A Blow at the Root





John Wesley

(b. June 28, 1703 – d. March 2, 1791)


“Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” — Luke 22:48.


1. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Nothing under heaven can be more sure than this; “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. And though heaven and earth pass away, yet His word shall not pass away.” As well therefore might God fall from heaven, as His word fall to the ground [Heb 12:14; Micah 4:4; Matt 5:18]. No, it cannot be; none shall live with God, except those who now live to God; none shall enjoy the glory of God in heaven, except those who bear the image of God on earth; none who are not saved from sin here can be saved from hell hereafter; none can see the kingdom of God above, unless the kingdom of God be in them below. Whosoever will reign with Christ in heaven, must have Christ reigning in them on earth. They must have that mind in them “which was also in Christ Jesus,” enabling them “to walk as Christ also walked” [Phil 2:5; 1 Jn 2:6].

2. And yet as sure as this is, and as clearly as it is taught in every part of the Holy Scripture, there is scarce one among all the truths of God, which is less received by men. It was indeed acknowledged in some degree, even among the wiser Heathens. Some among them allowed, that nothing would please God, but the sancti recessus mentis, et incoctum generoso pectus honesto; “a virtuous, holy mind, and a heart deep-dyed with generous honesty.” But though they could not deny, yet how easily & effectually did they evade this! They imagined something else would do as well; that some rites or ceremonies, some external forms, or glorious actions, would serve as a suitable substitute for inward holiness. And so, Virgil (the ancient Roman poet) entitles to future happiness, not only the good and virtuous, but all

Ob patriam pugando vulnera passos,

Quique pii vates, et Phaebo digna locuti;

Inventas aut qui vitam excoluere per artes.[see note 2]

So, to fight for their country, to write good verses, or to invent useful arts, was abundantly sufficient, in the judgment of the wisest Heathens, to give men a place in heaven!

3. But this would not pass with modern Romans [i.e. Roman Catholics]. They despised such gross imaginations. But though they did not allow such things, they found out another way to get to heaven without holiness. They, instead, substituted penances, pilgrimages, praying to saints and angels; and, above all these, masses for the dead, absolution by a Priest, and extreme unction. And these satisfy the Romanists just as much as lustrations did the Heathens. Thousands of them make no manner of doubt that by a diligent use of such things, without any holiness at all, they shall see the Lord in glory.

4. However, Protestants will not be satisfied in that way. They are convinced that whoever leans on such things is in fact leaning on the staff of a broken reed. This hope is no better than a spider’s web. But what then can the Protestants do? How shall they hope to see God without holiness? Why, by doing no harm, generally doing good, going to the church and receiving the sacraments. And many thousands are content with this, believing that they are on the high road to heaven.

5. But many Protestants see that this is not much better than the way of Roman Catholicism. They know that although no one can be a real Christian without carefully abstaining from all evil, using every means of grace at every opportunity, and doing all possible good to all men; yet a man may go thus far, may do all this, and still be a Heathen. They know this religion is also superficial & skin-deep. Therefore, it is not Christianity; for that lies in the heart; it is worshipping God in spirit and in truth; it is no other than “the kingdom of God within us;” it is the life of God in the son of man; it is the mind which was in Christ Jesus; it is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” [Jn 4:24; Lk 17:21; Phil 2:5; Rom 14:17].

6. Besides, they see that nominal Christianity in general (whether it be shallower or deeper) does not stand on the right foundation; since “other foundation” for true religion “can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Christ Jesus,” [1 Cor 3:11] since no one can have the mind which was in Christ, till they are justified by His blood, till they are forgiven & reconciled to God through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. And none can be justified (they are so very well assured), except by faith, even faith alone or faith only; seeing that for the person who only “believes on God who justifies the ungodly,” their faith is “counted” to them “for righteousness” [Rom 4:5].

7. Now what sort of evasion do we see now? What way could Satan take to make all this light of none effect? What could be done when that grand truth, “By grace ye are saved through faith,” was more and more generally received [Eph 2:8]? What, indeed, but to persuade the very men who had received it to “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness” [Jude 4]? To this end, Simon Magus [the alleged founder of Gnosticism] appeared again, and taught that: “Christ had done, as well as suffered, all; that because His righteousness was imputed to us, we need none of our own; that as there was perfect obedience, infinite righteousness & absolute holiness in Him, none is needed in us; that to think we have any, or to desire or seek any, is to renounce Christ; that from the beginning to the end of salvation, all is in Christ, nothing in man; and that those who dare to teach otherwise are Preachers of legalism, and know nothing of the gospel.” So says Simon Magus and those who adhere to his teachings.

8. This is indeed “a blow at the root,” the root of all holiness, all true religion. The result of such a pernicious teaching is that Christ is “stabbed in the house of His friends,” even in the house of those who make the largest claims of loving & honoring Him. By means of this false doctrine, the whole design of Jesus’ death, namely, “to destroy the works of the devil,” [1 Jn 3:8] is overthrown in a single stroke. For wherever this doctrine is cordially received, it leaves no place for holiness. This doctrine demolishes holiness from top to bottom; it destroys it both root & branch. It effectually tears up all desire for holiness and quenches all zeal for it. It forbids all such exhortations that might excite a person to desire & strive for holiness. Nay, it causes professing Christians to be afraid of personal holiness, afraid of cherishing any thought of it, or motion toward it, lest they should deny the faith, and reject Christ and His righteousness. So that, instead of being “zealous for good works” [Titus 2:14], which ought to characterize God’s people, these “good works” end up being a stench in their nostrils. Those who profess to follow Jesus, therefore, end up being infinitely more afraid of doing “the works of God,” than of doing “the works of the devil.”

9. This is wisdom! However, it is not the wisdom of the saints, but rather, it is wisdom from beneath. This is nothing other than the masterpiece of Satan! This is the pinnacle of his success! He has caused professing Christians to believe that they can be holy, even when there is not a single grain of holiness residing in them! They think they are holy in Christ, regardless of how unholy they are in themselves. They are supposedly in Christ, without one jot of the mind that was in Christ. They are supposedly in Christ, even though their [old] nature is whole in them. They are “complete in Him” [Col 2:10], even though they are, in themselves, as proud, as vain, as covetous, as lustful & passionate as ever. They think that they can continue in unrighteousness because Christ has “fulfilled all righteousness” [Matt 3:15].

10. “O ye simple ones, how long will ye love simplicity” [Prov 1:22]? How long will we “seek death in the error of your life” [Wisd. of Solomon 1:12]? “Know ye not,” regardless of who says otherwise, “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” [1 Cor 6:9a]? “Be not deceived” [1 Cor 6:9b]; although there are many who lie in wait to deceive, and even do so under the fair pretense of exalting Christ; — a pretense which the more easily steals upon you, because “to you He is precious” [1 Pet 2:7]. But as the Lord lives, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” [1 Cor 6:9b-10]. “Such” indeed “were some of you. But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified,” as well as “justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” [1 Cor 6:11]. You are really changed; you are not only accounted, but actually “made, righteous.” “For the law” — the inward power — “of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made” you “free” — really, actually free — “from the law” or power “of sin and death” [Rom 8:2]. This is liberty, true gospel liberty, experienced by every believer: Not freedom from the law of God, or the works of God, but from the law of sin and the works of the devil. See that ye “stand fast in” this real, not imaginary “liberty, wherewith Christ hath made you free” [Gal 5:1]. And take heed ye “be not entangled again,” by means of these vain boasters, “in the yoke of” that vile “bondage to sin,” from which ye are now clean escaped. I testify unto you, that if you still continue in sin, Christ shall profit you nothing; that Christ is no Savior to you, unless He saves you from your sins; and that unless it purify your heart, faith shall profit you nothing [Gal 5:1-2; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 2:19-20; James 4:8; Matt 5:8, Rom 6, etc.]. When will you understand that to oppose either inward or outward holiness under the pretense & appearance of exalting Christ is to directly play the part of Judas, i.e. to “betray the Son of man with a kiss” [Lk 22:48]? Repent, repent! Lest, He cut you in two with the two-edged sword that comes out of His mouth [Rev 1:16]! It is you yourselves that—by opposing the very purpose of His coming into the world—are crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame [Heb 6:6]. It is you that—by expecting to see the Lord without holiness, though the righteousness of Christ—“make the blood of the covenant an unholy thing,” [Heb 10:29] keeping those unholy who trust in it in such an unholy manner. Beware! Evil is before you! If non-Christians or unbelievers will be punished seven-fold upon dying in their sins, then surely professing Christians who make Christ a minister of sin by perpetuating such a doctrine shall be punished seventy-and-seven fold! What! Make Christ destroy His own kingdom? Make Christ an agent for Satan? Set Christ against holiness? Talk of Christ as saving His people in their sins? It is no better than to say, ‘He saves them from the guilt, and not from the power, of sin.’ Will you make the righteousness of Christ such a cover for the unrighteousness of man? So that, by this means, “the unrighteous” of every kind “shall inherit the kingdom of God!” Stop! Consider! What are you doing? You did run well: Who hath bewitched you? Who hath corrupted you from the simplicity of Christ, from the purity of the gospel? You used to know that: “Whosoever believeth…is born of God,” and that “whosoever is born of God sinneth not;” but while “he that is begotten of God keepeth himself…that wicked one toucheth him not” [1 Jn 5:1a, 18]. O come back to the true, the pure, the old gospel! Come back to that which you received in the beginning. Come back to Christ, who died to make you a holy people, “zealous of good works” [Titus 2:14]. “Remember from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works” [Rev 2:5]. Your “Father has been working until now” [Jn 5:17], therefore, you also must work—else your faith is vain. For “wilt thou know, O vain man,” O empty man, “that faith without works is dead” [James 2:20]? Wilt thou know that “though I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing” [1 Cor 13:2]? Wilt thou know, that all the blood & righteousness of Christ, unless “that mind be in thee which was in Him,” [Phil 2:5] and thou likewise “walk as Christ walked,” [1 Jn 2:6] will only increase thy damnation? “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about strife of words, whereof come railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” [1 Tim 6:3-5]. Be no longer afraid of the strongest exhortations either to inward or outward holiness. By such means God the Father is glorified, and God the Son truly exalted. Do not stupidly and senselessly call this legalism, — a silly, meaningless word. Be not afraid of being “under the law of God.” Rather, fear being under “the law of sin.” Love the strictest preaching best; that which most searches the heart and shows you wherein you are unlike Christ; and that which presses you most to love Him with all your heart & serve Him with all your strength.

11. Permit me to warn you of another silly, meaningless phrase: Do not say, “I can do nothing.” If so, then you know nothing of Christ; then you have no faith: For if you have faith, if you believe, then you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens you” [Phil 4:13]. You can love Him and keep His commandments; and to you His “commandments are not grievous” [1 Jn 5:3]. Grievous to them that believe! Far from it. They are the joy of your heart. Show then your love to Christ by keeping His commandments, by blamelessly walking in all His ordinances. Honor Christ by obeying Him with all your might, by serving Him with all your strength. Glorify Christ by imitating Christ in all things, by walking as He walked. Keep to Christ by keeping in all His ways. Trust in Christ to live and reign in your heart. Have confidence in Christ that He will fulfill in you all His great and precious promises, that He will work in you all the good pleasure of His goodness, and all the work of faith with power. Cleave to Christ, until His blood has cleansed you from all pride, all anger, all evil desire. Let Christ do all. Let Him that has done all for you, do all in you. Exalt Christ as a Prince to give repentance; a Savior both to give remission of sins, and to create in you a new heart, to renew a right spirit within you. This is the gospel, the pure, genuine gospel; glad tidings of great salvation. Not the new, but the old, the everlasting gospel, the gospel not of Simon Magus [i.e. not of Gnosticism], but of Jesus Christ. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you, “according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that, being rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height; and to know that love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God!” [Eph 3:16-19]


[1] This is a slightly revised & updated version of John Wesley’s article, which is found in The Works of John Wesley, 3rd Edition, Volume 10, chap 25, p. 364-369.

[2] These lines from Virgil (who died in 19 B.C.) have been translated into English as follows:

“Patriots who perish’d for their country’s right,

Or nobly triumph’d in the field of fight:

There holy priests and sacred poets stood,

Who sung with all the raptures of a god;

Worthies who life by useful arts refined,

With those who leave a deathless name behind,

Friends of the world, and fathers of mankind.”

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