.” Our lack of reproving becomes an open door to our own darkness, a sin of omission with serious consequences.


[i] Strawn, Brent A. 2020. Leviticus. [ed.] Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall. Wesley One Volume Commentary. Nashville : Abingdon Press, 2020, p. 83.

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 20

*Your Father Knows

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Matthew 6:8 NASB

In His words just before those above cited, our Lord had been advising against vain repetition. Repeating any words without meaning them is certainly vain repetition. Therefore, we should be extremely careful in all our prayers to mean what we say and to say only what we mean from the bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against are most dangerous, yet very common. This is a principal cause why so many who still profess religion are a disgrace to it. Indeed, all the words in the world are not equivalent to one holy desire. And the very best prayers are but vain repetitions if they are not the language of the heart.

“And your Father knows what things you have need of.” We do not pray to inform God of our wants.Omniscient as He is, He cannot be informed of anything which He did not know before.And he is always willing to relieve our needs.The chief thing lacking is a suitable disposition on our part to receive His grace and blessing.Consequently, one great purpose of prayer is to produce such a disposition in us, to exercise our dependence on God, to increase our desire of the things we ask for, and to make us so sensible of our needs that we never cease wrestling till we have prevailed for the blessing (see Genesis 32:24-30).

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twentieth lesson on prayer, Wesley seems to be making a distinction between vain repetition in prayer and praying with a suitable disposition on our part to receive His grace and blessing. One relies on many words and the other relies on a heart dependence on God; a heart full of God’s desires for us, and a sensibility concerning our needs.

The one Bible story that came to my mind as I read this lesson was the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-40 (NASB):

20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there (NASB).

Elijah prayed with a suitable disposition on his part to receive God’s grace and blessing. How about you?

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 19

*Building by Prayer and Faith

It is with your heart that you believe and are justified.

Romans 10:10 NIV

Friend, come up higher! Do not be content with good works: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the fatherless and widowed in their affliction, or the sick and those in prison, and the stranger. Do you preach the truth of Jesus in the name of Christ? Do the influence of the Holy Spirit and the power of God enable you to bring sinners from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God?

Then go and learn what you have taught: By grace you are saved through faith…not by our works of righteousness…but of His own mercy He saves us (see Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5).

Learn to hang naked upon the cross of Christ, counting all you have done just so much dross and dung. Apply to Him just in the spirit of the dying thief and the harlot with her seven devils! Lord, save or I perish! Else you are still on the sand: and after saving others, you will lose your own soul.

If you now believe, pray, Lord, increase my faith. Or, if you have not faith, pray, Give me this faith, though it be as a grain of mustard seed. For only saving faith, the faith that builds upon a rock, stands firm when the floods rise and the winds blow. And this true saving faith will indeed be manifested in good works of righteousness.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Wesley, in this nineteenth lesson on prayer, makes a clear distinction between relying on our works of righteousness to bring us righteousness and relying on the mercy of God to give us saving faith that will manifest in good works. In between the two positions, Wesley pleads with us to, “Learn to hang naked upon the cross of Christ, counting all you have done just so much dross and dung. Apply to Him just in the spirit of the dying thief and the harlot with her seven devils! Lord, save or I perish! Else you are still on the sand: and after saving others, you will lose your own soul.”

If anyone was aware of the trap of relying on works of righteousness as a means of gaining salvation, it was Wesley. For many years, even though he had graduated from Oxford, been ordained, traveled as a missionary to America, and was known for his life of service to others, Wesley was not saved. But Wesley knew he wasn’t saved and was in distress because of it. It was only after returning from America, at perhaps one of the lowest points in his life, that he attended a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street in London, and recounted the story in a journal entry dated May 24, 1738:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley found the truth of God’s great love for us, as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NASB). In his letter to Titus, chapter 3, verse 5, Paul also writes, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”

Until we are saved by grace through faith, good works are simply that. Good works. They are not bad in themselves and are often helpful to those in need. The fact is though, until we recognize our need for God alone to save us, human beings deceive themselves in thinking those good works merit our right to boast about our own goodness. If we can get good on our own, we make God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit a liar. God inspired Isaiah the prophet to set humanity strait, millenniums ago, in writing, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

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