May 24, 1738 remains a significant date in Wesleyan history. It is the day of John Wesley's “heart-warming” experience. Scholars debate the exact nature of this event, and what it meant for Wesley himself, but there is no doubt it was a turning point in his life. Even though he was already an ordained Anglican Priest, still it was at this time, as a 34 year old wrestling with his faith, that his life turned in a new direction. Here’s how he recalled it in his journal entry for that day.
|The "Aldersgate Flame" commemorating |
John Wesley's conversion experience (My photo)
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 Chist, 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 rose and looked into the Scripture. The words that first presented were, “And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in thee.” (Ps 39:7) I then cast down my eye, and met, “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall put their trust in the Lord.” (Ps 40:3) Afterwards I opened upon Isaiah 40:1: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God: speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sin.”
I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. My temper for the rest of the day was, mistrust of my own great, but before unknown, weakness. I saw that by faith I stood; by the continual support of faith, which kept me from falling, though of myself I am ever sinking into sin. I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness, (I humbly hope to be more and more so,) yet confident of Christ’s protection.
In the days that follow Charles records writing a hymn, likely to be the “Hymn for Whitsunday" (Pentecost). Charles cites a line from this hymn in his journal entry for May 23; “Now descend, and shake the earth”. What is interesting, though, is Charles entry from the next day; the day famous for his brother’s experience.
|Charles Wesley's Bureau, now on display at |
John Wesley's House, City Road, London. Charles
penned many of his hymns here (My photo).
At eight I prayed by myself for love; with some feeling, and assurance of feeling more. Towards ten, my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends, and declared, “I believe”. We sang the hymn with great joy, and parted with prayer. At midnight I gave myself up to Christ; assured I was safe, sleeping or waking. Had continual experience of his power to overrule all temptation; and confessed, with joy and surprise, that he was able to do exceeding abundantly for me, above what I can ask or think.
Whilst the exact hymn they sang is uncertain, the options include the one that Charles mentioned on May 23, “And Can It Be”, or the one below, known as the "Conversion Hymn". In any case, it is clear that the two brother’s experiences shaped their mission into the future. For Charles, it was through his ability as a poet and lyricist, writing on average 50 lines for every day of his life, which is where his legacy remains. More than just lines of prose, though, they can be attributed to a real and demonstrable experience of the living Christ made real by the Holy Spirit, in whom he stood by faith.
Where shall my wond’ring soul begin
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphed raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?
O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which thou to me has showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God!
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven!
And shall I slight my Father’s love?
Or basely fear his gifts to own?
Unmindful of his favours prove?
Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun,
Refuse his righteousness t’impart
By hiding it within my heart?
No, though the ancient dragon rage,
And call forth all his host to war;
Though earth’s self-righteous sons engage,
Them and their god alike I dare:
Jesus the sinner’s friend proclaim,
Jesus, to sinners still the same.
Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads his arms t’embrace you all
Sinners alone his grace receives:
No need of him the righteous have;
He came the lost to seek and save.
Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
Groaning beneath your load of sin;
His bleeding heart shall make you room,
His open side shall take you in.
He calls you now, invites you home—
Come, O my guilty brethren, come.
For you the purple current flowed
In pardons from his wounded side;
Languished for you th’eternal God,
For you the Prince of glory died.
Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven,
Only believe—and yours is heaven!