WESLEY & His Oxford Sermon on His Pre-conversion Journey: “I Was Almost a Christian”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I recently spoke at a conference in Orlando, and described John Wesley’s conversion this way: Wesley decided that rather than live a fair-weather, ‘summer region’ … he was now: all in. Afterwords two pastors told me they had recently preached sermon series on the theme ‘all in,’ and wished they had known this about Wesley. To help pastors preach such sermons, here is my colleague’s analysis of Wesley’s Oxford sermon, where Wesley explains to his colleagues that though he was once an Oxford student and instructor, he was really only “almost” a Christian. Now Wesley realizes an ‘almost Christian’ (or what some today call a ‘cultural Christian’) is insufficient to attain eternal life, but an ‘all together Christian’ (or as might be described in modern language as being all in) is what God expects.”

The Almost Christian by John Wesley, Oxford, 1741 (click link for entire sermon)

Analysis by Ken Schenck Ph.D., Wesley Seminary, 2/12/15.

This is a masterful little sermon. Wesley preached it at Oxford in 1741. It is masterful for the way it fits its context and for the way it builds its rhetoric.

The text is incredibly clever, Herod tells this to Paul in Acts 26, that Paul almost convinces him to be a Christian.

What Wesley does is he describes a very religious person, a very pious person. Indeed, he is describing himself as a “methodist” in the Holy Club when we was at Oxford before. How wonderful if we had lots of people in our churches who were “almost Christian” like he describes!

He builds to the “altogether Christian.” This is the person who loves God and neighbor truly. And at the climax of the letter he gets to the main point. This is the person who is justified by faith.

I wonder if today we should almost preach the sermon backward, since we have plenty who are justified but are hardly as dedicated as the almost Christian he describes.

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