Sunday, May 24, 2009

Aldersgate


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...


...After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and he sent me help from his holy place. And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace; but then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered: now I was always conqueror.


-John Wesley, May 24th 1738


5 comments:

Ed said...

If I am not mistaken, there were episodes in Wesley's later life where he realized himself to be not so much a conqueror as he had thought.

Even so, it is undeniable that Wesley did undergo a sort of spiritual maturing at about that time and that this spiritual maturing came with an incredibly increased resistance to sin, a greatly improved internal zeal for God, and the beginning of a truly transformational period of his life (in which he transformed not only himself but also many, many souls around him).

As St. Seraphim of Sarov has said, "acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls will be saved around you."

It seems to me that at Aldersgate, Rev. Wesley did get a portion of the Holy Spirit. While his thought was never wholly Orthodox, it is marked by a profound withdrawal from some of the hideous innovations of his day and a full-out retreat (or rather, advance) in many truly Orthodox directions. Personally, I give thanks to God for Mr. Wesley's work among the poor of England. He truly brought the light of Christ (especially of the interior knowledge of Christ) into the darkness that had become their world.

May God grant him a blessed repose and a place in the great halls among the just!

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed, Good to hear from you bro. I guess my only problem with that Seraphim quote is that it seems to imply such passivity while the "thousand souls" are saved around you. Maybe I'm reading into that quote but I know Wesley was anything but passive while probably hundreds of thousands of souls were saved around him. And I'm sure Wesley wasn't experiencing much "peace" while God was using him in such mighty ways although he surely did have the interior peace that comes from resting in Christ.

Ed said...

Well, I don't know about whether or not St. Seraphim intended that quote as a sort of "cop out" for proactive missionary work, but this much I do know: he worked miracles, healed the sick, and brought many many people to intimate and repentant relationships with Jesus Christ.

I think the point of what St. Seraphim is saying is not that we should not be looking on the world without intent to help it, but rather that there is one thing needful: true and full spiritual fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. If a person truly and deeply acquires the Holy Spirit, he will know the tasks that God has appointed for him and will do them in love, even in spontaneous love.

There is also perhaps a distinction of agency there as well. It would seem that Seraphim might rebuke Wesley for his comments to his ministers such as "you have nothing to do but save souls" with an affirmation that it is only God who saves souls. We may assist and be instruments, but in the end we do very little of the work. Just a thought...

Matt Perkins said...

Thanks Ed, I agree with everything you wrote.

Ed said...

I suppose though there is an element of passivity in Seraphim's own story.

Following a savage beating at the hands of some bandits, who left him for dead, the monk Seraphim undertook a thousand day meditation on a rock near his monastic cell. After his thousand days of prayer using the Jesus prayer, he then spent three years in silent prayer, and then another ten years in which he broke his silence (to my knowledge) almost exclusively for church services.

Having undertaken this labor to know God, in the thirteenth year of his silence he was instructed by a vision that he should end his silence and speak for the benefit of others.

From that time, Seraphim began to receive visitors. In not a great amount of time at all he was receiving sometimes over 100 persons a day. He became famed for his clairvoyance and miraculous gifts of healing. Many people, in encountering him, reported that they did not need to tell him about themselves, he already knew.

One of his visitors who experienced this clairvoyance himself records Seraphim's message to him as follows:

"However prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ's sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ's sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ's sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life."

Sometimes I think about people like St. Seraphim and ask myself, "do I really love my God? do I really want to know him?"

But hey, back on the theme of this post, John Wesley has done something similar for me, although in his case, it's not about love of God, it's about love of neighbor.