Wednesday with the Wesleys

III. 1. One inference we may make from what has been said: we may learn from hence what is a catholic spirit. There is scarce any expression which has been more grossly misunder stood and more dangerously misapplied than this, but it will be easy for any who calmly consider the preceding observations to correct any such misapprehensions of it and to prevent any such misapplication. For, from hence we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not specula tive latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions. This is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro and tossed about with every wind of doc trine” [cf. Eph. 4:14], is a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true Catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles. But as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of, who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit only because you are of a muddy understanding, because your mind is all in a mist, because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jum bling all opinions together. Be convinced that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of anti christ. Go first and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.

2. From what has been said we may learn, secondly, that a catholic spirit is not any kind of practical latitudinarianism. It is not indifference as to public worship or as to the outward manner of performing it. This, likewise, would not be a blessing but a curse. Far from being an help thereto, it would, so long as it remained, be an unspeakable hindrance to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. But the man of a truly catholic spirit, having weighed all things in the balance of the sanctuary, has no doubt, no scruple at all, concerning that particular mode of wor ship wherein he joins. He is clearly convinced that this manner of wor shipping God is both scriptural and rational. He knows none in the world which is more scriptural, none which is more rational. Therefore, with out rambling hither and thither, he cleaves close thereto and praises God for the opportunity of so doing.

3. Hence we may, thirdly, learn that a catholic spirit is not indifference to all congregations. This is another sort of latitudinarianism, no less absurd and unscriptural than the former. But it is far from a man of a truly catholic spirit. He is fixed in his congregation as well as his prin ciples. He is united to one, not only in spirit but by all the outward ties of Christian fellowship. There he partakes of all the ordinances of God. There he receives the Supper of the Lord. There he pours out his soul in public prayer, and joins in public praise and thanksgiving.There he rejoices to hear the word of reconciliation, the gospel of the grace of God. With these his nearest, his best-beloved brethren, on solemn occasions he seeks God by fasting. These particularly he watches over in love, as they do over his soul, admonishing, exhorting, comforting, re proving and every way building up each other in the faith. These he regards as his own household, and therefore, according to the ability God has given him, naturally cares for them and provides that they may have all the things that are needful for life and godliness.

4. But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles, in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus, while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight, and while he is united by the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation, his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic or uni versal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: catholic love is a catholic spirit.

John Wesley “Catholic Spirit”

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