Bishop Thomas Secker’s dark diagnosis in 1738 of the 18th century England historical moment suggests a time of spiritual and moral decline when ‘gin and gambling were destroying the lives of poor and rich alike.’ It was indeed an age of Dick Turpin, crime figures were so high, there was so much danger from highway men and footpads that Horace Walpole wrote, ‘One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle.’ The disease that Secker, a high-ranking Anglican bishop and other statemen could not successfully prescribe a realistic cure has become a major significance of John Wesley’s legacy for the world today. To Wesley, the main danger of the time was ‘formalism … mere outside religion.’ Fred Sanders in his book ‘Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love, explained that, Wesley in protest against formalism and intellectualism challenged the ‘strong delusion’ of mistaking idea of saving faith, against a shallow moralism that substitute good works for true religion. Wesley was not anti-intellectual but has concern of people twisting and investing doctrinal orthodoxy into ‘a strategy for avoiding the presence of God.’ Wesley warned the church leaders to go higher and deeper than mere outside religion, saying ‘let thy religion be the religion of the heart.’ To Wesley, the heart of the church problem is the problem of the human heart.

To the churchmen of Wesley’s day, ‘religion is only a well ordered train of words and actions … believe in the essential goodness of humanity, the inevitable march of progress, and the bright future of decent people rightly governed.’ The churchmen failed to understand how bad humanity really was, forgetting that ‘pleasing to flesh and blood, are utterly irreconcilable with the scriptural.’ Wesley in one his sermons, (sermon 44), entitled Original Sin (Total depravity), describes and compares the human predicament to the heart of man prior to the flood with that of man after the flood. With reference to Gen 6:5, ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ The inward condition of the heart, the human seat of understanding points to the inward nature and fountain of sin.[1] Wesley defines Original Sin as follows: ‘[Christianity] declares that all men are conceived in sin,” and “shapen in wickedness;” — that hence there is in every man a “carnal mind, which is enmity against God, which is not, cannot be, subject to” his “law;” and which so infects the whole soul, that “there dwelleth in” him, “in his flesh,” in his natural state, “no good thing;” but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil,” only evil, and that continually.’ Barrett explained that, ‘sin could never be a private matter, but corrupted the whole race, which consisted of men born out of true relation with God and condemned constantly to worsen their relationship whether they carelessly ignored it or self-righteously essayed to mend it. Like planets robbed of the centre of their orbit they could not possibly keep a proper course.’[2] The heart as the centre of a natural man is ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ hence a man, dead in trespasses and sins, is a man, dead in heart, dead in leadership and membership.

What has ever been source of the problem and decline whether in the church or educational system is about the dead hearts that crowds the system. The reflection is that by nature we are wholly corrupted by general flood of sin, atheism, idolatry, pride, self- will and love of the world. According to Wesley, the natural man as a sinner can only understand spiritual things by God’s help and through keeping ‘to the plain, old faith, “once delivered to the saints,” and delivered by the Spirit of God to our hearts. Know your disease! Know your cure! Ye were born in sin: Therefore, “ye must be born again,” born of God. By nature ye are wholly corrupted. By grace ye shall be wholly renewed. In Adam ye all died: In the second Adam, in Christ, ye all are made alive.’ The humbleness to know our disease is a pointer to know our cure, and the cure  to all the elements of the soul corrupted by sin is God through Jesus Christ. For Wesley, no one can come to the Father, except through Jesus Christ who is able to cure our incurable heart disease. Wesley explained that, ‘God heals all our atheism by the knowledge  of Himself, and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; by giving us faith, a divine evidence and conviction of God, and of the things of God …. By repentance and lowliness of heart, the deadly disease of pride behind hypocrisy is healed; that of self-will by resignation, a meek and thankful submission to the will of God; and for the love of the world in all its branches, the love of God is sovereign remedy.’

In our humanistic time of global disorder, all the way to the human heart, we stand in need of healing of heart. Using the words of Wesley, a heart problem requires a heart solution and not just mere formalism. Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed, then many hearts were strangely warmed and in one generation, families were healed, Bible literacy grew, a nation was changed, church attendance grew, church hymns replaced vulgar pop-sung tunes, and slave trade was abolished. True religion has to be heart religion because the human problem is a heart problem. Heart as the organ of engagement with what is real suggests healing of heart as a commitment to personal conversion and the basis for corporate spiritual reawakening. Wesley’s preaching prompted Methodism to be labelled for the upsurge of heart religion, a modern parallel of ‘born again.’ The labelling informed the use of the word ‘heart’ as the link between the diverse Scripture Wesley pulls together to make up definition and character of a Methodist. When the mission of Methodist church is not practised with ‘warmed heart,’ and understood within the mission of God and the pre-eminence of the scripture, it may experience decline and death. Methodism stand in urgent need to rediscover the Gospel in all its converting and healing power. Serious business of ‘saving of souls’ must be a top priority in our local churches, circuits, synods, and Conference, hence we need to rediscover the pre-eminence and authority of the Bible as the Word of God over a century of scholarship. Healing of heart as Wesley’s legacy calls us to hear the music of God’s future and dance to it today. Wesley’s Aldersgate experience is a true gift to a declining and struggling church. The METHOD of the Methodist way is the ‘warmed heart’ as the source of true Christianity, effective leadership, and worship.  Let us join Wesley to ‘pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfilll God’s creational intentions.’

[1] Sermons on Several Occasions John Wesley

[2] Barrett, C. K, A Commentary on the Epistle to The Romans, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1962), p. 119