In the later years of John Wesley’s life, the new creation became a dominant theme in his thinking and writing. To a large extent, he embraced an integrated view of God’s creation, avoiding the typical spirit vs. matter dualism that so often lies beneath the surface of Western Christian thought.
This meant that Wesley did not treat issues relating to the physical world as unimportant, because all of creation was created good in its very physical reality, and because God’s plan of salvation includes the deliverance of creation (not its destruction, as some believe).
These convictions are reflected in a number of ways, including Wesley’s interesting reflections on the suffering of animals (see Sermon 60) and on the original state of creation before the fall (see Sermon 56, §I.1-14).
But it becomes especially clear as Wesley thinks through issues of eschatology, where it becomes clear what he thinks “the new creation” means – not disembodied souls floating in the clouds, but a new heavens and a new earth.
His sermon bearing the title “The New Creation” makes this clear, as he tries to think cautiously but imaginatively about what the new heavens and the new earth will be like. For example, he suggests that there will be no more comets (§8), no more hurricanes or destructive storms (§9), no polluted water (§12), no volcanoes (§15), and no animal suffering (§17).
But the climax of his vision of the new creation comes in the closing paragraph, where Wesley discusses the deliverance of human beings to “an unmixed state of holiness and happiness far superior to that which Adam enjoyed in paradise.” He concludes that,
…to crown all, there will be a deep, an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in him! (Sermon 64, “The New Creation,” §18)
This category of “new creation,” of course, was not just about the future restoration of all things, but was very important to Wesley’s understanding of salvation itself. Of course, 1 Cor. 5:17 uses this same big-picture concept of new creation in relation to the salvation of the person – “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” The problem is that many Christians never see the big picture implied in this verse – that is, that their participation in the new creation is part of the bigger picture of God’s restoration of all creation. The goal of God’s work of redemption is not to take disembodied souls out of creation, but to bring about a new heavens and a new earth, which includes resurrected and transformed human beings. Therefore, for human beings, salvation means not only “continual enjoyment of the Three-One God” but also “of all creatures in him!”
This has two obvious implications for mission.
First of all, if our vision of salvation is a physically resurrected humanity, where all physical ailments and infirmities are healed, then meeting physical needs in the present is not irrelevant to the church’s mission. God obviously values the physical well being of his creatures. Therefore, our own work of physical healing, and meeting the basic needs of human beings can be an anticipation of God’s own final restoration. Meeting physical needs can be a witness to the future new creation. It is not surprising, then, that John Wesley was very interested in physical health and healing, as well as preaching the gospel.
The second implication is that our mission should include care for the created world. God’s plan of salvation includes the restoration of the earth, as well as the resurrection of human beings. Humanity was originally created in the context of creation as a whole. It is not surprising then, that God’s new creation will also put humanity in the context of a transfigured creation, which will include not only a physical earth, but – we have every reason to expect – a new and transformed ecosystem, including and plant and animal life. Because of this, proper stewardship of the present creation can be a witness to and participation in the new creation which has begun in the resurrection of Jesus.
[If you are interested in looking into this second implication at greater depth, I recommend the new book by Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett, Salvation Means Creation Healed.]