John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. He lead an interesting life and you can read about him here and more about him and his family, here. Many of his sermons, but by no means all of them, were collected by Wesley and published as Sermons on Several Occasions.
In Sermon 60 “The General Deliverance” Wesley has some interesting things to say about God and animals. You can read the entire sermon here.
The Biblical text is: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;” Romans 8:19-22 NRSV
Wesley begins by asserting the God cares for all of God’s creation and then asks the age old question. “How is it that misery of all kinds overspreads the face of the earth?”
First he considers the original state of humans and animals. Humans possessed perfect understanding and lived in perfect harmony with God. Animals in their original state also lived an animal appropriate perfect life. Before the fall, mankind and animals lived pain free, happy, pleasurable and immortal existences.
What is the difference between humans and animals? For Wesley, ” We have no ground to believe that they (animals) are, in any degree, capable of knowing, loving, or obeying God. This is the specific difference between man and brute; the great gulf with 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.”
So what happened? The fall of humanity affected animals. “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.”
And the result of this is, “The very foundations of their nature are out of course; are turned upside down. As man is deprived of his perfection, his loving obedience to God; so brutes are deprived of their perfection, their loving obedience to man. The far greater part of them flee from him; studiously avoid his hated presence. The most of the rest set him at open defiance; yea, destroy him, if it be in their power. A few only, those we commonly term domestic animals, retain more or less of their original disposition,(through the mercy of God,) love him still, and pay obedience to him.”
Wesley also claims that the original beauty of the animals has been lost and now they are “terrible and grisly to look upon”. Now animals suffer from disease and the weather. After the Fall not only do animals destroy each other, but they all are “exposed to the violence and cruelty of him that is now their common enemy, — man.”
But with Romans 8 as his text, Wesley makes the case that animals will be part of the new creation. Wesley claims that they will be restored, “to a far higher degree … than they ever enjoyed” before the Fall. In fact Wesley speculates that, if God wishes, the animals may become “capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being”.
To those who ask why animals would be part of the new world. Wesley replies that since we don’t truly know their purpose in this life, how could we have any idea about their purpose in the future?
Wesley gives reasons why we should spend time considering the condition and fate of animals. When we see how much God care for creatures, we can rest assured God cares more for us. And because God care for animals, we also should care for them.
Wesley notes that since animals are not moral agents they cannot sin, but yet they suffer. The problem of animal suffering may cause us to question God’s justice. Wesley writes 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.”
Wesley ends his sermon by reminding us that the ability to know and love God is what distinguishes us from animals. We can lower ourselves to the status of animals by not knowing and loving God. So we should “enjoy the privilege of humanity — the knowledge and love of God.”
In this sermon, Wesley does not follow the mainstream Christian tradition in its denial of the value of animals. He preaches a theology that affirms animals as worthy of the Creator’s love and redemption. Wesley locates our human value not in our differences with animals but in our ability to be in relationship with God. The Fall of humankind affects the entire earth in terrible ways, but God’s redemption not only restores humankind but includes in wonderful new ways all animal kind as well.
I really like this sermon. I’d like to know what do you think?
By the way, the Calvin College Christian Classics Ethereal Library is a fabulous resource. Be sure to check it out.