John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 21

*Praying Away the Darkness

He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.

Lamentations 3:33 NASB

Of the various causes of the wilderness state, I dare not rank the bare, arbitrary, sovereign will of God, for he rejoices in the prosperity of His servants and delights not to afflict or grieve the children of men. His invariable will is our sanctification, attended with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He never desires to withdraw His gifts from us (see Romans 11:29); He never deserts us, as some speak. It is we who desert Him.

The most usual cause of inward darkness is sin of some kind, either of commission or omission. This may be observed to darken the soul in a moment, especially if it is a known, a willful, or presumptuous sin. But light is more frequently lost by giving way to sins of omission. This does not immediately quench the Spirit, but gradually and slowly.

The neglect of private prayer, or the hurrying over it, is perhaps the most frequent sin of omission. This lack cannot be supplied by any other means whatever; the life of God in the soul will surely decay and gradually die away.

Another neglect which brings darkness to the soul of a believer is not rebuking a “neighbour” when we see him in a fault but we “suffer sin upon him” (Leviticus 19:17 KJV). By neglecting to reprove him, we make his sin our own. We become accountable for it. By thus grieving the Spirit of God, we lose the light of His countenance.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this twenty-first lesson on prayer, Wesley quickly boils down the cause of the wilderness state of the soul to two main factors: neglect of private prayer and the failure to rebuke a neighbor who is in sin. Since we have dealt with a lack of private prayer in other lessons, let us look at what Wesley was getting at with “not rebuking a ‘neighbour’ when we see him in a fault but we ‘suffer sin upon him.’” Let us read Leviticus 19:16-18 to place verse 17 in context: “You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (NASB).  

From a sermon on verse 17, Wesley writes, “I now have only a few words to add, unto you, my brethren, who are vulgarly called “Methodists.” I have never heard or read of any considerable revival of religion which was not attended with a spirit of reproving. I believe it cannot be otherwise; for what is faith unless it worketh by love? Thus it was in every part of England when the present revival of religion began about fifty years ago: all the subjects of that revival—all the Methodists, so called, in every place—were reprovers of outward sin….Come, brethren! In the name of God, let us begin again! Rich or poor, let us all arise as one man! And in any wise let every man “rebuke his neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him”! Then shall all Great Britain and Ireland know that we do not go “a warfare at our own cost.” Yea, “God shall bless us, and all the ends of the world shall fear him.” (WJW 2:520)[i]

Wesley’s point is that to rebuke one’s neighbor is showing love in the same way not slandering, hating, taking vengeance, or bearing a grudge is. It is loving your neighbor as yourself. To not point out a fellow believer’s sin, that is, your neighbor’s sin, is to offer no need for repentance in their life. As Wesley says in this lesson, “By neglecting to reprove him, we make his sin our own. We become accountable for it. By thus grieving the Spirit of God, we lose the light of His countenance.” Our lack of reproving becomes an open door to our own darkness, a sin of omission with serious consequences.


[i] Strawn, Brent A. 2020. Leviticus. [ed.] Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall. Wesley One Volume Commentary. Nashville : Abingdon Press, 2020, p. 83.

Published by doctorpaddy

An ordained minister, Christian communicator, and educator.

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