He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?
-Micah 6:8 [KJV, the Wesley's Bible], A Path to Perfection
Methodism is a system of religious faith and practice. It originated in
a movement dubbed the Holy Club, founded by John and Charles Wesley in
1729 at the University of Oxford, England. Members of the Holy Club wished to
deepen their personal life of faith and grow in compassion. The movement
developed into a number of overlapping groups in various colleges at
Oxford and influenced many Protestant denominations. It eventually gave
its name to a new denomination, the Methodist church. A concern for
spiritual practice, the method through which one may grow in God's love
and in service to the human family, is the reason the word
"method" stands in its name.
The Holy Club encouraged classical and devotional reading, frequent
Holy Communion and fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as was the pattern in
the ancient church. They soon added various undertakings of mercy to their
discipline including working with the poor, the education of children in
the industrial centres of the United Kingdom and visiting those in prison.
John and Charles Wesley sought perfection and it is
the teaching about
the pathway to perfection and this immaculateness as the goal of spiritual life
that sets Methodism apart within the Protestant family of churches. These
teachings hold that every Christian could be perfect in the love of God
and of human beings, whether friend, stranger or enemy. The spiritual
disciplines practiced by Methodists prepared the way for the "Great
Salvation," where all sin--the missing of the mark of life-is rooted out.
As was taught by the ancient church, those who are perfect in this
way are in a constant state of prayer, attentive to the realities that they
meet in daily life. They no longer respond to life out of self-interest,
but in love for the human beings that cross their path and in compassion
in the face of the terrors of history. They are, in the words of the
creation story in Genesis, restored to the original image of God in which
all human beings have been created.
John Wesley, in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, tells
us that in 1725, in his 23rd year, he read Bishop Taylor's Rule
and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. He resolved, he says, to
dedicate "all my life to God, all my thoughts, and words, and actions
. . . that
every part of my life must either be a sacrifice to God, or myself, that
is, in effect, to the devil."
Every person who has Christ within their heart, Wesley goes on to
argue, "is purified from pride: for Christ was lowly in heart. He is
pure from desire and self-will: for Christ desired only to do the will of
his Father. And he is pure from anger, in the common sense of the word,
for he is angry at sin while he is grieved for the sinner. He feels a
displeasure at every offense against God, but only tender compassion to