Asbury University describes itself as a "Christian Liberal Arts University in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition". That tradition began with John Wesley whose life spanned most of the 18th century (1703-1791). The Wesleyan tradition is rich and varied and includes unique theological perspectives as well as practical ways in which our lives should reflect our faith. The topics which follow are arranged alphabetically and in no way represent a thorough examination of our tradition.
Wesley pointed out that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil and not money itself. Money is actually a wonderful tool. "It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good." "It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent."
"It is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, 'Gain all you can.' Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. If you understand yourself and your relation to God and man, you know you have none to spare."
A Christian should be hard-working and diligent. "'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.' Do it as soon as possible: No delay! No putting off from day to day, or from hour to hour! Never leave anything till to-morrow, which you can do to-day. And do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it: Put your whole strength to the work."
Furthermore, a Christian should make every effort to improve himself (or herself). "You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience, reading, and reflection, to do everything you have to do better to-day than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn, that you may make the best of all that is in your hands."
Wesley, however, was careful to emphasize that we are to earn all we can without paying too dear a price. Our employment should not be detrimental to our health. We should avoid occupations that are obviously dangerous. But we should also avoid occupations that are detrimental to our health because of our constitutional makeup. "But whatever it is which reason or experience shows to be destructive of health or strength, that we may not submit to; seeing 'the life is more' valuable 'than meat, and the body than raiment.' And if we are already engaged in such an employ, we should exchange it as soon as possible for some which, if it lessen our gain, will, however not lessen our health."
Nor should our employment be detrimental to our mind or soul. "We must preserve, at all events, the spirit of an healthful mind. Therefore we may not engage or continue in any sinful trade, any that is contrary to the law of God, or of our country." This also includes employment that entangles you in damaging relationships. In some cases, an occupation may be safely followed by others but not by you because of a personal idiosyncrasy. Wesley gives this personal example: "So I am convinced, from many experiments, I could not study, to any degree of perfection, either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a Deist, if not an Atheist: And yet others may study them all their lives without sustaining any inconvenience."
Finally, our employment should not be detrimental to others; in body, mind, or soul. For example, employment in the liquor or tobacco industry is wrong because of the irrefutable physical harm liquor and tobacco can cause. Employment in the pornography industry would be equally wrong because of the moral and spiritual decay that results.
In summary, Wesley says, "Gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbor, in soul or body, by applying hereto with unintermitted [i.e., without intermission; uninterrupted] diligence, and with all the understanding which God has given you."
(See Wesley's Sermon 50, The Use of Money)
Wesley advocated a Spartan lifestyle in which a person is content with the basic necessities of life. He warned that we should not waste any of our income "merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh; in procuring the pleasures of sense of whatever kind." He advocated a plain and simple diet by urging his followers not to waste money "in enlarging the pleasure of tasting. I do not mean [that you should] avoid gluttony and drunkenness only: An honest heathen would condemn these. But there is a regular, reputable kind of sensuality, an elegant Epicureanism, which does not immediately disorder the stomach, nor (sensibly, at least) impair the understanding. And yet (to mention no other effects of it now) it cannot be maintained without considerable expense. Cut off all this expense! Despise delicacy and variety, and be content with what plain nature requires."
He preached against spending any of our hard earned gain "in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments. Waste no part of it in curiously adorning your houses; in superfluous or expensive furniture; in costly pictures, painting, gilding, books; in elegant rather than useful gardens."
"Lay out nothing to gratify the pride of life, to gain the admiration or praise of men. This motive of expense is frequently interwoven with one or both of the former." That is, people often indulge in fine dining not just because they enjoy fine food but because it also enhances their status and prestige if, for no other reason, because they can afford to do so. Similarly, people live in large, fancy homes with fine furniture and expensive cars not just because they enjoy these things but because it gives them a higher status in the community. As long as a person dresses well, dines sumptuously, and lives graciously, others will applaud his or her elegance, fine taste, generosity and hospitality. But, Wesley warns, "Do not buy their applause so dear. Rather be content with the honor that cometh from God."
Wesley's rationale for simple living is that the gratification of our desires inevitably results in the growth of those very same desires. In gratifying our sensual desires, we find that our sensual desires become stronger and more varied. In gratifying our desire for beautiful things, we find that desire growing stronger (Wesley refers to it as "curiosity"). When we indulge our vanity, our vanity grows. "Had you not then enough of vanity, sensuality, curiosity before? Was there need of any addition? And would you pay for it, too? What manner of wisdom is this? Would not the literally throwing your money into the sea be a less mischievous folly? "
This is, of course, at direct odds with our modern consumer society where we can never have enough; not enough sensual gratification, not enough pretty things, and not enough worldly goods. In fact, we are told that we deserve all these things and even that it is our moral obligation to buy them in order to prevent our economy from collapsing. For example, in the spring of 2008, the federal government sent out millions of stimulus checks with the express hope that people would use that money to go out and buy things in order to stimulate the economy.
Wesley notes that if the gratification of our own desires is folly, gratifying the same desires in our children is just as bad if not worse. "Why should you throw away money upon your children, any more than upon yourself, in delicate food, in gay or costly apparel, in superfluities of any kind? Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and hurtful desires? They do not want any more; they have enough already; nature has made ample provision for them: Why should you be at farther expense to increase their temptations and snares, and to pierce them through with more sorrows?"
(See Wesley's Sermon 50, The Use of Money)
"But let not any man imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by 'gaining and saving all he can,' if he were to stop here. All this is nothing, if a man go not forward, if he does not point all this at a farther end." Wesley observes that "when the Possessor of heaven and earth [i.e., God] brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but as a steward." As a steward, God entrusts us, for a time, with goods of various kinds but the ownership of those goods rests with him. They should always be at his disposal.
"The directions which God has given us, touching the use of our worldly substance, may be comprised in the following particulars. If you desire to be a faithful and a wise steward, [then] first provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be a surplus left, then 'do good to them that are of the household of faith.' If there be a surplus still, 'as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.' In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God. You 'render unto God the things that are God's,' not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.
"I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of 'the wisdom of the just.' Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son: So 'laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life!'"
(See Wesley's Sermon 50, The Use of Money)
Wesley believed that justification (or pardon) comes by faith and faith alone. For Wesley, “faith is a divine evidence and conviction not only that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself,’ but also that Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me.” “It is by this faith we are saved, justified, and sanctified.”
What does it mean to be justified by faith? Wesley says, “I answer, Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of justification.” Faith is the necessary and sufficient condition for justification. It is necessary because there can be no justification without faith. It is sufficient because nothing but faith is required for justification.
This seems to be at odds with Wesley’s belief that true salvation is preceded by repentance and followed by obedience. Doesn’t God also command us to repent of our sins and obey His commandments? If he does then aren’t repentance and obedience also necessary for justification in that an unrepentant, disobedient person cannot reasonably expect to be justified? Wesley says yes to both questions. “God does undoubtedly command us both to repent, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance; which if we willingly neglect, we cannot reasonably expect to be justified at all: therefore both repentance, and fruits meet for repentance, are, in some sense, necessary to justification.”
How does Wesley resolve this seeming contradiction? He argues that repentance (a person stops doing evil) and obedience (a person starts doing good) are “only necessary conditionally; if there be time and opportunity for them. Otherwise a man may be justified without them.” If a man, in faith, accepts Christ as his personal savior and dies the very next moment, he is justified even though he had no time to cease doing evil and start doing good. In that sense, faith is the one and only condition for justification.
In the normal course of events, however, Wesley believed that repentance and obedience are also necessary conditions though not, by themselves, sufficient. That is, we can not expect to be justified without repentance and obedience. However, repentance and obedience, without faith, are not enough. In essence, Wesley says that repentance and obedience are necessary for justification but come subsequent to faith (and only if there is sufficient time for the person to act on the basis of his or her faith).
(See Wesley's Sermon 43, The Scripture Way of Salvation)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).
First of all salvation is much more than simply being rescued from an eternity in hell to an eternal happiness in heaven. "The salvation which is here spoken of is not what is frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness." It is not something we look forward to but, rather, something we possess today. Paul, in Ephesians, does not say we will be saved. Rather, he says that we have been saved.
Salvation "consists of two general parts, justification and sanctification. Justification is another word for pardon. It is the forgiveness of all our sins; and, what is necessarily implied therein, our acceptance with God. The immediate effects of justification are, the peace of God, a 'peace that passes all understanding,' and a 'rejoicing in hope of the glory of God' 'with joy unspeakable and full of glory.'"
"And at the same time that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins. In that instant we are born again, born from above, born of the Spirit: there is a real as well as a relative change. We are inwardly renewed by the power of God. We feel 'the love of God shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us'; producing love to all mankind, and more especially to the children of God; expelling the love of the world, the love of pleasure, of ease, of honor, of money, together with pride, anger, self-will, and every other evil temper; in a word, changing the earthly, sensual, devilish mind, into 'the mind which was in Christ Jesus.'"
"From the time of our being born again, the gradual work of sanctification takes place. We are enabled 'by the Spirit' to 'mortify the deeds of the body,' of our evil nature; and as we are more and more dead to sin, we are more and more alive to God. We go on from grace to grace, while we are careful to 'abstain from all appearance of evil,' and are 'zealous of good works,' as we have opportunity, doing good to all men; while we walk in all His ordinances blameless, therein worshipping Him in spirit and in truth; while we take up our cross, and deny ourselves every pleasure that does not lead us to God.
"It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification; for a full salvation from all our sins, --from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief; or, as the Apostle expresses it, 'go unto perfection.' But what is perfection? The word has various senses: here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul. It is love 'rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in everything giving thanks.'"
(See Wesley's Sermon 43, The Scripture Way of Salvation)
Wesley had a lot to say about salvation and how a person can know that they have been saved. More specifically, how we can know that we have the witness of the Spirit concerning our salvation and are not deluded or simply pretending to be a Christian. He identifies four markers that invariably precede, accompany, or follow true conversion:
Repentance invariably precedes conversion. The deluded man, Wesley says, “is a stranger to this repentance: He hath never known a broken and a contrite heart: ‘The remembrance of his sins’ was never ‘grievous unto him,’ nor ‘the burden of them intolerable.’"
Conversion is invariably accompanied by “a vast and mighty change; a change ‘from darkness to light,’ as well as ‘from the power of Satan unto God;’ as a ‘passing from death unto life’, a resurrection from the dead." Wesley says the deluded man “is altogether unacquainted with this whole matter. This is a language which he does not understand. He tells you he always was a Christian. He knows no time when he had need of such a change." Wesley goes on to say that such a man, if he truly thinks about it, will recognize that he is not born of the Spirit but has mistaken the voice of nature for the voice of God.
Conversion invariably results in what Wesley calls a “humble joy”. He continues, “And wherever lowliness is, there is meekness, patience, gentleness, long-suffering. There is a soft, yielding spirit; a mildness and sweetness, a tenderness of soul, which words cannot express. But do these fruits attend that supposed testimony of the Spirit in a presumptuous man? Just the reverse. The more confident he is of the favor of God, the more is he lifted up; the more does he exalt himself, the more haughty and assuming is his whole behavior.”
Obedience invariably follows true conversion. The sure mark of our love for God is ‘that we keep his commandments.’ Wesley writes, “And our Lord himself saith, ‘He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me.’ Love rejoices to obey; to do, in every point, whatever is acceptable to the beloved. A true lover of God hastens to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven. But is this the character of the presumptuous pretender to the love of God? Nay, but his love gives him a liberty to disobey, to break, not keep, the commandments of God. No; he has found an easier way to heaven; a broad, smooth flowery path, in which he can say to his soul, ‘Soul, take thy ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ It follows, with undeniable evidence, that he has not the true testimony of his own spirit. He cannot be conscious of having those marks which he hath not; that lowliness, meekness, and obedience: Nor yet can the Spirit of the God of truth bear witness to a lie; or testify that he is a child of God when he is manifestly a child of the devil."
(See Wesley's Sermon 10, The Witness of the Spirit.)
We are stewards (or managers) of all that God gives us. A steward "is not at liberty to use what is lodged in his hands as he pleases, but as his master pleases. He has no right to dispose of anything which is in his hands, but according to the will of his lord." Among the gifts given to us by God is "that invaluable talent of time, with which God entrusts us from moment to moment."
Wesley envisions Christ asking, on the day of judgment, "Didst thou employ that inestimable talent of time, with wariness and circumspection, as duly weighing the value of every moment, and knowing that all were numbered in eternity?" Consequently, "there is no employment of our time, no action or conversation, that is purely indifferent. All is good or bad, because all our time, as everything we have, is not our own." To Wesley, using our time as God wills is good and using our time contrary to God's will is evil.
What is God's will for the time he has given you here at Asbury? As students, it is God's will that you use your time wisely in the pursuit of your studies. Those from whom you receive financial support (including loans and scholarships) are investing in you and your future. You are obligated to honor that investment by applying yourself diligently to your course work. Your college years are a great opportunity to explore life and the new sense of freedom you enjoy but you need to remember that the primary purpose for which you are here is to get as good an education as you possibly can. That will involve a substantial and unwavering commitment of the time that God has given you to use.
(See Wesley's Sermon 51, The Good Steward.)