Charles John Huffam Dickens said, “Strange tales
have been told in the wanderings of dying men.” According to him, ‘tales so
full of guilt and crime, that those who stood by the sick person’s couch have
fled in horror and affright, lest they should be scared to madness by what they
heard and saw; and many a wretch has died alone, raving of deeds, the very name
of which, has driven the boldest man away.’ What was a strange and dreadful
tales told in the wandering of dying men was a spiritual testimony for John
Wesley at the approach of death. As people wait and watch for the approach of
death for John Wesley, when all human hope was gone and recovery impossible, it
was inspiring to hear the dearest secrets of Wesley’s warmed heart.
John Wesley at the end of his life’s work, as he lay dying on Wednesday, March 2, 1791, aged 88 ‘is said to have raised his arms into the air and, with all his remaining strength, cried out twice, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Wesley’s final words, as a means of ‘unpacking a theological truth or re-telling a biblical narrative’ reminds us of the countless and equipped local networks of inspired early Methodist Christians. Today, Wesley’s final word still provides a means of re-energising and renewing the expression of Christian faith and Methodism in particular.
The Rev Loraine Mellor in her 2017 presidential address to the Methodist Conference, she expressed her fear and nightmare on the current state of the Methodist church. According to her, “My fear and my nightmare, is that as a church we will decline so much we will go out of existence as Methodists, we will not have many people around but we will be very rich as there are millions of pounds locked away in church funds.” Three years after, and coupled with the challenges and impacts of the new normal of Covid-19, Rev Richard Teal and Carolyn Lawrence, the President and the Vice President, Methodist Conference have chosen the final words of John Wesley as the 2020 theme for the Methodist year, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’ This theme contains a wealth of missional truth, a source of hope to a declining church in an age of Covid-19.
Laurence Wareing, editor of Singing the Faith Plus in his article on the hymn, ‘Best of all is God is with us’ by Andrew Pratt explained that the trajectory of the hymn deepens us where faith is frail. ‘Best of all is God is with us,’ is about God’s surrounding presence meeting ‘with our own response of love, growing strong, undiminished’ in faith. According to Wareing “Best of all” becomes an anchor to cling to when the going gets tough, as well as an exclamation of delight when the life of faith feels smooth. “Best of all” is both memory and destination. As memory, at Aldersgate (to which Andrew alludes: “hearts are challenged, strangely warmed”) it rebooted Wesley’s ministry.’ Wareing explained that ‘Wesley’s words … insist on God’s presence beyond, surrounding and sometimes despite our experience … a summation of the Methodist motivation towards active discipleship …’
Wesley’s word, ‘Best of all is, God is with us,’ provides an anchor for a declining church in an age of Covid-19 to cling to. ‘Best of all is, God with us,’ reminds us of Methodist spirituality shaped by the strangely warmed heart practical theology. Wesley’s words, ‘Best of all is, God is with us’ summons a declining church to remain faithful by pursuing God’s presence beyond the new normal challenges of Covid-19 and post-truth culture. Apostle Paul in Romans 8 provides further understanding of God’s surrounding presence which appears from the gift of Himself, His Son, and His Spirit, and all the blessings of grace and glory. Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” thereby comparing earthly opposition and problems to the eternal power and presence of Almighty God. Best of all is, God is with us, in the sense that God is on our side; God is working on our behalf and for our good. God has proved His benevolence in that He has adopted us, given us His Spirit, and He has determined to save us (verses 15-17, 26-27, 29–30).
‘Best of all is, God is with us’ reminds us what God is to His people and what He has done for us. Apostle Paul makes this affirmation clearer with the question, “If God is with us, who can be against us?” The use of the word ‘if’ denote a conclusion, a consequence or an affirmation signifying ‘since – Best of all is.’ God is with us is an assurance that nothing or no one can successfully be against us bearing in mind there are many opposing forces against Christians (Is 54:17, Jer 1:19, 1Jn 4:4). God is with us in the face of condemnation, sin, sinful nature, sufferings, decay, pain, weakness, and the Devil (Rom 8: 1, 2, 8, 18, 21, 26).
Let us look at seven ways to affirms God’s surrounding presence over us and what should be our response. We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16). We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because He has settled the question of our sin. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because He has given us His Spirit. We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because He has adopted us into His family and has made us joint-heirs with His Son (Rom 8:14-17). We know that the best of all is God is WITH and FOR us because He has promised that all things will work together for our good (verse 28). We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because of the declared purpose of His grace. We know that the best of all is, God is WITH and FOR us because He has guaranteed our eternal security.
If the best of all is, God is with us and for us, are you with God and for God? Are you on God’s side? To be with God and on God’s side is to obey Him and His words. The best of all is, God was with Adam and Eve but they disobeyed God. God was with Judas, but he betrayed God. God’s surrounding presence demands our personal and corporate response of faithful obedience and love for His word. Best of all is, God is with is us, is about walking with God in the light of His word and not in the light, standard and definition of this world. Frances Havergal, beyond the military image in one of her famous hymns, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side,’ summons us to respond to God’s surrounding presence, to be on the Lord’s side, serving him, as His helpers, bringing other lives to His presence (soul winning), leaving the world’s side and ready to go for Him in mission and evangelism. Indeed, ‘He whom Jesus saveth marches on His side … For His truth unchanging makes the triumph sure.’ Beloved, we are ‘Chosen to be soldiers, in an alien land, Chosen, called, and faithful, for our Captain’s band; In the service royal, let us not grow cold, Let us be right loyal, noble, true and bold. Master, wilt Thou keep us, by Thy grace divine, always on the Lord’s side—Savior, always Thine!’