By: Doug Mason
One of the most popular sayings today is “No Fear.” What does it mean? To most it expresses an attitude that can stare death in the face and boldly shout, “No fear!” This expression, however, is not new. John Wesley, the great 18th Century preacher, had the same mentality. It came from his belief in God. John believed that having no fear of death was the ultimate test of faith in God. Perhaps you also have a belief (whether in God or something else) that gives the confidence to face anything—even death—without fear. Can you face death with peace and calmness in your heart? John Wesley believed that when the time came, he could. Can you echo the same attitude—no fear of dying?
In his youth, Wesley was taught that only persisting in good works to his dying day would please God. He became an ordained minister, and with the blessing of the church he went to America to preach about God. During his voyage many storms shook the ship fiercely—and also John’s beliefs. He wrote, “I have a fair weather religion. I can talk well, nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near. But let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.”
America was not any kinder to John than the storms at sea. He had more encounters with deadly situations that exposed his lack of true faith. In the end, however, it was his preaching that forced him to leave America and return to Europe. He called for standards of conduct to please God that none could attain (even himself). His trials and his own preaching from the Bible shook his beliefs greatly. He eventually wrote, “But what have I learned … that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.”
Near brushes with death brought the fear of meeting God before John Wesley. Most of us would admit the same uneasiness with death. When a deadly event unfolds we have great fear of dying, but as soon as we realize we will not die, the fears stop. We act as if we had somehow cheated death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.” John Wesley knew this and believed it. Why did he fear death? In his mind the answer was simple: He did not have true peace with God. Peace that comes from believing that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ can remove our sins. Wesley believed Christ died, but he had no peace. What about you? Does your belief give you deep and lasting peace?
Although he had no peace with God, John continued to preach. Eventually Wesley reached the point of despair, and confessed, “How can I preach to others of faith if I have none myself?” Some Christian friends asked him to attend a meeting. John listened limply as a man read the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It described the change God works in the heart of a person through faith in Christ. Wesley realized that he had never trusted Christ alone for salvation. He came to see that Christ died for him personally, and that Christ alone could save him from death.
John Wesley’s preaching was different now. He still told people they were sinners, as the Bible says: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He still declared that God will judge men and women for their sins. But Wesley no longer told people that they could please God by living better lives, or doing more good works, or keeping the 10 Commandments. He now preached that repentance toward God and faith in Christ alone brings salvation to the soul. Salvation is a gift: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Thousands flocked to hear this message and were saved. However, Wesley’s preaching was contrary to the state religion, so many people attacked him. Men threw rocks, clubbed him, and hit him with their fists—yet the fear he once felt was gone. He knew that when he died, he would immediately go to heaven. He now had no fear of facing God with his sins. Can you face death with the same confidence? Or do you fear what will happen five minutes after you die? You too can have No Fear: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).