A Catholic Spirit
[Editors note: This Sermon has been edited into more modern English from the 1872 reprint of the 1771 edition of John Wesley’s 53 Sermons. The editor has attempted to retain the "flavor" of Wesley’s writing, while making it more readable in a modern context. There have been three levels of editing. First, the archaic English pronoun and verb forms have been replaced (for example, thee to you), and the British spelling of some words changed (for example, neighbour to neighbor). Second, the rather complex, awkward, and often lengthy sentence structure has been simplified, some syntactical and stylistic elements have been changed to correspond more to modern practice (for example, the use of which and that are often reversed), and the punctuation has been updated. Third, some archaic words have been changed to more modern synonyms (for example, head to topic). What many would now consider sexist language in the generic use of "man," "brother," and masculine pronouns has been retained as a feature of the work itself.
The editing was done with the realization that some will object to changing a historical document in any way. However, the intention was simply to make this significant sermon of John Wesley’s more easily available in a religious context that, I think, again needs to hear its truth. The original text is readily accessible for comparison in several editions and formats, including on-line versions. I would welcome any comments about the accuracy of any of the changes (Contact the site director). - Dennis Bratcher, editor]
A Catholic Spirit
"And when he left there, [Jehu] met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he greeted him, and said to him, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"* And Jehonadab answered: "It is." [Jehu said], "If it is, give me your hand." 2 Kings 10:15.
[*editor’s note: the Greek version of this sentence is used by some modern biblical translators for clarity: "Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours.]
1. Even those who do not pay this great debt concede that love is due to all mankind, the royal law, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It carries its own evidence to all who hear it. This does not mean, according to the miserable construction put upon it by the zealots of old times, "You shall love your neighbor," your relation, acquaintance, friend, "and hate your enemy." Not so; "I say unto you," said our Lord, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children," may appear so to all mankind, "of your Father which is in heaven; who makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
2. But it is sure, there is a special love that we owe to those who love God. So David: "All my delight is upon the saints that are in the earth, and upon such as excel in virtue." And so a greater than he: "A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another: as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35).
This is that love on which the Apostle John so frequently and strongly insists: "This," says he, "is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (1 John 3:11). "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought," if love should call us thereto, "to lay down our lives for the brethren" (verse 16).
And again: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God. He that does not love, does not know God; for God is love" (4:7, 8). "Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (verses 10, 11).
3. All men approve of this; but do all men practice it? Daily experience shows the contrary. Where are even the Christians who "love one another as he has given us commandment?" How many hindrances lie in the way! The two grand, general hindrances are, first, that they cannot all think alike and, in consequence of this, secondly, they cannot all walk alike. However, in several smaller points their practice must differ as their opinions differ.
4. But even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works.
5. Surely in this respect the example of Jehu himself, as mixed a character as he was, is well worthy both the attention and imitation of every serious Christian. "And when he left there, [Jehu] met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he greeted him, and said to him, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?" And Jehonadab answered: "It is." [Jehu said], "If it is, give me your hand."
The text naturally divides itself into two parts: First, a question proposed by Jehu to Jehonadab: "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?" Secondly, an offer made when Jehonadab's answered, "It is:" "If it is, give me your hand."
I. 1. And, first, let us consider the question proposed by Jehu to Jehonadab, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"
The very first thing we may observe is that in these words there is no inquiry concerning Jehonadab's opinions. And yet he certainly held some which were very uncommon, indeed quite peculiar to himself, and some which had a close influence upon his practice. Some of these opinions he considered so important as to impose them upon his children's children, to their latest posterity.
This is evident from the account given by Jeremiah many years after his death: "I took Jaazaniah and his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites, . . . and set before them pots full of wine, and cups, and said unto them, Drink wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab," or Jehonadab, "the son of Rechab, our father" (it would be less ambiguous, if the words were placed thus: "Jehonadab our father, the son of Rechab," out of love and reverence to whom, he probably desired his descendants might be called by his name), "commanded us, saying, you shall drink no wine, neither you, nor your sons for ever. Neither shall you build house, nor sow seed; nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days you shall dwell in tents.... And we have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us" (Jer. 35:3-10).
2. And yet Jehu (although it seems to have been his manner both in things secular and religious, to drive furiously) does not concern himself at all with any of these things, but lets Jehonadab prevail in his own sense. And neither of them appears to have given the other the least disturbance touching the opinions which he maintained.
3. It is very possible that many good men now also may entertain peculiar opinions, and some of them may be as unusual as even Jehonadab was in this instance. And it is certain, so long as we know but in part, that all men will not see all things alike. It is an unavoidable consequence of the present weakness and shortness of human understanding, that several men will be of several minds in religion as well as in common life. So it has been from the beginning of the world, and so it will be "till the restitution of all things."
4. But there is even more. Although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true (for to believe any opinion is not true, is the same thing as not to hold it), yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true. In fact, every thinking man is assured they are not, seeing humanum est errare et nescire: "To be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some, is the necessary condition of humanity." This, therefore, he understands, applies to himself as well. He knows, generally, that he himself is mistaken; although in what particular opinions he is mistaken, he does not, perhaps he cannot, know.
5. I say "perhaps he cannot know;" for who can tell how far invincible ignorance may extend? Or, which amounts to the same thing, invincible prejudice, which is often so fixed in tender minds, that it is afterwards impossible to tear up what has taken so deep a root. And who can say, unless he knew every circumstance attending it, how far any mistake is culpable, seeing all guilt must suppose some concurrence of the will. Only He who can judge and search the heart can know.
6. Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking that he desires they should allow him, and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He is patient with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question: "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"
7. We may, secondly, observe, that there is no inquiry made here concerning Jehonadab's mode of worship, although it is highly probable there was, in this respect also, a very wide difference between them. For we may well believe Jehonadab, as well as all his descendants, worshipped God at Jerusalem! However, Jehu did not. He had more regard to state-policy than religion. And, therefore, although he killed the worshippers of Baal, and "destroyed Baal out of Israel," yet from the convenient sin of Jeroboam, the worship of the "golden calves," he "departed not" (2 Kings 10:29).
8. But even among men of an upright heart, men who desire to "have a conscience void of offence," it will be that, as long as there are various opinions, there will be various ways of worshipping God, understanding that a variety of opinion necessarily implies a variety of practice. And as, in all ages, men have differed in nothing more than in their opinions concerning the Supreme Being, so in nothing have they more differed from each other, than in the manner of worshipping him.
Had this been only in the heathen world we would not be at all surprised, for we know these "by" their "wisdom knew not God," nor, therefore, could they know how to worship him. But is it not strange, that even in the Christian world, although they all agree in the general, "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth," yet the particular modes of worshipping God are almost as various as among the heathens?
9. And how shall we choose among so much variety? No man can choose for, or prescribe to, another. But every one must follow the dictates of his own conscience in simplicity and godly sincerity. He must be fully persuaded in his own mind and then act according to the best light he has. Nor has any creature power to constrain another to walk by his own rule. God has given no right to any of the children of men to lord it over the conscience of his brothers; but every man must judge for himself, as every man must give an account of himself to God.
10. It is true that every follower of Christ is obliged, by the very nature of the Christian institution, to be a member of some particular congregation or other, some Church as it is usually termed (which implies a particular manner of worshipping God; for "two cannot walk together unless they be agreed"). Yet, none can be obliged by any power on earth but that of his own conscience to prefer this or that congregation to another, this or that particular manner of worship.
I know it is commonly supposed that the place of our birth fixes the Church to which we ought to belong, so that one, for instance, who is born in England ought to be a member of that which is called the Church of England, and consequently, to worship God in the particular manner which is prescribed by that Church. I was once a zealous maintainer of this opinion, but I have found many reasons to change my mind. I fear it is attended with insurmountable difficulties, not the least of which is, that if this idea had been carried out, there could have been no Reformation from Popery, seeing it entirely destroys the right of private judgment on which that whole Reformation stands.
11. I dare not, therefore, presume to impose my mode of worship on any other. I believe it is truly primitive and apostolic. But my belief is no rule for another. I ask not, therefore, of him with whom I would unite in love, Are you of my church, of my congregation? Do you receive the same form of church government, and allow the same church officers, with me? Do you join in the same form of prayer by which I worship God?
I inquire not, Do you receive the Lord's supper in the same posture and manner that I do? Nor do I inquire whether, in the administration of baptism, you agree with me in admitting sureties for the baptized, in the manner of administering it, or the age of those to whom it should be administered. I do not even ask of you (as clear as I am in my own mind) whether you allow baptism and the Lord's supper at all. Let all these things stand by. We will talk of them, if need be, at a more convenient season. My only question at present is this, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"
12. But what is properly implied in the question? I do not mean, What did Jehu imply by it? But, What should a follower of Christ understand by the question when he proposes it to any of his brothers?
The first thing implied is this: Is your heart right with God? Do you believe his being and his perfections, his eternity, immensity, wisdom, power, his justice, mercy, and truth? Do you believe that he now "upholds all things by the word of his power," and that he governs even the most minute, even the most noxious, to his own glory and the good of them that love him? Have you a divine evidence, a supernatural conviction, of the things of God? Do you "walk by faith not by sight," looking not at temporal things but things eternal?
13. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, "God over all, blessed for ever?" Is he revealed in your soul? Do you know Jesus Christ and him crucified? Does he dwell in you and you in him? Is he formed in your heart by faith? Having absolutely renounced all your own works, your own righteousness, have you "submitted yourself unto the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus? Are you "found in him, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is by faith?" And are you, through him, "fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold of eternal life?"
14. Is your faith [energoumena di' agapas], filled with the energy of love? Do you love God (I do not say "above all things," for it is both an unscriptural and an ambiguous expression, but) "with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength?" Do you seek all your happiness in him alone? And do you find what you seek? Does your soul continually "magnify the Lord, and your spirit rejoice in God your Savior?" Having learned "in everything to give thanks, do you find "it is a joyful and a pleasant thing to be thankful?" Is God the center of your soul, the sum of all your desires? Are you accordingly laying up your treasure in heaven and counting all other things dung and dross? Has the love of God cast the love of the world out of your soul? Then you are "crucified to the world," you are dead to all below, and your "life is hidden with Christ in God."
15. Are you employed in doing, "not your own will, but the will of him that sent you," of him that sent you down to sojourn here awhile, to spend a few days in a strange land, until, having finished the work he has given you to do, you return to your Father's house? Is it your meat and drink "to do the will of your Father which is in heaven?" Is your eye single in all things, always fixed on him, always looking unto Jesus? Do you point at him in whatever you do, in all your labor, your business, your conversation, aiming only at the glory of God in all, "whatever you do, either in word or deed, doing it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God, even the Father, through him?"
16. Does the love of God constrain you to serve him with fear, to "rejoice unto him with reverence?" Are you more afraid of displeasing God than either of death or hell? Is nothing so terrible to you as the thought of offending the eyes of his glory? Upon this ground, do you "hate all evil ways," every transgression of his holy and perfect law; and because of that "exercise yourself to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man?"
17. Is your heart right toward your neighbor? Do you love as yourself, all mankind without exception? "If you love those only that love you, what reward do you have?" Do you "love your enemies?" Is your soul full of good-will, of tender affection toward them? Do you love even the enemies of God, the unthankful and unholy? Does your heart yearn over them? Could you "wish yourself" temporally "accursed" for their sake? And do you show this by "blessing them that curse you, and praying for those that despitefully use you, and persecute you?"
18. Do you show your love by your works? As you have time and opportunity, do you in fact "do good to all men," neighbors or strangers, friends or enemies, good or bad? Do you do them all the good you can, endeavoring to supply all their needs, assisting them both in body and soul, to the uttermost of your power? If you are thus minded (may every Christian say, yes), if you are but sincerely desirous of it, and following on until you attain, then "your heart is right, as my heart is with your heart."
II. 1. "If it be, give me your hand." I do not mean, "Be of my opinion." You need not. I do not expect or desire it. Neither do I mean, "I will be of your opinion." I cannot, it does not depend on my choice. I can no more think, than I can see or hear, as I will. Keep your opinion and I will keep mine, and that as steadily as ever. You need not even endeavor to come over to me, or bring me over to you. I do not desire you to dispute those points, or to hear or speak one word concerning them. Leave all opinions alone on one side and the other: only "give me your hand."
2. I do not mean, "Embrace my modes of worship," or, "I will embrace yours." This also is a thing which does not depend either on your choice or mine. We must both act as each is fully persuaded in his own mind. Hold fast to that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same. I believe the Episcopal form of church government to be scriptural and apostolic. If you think the Presbyterian or Independent is better, think so still, and act accordingly.
I believe infants ought to be baptized; and that this may be done either by dipping or sprinkling. If you are otherwise persuaded, be so still, and follow your own persuasion. It appears to me that written prayers are especially useful, particularly in the larger congregation. If you judge extemporaneous prayer to be of more use, act suitable to your own judgement. My sentiment is that I ought not to forbid water, so that persons may be baptized, and that I ought to eat bread and drink wine as a memorial of my dying Master. However, if you are not convinced of this, act according to the light you have. I have no desire to dispute with you one moment upon any of the preceding topics. Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight. "If your heart is as my heart," if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: "give me your hand."
3. I mean, first, love me. And that is not only as you love all mankind, not only as you love your enemies or the enemies of God, those that hate you, that "despitefully use you and persecute you," not only as a stranger, as one of whom you know neither good nor evil. I am not satisfied with this. No, "if your heart is right, as mine with your heart," then love me with a very tender affection, as a friend that is closer than a brother, as a brother in Christ, a fellow citizen of the New Jerusalem, a fellow soldier engaged in the same warfare, under the same Captain of our salvation. Love me as a companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, and a joint heir of his glory.
4. If I am ignorant or out of the way, love me (but in a higher degree than you do the bulk of mankind) with the love that is long-suffering and kind; that is patient, bearing and not increasing my burden; that is tender, soft, and compassionate still; that does not envy if at any time it pleases God to prosper me in his work even more than you. Love me with the love that is not provoked, either at my follies or infirmities, or even at my acting (if it should sometimes so appear to you) not according to the will of God.
Love me so as to think no evil of me, to put away all jealousy and evil-surmising. Love me with the love that covers all things, that never reveals either my faults or infirmities. Love me with the love that believes all things, is always willing to think the best, to put the fairest construction on all my words and actions. Love me with the love that hopes all things, either that the thing related was never done, or not done with such circumstances as are related, or, at least, that it was done with a good-intention, or in a sudden stress of temptation. And hope to the end, that whatever is amiss will, by the grace of God, be corrected, and whatever is lacking will be supplied through the riches of his mercy in Christ Jesus.
5. I mean, Secondly, commend me to God in all your prayers. Wrestle with him in my behalf, that he would speedily correct what he sees amiss, and supply what is lacking in me. In your nearest access to the throne of grace, beg of him who is then very present with you that my heart may be more as your heart, more right both toward God and toward man. Beg of him that I may have a fuller conviction of things not seen, and a stronger view of the love of God in Christ Jesus, may more steadily walk by faith, not by sight, and more earnestly grasp eternal life. Pray that the love of God and of all mankind may be more generously poured into my heart; that I may be more fervent and active in doing the will of my Father which is in heaven, more zealous of good works, and more careful to abstain from all appearance of evil.
6. I mean, Thirdly, provoke me to love and to good works. Follow up your prayer, as you have opportunity, by speaking to me in love whatever you believe to be for my soul's health. Encourage me in the work that God has given me to do, and instruct me how to do it more perfectly. Yea, "smite me friendly, and reprove me," in whatever way I appear to you to be doing my own will rather than the will of him that sent me. O speak and spare not, whatever you believe may assist, either to the amending my faults, the strengthening my weakness, the building me up in love, or the making me more fit, in any kind, for the Master's use.
7. I mean, Lastly, love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. So far as in conscience you can (retaining still your own opinions, and your own manner of worshipping God), join with me in the work of God, and let us go on hand in hand. And you may certainly go at least this far, that you speak honorably wherever you are of the work of God by whomever he works, and kindly of his messengers. And, if it be in your power, not only sympathize with them when they are in any difficulty or distress, but give them a cheerful and effectual assistance, that they may glorify God on your behalf.
8. Two things should be observed with regard to what has been spoken under this last topic. First, that whatever love, whatever offices of love, whatever spiritual or temporal assistance, I claim from him whose heart is right, as my heart is with his, the same I am ready, by the grace of God, according to my measure, to give him. Second, that I have not made this claim in behalf of myself only, but of all whose heart is right toward God and man, that we may all love one another as Christ has loved us.
III. 1. One inference we may make from what has been said. We may learn from this what is a catholic spirit.
There is hardly any expression which has been more grossly misunderstood and more dangerously misapplied than this. But it will be easy for any who calmly consider the preceding observations to correct any such misapprehensions of it, and to prevent any such misapplication.
For, from this we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism.* It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being "driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine," is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit does not need to seek his religion. He is as fixed as the sun in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh anything that can be offered against his principles, but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind so neither does it occasion any.
He does not limp between two opinions, nor vainly try to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit you are of, who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit only because you are of a muddy understanding, because your mind is all in a fog, because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you have received the very spirit of Christ, when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.
2. From what has been said, we may learn, secondly, that a catholic spirit is not any kind of practical latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to public worship, or how it should be practiced. This, likewise, would not be a blessing but a curse. Far from being any help, it would, so long as it remained, be an unspeakable hindrance to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. But the man of a truly catholic spirit, having weighed all things in the balance of the sanctuary, has no doubt, no scruple at all, concerning that particular mode of worship in which he participates. He is clearly convinced, that this manner of worshipping God is both scriptural and rational. He knows none in the world that is more scriptural, none that is more rational. Therefore, without rambling here and there, he follows it closely and praises God for the opportunity of so doing.
3. Hence we may, thirdly, learn, that a catholic spirit is not indifference to all congregations. This is another sort of latitudinarianism, no less absurd and unscriptural than the former. But it is far from a man of a truly catholic spirit. He is fixed in his congregation as well as his principles. He is united to one, not only in spirit, but by all the outward ties of Christian fellowship. There he partakes of all the ordinances of God. There he receives the Lord's supper. There he pours out his soul in public prayer and joins in public praise and thanksgiving. There he rejoices to hear the word of reconciliation, the gospel of the grace of God. With these his nearest, his best-beloved brothers, on solemn occasions he seeks God by fasting. These particularly he watches over in love, as they do over his soul, admonishing, exhorting, comforting, reproving, and every way building up each other in the faith. These he regards as his own household, and therefore, according to the ability God has given him, naturally cares for them and provides that they may have all the things that are needful for life and godliness.
4. But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus, while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight, and while he is united by the most tender and closest ties to one particular congregation, his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not. He embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: catholic love is a catholic spirit.
5. If, then, we take this word in the strictest sense, a man of a catholic spirit is one who, in the manner just described, gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart. He is one who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he enjoys, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God, the true scriptural manner of worshipping him, and, above all, his union with a congregation fearing God and working righteousness. He is one who retains these blessings with the strictest care, keeping them as the apple of his eye. At the same time he loves, as friends, as brothers in the Lord, as members of Christ and children of God, as joint partakers now of the present kingdom of God and fellow heirs of his eternal kingdom, all of whatever opinion or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man, who, rejoicing to please and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil and zealous of good works.
He is the man of a truly catholic spirit who bears all these continually upon his heart, who having an unspeakable tenderness for their persons and longing for their welfare, does not cease to commend them to God in prayer, as well as to plead their cause before men. He is a man who speaks comfortably to them, and labors, by all his words, to strengthen their hands in God. He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready "to spend and be spent for them," even to lay down his life for their sake.
6. O man of God, think on these things! If you are already in this way, go on. If you have missed this path before now, bless God who has brought you back! And now run the race that is set before you, in the royal way of universal love. Take heed, lest you be either wavering in your judgment, or faint of heart. But keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints, and grounded in love, in true catholic love, till you are swallowed up in love for ever and ever!
Weary of all this wordy strife,
Forth from the midst of Babel
Redeem'd by Thine almighty grace,
One with the little flock I rest,
My brethren, friends, and kinsmen
For these, howe'er in flesh
Join'd to the hidden church
- Charles Wesley
[Note: No copyright claim is made for the original text of this article by John Wesley. However, all other information contained on this page is copyrighted, Copyright © 2013 by Dennis Bratcher and CRI/Voice, Institute.]