One of my favourite of John Wesley’s sermons — compulsory reading for Methodist preachers — is the one entitled “Catholic Spirit”. In the original 18th century language, there is no denying that Wesley can be heavy going though! Here’s my abridgement of that sermon, in something like modern english.
John Wesley’s Sermon No. 34
An Abridgement in Modern English
And when he departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him; and he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours?” And Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.”
(2 Kings 10:15)
Whilst it is true that we are called to love all people, there is a special love we owe towards those who love God. (John 13: 34,35; 1 John 3: 11 et al) All Christians accept this, but how many practise it? There are two great hinderances: first, that Christians cannot all think alike and second (in consequence) they cannot all worship alike. But though we may have different opinions, and use different forms of worship, these should not stop us being united in love. We may not be of one mind, but we can surely be of one heart. The character of Jehu is worthy of our attention. We shall look at our text in two parts, first a question and then an offer.
First, the question put to Jehu to Jehonadab,”Is your heart true to my heart, as mine is to yours?”
He does not ask about Jehonadab’s opinions. We know that Jehonadab, being a Rechabite, would have very different views from those of Jehu, but Jehu is not concerned. Human beings, in their weakness will always be divided in their understanding. Though each person believes their opinions to be correct, even so we know that there will be some matters in which we are mistaken. It follows that the wise person does not insist on others agreeing with his opinions, but bears with them and asks only, “Is your heart true to my heart, as mine is to yours.”
Neither does Jehu ask about Jehonadab’s preferred style of worship, though again we can be sure that there would be differences between them. Human beings have always differed in their manner of worshipping God and this is as true amongst Christians as it is amongst the heathen. In matters of worship everyone must follow their own conscience and no one should be compelled to join any particular congregation (though every Christian is obliged to belong to some worshipping community). I would not impose my forms of worship on another, though I believe them to be true to the teaching of the apostles: my opinion is not a rule for another.
I do not ask someone else to be of my church, to agree with me about forms of church government or the manner in which the sacraments should be administered. These things are important, but not fundamental. My only question for now is this, “Is your heart true to my heart, as mine is to yours?”
We may ask what a follower of Christ might mean by this question. It implies all of the following: Do you believe in God and trust in his power? Do you know Jesus Christ? Is your faith filled with the energy of love? Above all, do you “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength” and “your neighbour as yourself”? Do you show this love by your actions? If these questions are answered positively, then “your heart is true to my heart, as mine is to yours.”
Second comes the offer:
“If it be, give me your hand”.
I do not mean, “be of my opinion” nor “I will be of your opinion”.
Let each of us continue to keep our own views without disputing them. I do not mean, “Let us worship in the same way,” for each of us must act as we think is best. I believe in the Episcopal form of church government; if you are persuaded that the Presbyterian or Independent forms are better, so be it. Act according to the light that you have, and I shall do the same.
“Give me your hand.”
First, I ask that you love me as a brother in Christ, a fellow citizen of heaven. Love me with patience and kindness, despite my faults and shortcomings. Second, I ask you to pray for me, that my faith and love may increase. Third, I ask you to provoke me to love and good works whenever you have the opportunity. Fourth, love me not only in your words, but in your deeds too and join with me in the work of God. I shall do the same for you. All Christians should live in mutual love as Christ has loved us.
What, then, is “a catholic spirit”? It most certainly is not an indifference to all opinions, or an inability to come to a settled view. A person of truly catholic spirit is firm in his own mind on the main points of Christian doctrine, though he will always be open to hear an alternative point of view. Nor does a catholic spirit mean indifference towards forms of worship; the person of catholic spirit will be convinced that a particular manner of worship is ‘the most scriptural and rational’. The “catholic spirit” is settled in a particular congregation, sharing in worship, prayer and fellowship. But in all this the “catholic spirit” looks outwards to the world embracing all with love; neighbour and stranger, friend and enemy.