This Saturday, May 24, is Aldersgate Day. It commemorates an experience that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, had 276 years ago in 1738. Sometimes people call that experience his “conversion,” but the term is misleading because it wasn’t the moment when he became a Christian. He had been a Christian all his life. In fact, he was a priest in the Church of England. But that experience did follow very low period in his life. He had gone to the Georgia colony with high hopes of accomplishing great things, but he was a failure there. He found himself questioning his faith and wondering if he really was qualified to be called “Christian.”
Wesley found friendship, support and someone who prayed for him in Moravian preacher Peter Bohler, who invited him to attend a Moravian Society meeting on Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. Wesley went, as he would write later in his journal, “very unwillingly.” What he experienced was the understanding of the gospel that he didn’t have to be holy before God would accept him as a child of God. It was after his experience of hearing someone read aloud Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans that he understood that his understanding was upside down and that he was fully accepted by God’s grace in Jesus Christ; he didn’t have to earn God’s love and acceptance. He recounted that experience, saying that he felt his heart strangely warmed. It was a true turning point for Wesley and for the Methodist Movement. It was shortly after that when he began teaching and preaching this good news.
In his journal on that day in May, Wesley wrote:
“In the afternoon I was asked to go to St Paul’s. The anthem was, ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with thee; therefore thou shalt be feared. …. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.’”
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.
This Sunday in our sanctuary services we will observe Aldersgate Day, but beyond that, we will celebrate that God still warms hearts today.
Grace and Peace,