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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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