John Wesley

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"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
THIS is the significant inscription placed under one of Mr. Wesley's portraits at his own direction. It refers, doubtless, to his deliverance "from the wrath to come." It is our purpose in this little paper to narrate briefly the circumstances connected with the deliverance" of the spirit of this "just man made perfect."
Though born of pious parents, Wesley appears to have had little anxiety of soul until after entering Christ Church College, Oxford, in his seventeenth year. Here his mother wrote him, exhorting him, "in good, earnest resolve to make religion the business of your life ; for after all, that is the one thing that, strictly speaking, is necessary." His father, too, encouraged him to read a book called the "Imitation of Jesus Christ," written in Germany by a monk named Thomas a Kempis, about the year 1450. This book, as might be expected, instead of helping him, only made him the more miserable. He wrote his mother telling her that, after all his efforts to be good, be felt himself becoming worse, and that he found it impossible to do all the things which the author of the " Imitation " said we ought to do. He begged her to spend every Thursday evening in earnest prayer for him.
At the age of twenty-two he was chosen fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. Here he resolved to form no new acquaintances, excepting those who would help him to lead a holy life. He had become a clergyman, and determined to give himself up entirely to the great work of becoming holy. He partook of the Lord's supper weekly, gave alms to the poor, and spent his time only in that which he believed to be useful and good.
In August, 1727, he returned to Epworth to be his father's curate. He still read Thomas a Kempis, and thought seriously of shutting him-self up like a monk, and spending his life in seclusion in one of the dales of Yorkshire. But in November, 1729, he returned again to Oxford, where, with his brother Charles and others, he set about with renewed earnestness to save himself by fasting and good works. The little band appointed John to draw up a set of rules for their use. These rules were extremely strict, as he supposed that the more they did of those things which they naturally disliked, the more acceptable to God they would become.
Other young men joined themselves to them as time passed, and they were called the "holy club." But one of their number appears to have obtained peace with God. Ten years later in looking over the letters of these young men, Wesley said, "I found but one among all my correspondents who declared, what I well remember at that time I knew not how to under-stand, that God had shed abroad His love in his heart, and given him 'the peace that passeth all understanding.' But who believed his report? Should I conceal a sad truth, or declare it for the profit of others ? He was expelled out of his society as a madman, and being disowned by his friends, and despised and forsaken of all men, lived obscure and unknown for a few months, and then went to Him whom his soul loved."
In October, 1735, the Wesleys sailed for Savannah, Georgia, to preach to the English settlers and Indians of the new colony. With them on board were twenty-six Germans, who struck John Wesley as a most extraordinary people. They all appeared to love and fear God, and were always happy and cheerful. He learned that they came from Herrnhuth, Saxony, and were going to America as missionaries. Their deportment made Wesley feel somewhat uncomfortable, for he beheld in them something to which he felt himself to be an entire stranger. To relieve his conscience he began to deny himself more than ever. He ate nothing but a little rice and a bit of biscuit, and left his comfortable cabin berth to sleep on the floor. One day, however, the value of all this "abusing of the body" was put to the test. A storm arose suddenly; great waves swept the vessel's decks, and they were known to be in very great danger. The sailors and English passengers were terribly alarmed—the Wesleys among them. The Germans, however, did not manifest the least alarm, and were singing throughout the storm. "Wesley was more perplexed than ever about the Germans, and yet when they tried to explain to him the cause of their joy and peace, he did not like to hear it, and thought they talked foolishly."
On landing at Savannah, Wesley, thinking the Germans, called Moravians, such a wonderful people, went to one of their number named Spandenberg to ask his advice as to how to be-gin his missionary work. "My brother," said Spandenberg, "I must ask you one or two questions. Do you know whether you are a child of God ? " His question astonished Wesley, and he knew not what reply to make. Seeing he did not reply, his faithful questioner said : "Do you know Jesus Christ?" "Yes," said John, "I know He is the Saviour of the world." "True," said Spandenberg, "but do you know that He has saved you?" "I hope He has died to save me," Wesley replied. "Do you know it for yourself?" asked the Moravian. "I do," said Wesley ; but he writes in his journal, "I fear they were vain words."
Wesley did not succeed as a missionary in the new colony, and after two years set sail for England. During the voyage home, he thought sadly of his misspent past. He wondered why it was, that after spending fifteen years in quest of peace, it should still seem as far from him as ever, after all that he had done. He records in his journal that on January 8th, 1738, whilst still on the ocean, he was convinced of the pride and unbelief of his heart, adding, "God save, or I perish ! " On January 24th, he writes in his journal as follows : "I went to America to con-vert the Indians! But, oh, who shall convert me I Who, what is he that shall deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief! I can talk well —nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled."
On February 1st he landed in England, and wrote in his journal the following : "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 learnt myself in the meantime ? Why, what I least of all expected, that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God." He adds much more, showing how thorough and deep was his repentance, over which all heaven rejoiced (Luke 15).
Soon after this, Wesley met a Moravian in London, named Peter Böhler. Peter could not speak English, neither could John understand German, so they conversed in Latin. Peter proved from Scripture that the believer's sins were all forgiven, and that all true Christians might have the certain knowledge of this blessing. Wesley was quite amazed at this, and at first disputed it. He said that he had faith, yet dared not say his sins were forgiven. At last, however, he said, "If this be true, it is quite clear I have not got faith." He wrote after-wards that though he thought he had true faith, it was, after all, only the faith of devils (Jas. 2).
He obtained peace at last under the following circumstances "It was on Wednesday evening, May 24th, that the word of life was spoken by the voice of Christ to John Wesley. He had gone 'very unwillingly' to a meeting in Aldersgate Street, where someone read aloud Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley had not been fond of Luther ; he had spoken of him as 'a wrong-headed German, who made too much of faith, instead of teaching that we are to be saved by faith and works together.' But now, as be listened to the one reading aloud, Wesley says, 'While he was de-scribing the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, and 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. I then testified openly to all there what I now felt first in my heart.'"
So, after fifteen years of fruitless toil—" which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting [punishing, or, not sparing, marg.] of the body ; not in any honor [yet] to the satisfying of the flesh," (Col. 2 : 23)—this "exceedingly zealous" fellow of Lincoln College, clergyman, and would-be converter of American Indians, finds peace for his troubled soul by faith in "Christ alone."
Why, it may be asked, was Wesley all those years in finding peace ? Read in God's own Word the answer : " Wherefore ? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone ; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence : and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed" (Rom. 9 : 32, 33).
Christ, an only and all-sufficient Saviour, without works, was to him as to the Jew of old, "a stumblingstone." But he at last, through grace, believed on Him and was never confounded or put to shame.
Remember, reader, the cause of his fifteen years' failure: HE "SOUGHT IT NOT BY FAITH."