Friday, 24 May 2013

We've all got a bit of Wesley in us on Aldersgate day!

On this day in 1738 John Wesley was famously converted at a Society meeting in a room on Aldersgate Street, London. I say 'famously', although it wasn't particularly noteworthy at the time, other than for Wesley and his close circle, but the repercussions from this evening in London were to spin out down through the generations to such an extent that we continue to remember today.

Having tried and failed in his attempts at religion, and even church leadership, Wesley was hugely impacted by the example of genuine faith that he observed in Moravian believers. Observing their attitude and prayer life during terrifying storms on board a boat bound for America, the lack of peace with God in his own soul was highlighted. Wesley was so deeply disturbed that he lamented on his return, 'I went to America to convert the Indians but oh,who will convert me!'

Frustration growing, Wesley's story finds him arriving heavy hearted at Aldersgate Street, 'very unwillingly' according to his journals. In this state of broken reluctance, he heard someone reading from Martin Luther's preface to Paul's letter to the Romans, and suddenly everything changed. It wasn't even the scripture itself - it was just Luther's notes!

Wesley describes it this way: 'I felt that my heart was 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.'

The following New Year, whilst worshipping at 3am with a Moravian group, the Holy Spirit fell so powerfully upon Wesley that many in the room cried out and fell to the floor. From this time on his life and mission were never the same again. As opposition came from the parochial and established church, Wesley boldly declared the whole world to be his parish. Over the 50 years or so that followed, he proved it. Covering 250,000 miles on horseback and preaching somewhere in the region of 42,000 times (average of 16 times per week!)

More staggering than this personal, prolific ministry output, Wesley trained over 200 other preachers and in Britain alone, left over 70,000 people in new Methodist Societies. Because of this reproductive, multiplying DNA, within 10 years of his death there were over 825 Wesleyan or Methodist church plants in Britain.

We remember Wesley's conversion today, because if the 'six degrees of separation' laws have any basis, most of us who call ourselves British believers are connected more closely to Wesley than we realise. My own line emerges this way. Young William Booth, converted into dying Methodism a century later, breaking out to reach his own generation in true Wesleyan style - my own great Grandparents were caught up in this new movement, seeded by Wesley, their whose lives and future family heritage changed for ever!

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