Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791) teaches from this text: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Acts 26:28.
He will illustrate what is meant by an ‘Almost Christian’ then describe what a Christian is.
An Almost Christian has these traits: Heathen honesty: “they ought not to be unjust; not to take away their neighbour’s goods; not to oppress the poor; neither to use extortion toward any; not to cheat or overreach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them; to defraud no man of his right; and, if it were possible, to owe no man anything.”
Second: a form of godliness. The details are thorough in defining godliness.
“Accordingly, the almost Christian does nothing which the gospel forbids he taketh not the name of God in vain; he blesseth, and curseth not; he sweareth not at all, but his communication is, yea, yea; nay, nay he profanes not the day of the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger that is within his gates he not only avoids all actual adultery, fornication, and uncleanness, but every word or look that either directly or indirectly tends thereto; nay, and all idle words, abstaining both from detraction, backbiting, talebearing, evil speaking, and from “all foolish talking and jesting”—eutrapelia, a kind of virtue in the heathen moralist’s account;—briefly, from all conversation that is not “good to the use of edifying,” and that, consequently, “grieves the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”
He abstains from “wine wherein is excess”; from revellings and gluttony. He avoids, as much as in him lies, all strife and contention, continually endeavouring to live peaceably with all men. And, if he suffer wrong, he avengeth not himself, neither returns evil for evil he is no railer, no brawler, no scoffer, either at the faults or infirmities of his neighbour. he does not willingly wrong, hurt, or grieve any man; but in all things act and speaks by that plain rule, “Whatsoever thou wouldest not he should do unto thee, that do not thou to another.”
And in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. In spite of toil or pain, “whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth it with his might;” whether it be for his friends, or for his enemies; for the evil, or for the good. For being “not slothful” in this, or in any “business,” as he “hath opportunity” he doeth “good,” all manner of good, “to all men;” and to their souls as well as their bodies. he reproves the wicked, instructs the ignorant, confirms the wavering, quickens the good, and comforts the afflicted. he labours to awaken those that sleep; to lead those whom God hath already awakened to the “Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,” that they may wash therein and be clean; and to stir up those who are saved through faith, to adorn the gospel of Christ in all things.”
“…….also the means of grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. he constantly frequents the house of God…No; he who has even this, behaves with seriousness and attention, in every part of that solemn service. More especially, when he approaches the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or careless behaviour, but with an air, gesture, and deportment which speaks nothing else but “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
There needs but one thing more in order to his being almost a Christian, and that is, sincerity. (III.) 9. By sincerity I mean, a real, inward principle of religion, from whence these outward actions flow
Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied in the being almost a Christian; a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will. It is necessarily implied, that a man have a sincere view of pleasing God in all things; in all his conversation; in all his actions; in all he does or leaves undone. This design, if any man be almost a Christian, runs through the whole tenor of his life. This is the moving principle, both in his doing good, his abstaining from evil, and his using the ordinances of God.
Apparently this was Wesley’s life before his conversion in 1738 at Aldersgate, He says,”I did go thus far for many years…..Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.”
So now what is meant to be an Altogether Christian?
First, love of God and second, love of neighbor and third believe. Now belief or faith possesses these qualities: “the faith which bringeth not forth repentance, and love, and all good works, is not that right living faith, but a dead and devilish one.”
Faith: It is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that, by the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; whereof doth follow a loving heart, to obey his commandments.” “…..which “purifies the heart” (by the power of God, who dwelleth therein) from “pride, anger, desire, from all unrighteousness” from “all filthiness of flesh and spirit;” which fills it with love stronger than death, both to God and to all mankind; love that doeth the works of God, glorying to spend and to be spent for all men, and that endureth with joy, not only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict,—whosoever has this faith thus working by love is not almost only, but altogether, a Christian.”
Wesley concludes the sermon with a reminder of what is meant to be an Altogether Christian and he exhorts his hearers to call upon the Lord to become an Altogether Christian. He concludes with this benediction:
“May we all thus experience what it is to be, not almost only; but altogether Christians; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus; knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ; rejoicing in hope of the glory of God; and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us!”