A day forever memorable to Methodists – 24 May 1738. On that day, as John Wesley records in his journal, a group of great experiences came to him.
At five o’clock in the morning he read in his Testament: “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, version unknown). Then, just as he was leaving his rooms, he opened his Bible again and read these words: “Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In his journal he continues, “In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, ‘Out of the deep have I called thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.’ 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 my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Charles Edwin Schofield begins his little book, Aldersgate and After, with a forceful paragraph, that should be graven on the hearts of Methodists everywhere: “On May 24, 1938, the people called Methodists have been summoned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of what has traditionally been known in Methodist annals as the ‘conversion’ of John Wesley.”
An anniversary may prove to be an opportunity. It is always in danger of becoming a liability.
This celebration of a man’s conversion is a rare thing in history. We celebrate the birth of great men and observe the anniversary of their death, but with John Wesley the high peak of his life was the hour of his ‘conversion’.
Where lies the ‘danger’ of an anniversary?
Is it the danger of looking backward instead of forward? Is it a substitute for something more vital, as in the case of churches that find an anniversary gala week less strenuous than a revival? Is there danger of misinterpreting a past event so that we are thrown off the right track, inviting future disasters? Is there danger that we might face a call from the past and then turn away, lacking the courage to accept the challenge?
What possible harm could come from our dipping into the past? Certainly, for many of us, it would be a fresh dip, for what the average Methodist of today does not know of John Wesley would fill a big book.
The author defines for us the experience of Wesley as far different from what we mean by a ‘conversion’. For years he had tried to save his soul by good works and soul discipline, and then: “He came to see that what he needed to do was simply to forget himself, and, trusting in the mercy, and forgiveness of God, launch out in a ministry of passionate preaching of the Gospel to others.”
Dr Schofield is sure that a like surrender will bring us to our Aldersgate, maybe not with Wesley’s emotional experience, but we shall be fitted to serve our age as Wesley’s experience fitted him to serve his day. But are we ready to go up to Aldersgate?
“Whenever the men and women of our generation honestly face Jesus, and resolutely declare themselves unequivocally on His side; whenever we are ready to make the great commitment to His will and dedicate ourselves without reservations to build the Kingdom of God—then we shall come to Aldersgate.”
Reprinted from The Malaysia Message, Vol. 48 No. 4, April 1938.
By the Michigan Christian Advocate
Picture of Wesley statue (top) by Adam Davenport, accessed via
en.wikipedia.org and used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 4.0
The ‘Aldersgate Flame’ in London commemorates the
event and features text from Wesley’s journal describing
his experience. Public domain picture by Man vyi.