In Doctrine, Gospel, Perspective, Theology

“The foundation of all our preaching is, and must be,” John Wesley claimed, “whosoever believeth on Him shall be saved”.1For over fifty years, from his conversion in 1738 to his death in 1793, Wesley preached the glorious, fundamental truth that salvation is received on the basis of faith alone in Christ alone. And God used Wesley’s preaching of the gospel to convert hundreds of thousands of people throughout Great Britain.

However, while God honoured Wesley, the religious and civil authorities of his day did not. For the doctrine of justification by faith had been so neglected by the established Church of England that when Wesley began to preach it the clergy and the judiciary took offence at it. They persecuted Wesley and his followers, who were scornfully known as Methodists.

One way that the authorities sought to silence the Methodists was to draft them into the army. Thousands of Methodist laymen and preachers were forcibly sent to fight in the wars that England was waging in Europe at the time. On one occasion a hostile magistrate issued a warrant to press Wesley himself “into the service of His Majesty”. Fortunately, the warrant was not enforced.2

On another occasion a constable seized a middle-aged miner who before his conversion had been notorious for his swearing and drunkenness. When Wesley asked what the authorities had against the miner, the arresting constable declared, “Why, the man is well enough in other things: but his impudence the gentlemen cannot bear. Why, sir, he says he knows his sins are forgiven!” This was the miner’s offence: he was certain that Christ had forgiven him. “And for this cause,” Wesley commented, “he is adjudged to banishment or death” on the battlefields of Europe or America.3

He says he knows his sins are forgiven! This was an affront to those who considered themselves to be socially superior to the converted miner. They believed that salvation was a reward, not a gift, of God. Consequently, they believed that a person could not know until the day of judgement whether or not he had been sufficiently good to satisfy God and to merit the reward.

However, Wesley’s preaching of justification by faith did away with all that. For if salvation is a gift and not a reward, it is possible to receive it now, in this life. A reward, because it is a payment for service rendered, cannot be received before the service has been completed. But a gift, because it is independent of service and merit, can be received at any time. Further more, if salvation is a gift that is received by faith, then faith itself is an evidence of salvation.

The “gentlemen” of Wesley’s day felt the arrested miner’s assurance of forgiveness arose from pure “impudence”. Likewise today, some people maintain that it is sheer arrogance and rank presumption for Christians to express certainty about their salvation. But they are wrong.

It is not impudence that moves a Christian to say, “I know my sins are forgiven.” It is confidence—confidence that God is as good as his word—confidence that he means it when he says, “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned” (John 3:18) and “Who-ever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). It is confidence that Christ “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), and as a consequence “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7), when we believe in him.

That dear Metho-dist convert long ago said that he knew his sins were forgiven. What about you? Do you know that your sins are forgiven?

If you are not a Christian, you can know it. And if you are a Christian, you should know it. For the Bible teaches that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) so that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). There is no uncertainty about this teaching.

Believe, then, and be forgiven—and be assured of that forgiveness!


1. John Wesley, The Works of Wesley: 1: WESLEY’S STANDARD SERMONS, edited and annotated by Edward H. Sugden (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1955), p.49.

2. John Pollock, John Wesley (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989), p.180-183.

3. ibid, p.182.

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