The General Deliverance

In 1772 John Wesley published a fascinating sermon titled “The General Deliverance.”  It is sermon 60 in the so-called official sermons.

In the sermon Wesley considers the state of nonhuman animals before the Fall, in the present, and upon the full restoration of creation.  In the original order of creation, Wesley argues, animals were not only immortal, they were rational and enjoying an existence of pure pleasure, beauty and goodness.    So too, he says, will they be in God’s restored creation.  They will return to their original beauty and understanding.  “No rage will be found in any creature, no fierceness, no cruelty, or thirst for blood.”

Wesley notes how animals suffer in our world, but argues that they too will have a reward and a deliverance:

Thus, in that day, all the vanity to which they are now helplessly subject will be abolished; they will suffer no more, either from within or without; the days of their groaning are ended. At the same time, there can be no reasonable doubt, but all the horridness of their appearance, and all the deformity of their aspect, will vanish away, and be exchanged for their primeval beauty. And with their beauty their happiness will return; to which there can then be no obstruction. As there will be nothing within, so there will be nothing without, to give them any uneasiness: No heat or cold, no storm or tempest, but one perennial spring. In the new earth, as well as in the new heavens, there will be nothing to give pain, but everything that the wisdom and goodness of God can create to give happiness. As a recompence for what they once suffered, while under the “bondage of corruption,” when God has “renewed the face of the earth,” and their corruptible body has put on incorruption, they shall enjoy happiness suited to their state, without alloy, without interruption, and without end.

Wesley also wondered whether animals might be elevated even higher in the restored creation:

“May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation? What, if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us “equal to angels,” to make them what we are now, — creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being?”

Perhaps when all of creation is restored and redeemed, animals will have the faculties of speech, reason and understanding that humans now have.

Anticipating an objection that is of no value to speculate about such things, Wesley defends his conjectures by saying:

They may encourage us to imitate Him whose mercy is over all his works. They may soften our hearts towards the meaner creatures, knowing that the Lord careth for them. It may enlarge our hearts towards those poor creatures, to reflect that, as vile as they appear in our eyes, not one of them is forgotten in the sight of our Father which is in heaven. Through all the vanity to which they are now subjected, let us look to what God hath prepared for them. Yea, let us habituate ourselves to look forward, beyond this present scene of bondage, to the happy time when they will be delivered therefrom into the liberty of the children of God.

If, as Wesley supposes, we shall share heaven with animals, restored to their intended goodness and faculties, then it would seem good to bring a little heaven to earth now, and to treat them with respect and care.

You can read Wesley’s entire sermon HERE and I highly recommend it.

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4 comments on “The General Deliverance

  1. shoreacres says:

    My goodness. I knew there was great environmental awareness in certain Methodist hymnody, but I never came across this. Very interesting, and worthy of a full read. Thanks!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m working on a master’s thesis on Wesley’s environmental ethics (specifically where his writings and teachings would locate him in the contemporary environmental/food movements). A fascinating and impressive man. He passionately believed in the intrinsic worth of all of creation.

      Like

  2. Bill, I’m delivering a paper entitled “Redemption in John Wesley’s “The General Deliverance”: Theological Hope vs. Biological Reality” at the upcoming Wesleyan Theological Society’s annual conference. Once I get some feedback on it, I’ll send it your way if you’d like. I’m glad to see others doing work in this area. Peace.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks! Please do. I’d love to see it. I’ve finished my thesis on a Wesleyan food ethic and I draw heavily upon “The General Deliverance.”

      Like

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