Salvation is not deliverance from hell

The furore about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has drawn a lot of attention to hell. But surely we Christians should be focusing our attention elsewhere. For John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, oil on canvas, circa 1766John Wesley was surely right when he wrote (as quoted by John Meunier):

By salvation I mean, not barely, according to the vulgar notion, deliverance from hell, or going to heaven; but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth.

— From John Wesley’s “A Further Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion”

Sadly far too many people still have this “vulgar notion”, coupled with an unbiblical longing for a Rapture to take them quickly away from this world. Our biblical calling is quite different: not just to seek the personal restoration which Wesley writes about, but also to work towards the restoration of our world according to biblical principles.

0 thoughts on “Salvation is not deliverance from hell

  1. Peter,
    As one committed to accuracy, clarity and naturalness, I think you need to translate Wesley’s words into modern English. My understanding is that ‘vulgar’ in that time had more the sense of ‘common’ than the meaning which ‘vulgar’ has for modern readers. No one could dispute Wesley’s belief in Hell as a place of eternal punishment. Here is another quote from a sermon entitled “Of Hell” (Sermon 73).
    “As for our pains on earth, blessed be God, they are not eternal. There are some intervals to relieve and there is some period to finish them. When we ask a friend that is sick, how he does; ‘I am in pain now,’ says he, ‘but I hope to be easy soon.’ This is a sweet mitigation of the present uneasiness. But how dreadful would his case be if he should answer, ‘I am all over pain, and I shall never be eased of it. I lie under exquisite torment of body, and horror of soul; and I shall feel it for ever!’ Such is the case of the damned sinners in hell. Suffer any pain, then, rather than come into that place of torment!”

  2. I do agree to a large extent with Wesley by the way, when he states that salvation is not barely deliverance from hell as in the common understanding of many but that it includes present deliverance, restoration, recovery and renewal. I would not go as far as he would in asserting that we can attain sinless perfection in this life.
    Wesley did not wish deemphasize the importance of people’s eternal destiny, but he was concerned that people understand that salvation begins at new birth, not simply after death.

  3. Paul, thank you for your comments, and especially for pointing out the changing meaning of “vulgar”. I understood and used that sense, but maybe not all my readers will understand that. But the common notion of heaven and hell is at best incomplete and misleading.

    Let me just clarify that neither Wesley nor I are denying the reality of hell or that salvation includes deliverance from it. We are not universalists as Rob Bell has been accused of being. I think “barely” is another word that has changed its meaning since Wesley’s time. Thus Wesley really meant “not only … but also”, or perhaps “not most importantly … but most importantly”. That is the version I would agree with. What exactly is hell is another question.

  4. Pingback: Election: not to be saved but to save others - Gentle Wisdom

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