December 21 | John WesleyWritten by University Communications
Christmas is five days away, which means five days of scrambling to get everything done that you wanted to finish three weeks prior. Stores will have lines and lines of people, and every online shopper will be selecting the “priority shipping” option. The busyness of life speeds up as we approach December 25.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."
– Romans 5:1-2a
Read: Romans 5:1-11
Being busy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, we need to avoid overworking ourselves, and we must strive for moments of rest and reflection, but when our focus is on the right things, busyness can be productive.
The trouble comes when the tyranny of busyness overwhelms us with everything but what is important.
This struggle particularly weighed on our focus of today, John Wesley.
John Wesley was born in in Lincolnshire, England, in 1703 to a very religious family. His father served as a local Anglican minister, strict and devout in his faith, and his mother was just as focused and strong-willed. Combined, they ensured that Wesley was busy at being a good Christian.
For college, he headed to Oxford and excelled in his studies, working his way to be a teaching fellow and also an Anglican clergyman like his father. He and his brother, Charles, along with other students, formed the Holy Club at Oxford, a group who strove for a rigid and focused devotional life as well as service to the poor.
Throughout his readings, Wesley always seemed to be drawn more to spiritual authors, such as Thomas à Kempis, rather than theologians, as if something in his soul longed for more than just rigid doctrine.
A few years into his time at Oxford, he headed to the English colonies in the New World to serve as a missionary in Georgia. Channeling the example of his father, Wesley sought to bring about order and piety to these colonists, who did not appreciate his actions nor his tone. To make matters worse, Wesley suffered humiliation through a broken relationship with a woman who chose to marry someone else. Frustrated, Wesley responded in anger, and he was slapped with a lawsuit for defamation of character. Unwilling to face the charges, Wesley fled the colony and boarded the first ship back to England.
The entire trip to the colonies was an utter failure for Wesley, except for a strange friendship he formed with a group of German-speaking missionaries known as the Moravians. These believers practiced a more heart-focused religion than did Wesley and his family, a religion very reminiscent of the writings Wesley had been drawn to during his time at Oxford. Throughout the voyage to Georgia, the Moravians gathered for prayer and song and had an unusual peace about them. In fact, when the Atlantic threw storms in their path, Wesley cowered in fear and the Moravians bowed in prayer.
On his boat ride back to England, filled with disgrace from his actions, Wesley must have thought about this group over and over again. After all, he practiced a busy, devoted lifestyle, just like them, but he did not have their peace. What made them different?
Curious, he decided to look up a local Moravian there in London, and the two became friends. He also decided to attend some of their gatherings, and at one particular small group meeting on Aldersgate Street, he sat with the group as they began to read Martin Luther’s Preface to the Romans. In that moment, Wesley found salvation.
As he recalled, “About a quarter before nine, while [Luther] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
Isn’t that a great phrase? I love how he puts that moment when the Spirit began to move. His heart was “strangely warmed.” Yet, it doesn’t end there. He doesn’t just have a warm and fuzzy moment. It isn’t that he was just in front of the Christmas tree and a special song came on the radio and he felt goosebumps. No, the feeling came because of a reality he discovered.
“I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation,” he continued, “and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins away, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Of course, Wesley had known of Jesus his whole life. He had devoted himself to the concept of Jesus and to the actions necessary to be a follower of Jesus. But he had never met Jesus…until that night.
When Wesley met Jesus, Wesley’s heart was melted, and his life was changed.
Did he become less busy? Certainly not. Wesley spent his life preaching throughout England, traveling some 250,000 miles and speaking more than 40,000 times. He wrote over 200 works, and he trained up a new generation of young preachers. He ushered in the concept of modern evangelicalism, and in many ways, English religious history in the late 1700s could rightfully be called the Age of Wesley.
What changed for Wesley? He not only placed his faith in Jesus, but he also trusted that the faith provided access to the Father. He embraced grace in his life and allowed grace, not works, to set his course.
In many ways, the story of Wesley reminds us of the story of Paul, and even Martin Luther. All put faith in their works, their status, their strivings. And all learned to count these as loss when they approached the manger.
What about you? Have you approached the manger yet? Sure, you may have spent your whole life going through the Christian motions. You may have begun your own Holy Club or maybe have been engaged in incredible philanthropic activities. You may even stand up every Sunday and preach the Gospel. But have you met Jesus?
When we meet Jesus, we embrace the fact that we are merely sinners and He is a gracious Savior. When we meet Him, we bow down, just as the Magi did, and lay our treasures at His feet.
If you haven’t ever met Jesus, let me encourage you to pray to Him today and receive salvation. It is the best gift you will ever receive.
But if you have met Jesus in the past, yet your heart has grown cold and hardened, let me encourage you to pray to Him as well. When you do, your heart will also be strangely warmed in the knowledge that the Christ Child has come to save you, even you!
O come, let us all adore such a marvelous Savior!