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The following is an excerpt from John Wesley’s sermon, The Repentance of Believers. In this season of Lent, where so many are focusing on practices to take on and to give up, this word from Wesley is a stark reminder that even attending to the “means of grace”, as important as that can be, will ultimately yield nothing by way of increased love or holiness of heart and life unless the Lord alone gives the increase. Take special note of the repetition in paragraph #19, where Wesley challenges any who believe different to experiment over and over again with this to see if they discover anything to the contrary.

As has often been noted, Wesley clearly shared John Calvin’s theology in at least one respect: total depravity. Human beings are utterly helpless to do anything to change, transform, or grow in holiness on their own. Such transformation is only because of God’s gift of grace – period.

For the full text of this sermon, click here.

17. A conviction of their utter helplessness is yet another branch of this repentance. I mean hereby two things: first, that they are no more able now of themselves to think one good thought, to form one good desire, to speak one good word, or do one good work, than before they were justified; that they have still no kind or degree of strength of their own; no power either to do good, or resist evil; no ability to conquer or even withstand the world, the devil, or their own evil nature. They can, it is certain, do all these things; but it is not by their own strength. They have power to overcome all these enemies; for “sin hath no more dominion over them;” but it is not from nature, either in whole or in part; it is the mere gift of God: nor is it given all at once, as if they had a stock laid up for many years; but from moment to moment.

18. By this helplessness I mean, Secondly, an absolute inability to deliver ourselves from that guiltiness or desert of punishment whereof we are still conscious; yea, and an inability to remove, by all the grace we have (to say nothing of our natural powers,) either the pride, self-will, love of the world, anger, and general proneness to depart from God, which we experimentally know to remain in the heart, even of them that are regenerate; or the evil which, in spite of all our endeavours, cleaves to all our words and actions. Add to this, an utter inability wholly to avoid uncharitable, and, much more, unprofitable, conversation: and an inability to avoid sins of omission, or to supply the numberless defects we are convinced of; especially the want of love, and other right tempers both to God and man.

19. If any man is not satisfied of this, if any believes that whoever is justified is able to remove these sins out of his heart and life, let him make the experiment. Let him try whether, by the grace he has already received, he can expel pride, self-will, or inbred sin in general. Let him try whether he can cleanse his words and actions from all mixture of evil; whether he can avoid all uncharitable and unprofitable conversation, with all sins of omission; and, lastly, whether he can supply the numberless defects which he still finds in himself. Let him not be discouraged by one or two experiments, but repeat the trial again and again; and the longer he tries, the more deeply will he be convinced of his utter helplessness in all these respects.

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