Reflections on Sermon 57: “On the Fall of Man”

Reflections on Sermon 57: “On the Fall of Man”

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” —Genesis 3:19

The opening line of John Wesley’s sermon, “On the Fall of Man,” poses a question nearly as old as humankind and proposes an answer that would have sparked no controversy in his day and great controversy in ours. “Why is there pain in the world; seeing God is ‘loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works?’ Because there is sin.”

Sin. What’s the big deal?

Beloved NTS professor Dr. Ralph Earle wrote these still-relevant prophetic words in 1950: “The trouble with most of the current discussions of human problems and their proposed solutions is that they deal with symptoms rather than causes. War, class hatred, industrial strife, divorce, murder, suicide, juvenile delinquency and general unrest; the staggering crop of social and economic ills and evils – all these are only symptoms of an inner disease. That disease is sin” (D. Shelby Corlett, editor. The Second Work of Grace. 1950, Beacon Hill Press).

Sin. What’s the big deal?

God’s covenant with Abraham, the Old Testament sacrifices, messianic prophecies, Jesus’ testimony about Himself, the apostles’ witness to Jesus, and the consistent witness of two millennia of orthodox Christian teaching all broadly touch upon God’s plan to redeem humanity from sin. The entire Judeo-Christian story illuminates how sin separated all humans from their created purpose of living in a perfect relationship with Him and how Christ died to restore everyone to that purpose.

Sin. What’s the big deal?

“Wesley thought that a solid doctrine of original sin was required for two reasons: first, to free God of the charge of being responsible for humankind’s sinful condition, and then to exalt the gospel of justification, new birth, and especially, transforming, sanctifying grace” (Thomas Oden. John Wesley’s Teachings, Vol. 1).

To deemphasize sin is to devalue the very story of God, the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and the cleansing and empowering work of His Holy Spirit. That our first parents sought to become the god of their own lives in the garden is the first and greatest tragedy of human history. Only when God is worshiped and His glory is revealed do we recognize the gravity of sin.

The final lines of Wesley’s sermon say it all: “This is now the noblest theme of all the children of God on earth; yea, we need not scruple to affirm, even of angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven. "Hallelujah," they cry. "To the King of the sky, To the great everlasting I AM; To the Lamb that was slain, And liveth again, Hallelujah to God and the Lamb!"

Scott Sherwood is the district superintendent of the Northwestern Illinois District Church of the Nazarene.

To read the full text of the sermon, click here

Written for Coffee Break