Where His finger points, His hand makes the way

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In his late eighties, propped up on a sickbed in Balham, John Wesley penned a letter which turned out to be the last one he ever wrote. It was to a young politician, in his early thirties, who had set out to oppose the slave trade. His name was William Wilberforce.

Wesley had been a long-time opponent, and almost twenty years before (in 1774), he had written the influential Thoughts Upon Slavery. He referred to it as the “execrable sum of all villainies”.

Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, was active at the time in an unsuccessful attempt to pass abolition. Debate continued for many years and in 1807 the abolition of slavery was effected throughout the British Empire.

The text of the letter is given below and can be used to follow the aged, faltering hand of the still hearty Wesley. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa, who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold for a slave in Barbados. In 1757 -at age 12-  he was sent to England where he had become a Christian.

“24 February, 1791

Balham. England

Dear Sir:

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in all of our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!

That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley”

 

Wesley died just six days later.

It’s a remarkable letter, both informed and passionate, and says a great deal about Wesley’s own character and his approach to life.

Here’s the bit that really struck me: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might…”

The letter speaks about the relationship between God’s calling and God’s empowering. If you are unsure that God has called you to something, then you may well falter under pressure, but if you have that assurance, then you become unshakeable.

In the words of the old bumper-sticker: “If God brings you to it, God can bring you through it.”  The best way out is always through, after all.

And where His finger points, His hand makes the way.

Paul wrote in similar vein in Colossians 1:

“As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (Col 1:11-12 MSG)

So how does God work? And how, then, does He call us to work? In a quirky moment, Hal Borland referred to God working with “the patience of trees” and “the persistence of grass.”

I think he meant with quiet, unstoppable creative energy.

God works with a sense of loving purpose and intentionality; with a sense of a calling to duty, a summons-to-arms; He works with persistence, hand in hand with a holy passion; He works, seeing the end from the beginning.

Here’s an example from Exodus 3:

The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3:7-8)

It’s the heart-cry of the God of the incarnation. It’s how God is. It’s what God does: “I have seen… I have given heed… I am aware… I have come down…” I will not leave things as they are.

What Wesley knew, and what Wilberforce learnt, was that the more you understand how God works, the more you’ll understand about how to do the work set before you.

It’s never a quick sprint, with excited crowds cheering you on, but a long haul.

So “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”

It is God who has called you. It is God who empowers you to answer His call.Don’t be confused by distractions, wearied by opposition or worried by lack of results. He calls you to listen to the heart-cry of the world around you and to respond.

And if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might…”

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