John Wesley

(1703-1791)

 

 

Raised by devoutly Christian parents, Wesley spent the first thirty years of his life diligently practicing the religion he had been taught. Nonetheless, he identifies his salvation not at the point when truth entered his mind, but when a conviction of sin and redemption entered his heart.

 

Testimonies

 

With precise and honest introspection, Wesley recounts his own conversion experience.

It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country, in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Christianity: But what have I learned myself in the mean time? Why, (what I the least of all suspected,) that I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God. . . .

"I am not mad," though I thus speak; but "I speak the words of truth and soberness;" if haply some of those who still dream may awake, and see, that as I am, so are they.

Are they read in philosophy? So was I. In ancient or modern tongues? So was I also. Are they versed in the science of divinity? I too have studied it many years. Can they talk fluently upon spiritual things? The very same could I do. Are they plenteous in alms? Behold, I gave all my goods to feed the poor. Do they give of their labour as well as of their substance? I have laboured more abundantly than they all. Are they willing to suffer for their brethren? I have thrown up my friends, reputation, ease, country; I have put my life in my hand, wandering into strange lands; I have given my body to be devoured by the deep, parched up with heat, consumed by toil and weariness, or whatsoever God should please to bring upon me. But does all this (be it more or less, it matters not) make me acceptable to God? Does all I ever did or can know, say, give, do, or suffer, justify me in his sight? Yea, or the constant use of all the means of grace? (Which, nevertheless, is meet, right, and our bounden duty.) Or that I know nothing of myself; that I am, as touching outward, moral righteousness blameless? Or (to come closer yet) the having a rational conviction of all the truths of Christianity? Does all this give me a claim to the holy, heavenly, divine character of a Christian? By no means. . . .

If it be said, that I have faith, (for many such things have I heard, from many miserable comforters,) I answer, So have the devils, -- a sort of faith; but still they are strangers to the covenant of promise. So the apostles had even at Cana in Galilee, when Jesus first "manifested forth his glory;" even then they, in a sort, "believed on him;" but they had not then "the faith that overcometh the world." The faith I want is, "a sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, my sins are forgiven, and I reconciled to the favour of God." I want that faith which St. Paul recommends to all the world, especially in his Epistle to the Romans: That faith which enables every one that hath it to cry out, "I live not; but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." I want that faith which none can have without knowing that he hath it; (though many imagine they have it, who have it not;) for whosoever hath it, is "freed from sin, the" whole "body of sin is destroyed" in him: He is freed from fear, "having peace with God through Christ, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God." And he is freed from doubt, "having the love of God shed abroad in his heart, through the Holy Ghost which is given unto him;" which "Spirit itself beareth witness with his spirit, that he is a child of God." . . .

I had continual sorrow and heaviness in my heart: Something of which I described, in the broken manner I was able, in the following letter to a friend: --

"O why is it, that so great, so wise, so holy a God will use such an instrument as me! Lord, 'let the dead bury their dead!' But wilt thou send the dead to raise the dead? Yea, thou sendest whom thou wilt send, and showest mercy by whom thou wilt show mercy! Amen! Be it then according to thy will! If thou speak the word, Judas shall cast out devils.

"I feel what you say, (though not enough,) for I am under the same condemnation. I see that the whole law of God is holy, just, and good. I know every thought, every temper of my soul, ought to bear God's image and superscription. But how am I fallen from the glory of God! I feel that 'I am sold under sin.' I know, that I too deserve nothing but wrath, being full of all abominations: And having no good thing in me, to atone for them, or to remove the wrath of God. All my works, my righteousness, my prayers, need an atonement for themselves. So that my mouth is stopped. I have nothing to plead. God is holy, I am unholy. God is a consuming fire: I am altogether a sinner, meet to be consumed.

"Yet I hear a voice (and is it not the voice of God?) saying, 'Believe, and thou shalt be saved. He that believeth is passed from death unto life. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'

"O let no one deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained this faith! By its fruits we shall know. Do we already feel 'peace with God,' and 'joy in the Holy Ghost?' Does 'his Spirit bear witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God?' Alas, with mine He does not. Nor, I fear, with yours. O thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but Thee! Draw us after Thee! Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing; and let nothing separate us from thy love, in time or in eternity."

In my return to England, January, 1738, being in imminent danger of death, and very uneasy on that account, I was strongly convinced that the cause of that uneasiness was unbelief; and that the gaining a true, living faith was the "one thing needful" for me. But still I fixed not this faith on its right object: I meant only faith in God, not faith in or through Christ. Again, I knew not that I was wholly void of this faith; but only thought, I had not enough of it. So that when Peter Böhler, whom God prepared for me as soon as I came to London, affirmed of true faith in Christ, (which is but one,) that it had those two fruits inseparably attending it, "Dominion over sin, and constant Peace from a sense of forgiveness," I was quite amazed, and looked upon it as a new Gospel. If this was so, it was clear I had not faith.

When I met Peter Böhler again, he consented to put the dispute upon the issue which I desired, namely, Scripture and experience. I first consulted the Scripture. But when I set aside the glosses of men, and simply considered the words of God, comparing them together, endeavouring to illustrate the obscure by the plainer passages; I found they all made against me, and was forced to retreat to my last hold, "that experience would never agree with the literal interpretation of those scriptures. Nor could I therefore allow it to be true, till I found some living witnesses of it." He replied, he could show me such at any time; if I desired it, the next day. And accordingly, the next day he came again with three others, all of whom testified, of their own personal experience, that a true living faith in Christ is inseparable from a sense of pardon for all past, and freedom from all present, sins. They added with one mouth, that this faith was the gift, the free gift of God; and that he would surely bestow it upon every soul who earnestly and perseveringly sought it. I was now thoroughly convinced; and, by the grace of God, I resolved to seek it unto the end, 1. By absolutely renouncing all dependence, in whole or in part, upon my own works or righteousness; on which I had really grounded my hope of salvation, though I knew it not, 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 Christ, as my sole justification, sanctification, and redemption.

I continued thus to seek it, (though with strange indifference, dullness, and coldness, and unusually frequent relapses into sin,) till Wednesday, May 24. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, Ta megista emin kai timia epaggelmata dedoretai, ina genesthe theias koinonoi phuseos. "There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature." (2 Pet. 1. 4.) Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." 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: Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins."

In the evening 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 which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (Journal, 1738)

The testimonies of others reinforced for Wesley the authenticity of his own experience.

This great truth was farther confirmed to me the next day by the conversation I had with DAVID NITSCHMAN, one of the Teachers or Pastors of the Church; who expressed himself to this effect: --

"In my childhood I was very serious; but as I grew up, was so careless, that at eighteen years old I had even forgot to read. When I found this, I was startled. I soon learned again, and then spent much time in reading and prayer. But I knew nothing of my heart till, about the age of twenty-six, I bought a Bible, and began to read the New Testament. The farther I read, the more I was condemned. I found a law which I did not, could not, keep. I had a will to avoid all sin; but the power I had not. I continually strove; but was continually conquered. The thing which I would, I did not; but what I would not have done, that I did. In this bondage I was, when I fell into a fit of sickness; during my recovery from which, I felt a stronger desire than ever to avoid all sin. At the same time I felt the power. And sin no longer reigned over me.

"But soon after I fell into grievous temptations, which made me very uneasy. For though I yielded not to them, yet they returned again, and again, as fast as they were conquered. Then it came into my mind, 'I take all this pains to serve God. What, if there be no God? How do I know there is?' And on this I mused more and more, till I said in my heart, 'There is no God!'

"In this state I was when I came to Hernhuth, about fourteen years ago. And every day for a full year, from morning to night, I groaned under this unbelief. Yet I prayed continually, unbelieving as I was; particularly one Sunday, when, being in the church of Bertholdsdorf, and quite weary of hearing so much of Him, whose very being I did not believe, I vehemently said, 'O God, if thou be a God, thou must manifest thyself, or I cannot believe it.' In walking home, I thought of an expression of Pastor Rothe's, 'Only suppose these things are so: Suppose there be a God.' I said to myself, 'Well, I will, I do suppose it.' Immediately I felt a strange sweetness in my soul, which increased every moment till the next morning: And from that time, if all the men upon earth, and all the devils in hell, had joined in denying it, I could not have doubted the being of God, no, not for one moment. (Journal, 1738)

 

AUGUSTINE NEUSSER spoke to this effect: --

"By experience I know that we cannot be justified through the blood of Christ, till we feel that all our righteousness and good works avail nothing towards our justification. Therefore, what men call a good life, is frequently the greatest of all hinderances to their coming to Christ. For it will not let them see that they are lost, undone sinners; and if they see not this, they cannot come unto Him.

"Thus it was with me. I led a good life from a child: And this was the great hinderance to my coming to Christ. For, abounding in good works, and diligently using all the means of grace, I persuaded myself for thirteen or fourteen years, that all was well, and I could not fail of salvation. And yet, I cannot say my soul was at rest, even till the time when God showed me clearly, that my heart was as corrupt, notwithstanding all my good works, as that of an adulterer or murderer. Then my self-dependence withered away. I wanted a Saviour, and fled naked to Him. And in Him I found true rest to my soul; being fully assured that all my sins were forgiven. Yet I cannot tell the hour or day when I first received that full assurance. For it was not given me at first, neither at once; but grew up in me by degrees. But from the time it was confirmed in me, I never lost it; having never since doubted, no, not for a moment." (Journal, 1738)

 

 

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