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GOD AND JOHN IN GEORGIA

John was God's man for a decisive hour, but he was an unmade man, who needed the tutoring of the Holy Spirit to prepare him for the Almighty's plan. Oxford, the Holy Club and now Georgia were God's crucibles to mold John for his great adventure...Had there been no Georgia soul-culture when John found he could not make a success of his spiritual life without the Spirit's personal aid, there might have been no Aldersgate.

John's pre-Georgia religion was one of rules--rules unsparked by the divine afflatus. It took the humiliating experience of failure beyond the sea to teach John this needed yet costly lesson...

As God sent a whale for Jonah, so He whirled across the path of John's boat a raging storm. Had the boat been heavier, or the storm not blown up with the fury of doom riding in its wake, Wesley's soul travail might have been told far otherwise than we today read of it. [This must have been a very decent storm, and I'm a sailor.] But the storm came and the boat being light rocked on the blood-curdling waves of the deep. John was distraught...the passengers despaired of their lives...the crew pictured the horrors of Davy Jones locker.

While the storm was raging, John looked at the Moravians, whom previously he had thought of as heavy-minded and dull-witted folk, and they were calmly singing a hymn. The wilder the waves, the calmer the Germans sang. The storm passed as all of God's storms do when their missions are fulfilled. But the storm in Wesley's turbulent soul could not be quieted by the soothing efficacy of a still sea.

"I thank God, no," came the answer from one whose soul had been anchored to the Rock of Christ.

Then John wondered if the women and children were afraid, for he thought the strong man might have found a source of quietude in his physical vigor. So John asked, "But were not your women and children afraid?"

Answered the man, "No, our women and children are not afraid to die."

John had been previously thinking about his soul's welfare, and when a storm arose on November 23, he entered in his diary, "Sun. 23. At night I was awakened by the tossing of the ship...and plainly showed I was unfit, for I was unwilling to die."

But when he had gone through that sail-ripping, ship-soaking, skin-drenching storm and had come out alive, he was certain those Moravians had an experience to which he was a total stranger. This discovery was a startling one and at the close of that day he entered in his Journal, "This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen."

Its glory nestled in the fact that John had sighted the Light. It was a distant Light, but for the first time he knew of its true existence. It was this Light which at Aldersgate was to become a personal experience...

The following day he met the Moravian pastor, Spangenberg, whom John at once sought out for a religious conference.

Spangenberg's first question rocked John back on his mental heels when he asked, "My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?" Those questions were new to Wesley, even though he had implied the possibility of this witness in a previous sermon; yet the basis of his implication was theoretical and not experimental.

Again the Moravian asked, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" This was closer to John's thinking, and so he replied, "I know He is the Saviour of the world." "True" came the pastor's rejoinder, "but do you know He has saved you?"

This was a leading question, the answer to which John did not know; so he hedged by saying, "I hope He has died to save me," to be countered by Spangenberg's "Do you know yourself?" John finally managed to mumble, "I...do."

This left a blank in the Moravian's mind and set the mental machinery of John's cranium whirling for two years trying to produce a true basis in his own life for the doctrines he preached. He could not get away from Spangenberg's question, and it was only when his heart "was strangely warmed" at Aldersgate that he was satisfied with his own "I do" answer. When he made the entry in his Journal, he added, "I fear they were vain words." But after Aldersgate he not once again questioned his personal salvation. It was this assurance of salvation which gave wings to his words and produced the revival that we know as Methodism...

[John led the way into a new form of Praise & Worship]

However, all of John's time in Georgia was not lost, for he published his "Collection of Psalms and Hymns" for general congregational use. In a preface to a reprint it is suggested that this is the first collection of hymns in the English language, "so that in this provision for the improvement of public worship...Wesley led the way." Among the songs were some of his father's which had been rescued from the Epworth fire, as well as translations Wesley made from the German.

When the storm of that trial broke there was only one thing for John to do, and that he did at once--left for England. He was a somber cleric, his soul shot through with doubts when on December 2, 1737, he failed, and he knew it as no other person. The high religious standards he had set to attain in the Holy Club had eluded his spiritual grasp. He could not get to them.

The entry in his Journal under the date of Tuesday January 24, 1738, is tragical: "I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! Who shall convert me? Who, what is he that shall deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, 'To die is gain'...I show my faith by my works by staking my all upon it...O who will deliver me from this fear of death?"

When he landed in England on the first of February, his soul once more wallowed in the Slough of Despond, of which his Journal tells the turbulent story thus:

"This then have I learned in the ends of the earth, that I 'am fallen short of the glory of God'; that my whole heart is 'altogether corrupt and abominable'...that my own works, my own suffering, my own righteousness, are so far from reconciling me to an offended God...I want that faith which enables everyone that hath it to cry out, 'I live not...but Christ liveth in me'...I want that faith...when 'the Spirit itself beareth witness with his spirit that he is a child of God.'"

THE HEART STRANGELY WARMED

John before his Georgia mistakes was not a prepared subject for God's soul-dealings, but once having walked the fiery path that led to soul debasement, he was in a condition where God's prophetic voices could be heard. Up until that time John was the Oxford don, the teacher in any group, and as such was discontent to act as a learner. Having discovered that as teacher he was as the blind leading the spiritually blind, John was willing to throw himself at the feet of any who possessed the true source of Christian knowledge.

In this condition he was ready to become a spiritual learner, and God was not long in crossing his path with the man who was to serve as his teacher...

George Whitefield, won to the Master through Charles's kindness, had early found the true source of divine power in his life. Finding it, he shone as a brilliant evangelistic light. While John and Charles were failing in America and entangling their lives in petty quarrels and religious embarrassments, George had set to preaching. And when he arose to speak it was as though a breeze from heaven had fanned across the audiences. Groups began to talk and when it was announced the eloquent Oxford evangel was to bring a message, churches were crowded to the doors. The hungry people had never heard the like. Hearing, they went to their homes, only to return and hear more.

George spoke on weekdays, often thirty times a week and usually three our four times a Sunday, and weeping hearers followed him to the streets and to his abode to get a word with him. His message was "the doctrine of the new birth and justification by faith in Jesus Christ (which) made its way like lightning into the hearers' consciences," as Whitefield affirms.

"I found my brother at Oxford...and with him Peter Bohler," John enters in his Journal under the date of March 4, "by whom I was on Sunday, the fifth, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of faith whereby alone we are saved."

This turbulency of soul caused John to despair of ever preaching again, and he told Bohler that he would "leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith in yourself?" Bohler urged him to continue his gospel work, to which John retorted, "But what can I preach?"

Preach faith until you have it; and then because you have it, you will preach faith," came the Moravian's response.

John was not long in starting on this adventure, for he says, "Accordingly, Monday 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone was a prisoner under sentence of death."

The condemned man arose from prayer and exclaimed, "I am now ready to die. I know Christ has taken away my sins, and there is no condemning for me."

John was now willing to go all the way on this new salvation path. He was ready to cast over his forms and rituals where he felt they constrained his spirit in worship. On the following Sunday he took a leap into the light which was to mark an important advance in the history of his work. He tells about this thus:

"Being in Mr. Fox's society my heart was so full that I could not confine myself to the forms of prayer which we were accustomed to use there. Neither do I propose to be confined to them any more, but to pray...with form or without as I find suitable to a particular occasion."

This was the birth of the religious freedom which was to mark his followers. The ritualist in him was already destroyed, and the manacles had been torn from his hands of devotion. "Soon the fetters would be broken which bound his feet, and he would be running in the evangelical way." The following Sunday, which was Easter, he preached in the college chapel at Lincoln, using extempore prayer, and he closed the day with the entry in his Journal, "I see the promise, but it is far off."

Week by week John continued his preaching as Sundays rolled around, and meantime his searching went on with diligence. Seeing Bohler again he was urged to find the Pearl of Great Price, which Wesley had determined to take. Peter, relying on testimony to clinch his dogmatics, took with him some Christian friends and visited John. Each one gave clear testimony as to what Christ had done for them by changing their lives and transmuting Peter's theories into living dynamic realities in their souls.

John was thunderstruck, for it seemed too good to be true that here were people in the flesh who possessed what he was seeking, and this convinced him that his search was in the right direction.

I was now thoroughly convinced," he said, "and by the grace of God, I resolve to seek it unto the end: (1) By renouncing all dependence...upon my own works of righteousness, on which I have grounded my hope of salvation...from my youth up. (2) By adding to the constant use of all the other means of grace continual prayer for this very thing, justifying, saving faith, a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in Him as my Saviour, as my sole justification, sanctification and redemption."

This was to be no trip to the halfway house up this rocky road to salvation John was taking. He was determined to stop only when he had scaled the peaks and sat watching the sunrise burst over the hills of God, and felt the glow of redemption as a personal possession with his soul.

Charles caught the sunrise first, after reading Luther's "Commentary on Galatians," praying, conversing with spiritually minded people. It was on Whitsunday, 1738 while he was at the home of a poor woman, a recent convert. Said the woman to the man sick in body and soul: "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities."

A friend read the words, "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." Charles's eyes fell on the verse, "He hath put a new song in my mouth..." as the hallelujah chorus swung into living action, and God's redemptive work was accomplished in his soul.

On this Charles's believing and receiving day, John attended the Church of St. Mary-le-Stand, grieving still that his redemption had not taken place. Returning from the service, he wrote to a friend, "Let no one deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained unto this faith. By its fruits we shall know. Do we already feel peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost?...Does the Spirit bear witness?...Alas with mine he does not...Let us be emptied of ourselves and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing."

He was on a soul search which should cease only when he had found this glorious peace. His spiritual quest went on by the hour until Wednesday, May 24, arrived. Let him tell the story:

"Wed. May 24--I think it was about five this morning that I opened my Testament on these words, 'There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.'

"Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words 'Thou art not far from the kingdom.'

"In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul's. The Anthem was, 'Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord...O Israel, trust in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy...'"

During that memorable soul-shaping day everything seemed to point John to one thing--redemption as a soon-wrought work in his life. When evening came down Adersgate Street not far from St. Paul's, John was unwillingly dragged to a meeting.

"In the evening," he says, "I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed..."

The change had been wrought, the divine work accomplished. He had arrived at the peak's top and there was the sunrise of glory in his soul.

"I felt I did trust in Christ," he goes on to relate, "Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had take away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

The glory had dawned and John was on his way down the divinely appointed path that should to a world parish lead ere his religious sun set. Emptying himself of self, God had come in. John the bungler now became John, the gospel workman, the mallet of whose soul was to strike the carving chisel of his personality with such sure blows that the statue he sculptured remains as a divinely wrought achievement.

So great was the glory, so marvelous was the change, so grand was the experience that John could not rest until he told it to another. The brazier's house where Charles was staying being not far distant, John went there with the glad news, which to his soul become the most wonderful story in the world. Walking into Charles's room he said, "I believe..."

That was enough to set the joy bells ringing in Charles's heart, and together the brothers lifted a song.

"towards ten my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends, and declared 'I believe.' We sang a hymn with great joy and parted with prayer."...

Where shall my wondering soul begin:
How shall I to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire.
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?

This was the hymn Charles had begun on the Tuesday following his own conversion, and with the many hundreds more he was to pen, furnished the music for the spiritual revolution he and John were to sire.

The biographers have debated long and loud as to what really happened at Aldersgate. Some affirm, and these the older, that John there dropped all ritualistic attachment to the Church of England and at that moment Methodism was born.

"Newman renounced justification by faith," affirms Riggs, "and clung to apostolic succession; therefore he went to Rome. Wesley embraced justification by faith, and renounced apostolic succession; therefore his people are a separate people from the Church of England."...

What happened at Aldersgate? It is best to let John's own testimony stand as to the change which his heart-warming experience brought about. Before May 24, 1738, he felt he was not a Christian. After that date, he knew he was, and the Spirit bore witness with his spirit that he was a child of God. The trustworthiness of Wesley's testimony must stand or fall with the trustworthiness of our consciousness. If the human mind is not conscious of its own awareness as the spotlight of certainty is flashed upon it, then truth is utterly without foundation and hence impossible.

Judged by the products of Wesley's life, Aldersgate stands by far as the brightest spot in his life, or in the life of anyone of his century. Before Aldersgate he was a bungler; after Aldersgate he was a lion in God's kingdom who knew no defeat.

Returning home the night of his Aldersgate transformation, he wrote in his Journal, "I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out and they fled away...And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror." Fitchett speaks of this entry, "Here was struggle; but here too was victory."

John had received the witness that he was the son of God, and this assurance gave him spiritual boldness. Henceforth he was ready to tackle the job of converting the world by the truth of the message he had experienced. Later he wrote to his brother Samuel, "I believe every Christian, who has not yet received it, should pray for the witness of God's Spirit that he is a child of God. This witness, I believe, is necessary to my salvation."

Wesley has been termed an organizer rather than a theologian, but he did, however, make one distinct contribution to theological science, and that is his doctrine of the witness of the Spirit. The Moravians taught the doctrine, but it remained for John to systematize the dogma.

John was not content to remain idle, once he had planted his feet on the solid rock of Christian assurance. On June 11, eighteen days after his spiritual transformation, he preached before the University of Oxford his famous sermon on "By grace are ye saved through faith." This message sounded the keynote of his life-long ministry. He knew no other doctrine save this one, and wherever we find Wesley in this post-Aldersgate term of service, this is the message he heralds.

This doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus to which the Spirit bears witness became the rallying cry of the new movement which he was soon to bring into existence. Before entering his new work, that of being a preacher of experimental salvation, John wished to visit Herrnhut, the colony which Zinzendorf headed and where Moravian activies centered.

His Journal entry for June 7 reads, "I determined...to retire a short time into Germany...And I hoped the conversing with those holy men who were themselves living witnesses of the full power of faith, and yet able to bear with those that are weak would be a means...of so establishing my soul, that I might go on from faith to faith..."

From June until September of the year 1738 he spent traveling and visiting Zinzendorf, where he obtained a close-up view of the Moravian work as well as an intimate glimpse into their lives....

Back home again from foreign wanderings, he set about preaching the gospel with dire earnestness. Wherever an occasion presented itself Wesley was there with his new doctrine of the full assurance of salvation....

At once cudgels were taken up by the ministers against Wesley's doctrine of assurance. Sermons were preached and printed against "those who of late asserted that they who are not assured of their salvation by a revelation from the Holy Ghost are in a state of damnation." Such sermons were certainly heading toward a general refutation of Wesley's work. John, however, was prepared to pay such a price for his religious freedom.

He had already made a beginning of a group which should in the end be the foundation for the Methodist Church. Early in May, 1738, Peter Bohler had advised him to establish Moravian societies in London...

Wesley was now in possession of the doctrine of the coming revival. His soul was attuned to the heavenly chorus. Zeal was bursting within and with the foundational society, he was ready for all comers.

During the remaining months of 1738 Wesley's work was composed mostly of acting as religious advisor and confessor. He preached wherever occasion presented, but his doctrines had become so adverse to the ordinary preaching of the day that most ministers closed their churches to his ministry. In all of London there were only three of four churches open to him by the end of that year.

This exclusion is often spoken of as a sign of the Church's decay, for it could not bear with the religious enthusiasm of such a stirring man. This but hardened the steel of John's character, for he knew the doctrine he proclaimed to be declared in the Bible and rooted in his experience. Firmly he preached on, and, as the days passed, a growing consciousness possessed him that his message should be heard more and more by the Fetter Lane Society he had formed at the suggestion of Bohler. [i.e. He was led by God's Spirit to start nurturing and feeding the flock the Lord had gathered under his care.]

The group held weekly meetings for prayer and discussion. On New Year's Eve, 1738-39, seven of the Oxford Methodists and sixty other people conducted a watch night service and love feast, the results of which were to usher Wesley into a new field of service.

"About three in the morning," says Wesley, describing the service, "as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty we broke out with one voice, 'We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!'"

Whitefield pronounced this to be "the happiest New Year's Day he had ever seen." Three days later the seven ministers, members of the Anglican Church, met again, of which Whitefield writes, "What we were in doubt about after prayer we determined by lot and everything was carried on with great love, meekness and devotion. We continued in fasting and prayer till three o'clock, and then parted with the conviction that God was to do great things among us."

It was the prayer of this Fetter Lane Society that inaugurated Wesley's next move, of which George, and not John, was to be the prime leader. Indeed God was to do great things with the group.

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