Catholic Spirit - A Devotional Paraphrase

Sermon 39 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

2 Kings 10:15

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is the royal law, honored by even those who do not follow the one who said it. Jesus went on to expand our hearts and minds by challenging us to apply this word not only to our relatives, friends, or acquaintances, but to our enemies as well. We are called to do good to those that hate us, and to pray, even for those who persecute us, for God makes the sun to rise on all.

Practicing this love starts with us excelling in love for one another. We read it in scripture. “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35). And again, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. Those who do not love do not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

We may all affirm this word, but do we practice it? Experience reveals that we do not. There are two great hindrances. First, we do not all think alike, and second, we cannot all follow the same path. Nevertheless, while differences in opinion and style of worship may prevent a complete external union, these differences do not have to prevent an internal union. “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Even in our differences, we may uphold one another in love and in the good works to which we are all called.

In this respect, we may learn from the example of Jehu, as mixed a character as he was. When he met Jehonadab, he saluted him, and said, ‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?” Jehonadab answered, “It is.” To this Jehu responds, “If it is, give me your hand.”

Jehu does not ask about Jehonadab’s opinions or position. We know, for example, that Jehonadab lived by some strict rules about accumulating property and about drinking wine. We know that Jehu did not share the same scruples. We know Jehonadab focused his worship in Jerusalem and in a more formal way. Jehu did not. But neither of them focused on these differences, not in the face of what really matters.

Yes, this has implications for us today. We have different opinions. Some of us may even have the kind of personal convictions that Jehonadab had. Yet, it is certain that as long as we “see in part,” we will have different perspectives, especially in matters of religion. It has been this way since the beginning, and will be “till the restitution of all things.” Love demands that we allow everyone to follow the dictates of their own conscience on such matters and give their own account before God. In love, we allow each other the same liberty that we desire. And, at the same time, love demands that we uphold one another and find a way to come together. Seeing this unity, not as uniformity, but as harmony in love, we do not start by asking, do you have the same form of government? Or, do you pray the same way, or receive communion in the same way, or baptize in the same way? No. In the spirit of uniting in love we ask, “Is your heart right with mine, as my heart is with your heart?”

There are certain things implied in this question. A heart right with God is to know of God’s eternity, wisdom, power, justice, mercy, and truth, and to know that we are not God and not aware enough to judge others. It is to be found in Christ, not by our own righteousness, but his righteousness and love for us. It is to be filled with love for God and a desire to “magnify the Lord in all things and to rejoice in God our savior.” To have a heart that is right is to love your neighbor as a part of yourself, and to expand your heart even to your enemies. It is to show this love by good works to all.

If your heart is right with mine, then “give me your hand.” That is the next phrase. This does not mean to be of the same opinion. It doesn’t mean to embrace another’s form of worship, or another’s church government. I believe the Episcopal form of church government to be scriptural and apostolic. If you believe in the Presbyterian or Independent form, then follow it and act accordingly. I believe infants ought to be baptized and done by dipping or sprinkling. If you are otherwise persuaded, then follow your own persuasion. It seems to me that formal prayers are inspiring and instructive. If you think extemporary prayers are of more use, then employ this style. I have no desire to dispute with you on any of these matters. Let all these smaller points take a back seat to the possibility of joining hands in love.

The challenge is big, for we are to give this love even to a stranger and to show the same tender affection that we would to fellow brother or sister in Christ. We are to love all with patience and kindness, with a love that is not arrogant or rude, with a love that does not insist on its own way and always seeks what is good for the other (I Corinthians 13:1-8). We are to love, not in word only, but in good deeds and in truth. While retaining your own opinions and your own manner of worship, let us join with each other in the work of God and go forward hand in hand.

In this love, we learn what it means to live with a true catholic spirit. Such a spirit is not “speculative latitudinarianism.” It is not indifferent to opinions. Such “unsettledness of thought” is to be “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Those with a truly catholic spirit are fixed as the sun in judgment about the main points of Christian doctrine. While they are willing to listen and to grow from other perspectives, they are also clear about the rock upon which they stand. They do not vacillate between opinions or try to blend them in a muddled and confusing stance. This confusion and lack of rootedness is closer to the spirit of the antichrist than to Christ.

Next, a catholic spirit is not latitudinarianism in terms of practice. It is not indifferent to public worship or suggest that it doesn’t matter. It does matter to those seeking to grow from a particular type of experience. A person with a truly catholic spirit has weighed options and reflected deeper and has determined that, for them, a particular style of worship is right for them. It is both scriptural and rational. Therefore, without moving from here to there, this person plants themselves to this style and praises God for the opportunity to grow by doing so.

But while they are planted in particular religious principles so that they may grow, a part of this growth is to have our hearts enlarged towards all humankind, those we know and those we do not know. A catholic spirit embraces neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies, with the love of Christ. This is catholic or universal love.

Those with a catholic spirit give their hands to all whose hearts are right with their hearts. They especially rejoice for all who have found a community with which to worship and unite in the blessings of God. At the same time, they love all, of whatever opinion or worship or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who love God and humanity, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous for good works. These truly have a catholic spirit. May we all run the race which is set before us, in the royal way of God’s universal love. May we cheer each other on. Amen.