Faithful and Fruitful

The Unity of the Divine Being - A Devotional Paraphrase

Sermon 114 in the Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

The Unity of the Divine Being

Mark 12:32-33

 

There is one God, one religion, and one happiness for all. It is not possible for there to be more. Yet in another sense, as the Apostle Paul observes, “there are many gods and many lords.” In fact, the more polished we are, the more gods we tend to pile up. But to all who are favored with the Christian revelation, there is only one God.

But who can fully know this God? No one. We can only know what God is pleased to reveal. In light of the revelation we have received, there are some key words used to describe God. God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting. Who can comprehend this? God is the One who was and is and is to come. God is omnipresence, existing in infinite space and time. God fills the heaven and the earth. Next, God is omnipotent with no bounds to power and presence. With God, “all things are possible.” It is more than the human heart can conceive. These are, what we call, the “attributes of God.” In the words of James we read that all works are known to God, from every creature, from the beginning of the world, and even more, “from eternity.” God knows the end or purpose of everything that exists.

Holiness is a key term we use to describe the nature and character of God that has come to light for us through God’s revealed word. Throughout scripture, this holiness is characterized by justice, trust, patience and, above all, mercy. We read in a beautiful passage where Moses says, “I beseech you, show me your glory.” And the Lord descended in the cloud, and proclaimed the name of God. God says, “I am the Lord.” And then a definition is given. “The Lord is a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, faithfulness, and forgiveness.” (Exodus 34:5-6). This is a master text for us, illuminating the way of true holiness.

God is Spirit, without parts or passions like we have, separate from all matter, and able to call into being all that is. This God created us in God’s own image, to be a reflection of his own eternal holiness. The outcome of this holiness is happiness. God made all things to be happy, happy in God. The saying of the ancient fathers is so true: “Thou has made us for thyself, and our heart cannot rest till it finds rest in thee.” This observation gives us a clear answer to the question, “For what purpose did God create humankind?” The answer is, “To glorify and enjoy God forever.” We can say it, but do we understand it? This is the core principle that needs to be planted in every soul. “You are made to be happy in God.” Every child needs to know this. We cannot teach this too soon.

It might be easy for us to consider being happy with God in heaven, but being happy in God on earth may not enter our minds. Such thoughts are hard when we are surrounded by idols, all promising a happiness independent from God. These idols, these rivals of God, are innumerable. They include objects promising to gratify the desires of our sinful imaginations and our love of the world. These idols always leave us wanting.

This danger is found in religion as well. Any religion that does not imply the giving of our hearts to God is false religion. It is tempting, for example, to focus on a religion of opinions, which we call orthodoxy. Thousands fall into this snare, professing to hold “salvation by grace through faith,” but by “faith” only means a system of Arminian or Calvinist opinions. This also happens with “religion of forms,” of outward rituals and styles. We can turn these into idols as well, where they block rather than open us to the love of God. This also happens with “religion of works,” where we seek the favor of God by doing good, or by judging others. In a word, a religion where “God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” is not the Alpha and Omega, is the worship of a god that will leave us short of the joy that God wants for us.

True religion is a right temperament towards God and Creation. It is, in two words, gratitude and goodwill. It is gratitude to God that leads us to goodwill to others. Love of God opens the way for us to love our neighbor as a part of ourselves. This is at the heart of true religion. We cannot emphasize this too much. From this heart of religion flows the happiness for which we were made. We are happy first in the consciousness of God’s favor, which indeed is better than life itself. We are happy, next, in our constant communion with the Father, and with Jesus Christ. Then, we are happy in all the heavenly tempers, which are given by the Holy Spirit, by which our happiness increases as we “grow up into the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13).

But how little is this religion experienced? We need to hear the lamentation of a dying saint, Mr. Haliburton of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, who said: “I am afraid a kind of rational religion is more and more prevailing among us; a religion that has nothing of Christ belonging to it … even among those who call themselves Christians.” We live in a time when many focus on our “duty to neighbor” as the essence of religion and forget about our relationship with God. Philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hume have extolled humanity to the skies as the essence of religion, sparing no pains to establish a religion that should stand on its own foundation, independent of any revelation.

It is no wonder that this religion should grow fashionable. But call it what you please -- humanity, virtue, morality -- it is neither better nor worse than Atheism. This religion puts “asunder what God has joined” – love of God with love of neighbor. We cannot thrust God out of the world that God has made, perhaps believing that “since he gave things their beginning, and set this whirligig a-spinning, he had not concerned himself with these trifles, but let everything take its own course.” On the contrary, we have the fullest evidence that the eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, all-wise Spirit continually superintends whatever is created. God governs, from everlasting to everlasting. Whoever teaches happiness without God are monsters, and the pest of society.

We know, by scripture and by experience, that true happiness cannot be found until we discover that sin is the root of all misery and that the mercy of God is the remedy. By the blood of Jesus, we are redeemed or “brought back” into a relationship with God. By the Holy Spirit, the love of God is then “shed abroad in our hearts.” (Romans 5:5). By this love, we are transformed into humble, gentle, and patient witnesses to the ways of God, always thankful in every step for God’s abiding providence. This is true holiness. This is true happiness. The goodwill or benevolence that springs from this relationship is, what we can call, true religion.

Therefore, make this your desire – to walk in the path of God’s love. Beware of any who take only half of religion for the whole. Love God and love neighbor as yourself. Put no other rule before this one, and no other gods before this God, who is not the Creator only, but also the Redeemer, Sustainer, Preserver, Sanctifier, Comforter, Savior, Lord, and Friend. From God’s fountain let every action and affection flow in gratitude and good-will. Amen.