by Ethan Gregory
Today is an important celebration in the life of our Wesleyan and Methodist tradition. It is the day in which we remember that night on Aldersgate Street in London in an upper room where John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed,” and this entire thing we call, Methodism was born.
Wesley had already been on an exciting journey up to this point in his life. He attended school at Oxford with his brother, Charles. Each morning the brothers with a small group of friends would rise early in the morning for prayer and study of scripture, sharing life with each other, and regularly each week they would go beyond the walls of the university to be with those who were sick, living on the streets, or in prison. Their routine and attention to the spiritual disciplines was so meticulous that they were jokingly given the name, “Methodist,” by their peers.
After Oxford, John and Charles signed up to travel to America to do chaplain work in new settlements in Georgia and mission work with the native peoples. This was a bumpy journey for Wesley from the beginning. On the ride from London to Georgia, the ship Wesley was traveling on encountered a huge storm. The crew and most of the passengers thought they would surely not survive. But there was a small group of persons on the ship who were incredibly calm throughout the entire storm. Wesley was intrigued by this group, a group of Moravians, who were gathered together signing hymns and praying together throughout the entire storm. Wesley became so fascinated with this group that he began to join them on a regular basis for prayer and study once he arrived in Georgia.
After being run out of town for denying the Governor’s daughter communion (Wesley was not good with romantic relationships at all), Wesley continued his relationship with the Moravians upon return to England. These were important relationships for Wesley, as up to this point in his life, he had been meticulously engaged in a life of discipleship, but without any kind of assurance. There was no sense of God’s Holy Spirit in his heart. This all changed the night of May 24, 1738. Wesley wrote of that night:
“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.”
If you were unsure, Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans is a great and historic work; however, it is not the most engaging of texts. But if anything, Wesley’s experience shows to us that God uses the moments we least expect to assure us of the love and grace God has for us.
“Come Change Our Hearts”
On Sunday we celebrated our graduating high school seniors, and so our student praise team was assisting in worship. As I sat in worship, particularly during the music during the offering, Wesley’s experience and Aldersgate Day came to mind. The students performed one of their favorite songs they sing in worship together on Sunday nights, entitled “Change our Hearts,” by Josh Tullis. The words to the chorus go like this,
Come, change our hearts
May we believe
You satisfy more than anything
May we respond to Jesus Christ
Reflect his love and sacrifice
Come, change our hearts
The Wesley’s are known for their hymn/song writing. As I sat on the chancel in worship, I could not help but think that if Wesley were to write a hymn or song after his heart-warming experience today, these would be the words he would write.
Let This Be Our Prayer
In our Methodist tradition we profess that salvation is not a once and done kind of thing—we are always saved and being saved. As we grow in the grace of our God, we are constantly asking God to change our hearts and to continually reorient us in the direction of love.
On this Aldersgate Day in what way or ways are you praying for God to change your heart? Perhaps there is a group of people you are unsure of or
with whom you disagree. Perhaps there are certain social situations or events that God is inviting you to see or reflect upon differently. Perhaps God is inviting you to participate in works of justice and mercy in ways you had never even considered.
Whatever it may be, God is constantly in the business of changing our hearts, and this is important, because in the same moments God is doing the work of changing our hearts, God is inviting us to engage in the work of transforming the world.
Let us continue to respond to the ways in which God is working to change our hearts, so that we might engage in the work of making disciples and transforming the world—or more specifically in this place called, Arborlawn, the work of Meeting God, Connecting with People, and Living Missionally.
May your heart be “strangely warmed” this day!