Monday, December 12, 2011

Heavenly Rewards

Wesley's list of Prudential Means includes self-denial and cross carrying as disciplines that usually help Christians to grow in grace.  These means of grace are drawn from Matthew 16: 24 (parallels in Luke 9:23 and Mark 8:34), "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."  In his comment on this verse, Wesley taught that these disciplines are steps that help us advance towards perfection.  His doctrinal sermon on this topic explains that failure to use these means of grace frequently leads to backsliding.

In a non-doctrinal sermon, Wesley argued that, in heaven, those who denied themselves and took up their crosses will be "more excellent" Christians and will have more stars in their crown than the lower order of Christians who only followed the General Rules.

I have not found anything in the UM doctrinal standards that describe the nature of the heavenly rewards.  Speculating on what the rewards will be is not a preoccupation of UM doctrine.  For Wesley, Rev. 22:12 ("Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every one as his work shall be.") was clear and required no elaboration.

Is the notion that works do not merit salvation but do merit some type of heavenly reward, which will be proportionally (not equally) distributed, intelligible to you?


John Meunier said...

I'd love some instruction on distinguishing between a doctrinal and non-doctrinal sermon. I've never thought of Wesley's sermons using those categories and do not know how to sort them out.

On your question: The idea of greater rewards in heaven for some is problematic for me, but Jesus' language about the first being last and the last being first suggest hierarchy. Neither does Jesus reject the notion that some will sit at his right hand.

Our democratic impulses suggest to us that ranks are not holy. Platonic conceptions of heaven and the kingdom suggest that lower levels of glory suggest imperfection -- something is lacking that others have -- which is not possible in a Platonic heaven.

It is a difficult notion for me, but I cannot dismiss it on Scriptural grounds. Maybe others can.

John Meunier said...

I forgot to tag e-mail follow-up, so here is a second comment to do that.

LA said...

Sermons 1-53 are the doctrinal sermons. They were the sermons in the American edition of Wesley's Works when in 1784 the ME Church adopted the sermons contained in the first four volumes of Wesley's Works as one of the new Church's doctrinal standards (along with Wesley's Notes and the Articles of Religion). Those standards are retained in the UM Constitution with the addition of the EUB Confession of Faith.

John Meunier said...

Of course. I misunderstood how you were using the word "doctrinal." I thought it was a reference to the content of the sermon, not the standards of the Methodist Church.

I see now.