An argument from “The Standards of Faith of the United Methodist Church” part 3

I am going to continue what began here and continued here. In the first to installments we focused on the Articles of Religion, specifically Article VI, in the context of the claims of moral law. The United Methodist church has other standards of faith as well, which we will briefly explore now.

The Standard sermons of John Wesley are indeed a standard of faith. We will use sermon 34 to establish where the moral law began, and then, from those beginnings, show how it relates to the topic at hand.

 “I shall, first, endeavour to show the original of the moral law, often called “the law,” by way of eminence. Now this is not, as some may have possibly imagined, of so late an institution as the time of Moses. Noah declared it to men long before that time, and Enoch before him. But we may trace its original higher still, even beyond the foundation of the world: to that period, unknown indeed to men, but doubtless enrolled in the annals of eternity, when “the morning stars” first “sang together,” being newly called into existence. It pleased the great Creator to make these, his first-born sons, intelligent beings, that they might know him that created them. For this end he endued them with understanding, to discern truth from falsehood, good from evil; and, as a necessary result of this, with liberty, — a capacity of choosing the one and refusing the other. By this they were, likewise, enabled to offer him a free and willing service; a service rewardable in itself, as well as most acceptable to their gracious Master.
To employ all the faculties which he had given them, particularly their understanding and liberty, he gave the a law, a complete model of all truth, so far as is intelligible to a finite being; and of all good, so far as angelic minds were capable of embracing it. It was also the design of their beneficent Governor herein to make way for a continual increase of their happiness; seeing every instance of obedience to that law would both add to the perfection of their nature, and entitle them to an higher reward, which the righteous Judge would give in its season. In like manner, when God, in his appointed time, had created a new order of intelligent beings, when he had raised man form the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath of life, and caused him to become a living soul, endued with power to choose good or evil; he gave to this free, intelligent creature the same law as to his first-born children, — not wrote, indeed, upon tables of stone, or any corruptible substance, but engraven on his heart by the finger of God; wrote in the inmost spirit both of men and of angels; to the intent it might never be far off, never hard to be understood, but always at hand, and always shining with clear light, even as the sun in the midst of heaven. Such was the original of the law of God. With regard to man, it was coeval with his nature; but with regard to the elder sons of God, it shone in its full splendour “or ever the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the round world were made.” But it was not long before man rebelled against God, and, by breaking this glorious law, wellnigh effaced it out of his heart; the eyes of his understanding being darkened in the same measure as his soul was “alienated from the life of God.” And yet God did not despise the work of his own hands; but, being reconciled to man through the Son of his love, he, in some measure, re-inscribed the law on the heart of his dark, sinful creature. “He” again “showed thee, O man, what is good,” although not as in the beginning, “even to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.””(sermon 34)

For Wesley, and thus as a standard of United Methodist faith, the moral law did not originate with Moses, or even Enoch as some have claimed, but originated from God Himself, inscribed onto His creation, first the angels, and then to humans. This was present at the beginning.

“But to return. The law of God (speaking after the manner of men) is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature: Yea, it is the fairest offspring of the everlasting Father, the brightest efflux of his essential wisdom, the visible beauty of the Most High. It is the delight and wonder of cherubim and seraphim, and all the company of heaven, and the glory and joy of every wise believer, every well-instructed child of God upon earth.” (sermon 34)

Here we see that not only is the moral law written upon man, from the beginning, it is indeed a part of the very nature of God, and as such must be conform to all of the other essential attributes of God, just, holy, good, and so forth. It is a part (and I stress here a part) of the Imago Dei that we are created in.  As the matter of sex between two of the same gender has been firmly established as being a part of the moral law, and been shown to be forbidden in the Old Testament passages, then the very act of sex between two of the same gender must be contrary to the divine nature and the eternal mind of God. It is contrary to the Imago Dei itself. As you can see, when dealing with the moral law, a Wesleyan is not simply deciding what is moral and what is not, but rather is gaining an insight into the very mind of God. No, that insight will not be complete of course, yet it still is insight into the nature and charter of God, and as such, because we are created with the Imago Dei, an insight into what God wrote upon the hearts of us all. The claim that the Articles of religion do not deal with sexual ethics, specifically the matter of sex between two of the same gender, is, in effect, to say that the eternal mind of God does is not concerned with such things. The whole council of scripture shows clearly that God is concerned with proper sexual expression between people.

Establishing the above, what then is the purpose of the moral law? First, it serves to convict us of sin, though this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Again sermon 34 outlines these purposes in some detail, but I will summarize them here. First, it convicts us of sin, through the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we might become dead to the works of the flesh. Secondly, it brings us to Christ. No, it does not save, but it does bring us to the savior. Third, it keep us alive by preparing us along the road of sanctification, that is to say that not only does the moral law lead us to Christ, but it keeps us with Christ as well. It stands to reason then that anything that is contrary to the moral law will have the opposite effect of the moral law. It will lead away from Christ, attempt to sever us from Christ, and instead of convicting us of sin, it will  convince us the the immoral is moral. In essence, those things contrary to the mind of God, will not lead us to God.

It has thus been established that sexual morality is indeed a part of the moral law, that sex between two of the same gender is a prohibited action under the moral law, that the moral law is indeed a part of the perfect nature of God and thus subject to the other attributes of God, and finally showed the purpose of the moral law for us now, and forever more. This has been done through the Articles of Religion, and now through Wesley’s standard sermons as well. In the next installment, I will use further illustrations from Wesley’s sermons, as well as illustrations from Wesley’s notes on the New Testament. This continues here.

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