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John Wesley's Sermons
By Albert C. Outler, Richard P. Heitzenrater
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1991 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
THE IMAGE OF GOD
AN INTRODUCTORY COMMENT
This is John Wesley's first 'university sermon', preached in St. Mary's, the university church at Oxford, on November 15, 1730. It is a lively sermon that deals with the prime issue of Christian anthropology: the original design of human nature considered in the light of the crucial biblical metaphor of 'the image of God' and in the face of the tragic consequences of the Fall.
The argument is ordered into three stages: first, the original perfections of the imago Dei in Adam and Eve; second, the fall and defacement of that image; and third, the mystery of grace and the promise of the image's restoration. It is, therefore, an important statement of Wesley's early basic understanding of the 'way of salvation'.
The idea of Adam's perfections, the tradition of 'original righteousness', was a commonplace at the time and had come to Wesley through the Cambridge Platonists and John Norris. One might wonder why a creature so perfect should ever have fallen from his paradisiacal state. Wesley's answer was that God had designed the virtue of obedience as the precondition to all the others, and when this virtue was tested by an arbitrary command and Adam disobeyed, all his other perfections fell away into ruin. Thereafter, human nature has been, in effect, an inversion of its original design, in intellect, will, and affections.
One of the more interesting 'asides' in this sermon is Wesley's description of the physiological effects of Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit. His discussion amounts to a speculative account of a correlation between bad nutrition and the onset and course of arteriosclerosis—a hypothesis far enough beyond its own time that modern medicine is still in process of drawing it out.
Wesley never published this sermon. The manuscript, probably the 'fair copy' that he used in the pulpit, is in the Colman Miscellany in the Methodist Archives, Manchester. His diary indicates that he had composed the sermon during the five days, October 27-31,1730. In the following three years, he also preached this sermon in Stanton, two churches in London, and another church in Oxford.
The Image of God
So God created man in his own image. Genesis 1:27
[1.] A truth that does so much honour to human nature, that gives so advantageous an account of it as this, could not fail, one would think, of being well entertained by all to whom that nature belonged. And accordingly some there have been in all ages who gladly received and firmly retained it; who asserted, not only that man was sprung from God, but that he was his likeness from whom he sprung; that the image of his divine Parent was still visible upon him, who had transfused as much of himself into this his picture as the materials on which he drew would allow.
[2.] But to this it has constantly been opposed: if man was made in the image of God, whence flow those numberless imperfections that stain and dishonour his nature? Why is his body exposed to sickness and pain, and at last to a total dissolution? Why is his soul still more disgraced and deformed by ignorance and error, by unruly passions, and what is worse than all, as it contains them all, by vice? A fine picture—this ignorant, wretched, guilty creature—of a wise, happy, and holy Creator!
[3.] I am ashamed to say there are [those] of our age and nation who greedily close with this old objection, and eagerly maintain that they were not made in the image of the living God, but of the beasts that perish; who heartily contend that it was not the divine but the brutal likeness in which they were created, and earnestly assert 'that they themselves are beasts' in a more literal sense than ever Solomon meant it. These consequently reject with scorn the account God has given of man, and affirm it to be contrary to reason and [to the account] itself, as well as it is to their practice.
[4.] The substance of his account is this: 'God created man upright; in the image of God created he him; but man found out to himself many inventions.' Abusing the liberty wherewith he was endowed, he rebelled against his Creator, and wilfully changed the image of the incorruptible God into sin, misery, and corruption. Yet his merciful, though rejected, Creator would not forsake even the depraved work of his own hands, but provided for him, and offered to him a means of being 'renewed after the image of him that created him'.
[5.] That it may appear whether this account of man is contrary to itself and reason or no, I shall endeavour to show the parts of it more distinctly, by inquiring: I, how man was made in the image of God; II, how he lost that image; and III, how he may recover it.
I. Man was originally made in the image of God.
1. First with regard to his understanding. He was endued, after the likeness of his Maker, with a power of distinguishing truth from falsehood; either by a simple view wherein he made the nearest approach to that all-seeing Nature, or by comparing one thing with another (a manner of knowledge perhaps peculiar to himself) and often inferring farther truths from these preceding comparisons.
(1) And in several properties of it, as well as in the faculty itself, man at first resembled God. His understanding was just; everything appeared to him according to its real nature. It never was betrayed into any mistake; whatever he perceived, he perceived as it was. He thought not at all of many things, but he thought wrong of none. (2) And as it was just, it was likewise clear. Truth and evidence went hand in hand; as nothing appeared in a false light, so neither in a glimmering one. Light and darkness there were, but no twilight; whenever the shades of ignorance withdrew, in that moment the broader day appeared, the full blaze of knowledge shined. He was equally a stranger to error and doubt; either he saw not at all, or he saw plainly. (3) And hence arose that other excellence of his understanding: being just and clear, it was swift in its motion. Nothing was then as quick as thought but that which alone is capable of it—spirit. How far anything of which we have any conception must fall short of expressing its swiftness will be readily seen by all who observe but one instance of it in our first father: in how short a space he 'gave names to all cattle, and to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field'. And names not arbitrarily imposed, but expressive of their inward natures. (4) Sufficiently showing thereby not only the swiftness, but likewise the greatness of his understanding. For how extensive a view must he have had who could command so vast a prospect! What a comprehension was that, to take in at once almost an infinity of objects! Such doubtless it was that the visible creation would soon have been too small for its capacity.
2. And yet even this just, this clear, this swift, this comprehensive understanding was the least part of that image of God wherein man was originally made. Far greater and nobler was his second endowment, namely, a will equally perfect. It could not but be perfect while it followed the dictates of such an understanding. His affections were rational, even, and regular—if we may be allowed to say 'affections', for properly speaking he had but one: man was what God is, Love. Love filled the whole expansion of his soul; it possessed him without a rival. Every movement of his heart was love: it knew no other fervour. Love was his vital heat; it was the genial warmth that animated his whole frame. And the flame of it was continually streaming forth, directly to him from whom it came, and by reflection to all sensitive natures, inasmuch as they too were his offspring; but especially to those superior beings who bore not only the superscription, but likewise the image of their Creator.
3. What made his image yet plainer in his human offspring was, thirdly, the liberty he originally enjoyed; the perfect freedom implanted in his nature, and interwoven with all its parts. Man was made with an entire indifference, either to keep or change his first estate: it was left to himself what he would do; his own choice was to determine him in all things. The balance did not incline to one side or the other unless by his own deed. His Creator would not, and no creature besides himself could, weigh down either scale. So that, in this sense, he was the sole lord and sovereign judge of his own actions.
4. The result of all these—an unerring understanding, an uncorrupt will, and perfect freedom—gave the last stroke to the image of God in man, by crowning all these with happiness. Then indeed to live was to enjoy, when every faculty was in its perfection, amidst abundance of objects which infinite wisdom had purposely suited to it, when man's understanding was satisfied with truth, as his will was with good; when he was at full liberty to enjoy either the Creator or the creation; to indulge in rivers of pleasure, ever new, ever pure from any mixture of pain.
II. How it was this wise, virtuous, happy creature was deprived of these perfections, how man lost the image of God, we are, secondly, to inquire. And the plain answer is this: the liberty of man necessarily required that he should have some trial; else he would have had no choice whether he would stand or no, that is, no liberty at all. In order to this necessary trial God said unto him, 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayst freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it' To secure him from transgressing this sole command, as far as could be done without destroying his liberty, the consequence was laid before him: 'In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely the.' Yet man did eat of it, and the consequence accordingly was death on him and all his descendants, and preparatory to death, sickness and pain, and folly and vice and slavery.
And 'tis easy to observe by what regular steps all these would succeed each other, if God did not miraculously prevent it, but suffer nature to take its course. But we should observe, first, that man even at his creation was a compound of matter and spirit; and that it was ordained by the original law that during this vital union neither part of the compound should act at all but together with its companion; that the dependence of each upon the other should be inviolably maintained; that even the operations of the soul should so far depend upon the body as to be exerted in a more or less perfect manner, as this was more or less aptly disposed.
This being observed, we may easily conceive how the forbidden fruit might work all those effects which are implied in the word 'death', as being introductory to, and paving the way for it. Which particulars of the following account are founded on Scripture and consequently certain, and which are built on conjecture and therefore proposed only as probable, it will not be hard to distinguish.
1. Its first effect must have been on his body, which, being before prepared for immortality, had no seeds of corruption within itself and adopted none from without. All its original particles were incorruptible, and therefore the additional ones taken in, being for pleasure rather than use, cannot be supposed ever to have cleaved to its native substance, ever to have adhered to any part of it, as none needed any reparation. By this means both the juices contained must have been .still of the same consistence, and the vessels containing them have kept the same spring, and remained ever clear and open.
On the contrary, the fruit of that tree alone of whose deadly nature he was forewarned seems to have contained a juice, the particles of which were apt to cleave to whatever they touched. Some of these, being received into the human body, might adhere to the inner coats of the finer vessels; to which again other particles that before floated loose in the blood, continually joining, would naturally lay a foundation for numberless disorders in all parts of the machine. For death in particular; since, more foreign matter cleaving to the former every day, the solid parts of the body would every day lose something of their spring, and so be less able to contribute their necessary assistance to the circulation of the fluids. The smaller channels would gradually fill up, especially those that lie near the extremities, where the current, by reason of its distance from the fountain, was always more slow and languid. The whole tide, as the force that threw it forward abated, must [also] have abated its swiftness in proportion, till at length that force utterly failing, it ceased to move, and rested in death.
Indeed had Adam taken the antidote as well as the poison, had he again put forth his hand, and taken of the fruit of the Tree of Life, nothing of this could have followed. 'Tis sure this would have made him live for ever, naturally speaking, notwithstanding he had eaten death. 'Tis likely it would have done so by its thin, abstersive nature, particularly fitted to counteract the other, to wipe off its particles, wheresoever adhering, and so restore the eater to immortality.
However this be, thus much is certain: the moment wherein that fruit was tasted, the sentence of death passed on that body, which before was impassive and immortal. And this immortal having put on mortality, the next stroke fell on its companion: the soul felt a like change through all her powers, except only that she could not the. The instrument being now quite untuned, she could no longer make the same harmony: 'the corruptible body pressed down the soul', with which it soared so high during its incorruption.
2. His understanding first found the want of suitable organs; its notions were just no longer. It mistook falsehood for truth, and truth for falsehood. Error succeeded and increased ignorance. And no wonder, when it was no longer clear; when it not only saw through a glass, but darkly too, that glass being now grown thick and dull, having lost great part of its transparency. And hence it was that doubt perplexed it as well as error, that it could neither rest in knowledge nor ignorance. Through clouds like these its most laborious steps could win but little ground. With its clearness went its swiftness too; confusion and slowness came together. Instead of being able to find out the natures of ten thousand creatures almost in a moment, it became unable to trace out fully the nature of any one in many years. Nay, unable (so was the largeness of its capacity impaired, as well as the swiftness of its progress) with that apprehension for which the visible world was before but a scanty prospect, to take in at one view all the properties of any single creature therein.
3. How much the will suffered when its guide was thus blinded we may easily comprehend. Instead of the glorious one that possessed it whole before, it was now seized by legions of vile affections. Grief and anger and hatred and fear and shame, at once rushed in upon it; the whole train of earthly, sensual, and devilish passions fastened on and tore it in pieces. Nay, love itself, that ray of the Godhead, that balm of life, now became a torment. Its light being gone, it wandered about seeking rest and finding none; till at length, equally unable to subsist without any and to feel out its proper object, it reclined itself upon the painted trifles, the gilded poison of earthly enjoyments.
4. Indeed, what else could the human mind do when it had no freedom left? Liberty went away with virtue; instead of an indulgent master it was under a merciless tyrant. The subject of virtue became the slave of vice. It was not willingly that the creature obeyed vanity; the rule was now perforce; the sceptre of gold was changed into a rod of iron. Before, the bands of love indeed drew him toward heaven; yet if he would, he could stoop down to earth. But now, he was so chained down to earth he could not so much as lift up his eyes toward heaven.
5. The consequence of his being enslaved to a depraved understanding and a corrupted will could be no other than the reverse of that happiness which flowed from them when in their perfection. Then were the days of man evil as well as few; then, when both his faculties were decayed, and bitterness poured on their earthly objects, and heavenly ones withdrawn, the mortal, foolish, vicious, enslaved creature was delivered over to his [un]sought-for misery.
How such a creature as this, as every fair inquirer finds by experience himself to be, could come from the hands of the good God, has been the just wonder of all ages. And let the infidel look to it; let him surmount the difficulty if he can upon any scheme beside the Christian. Upon this indeed it is no difficulty at all; all is rational, plain, and easy, while we observe, on the one hand, that not the good God but man himself made man what he is now; on the other, how he may recover what he wilfully lost, which is the subject of our third inquiry.
Excerpted from John Wesley's Sermons by Albert C. Outler, Richard P. Heitzenrater. Copyright © 1991 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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