February 3, 2011

Wesley & the Dehumanizing Beastliness of Sin

One recurring theme in John Wesley's sermon on "The General Deliverance" is the contrast between human beings and animals, the "brute creation" as he terms it. For Wesley, the key difference between the two is that humanity is capable of knowing, loving, and enjoying God while the brutes are not. This leads him to conclude that those humans who are "without God in the world" have been reduced to the level of animals. So Wesley:
If it is this which distinguishes men from beasts,-that they are creatures capable of God, capable of knowing and loving and enjoying him; then whoever is "without God in the world," whoever does not know or love or enjoy God, and is not careful about the matter, does, in effect, disclaim the nature of man, and degrade himself to a beast...These sons of men are undoubtedly beasts; and that by their own act and deed; for they deliberately and wilfully disclaim the sole characteristic of human nature. It is true, they may have a share of reason; they have speech and they walk erect; but they have not the mark, the only mark, which totally separates man from the brute creation...They are equally without God in the world; "so that a man" of this kind "hath no pre-eminence above a beast" (III.11, emphasis added).
Key is the connection that he makes between degradation to the level of beast and the deliberate and willful nature of the action. Desiring to rule ourselves freely rather than be ruled by the good and wise Creator, we become enslaved to dehumanization. It is humanity's rebellion that leads to our ruin; it is sin that makes man no more than a beast.

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