Saturday, November 15, 2008

John Wesley's Decalogue

John Wesley shared much in common with Lancelot Andrewes. A similar Anglican heritage moved them toward similar worship, prayer, confession, and moral life. However, in the time between Andrewes and Wesley stand some major shifts in the way the world was viewed. Men like Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau ushered in the period of the Enlightenment. So while Andrewes collected his orthodoxy with pastoral grace during the preEnlightenment, Wesley developed a polemical edge as he reacted to the cultural values challenging the authority of the Christian faith, including the Decalogue.

Dr Stephen Long from Marquette University presented Wesley’s thoughts on the Decalogue. Wesley rejected Luther’s dualistic categories, law and gospel. Rather, to Wesley, there is no contradiction between the two. He also followed in the paths of Calvin and the church fathers, linking Jesus with the Torah. Dr Long said that Wesley linked the two with such emphasis that Calvin’s paled by comparison. Further, like Calvin and Aquinas, Wesley interpreted civil, moral, and ceremonial divisions of the Law. Dr Long wondered aloud how far back these traditional divisions went.

Wesley’s theology of the Decalogue is truly Christocentric. From beginning to end, Wesley sees Christ pervading every part. First, he is prior to Creation, creating according to the blueprint of the eternal law, God’s nature. He is the “light of Creation” on the first day. Wesley used the term “light of Creation” on purpose, noting that the sun did not appear until the 4th day, but that there was light on the first day. It represented the Natural Law by which the world was created, existing before the world began. Thus, the Natural Law participates in the eternal law. This connection helped Wesley hold the law and gospel together without separation or contradiction.

Second, Christ is present in the giving of the Decalogue, capturing God’s nature there again. For Wesley, when God is speaking, it is always Jesus. Thus, it was Jesus at Mount Sinai, through whom the Decalogue came. After sin entered the world and obscured the Law given in the light of Creation on the first day, the Decalogue was given again to Moses. The Decalogue allowed people to join into relationship with God. (This, in my mind, is therefore an act of grace, and even Good News.) It directed them into life with God.

And finally, Jesus as Christ is the incarnation of God. The Natural Law could only be seen through Jesus, who shows us what living by it is to look like. Just as he met Moses on Mount Sinai, so also he met his people on another mount. And just as the Decalogue served to guide sinners into a relationship with God, the Beatitudes fulfill and surpass the Law in accomplishing the same thing.

All of this was bound up in Wesley’s moral teleology (end, purpose) of holiness and happiness, or “blessedness.” The Law was really a “religion of the heart” motivated by love. Wesley argued against the exclusive humanism—popular by this time—that replaced love for God with love for man alone. Wesley believed such a humanism apart from God could not preserve genuine humanness. Such an exclusivity was impossible because duty to neighbor was linked and dependent on duty to God. Love, for Wesley, fulfilled the Law, which in turn fulfilled the purpose of the commandments.

No comments: