May 24, 2013

Aldersgate and Wesley's Strangely Warmed Heart #UMC

If United Methodists observed feast days, today would be the Feast of the Warm Heart. It's May 24, which is the anniversary of John Wesley's evangelical conversion and his initial experience of Christian assurance. Here's that most famous of his journal entries from this day in his 1738:
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.
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” 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
Much could be said about this (and indeed much has!), but I'll only here point to two aspects of Wesley's entry that I find particularly striking. First, Wesley's experience is altogether focused on Christ. His faith is in Christ alone. It is Christ who takes away his sins and Christ who saved him from the law of sin and death. Salvation, for Wesley, is nothing less than an experience of the living Christ. Second, The first thing Wesley did after his heart was strangely warmed was to pray for his enemies, which is an entirely unnatural thing to do and is, in most cases, evidence of the presence and work of the Spirit of God.

Happy Aldersgate Day!

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