Monday, July 13, 2009

John Wesley's Espousal of Prayer for the Dead (also, approval of Luther and Lutherans)

By Dave Armstrong (7-13-09)

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of Methodism and a lifelong Anglican. From the book, John Wesley in Company With High Churchmen, Harrington William Holden, London: Church Press, 5th edition, 1872, pp. 84-87. Wesley's own words will be in blue.

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Wesley taught the propriety of Praying for the Dead, practiced it himself, and provided Forms, that others might. These forms, for daily use, he put forth, not tentatively or apologetically, but as considering such prayer a settled matter of Christian practice, with all who believe that the Faithful, living and dead, are one Body in Christ, in equal need and like expectation of those blessings which they will together enjoy, when both see Him in His Kingdom. Two or three examples, out of many, may be given: -- "O grant that we, with those who are already dead in Thy faith and fear, may together partake of a joyful resurrection." (x.40.) ". . . that we all together with those that now sleep in Thee, may awake to life everlasting." (p. 48.) "Bring us, with all those who have pleased Thee from the beginning of the world, into the glories of Thy Son's Kingdom." (p. 73.) "By Thy infinite mercies, vouchsafe to bring us, with those that are dead in Thee, to rejoice together before Thee," &c. (p. 77.) The Prayers passed through many editions, and were in common use among thousands of Methodists of every degree, who, without scruple or doubtfulness, prayed for those who sleep in Jesus every day that they prayed to the common Father of all. Insomuch that there are Methodists of the old school (still abiding in the Ship by Wesley's advice), who use them night and morning to this day, entirely undisturbed by the doubts which modern disputers have sought to cast upon the practice.

One such disputer (Bishop Lavington) did Wesley encounter, and notices him thus: -- "Your fourth argument is, That in a collection of Prayers, I cite the words of an ancient Liturgy -- 'for the Faithful Departed.' Sir, whenever I use those word in the Burial Service, I pray to the same effect: 'That we, with all those who are departed in Thy faith and fear, may have our perfect consummation of bliss, both in body and soul.' Yea, and whenever I say, 'Thy Kingdom come;' for I mean both the kingdom of grace and glory. In this kind of general prayer, therefore, for the Faithful Departed, I conceive myself to be clearly justified, both by the earliest Antiquity, by the Church of England, and by the Lord's Prayer." (1750.) xvi.345.

. . . "' 'Tis certain, Praying for the Dead was common in the second century:' you might have said, and in the first also (replied Wesley); seeing that petition, 'Thy Kingdom come.' manifestly concerns the saints in Paradise, as well as those upon earth." "Praying thus far for the dead, 'That God would shortly accomplish the number of His elect, and hasten His Kingdom,' you will not easily prove to be any corruption at all." xviii. 154, 155.

Having thus silenced these clerical disputants, Wesley re-published the above Prayers and continued the sale of them at all his preaching-houses as long as he lived. . . .

Exactly answerable to all this, are those awful words, in the prayer at the burial of the dead -- 'Beseeching Thee, that it may please Thee of Thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of Thine elect, and to hasten Thy Kingdom; that we. with all those who are departed in the true faith of Thy Holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in Thy everlasting glory.'" Ss. 1. 298. . . .

And in a Manuscript of Mr. Wesley's recently published for the first time; without date, but expressing the sentiment of his whole life as the above citations from his several Works sufficiently show; he says, "I believe it to be a duty to observe to pray for the Faithful Departed."

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Likewise, in what Martin Luther regarded as his final confession of faith in his 1528 work against the Zwinglians, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, he wrote as follows:
As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: 'Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.' And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice.

(Luther's Works, Vol. 37, p. 369)
Luther's approval of prayers for the dead given out of free devotion was shared in Luther's successor Philip Melanchthon's apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXIV, 94), where he wrote:
Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; . . .


Boik said...

I don't doubt that some in the early church prayed for the dead. Maybe Wesley did as well as Luther. Yet, I believe the crux of the Protestant argument is the thought that prayers are effectual for the souls in purgatory. Since neither of these men believed in purgatory, I don't see a real relevance other than to say that some men believed that one could pray for the dead.


Paul Hoffer said...

Hello Boik,

What would be the point of praying for the dead if there was no intermediate state? Can you provides us with an explanation as to how such prayers would be otherwise efficacious?

God bless!

Boik said...

Paul, have you ever read the Birth of Purgatory by medieval historian Jacques Le Goff? Here's an excerpt...

Finally, some of these texts describe a place which, though quite similar to the "bosom of Abraham," is not always identical with it: the refrigerium. A number of funerary inscriptions bear the words refrigerium or refrige-rare (refreshment, to refresh), either alone or in conjunction with the word pax (peace): in pace et refrigerium, esto in refrigerio (may he be in refrigerium), in refrigerio anima sua (may his soul be in refrigerium], deus refrigeret spiritum tuum (may God refresh his spirit).

An excellent philological study by Christine Mohrmann has clearly traced the semantic evolution of refrigerium from classical to Christian Latin: "Alongside these rather vague and shifting definitions, the words refrigerare and refrigerium took on, in Christian idiom, a very definite technical meaning: heavenly happiness. We find refrigerium used in this sense as early as Tertullian, in whose writing it denotes both the temporary happiness of souls awaiting the return of Christ in the bosom of Abraham, according to Tertullian's own conception of the matter, and the everlasting good fortune of Paradise, which is enjoyed by martyrs from the time they die and which is promised to the elect after the final divine verdict.. . Among later Christian writers refrigerium is used in a general way to denote the joys of the world beyond the grave, promised by God to the elect.

"Refrigerium has a special place in the prehistory of Purgatory only because of the personal conception of Tertullian, to which Mohrmann alludes in the above paragraph. Indeed, as we have seen, refrigerium denotes a quasi-paradisaical state of happiness and not a place. But Tertullian imagined a special kind of refrigerium, the refrigerium interim or "interim refreshment" reserved for certain of the dead, singled out by God as worthy of special treatment during the period of their death and the time of final judgment (Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. University of Chicago Press, pp. 46-47).


Ken Follis said...

Boik, did you ever notice you never answered Paul Hoffer's question?

Heather said...

Purgatory is scriptural. Hades/ Sheol/ Purgatory - all the same thing, just different languages. If purgatory doesn't exist, obviously praying for the souls of our departed, would matter not- yet, even in scripture, by one of the apostles, we see praying for the "dead".

In addition to Lazarus & the Bosom of Abraham, we know that Jesus descended into Hades/ Sheol/ Purgatory to retrieve the righteous souls.... How could this make sense w/o purgatory?

Chuck said...

Bo and Paul---
While it is true that neither Wesley nor Luther believed in the existence of Purgatory that does not mean they did not believe in an intermediate state. I have read very little of Luther's writings but I do know that Wesley accepted the existence of an intermediate state. He read a huge amount of the Eastern Fathers and his theology reflects it; it lends credence to the legend that he was ordained an Orthodox bishop (he wasn't). The Eastern Orthodox likewise deny Purgatory but accept an intermediate state--the Last Judgement hasn't happened yet. The "Good Thief" can be in Paradise, but that does not mean he is in heaven--not yet, at least. Is your eternal destiny fixed at death or at the Last Judgement? If death, why is there a Last Judgement? Since time (as we know it) does not exist in the hereafter--God is always present, not in the past or the future---why wouldn't prayer for the dead be effectual? God is in the present for both you and them at all times.