Wesley Day

by Richard on May 24, 2013

On this day, 1738, John Wesley wrote in his journal:

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 the leader 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 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.

Here’s some of what he was hearing, from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans (1522)

Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand time. This confidence in God’s grace and knowedge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all his creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire

Although this experience of the ‘heart strangely warmed’ is often described as Wesley’s conversion experience, I’m not convinced that this is strictly accurate. It certainly isn’t the moment at which Wesley hade a ‘decision for Christ’. Clearly that had happened long before. No, here Wesley finds himself arrested by the power of the living God, despite his reluctance. He receives the truth from Luther: faith is not his own, but a divine work within him.

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Wesley’s “conversion” | A Thinking Reed
05.24.13 at 6:05 pm

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Kim 05.24.13 at 6:06 pm

So Martin is the organ-grinder … ;)

Interestingly, Wesley was soon bothered that his epiphany did not make him happier; nor did his “blessed assurance” subsequently turn out to be unshakeable; nor did he dwell on the experience, and he referred to it hardly at all in his public ministry. All of which, for me, makes this great saint — “arguably, the greatest saint, the greatest witness to Jesus Christ, produced by the eighteenth-century Church of England” (Rowan Williams) — more saintly still.

Have a wonderful day, my Arminian sisters and brothers. With you in spirit — if (for you) not spirits — I’ll toast the man later.


Jonathan Marlowe 05.26.13 at 1:56 pm

Luther was not Wesley’s organ-grinder. Wesley could be quite critical of Luther, as in this passage from Wesley’s sermon, “on God’s Vineyard”:

Who has wrote more ably than Martin Luther on justification by faith alone? And who was more ignorant of the doctrine of sanctification, or more confused in his conceptions of it? In order to be thoroughly convinced of this, of his total ignorance with regard to sanctification, there needs no more than to read over, without prejudice, his celebrated comment on the Epistle to the Galatians.

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