On this day 2nd March 1791, Methodist founder, Rev John Wesley aged 88 died at his house in London following a final five day illness. He sang a final hymn “I ‘II Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath” and his reported final words were “Best of all is, God is with us.” Before his death, Wesley’s ministry did not only re-energised and transformed the expression of Christian faith in Britain and the world as his parish, ‘the country-wide character of his pastoral and preaching activity generated enthusiasm and helped raise the Methodist profile.’
One of the favourites hymns of John Wesley ‘I ‘II praise my make while I’ve breath’ is Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 146 (1674 – 1748). Watts is often called the “Father of English Hymnody.” Besty Ritchie’s account of watching John Wesley’s final days and hours states, “…some of those who were most used to hear our dear Father’s dying voice would be able to interpret his meaning; but though he strove to speak we were still unsuccessful: finding we could not understand what he said, he paused a little, and then with all the remaining strength he had, cried out, ‘The best of all is, God is with us”; and then, as if to assert the faithfulness of our promise-keeping Jehovah and comfort the hearts of his weeping friends, lifting up his dying arm in token of victory and raising his feeble voice with a holy triumph not to be expressed, again repeated the heart-reviving words, “The best of all is, God is with us!” For Wesley, the reality of God’s presence was what sustained and inspired him even in his final moments. Wesley words 228 years ago that God with us provides the best news everyday in such a time of division and violence and not just for our final day. The reflection from Wesley’s words on his deathbed is that God is the best, even in our best and worst moments of life. However, it is important to note that, ‘God’s presence is not the guarantee that worse will not come, but that God’s best for you will never leave’ us.
In Wesley’s journal entry of February 7, 1736, Wesley records his conversation with a Moravian pastor: “The Moravian pastor said, ‘My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?’ I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it, and asked, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ I paused, and said, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.’ ‘True,’ replied he; ‘but do you know he has saved you?’ I answered, ‘I hope he has died to save me.’ He only added, ‘Do you know yourself?’ I said, ‘I do.’ But I fear they were vain words.” The vain words became conviction and conversion words on May 24, 1738 on Aldergate Street when Wesley’s personal encountered Jesus Christ in a heart-warming experience. Wesley wrote, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This experience shows Wesley’s centrality to a vibrant and authentic faith, the claim of Jesus as Immanuel – God with us. For Wesley, religion is not just a static experience, but scriptural religion with Immanuel, God with us, God in man as the very root.
Wesley like the apostles knew the truth of the declaration, ‘best of all, God is with us,’ because he encountered Jesus – Immanuel – during his lifetime. Wesley’s death 228 years ago summons us to declare if you and I know the truth of this declaration. The reflection is that God is with us in times of danger. God is with us in difficult times. The Lord in difficult times can show us the way and He is the Light to our path. God is with us, heaven is not too far, Wesley and others will rise again. The best is yet to come, because the salvation history that began in a garden will soon end in a City where there shall be no weeping and violence. The form of this world is passing away but the best is yet to come for those who believe in Jesus Christ.
In the face of death, because the best of all is God with us, Wesley’s death calls us to retain an eternal perspective in our daily lives because “The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17). The best of all is one of the reasons believers are not to love the world. This is because, knowing the Scriptures, they realise that all that is in the world is ultimately transitory. Wesley’s death reminds us that death is much closer to all of us than we would like to think. The question is, if you had to meet death today, would you be happy with your life to say, the best of all is God with us? Would you be ready to leave your earthly life and position today with no regrets? Wesley answered this question with a resounding yes, because God is with him even on his sick bed. Wesley had when he died: 294 preachers, 71,668 British members, 19 missionaries (5 in mission stations), and 43,265 American members with 198 preachers. The best of all is not our colour, height, car, house, or degree. They can perish, but the best of all is the presence of Christ that drives away all fears and foes. The best of all is not about a god who simply secures our position in the world, but a God Who never fail and with Him, all things are possible.