John Wesley’s Famous “Sermon 60,” exploring the spirituality of animals

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reaching more than 200 years ago, the Rev. John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) was a daring, controversial and extremely popular evangelist. The electricity of his preaching, which appealed to huge crowds in his day, may not flow easily through the printed records of his messages today. He preached from an earlier English translation of the
Bible, rarely heard in mainline churches today, and—to our ears—his own words sound closer to Shakespeare than to modern evangelists.

What follows are highlights from his famous: Sermon No. 60, numbered that way in later collections of his most important messages. The entire text is available from multiple online sources today. Nevertheless, wading
through Wesley’s sometimes arcane or convoluted language is worth the challenge. The stirring power of his appeal for compassion on behalf of animals is unmistakable. And his early voice on this important spiritual issue demonstrates that this isn’t a post-modern fad.

The sermon was called:…

The Great Deliverance

“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the
manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to
vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same
in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the
bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain
together until now.”
    (Romans 8:19-22 was the scriptural text for this sermon.)

Nothing is more sure than that as “the Lord is loving to every man,” so “his
mercy is over all his works;” all that have sense, all that are capable
of pleasure or pain, of happiness or misery.
    In consequence of this, “He openeth his hand, and filleth all things living with
plenteousness. He prepareth food for cattle,” as well as “herbs for the
children of men.” He provideth for the fowls of the air, “feeding the
young ravens when they cry unto him.
    “He sendeth the springs into the rivers, that run among the hills, to give drink to every beast
of the field,” and that even “the wild asses may quench their thirst.”
And, suitably to this, he directs us to be tender of even the meaner
creatures; to show mercy to these also. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox
that treadeth out the corn” — a custom which is observed in the
eastern countries even to this day.
    And this is by no means contradicted by St. Paul’s question: “Doth God take care for oxen?”
Without doubt he does. We cannot deny it, without flatly contradicting
his word. The plain meaning of the Apostle is: Is this all that is
implied in the text? Hath it not a farther meaning? Does it not teach
us, we are to feed the bodies of those whom we desire to feed our
souls? Meantime it is certain, God “giveth grass for the cattle,” as
well as “herbs for the use of men.”

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ut how are these Scriptures reconcilable to the present state of things?
How are they consistent with what we daily see round about us, in every
part of the creation? If the Creator and Father of every living thing
is rich in mercy towards all; if he does not overlook or despise any of
the works of his own hands; if he wills even the meanest of them to be
happy, according to their degree; how comes it to pass, that such a
complication of evils oppresses, yea, overwhelms them?
    How is it that misery of all kinds overspreads the face of the earth? This is a question which has puzzled the wisest philosophers in all ages: And it
cannot be answered without having recourse to the oracles of God. But,
taking these for our guide we may inquire,

I. What was the original state of the brute creation?

II. In what state is it at present? And,

III. In what state will it be at the manifestation of the children of God?

    We may inquire, in the First place, What was the original
state of the brute creation?
    And may we not learn this, even from the place which was assigned them; namely, the garden of God? All the beasts of the field, and all the fowls of the air, were with Adam in
paradise. And there is no question but their state was suited to their
place: It was paradisiacal; perfectly happy. Undoubtedly it bore a near
resemblance to the state of man himself. By taking, therefore, a short
view of the one, we may conceive the other.
    Now, “man was made in the image of God.” But “God is a Spirit:” So therefore was man. (Only that
spirit, being designed to dwell on earth, was lodged in an earthly
tabernacle.) As such, he had an innate principle of self-motion. And
so, it seems, has every spirit in the universe; this being the proper
distinguishing difference between spirit and matter, which is totally,
essentially passive and inactive, as appears from a thousand
experiments. He was, after the likeness of his Creator, endued with
understanding; a capacity of apprehending whatever objects were brought
before it, and of judging concerning them. He was endued with a will,
exerting itself in various affections and passions: And, lastly, with
liberty, or freedom of choice; without which all the rest would have
been in vain, and he would have been no more capable of serving his
Creator than a piece of earth or marble; he would have been as
incapable of vice or virtue, as any part of the inanimate creation. In
these, in the power of self-motion, understanding, will, and liberty,
the natural image of God consisted.

    …

    To this creature, endued with all these excellent faculties, thus
qualified for his high charge, God said, “Have thou dominion over the
fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living
thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28.) And so the Psalmist:
“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: Thou
hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the
beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and
whatever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:6, etc..) So
that man was God’s vicegerent upon earth, the prince and governor of
this lower world; and all the blessings of God flowed through him to
the inferior creatures. Man was the channel of conveyance between his
Creator and the whole brute creation.

    But what blessings were those that were then conveyed through man
to the lower creatures? What was the original state of the brute
creatures, when they were first created?
    This deserves a more attentive
consideration than has been usually given it. It is certain these, as
well as man, had an innate principle of self-motion; and that, at
least, in as high a degree as they enjoy it at this day. Again: They
were endued with a degree of understanding; not less than that they are
possessed of now. They had also a will, including various passions,
which, likewise, they still enjoy: And they had liberty, a power of
choice; a degree of which is still found in every living creature. Nor
can we doubt but their understanding too was, in the beginning, perfect
in its kind. Their passions and affections were regular, and their
choice always guided by their understanding

    What then is the barrier between men and brutes? The line which
they cannot pass? It was not reason. Set aside that ambiguous term:
Exchange it for the plain word, understanding: and who can deny that
brutes have this? We may as well deny that they have sight or hearing.
    But it is this: Man is capable of God; the inferior creatures are not.
We have no ground to believe that they are, in any degree, capable of
knowing, loving, or obeying God. This is the specific difference
between man and brute; the great gulf which they cannot pass over. And
as a loving obedience to God was the perfection of man, so a loving
obedience to man was the perfection of brutes. And as long as they
continued in this, they were happy after their kind; happy in the right
state and the right use of their respective faculties. Yea, and so long
they had some shadowy resemblance of even moral goodness. For they had
gratitude to man for benefits received, and a reverence for him. They
had likewise a kind of benevolence to each other, unmixed with any
contrary temper.
    How beautiful many of them were, we may conjecture
from that which still remains; and that not only in the noblest
creatures, but in those of the lowest order. And they were all
surrounded, not only with plenteous food, but with every thing that
could give them pleasure; pleasure unmixed with pain; for pain was not
yet; it had not entered into paradise. And they too were immortal: For
“God made not death; neither hath he pleasure in the death of any
living.”

    How true then is that word, “God saw everything that he had made:
and behold it was very good!” But how far is this from being the
present case! In what a condition is the whole lower world! — to say
nothing of inanimate nature, wherein all the elements seem to be out of
course, and by turns to fight against man. Since man rebelled against
his Maker, in what a state is all animated nature! Well might the
Apostle say of this: “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth
together in pain until now.” This directly refers to the brute creation
In what state this is at present we are now to consider.

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    As all the blessings of God in paradise flowed through man to
the inferior creatures; as man was the great channel of communication,
between the Creator and the whole brute creation; so when man made
himself incapable of transmitting those blessings, that communication
was necessarily cut off. The intercourse between God and the inferior
creatures being stopped, those blessings could no longer flow in upon
them.

    …

    Not only the feebler creatures are continually destroyed by the stronger; not only the strong are frequently destroyed by those that are of equal strength; but both the one and the other are exposed to the violence and cruelty of him that is now their common enemy: man.

    And if his swiftness or strength is not equal to theirs, yet his art more than supplies that defect. By this he eludes all their force, how great soever it be; by this he defeats all their swiftness; and, nevertheless their various shifts and
contrivances, discovers all their retreats. He pursues them over the
widest plains, and through the thickest forests. He overtakes them in
the fields of air, he finds them out in the depths of the sea. Nor are
the mild and friendly creatures who still own his sway, and are duteous
to his commands, secured thereby from more than brutal violence; from
outrage and abuse of various kinds.
    Is the generous horse, that serves his master’s necessity or pleasure with unwearied diligence —
    Is the faithful dog, that waits the motion of his hand, or his eye — exempt
from this?
    What returns for their long and faithful service do many of
these poor creatures find? And what a dreadful difference is there,
between what they suffer from their fellow-brutes, and what they suffer
from the tyrant man!

    The lion, the tiger, or the shark, gives them pain from mere necessity, in order to prolong their own life; and puts them out of their pain at once: But the human shark, without any such
necessity, torments them of his free choice; and perhaps continues
their lingering pain till, after months or years, death signs their
release.

    But will “the creature,” will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought! While “the whole
creation groaneth together,” (whether men attend or not,) their groans
are not dispersed in idle air, but enter into the ears of Him that made
them. While his creatures “travail together in pain,” he knoweth all
their pain, and is bringing them nearer and nearer to the birth, which
shall be accomplished in its season. He seeth “the earnest expectation”
wherewith the whole animated creation “waiteth for” that final
“manifestation of the sons of God;” in which “they themselves also
shall be delivered” (not by annihilation; annihilation is not
deliverance) “from the” present “bondage of corruption, into” a measure
of “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

    Nothing can be more express!
    Away with vulgar prejudices, and let
the plain word of God take place. They “shall be delivered from the
bondage of corruption, into glorious liberty”—even a measure,
according as they are capable—of “the liberty of the children of
God.

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    A general view of this is given us in the twenty-first chapter of
the Revelation. When He that “sitteth on the great white throne” hath pronounced, “Behold, I make all things new;” when the word is
fulfilled, “The tabernacle of God is with men, and they shall be his
people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God” — then
the following blessing shall take place (not only on the children of
men; there is no such restriction in the text; but) on every creature
according to its capacity: “God shall wipe away all tears from their
eyes. And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying.
Neither shall there be any more pain: For the former things are passed away.”

    To descend to a few particulars: The whole brute creation will
then, undoubtedly, be restored, not only to the vigor, strength, and
swiftness which they had at their creation, but to a far higher degree
of each than they ever enjoyed. They will be restored, not only to that
measure of understanding which they had in paradise, but to a degree of
it as much higher than that, as the understanding of an elephant is
beyond that of a worm.
    And whatever affections they had in the garden
of God, will be restored with vast increase; being exalted and refined
in a manner which we ourselves are not now able to comprehend. The
liberty they then had will be completely restored, and they will be
free in all their motions. They will be delivered from all irregular
appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is
either evil in itself, or has any tendency to evil. No rage will be
found in any creature, no fierceness, no cruelty, or thirst for blood.
So far from it that “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard
shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion together; and
a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed
together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt
nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:6, etc..)

    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 storm, 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.

    But though I doubt not that the Father of All has a tender regard
for even his lowest creatures, and that, in consequence of this, he
will make them large amends for all they suffer while under their
present bondage; yet I dare not affirm that he has an equal regard for
them and for the children of men. I do not believe that: He sees with equal eyes, as Lord of all, A hero perish, or a sparrow fall.
    By no means. This is exceeding pretty; but it is absolutely false. For though Mercy, with truth and endless grace, O’er all his works doth reign, Yet chiefly he delights to bless His favorite creature, man.

    God regards his meanest creatures much!
    But he regards man much
more. He does not equally regard a hero and a sparrow; the best of men
and the lowest of brutes. “How much more does your heavenly Father care
for you!” says He “who is in the bosom of his Father.” Those who thus
strain the point, are clearly confuted by his question, “Are not ye
much better than they?” Let it suffice, that God regards everything
that he hath made, in its own order, and in proportion to that measure
of his own image which he has stamped upon it.

    But, 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? If it should be so,
ought our eye to be evil because he is good? However this be, he will
certainly do what will be most for his own glory.

    If it be objected to all this, (as very probably it will,) “But
of what use will those creatures be in that future state?” I answer
this by another question, What use are they of now? If there be (as has
commonly been supposed) eight thousand species of insects, who is able
to inform us of what use seven thousand of them are? If there are four
thousand species of fishes, who can tell us of what use are more than
three thousand of them? If there are six hundred sorts of birds, who
can tell of what use five hundred of those species are? If there be
four hundred sorts of beasts, to what use do three hundred of them
serve? Consider this; consider how little we know of even the present
designs of God; and then you will not wonder that we know still less of
what he designs to do in the new heavens and the new earth.

    “But what end does it answer to dwell upon this subject, which we
so imperfectly understand?” To consider so much as we do understand, so
much as God has been pleased to reveal to us, may answer that excellent
end — to illustrate that mercy of God which “is over all his works.”
And it may exceedingly confirm our belief that, much more, he “is
loving to every man.” For how well may we urge our Lord’s words, “Are
not ye much better than they?” If, then, the Lord takes such care of
the fowls of the air, and of the beasts of the field, shall he not much
more take care of you, creatures of a nobler order? If “the Lord will
save,” as the inspired writer affirms, “both man and beast,” in their
several degrees, surely “the children of men may put their trust under
the shadow of his wings!”

    May it not answer another end; namely, furnish us with a full
answer to a plausible objection against the justice of God, in
suffering numberless creatures that never had sinned to be so severely
punished? They could not sin, for they were not moral agents. Yet how
severely do they suffer! — yea, many of them, beasts of burden in
particular, almost the whole time of their abode on earth; So that they
can have no retribution here below. But the objection vanishes away, if
we consider that something better remains after death for these poor
creatures also; that these, likewise, shall one day be delivered from
this bondage of corruption, and shall then receive an ample amends for
all their present sufferings.

    One more excellent end may undoubtedly be answered by the
preceding considerations. 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.

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