The Conversion of the Wesley Brothers

John (left) and Charles Wesley
John (left) and Charles Wesley

The disappointing ‘missionary’ attempt by the Wesley brothers to serve God in America made them realise they themselves were in real need of salvation (see, John Wesley: the non-Christian).

Charles, the First!
Charles was the first to experience the new birth, the main topic about which Whitefield was now preaching. He heard Whitefield in London and records at the time, ‘Mr Whitefield [preaches] not with persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. The churches will not contain the multitudes that throng to hear him,’ (Charles Wesley Journals, Vol 1. P.79 Baker)

The brothers had been impressed with the faith of the Moravians on board ship during a storm, and John had received a surprise grilling by the Moravian leader, Augustus Spangenberg, in America. Following these encounters they began seeking them out once they had returned to England.

The Moravian Peter Bohler was leading a regular meeting in London’s Fetter Lane. Dallimore writes, ‘Charles and John were in almost daily contact with Bohler.’
He asked Charles ‘Do you hope to be saved? He replied, ‘I do!’
‘For what reason do you hope it?’ ‘Because I  have used my best endeavours to serve God.’

Charles reports, ‘He shook his head, and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable, saying in my heart, ‘What, are not my endeavours sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to.’ (Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, Crossway, p.58-59)

Power on Pentecost Sunday
Charles had discovered the vital doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone as he read Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians.

‘21 May was Pentecost Sunday…[and] the day of Charles Wesley’s conversion.’ Charles said he felt the Spirit of God striving with his spirit ‘till by degrees He chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced…I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.’

John, in his Journal records on that day, ‘I received the surprising news that my brother had found rest to his soul.’

Indeed, Charles wrote: ‘I was in a new heaven and a new earth!’ (See Dallimore, p.61-62)

John Wesley’s ‘heart strangely warmed’
Finally, three days later, at one of the Moravian meetings in Aldersgate Street, John Wesley got his breakthrough.  He had already discussed Justification by faith with Peter Bohler, but this was different.

At 34 years of age (more than ten years older than Whitefield) he was finally born again.

He wrote in his journal:
‘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 to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ (John Wesley Journal, May 24th 1738, Vol. 1. p.103)

After this Wesley followed Whitefield’s example and began preaching both justification by faith and the new birth in the churches. And one by one, the Anglican church leaders resisted him. (see here for further examples of Wesley following Whitefield’s example)

It wasn’t long before these newly converted ‘Methodists’, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, began to gather others together to seek God for greater blessings.

1739 was approaching, and little did these men know what a significant year it was to be!

To read something of the amazing influence of the Wesleys click here

To purhcase books click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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The Law Cannot Produce Life – Only the Gospel Can

So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.

But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.

The young Charles Wesley
The young Charles Wesley

Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.

Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.

His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.

Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).

John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.

Locked in the second half of Romans 7

George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.

There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.

But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)

In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’

From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.

‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’

‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.

Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)

Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Luther wrestles with God – Through Anger, Guilt, Revelation and Forgiveness

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach
Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach

When Luther returned to Wittenberg disappointed with his visit to Rome, he began teaching and expounding the Scriptures and his thirst for truth intensified.

He writes:
‘I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans.  I did not have a heart of stone, but to that moment one phrase in chapter one stood in my way.

I hated the idea, ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ …according to which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

I lived without reproach as a monk, but my conscience was disturbed to its very depths and all I knew about myself was that I was a sinner.

I could not believe that anything I thought or did or prayed satisfied God.  I did not love, nay, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.

Certainly, and with intense grumbling (perhaps even blasphemy), I was angry with God and said, ‘As if it were indeed not enough that miserable sinners who are eternally lost through original sin and are crushed again by every calamity through the Ten Commandments, God Himself adds pain to pain in the gospel by threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!’

At last, meditating day and night…by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is…a gift of God, namely by faith…

Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.

An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me…and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term ‘the righteousness of God’.

Thus, that verse in Paul was for me truly the gate of paradise.’ [1]

Luther wrestled with God! Next time we’ll see how he wrestled his generation and began a reform movement that took on the world!

[i] Luther’s Works, Vol 34, p.336-338 Fortress Press,and quoted in Luther, the Reformer by James M. Kittleson, (1989 Leicester: IVP)

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here
For the next part of the Martin Luther story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides