One of the first results of their baptism with the Holy Spirit was the joyful assurance of their pardon and justification. They now experienced as they never had before the force and fullness of the Scripture, "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." Romans 8:16.
One instance of this deserves special mention, as setting forth both their own experience as well as the substance of the message they proclaimed to others.
A little girl, Susanna Kuehnel, eleven years of age, became spiritually awakened. Her dear mother's happy death caused the child to long for a similar living faith and assurance of salvation. She was taught and encouraged to seek the Lord in prayer until the answer came. With strong and ever stronger desire she prayed for the blessed assurance of pardon and peace. Others also united in prayer for her and the historian tells us:
"At one o'clock one morning, while weeping and praying, she broke out into indescribable joy, called to her father, who slept in the adjoining room, and who had, unknown to her, heard all that passed, and cried out: 'Now father, I am become a child of God, and I know also how my mother felt.' She, however, did not only relate to her father what great mercy the Lord had shown her, but out of the abundance of her heart her mouth spake to her companions of His loving kindness towards her, and this she did with such energy that they were deeply affected thereby, and felt themselves powerfully drawn to Jesus."
A venerable Bishop of the Moravian Church tells us that "this little girl, after having spent three days wrestling with God in prayer experienced on August sixth such a divine feeling of the grace of our Saviour, and obtained so clear an assurance of her salvation, that neglecting even the necessary bodily refreshment, she spent the greatest part of that day in proclaiming the praises of her Redeemer." Elsewhere the Bishop calls her, "This little preacher of righteousness." This blessed truth of the Spirit's witness is not such a strange doctrine in our day as it was two centuries ago. Within our memory Mrs. Catherine Booth, the mother of the Salvation Army, instructed her fellow workers as follows in the winning souls:
"Do not tell anybody they are saved. I never do. I leave that for the Holy Ghost to do. I tell them how to get saved. I try to help them to the way of faith. I will bring them up as close as ever I can to the blessed broken body of their Lord, and I will try to show them how willing He is to receive them; and I know that when really they do receive Him, the Spirit of God will tell them quickly enough that they are saved. He will not want any assistance about that. I have proved it in hundreds of cases. Nobody knows the soul but God. Nobody can see the secret windings of the depraved heart but God. Nobody can tell when a full surrender is made but God. Nobody can tell when the right hand is cut off, or the right eye plucked out, but God. Nobody can tell when a soul is whole-hearted but God, and as soon as He sees it, He will tell that soul it is saved."
Moravian experience two centuries ago proves the truth of Mrs. Booth's testimony. The Moravian Pentecost produced the same joyful and victorious assurance of salvation as in apostolic times. They could testify with St. Paul: "Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." (I. Thess. 1:5.) No better illustration of this can be found than in their life and testimony which led to the conversion of the two famous brothers, John and Charles Wesley. This spiritual experience deserves to rank in depth of knowledge and extent of influence with the historic conversions of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and John Bunyan. It ought to be deeply pondered by every Christian worker who would be a soul-winner. Its thoroughness, regenerating and transforming power deserve our particular consideration. This great story will be told chiefly in the very words of the famous authors and actors themselves.
In the fall of 1735 John and Charles Wesley are on their way to America as Anglican missionaries. A company of Moravian immigrants are also on the vessel. During a terrible storm the danger of ship-wreck was imminent. John Wesley made the following entry in his journal:
"At seven I went to the Germans. 1 had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, 'It was good for their proud hearts,' and 'their loving Saviour had done more for them.' And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness, which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. Here was now an opportunity of trying, whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards: 'Were you not afraid?' He answered, 'I thank God, no.' I asked: 'But were not your women and children afraid?' He replied mildly: 'No, our women and children are not afraid to die."'
After reaching Georgia, Wesley sought spiritual counsel of the Moravian bishop, A. G. Spangenberg. He wrote in his diary, under the date of Feb. 7, 1736: "Mr. Oglethorpe returned from Savannah with Mr. Spangenberg, one of the Pastors of the Germans. I soon found what spirit he was of, and asked his advice with regard to my own conduct. He said:
"'My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?' I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it and asked: 'Do you know Jesus Christ?' I paused and said: 'I know He is the Saviour of the world.' 'True,' replied he, 'but do you know He has saved you?' 1 answered: 'I hope He has died to save me.' He only added: 'Do you know yourself ?' I said: 'I do.' But I fear they were vain words."
John Wesley's experience with the Christ-like Moravians on board the ship as well as the subsequent probing of his heart by Bishop Spangenberg with reference to the new birth and the assurance of salvation made an abiding impression on his whole life and permanently influenced not only his teaching, but also his behaviour in times of trial and persecution. Returning to England two years later, Wesley wrote in his journal:
"I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer-religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can 1 say 'To die is gain!'
"I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore."
In Great Britain John and Charles Wesley became quite intimately acquainted with the Moravian Brethren. Peter Boehler, later a leading bishop in the Moravian Church, was particularly blessed in his efforts to lead John Wesley into the full light of the Gospel. Under date of March 4, 1738, Wesley made the following entry in his diary:
"I found my brother at Oxford recovering from his pleurisy; and with him Peter Boehler: by whom (in the hand of the great God) 1 was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief; of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved. Immediately it struck into my mind, 'Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others who have not faith yourself ?' I asked Boehler whether he thought I should leave it off, or not. He answered, 'By no means.' I asked: 'But what can I preach?' He said: 'Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.' Accordingly, Monday, 6, 1 began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone, was a prisoner under sentence of death."
At length he himself was led into the full assurance of salvation. His own testimony in this matter is conclusive. In his diary we read:
"Wednesday, May 3, 1738. My brother had a long and particular conversation with Peter Boehler. And it now pleased God to open his eyes; so that he also saw clearly, what was the nature of that one true living faith, whereby alone 'through grace we are saved.'
"Wednesday, May 24. 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.
"Friday, May 26. My soul continued in peace, but yet in heaviness, because of manifold temptations. I asked Mr. Telchig, the Moravian, what to do. He said: "You must not fight with them as you did before, but flee from them the moment they appear, and take shelter in the wounds of Jesus."
The Methodists and Moravians in those days often met together for Bible-study and prayer. The great preacher, George Whitefield, refers to a Moravian Love Feast and prayer-meeting in his journal. His biographer tells us:
"Whitefield began the New Year (1739) as gloriously as he ended that which had just expired. He received Sacrament, preached twice, expounded twice, attended a Moravian Love Feast in Fetter Lane, where lie spent the whole night in prayer to God, psalms and thanksgiving; and then pronounced 'this to be the happiest New Year's Day he had ever seen.'
"This Love Feast at Fetter Lane was a memorable one. Besides about sixty Moravians, there were present not fewer than seven of the Oxford Methodists, namely, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Wesley Hall, Benjamin Ingham, Charles Kinchin and Richards Hutchins, all of them ordained clergymen of the Church of England. Wesley writes: 'About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice-'We Praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!'"
One of Wesley's first converts was his dear old mother, the "Godly Susanna," whom some one has called "the mother of Methodism and of nineteen children besides." The following is from John Wesley's journal:
"Monday, Sept. 3. 1 talked largely with my mother, who told me that till a short time since she had scarce heard such a thing mentioned as the having forgiveness of sins now, or God's Spirit bearing witness with our spirit; much less did she imagine that this was the common privilege of all true believers. 'Therefore,' said she, 'I never durst ask it for myself. But two or three weeks ago, while my son, Hall, was pronouncing those words, in delivering the cup to me, 'The Blood of our lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee,' the words struck through my heart, and I know God for Christ's sake has forgiven me all my sins."'
The conversion of John and Charles Wesley marks an epoch in the history of Protestantism. In a recent sermon on John Wesley, Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, president of the Federal Council of Churches, spoke as follows:
"On the Westward trip to Georgia he fell in with some Moravian Brethren, who revealed to Wesley his need of a personal and regenerating contact with Christ. He never rested until he found that contact. It is not too much to say that what happened in that little meeting-house in Aldersgate street on May 24, 1738, changed the political and religious destinies of English-speaking Protestantism. By God's help he relit the expiring fires of religion. It was his conversion which crowned his preparation. Twice born, and both times most nobly born, he cannot be understood apart from the training of Epworth Rectory and his transformation in Aldersgate Street, London."
Wesley's own estimate of the revival which resulted in his conversion was remarkably prophetic. When his spiritual father, Peter Boehler, who was nine years his junior, left England after a stay of several months, Wesley recorded in his journal:
"Peter Boehler left London to embark for Carolina. Oh what a work hath God begun since his coming into England! Such an one as shall never come to an end, till Heaven and earth pass away!"
A few extracts from Peter Boehler's letters to Count Zinzendorf may well close this chapter on the witness of the Spirit:
"The English people made a wonderful to do about me; and though I could not speak much English they were always wanting me to tell them about our Saviour, His blood and wounds, and the forgiveness of sins.
"On the 28th of February I traveled with the brothers John and Charles Wesley from London to Oxford.
The older of the two, John, is an amiable man; he acknowledges that he does not yet really know the Saviour, but is willing to be instructed. He loves us sincerely. His brother, with whom you frequently conversed last year when you were in London, is greatly troubled in mind, and does not know how to begin to learn to know the Saviour.
"I heard John Wesley preach. I could understand all he said, but it was not what 1 wished to hear. Hence I took four of my English brethren, among them Wolf, to see him, that they might tell him their experience and show him that the Saviour receives sinners quickly and willingly. One by one they began to unfold to Wesley what they had experienced. Wolf, especially, a new convert, spoke most feelingly and with great power of the grace which he had received. Wesley and others who were with him listened in blank amazement. I then asked Wesley what he thought of such experiences. He answered that four instances were not enough and could not convince him. 1 replied that I could bring forward eight more cases of the same kind in London. After a little while he rose and said: 'Let us sing Hymn 456, "My Soul Before Thee Prostrate Lies." ' During the singing he frequently wiped his eyes, and immediately after called me into his bedroom and confessed that he was now convinced of the truth of what I had told him about faith and would no longer dispute it, but that he had not attained to this grace. How was he to secure such faith? He had not sinned as grossly as others. I replied, that not to believe in the Saviour was sin enough, and exhorted him to seek Christ until he had found Him as his Saviour. I was strongly moved to pray with him and called on the Redeemer to have mercy on this sinner. After the prayer Wesley remarked that when the gift of saving faith would once be his, he would preach upon no other subject.
"I had another affectionate conversation with John Wesley. He informed me of the opposition he had met with on the part of some orthodox ministers to whom he had made known his conviction that he did not as yet possess true, saving faith. He asked me what he ought to do. Should he tell his state to the people to whom he preached? I answered that I could give him no rule in this respect, that he must follow the promptings of the Saviour; but I earnestly begged him not to look for the Saviour's grace as far off and in the future, but to believe that it was present, nigh to him, that the heart of Jesus was open and His love to him very great. He wept bitterly and asked me to pray with him. I can truly affirm that he is a poor, heart-broken sinner, hungering after a better righteousness, than that which he has thus far had, even the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In the evening he preached on 1. Cor. 1:23-24, 'We Preach Christ Crucified,' etc. He had more than four thousand hearers and spoke in such a way that all were amazed. They had never before heard such doctrines from his lips. His first words were: 'I sincerely confess myself unworthy to preach to you of the Crucified Jesus.' All poor sinners could appreciate this, all who felt their own misery. Many were awakened by this sermon!"
Thus far Peter Boehler. We cannot but exclaim: What a truly noble soul John Wesley was!
No wonder he preached in demonstration of the Spirit and of power and caused more than 130,000 persons to rally around him during his life-time. Eighty years after Wesley's death Methodism could boast of twelve million adherents; today of nearly thirty millions. Dean Farrar has well said: "The Evangelical movement, the Oxford movement, even the recent enthusiasm. of the Salvation Army are traceable to Wesley's example, and to the convictions which he inspired." Bishop Lightfoot also testified that "The Salvationists, taught by John Wesley, have learned and have taught the Church again, the lost secret of the compulsion of human souls to the Saviour."
We stand in spirit around the death-bed of John Wesley. For nearly three score years he has preached Christ and practiced holiness. He has traveled on his ceaseless round of duty some 4,500 miles annually, and preached two or more sermons every day, often to immense audiences. At the age of 86 he records an address delivered to a congregation of 25,000. Now the old hero and valiant soldier of the Cross is facing "the last enemy." We hear him whisper again and again:
"I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me."
We recognize this confession of faith, both in its substance and phraseology. The songs and sermons of the Moravian Brethren have it as their constant theme. Amongst them Wesley had learned and received this saving truth. His friend and fellow-worker, "the holy" John Fletcher, Methodism's chief saint, had shortly before departed this life with the dying testimony:
"I nothing have, I nothing am,
My treasure's in the bleeding Lamb,
Both now and evermore."
We may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, we may have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, we may have all faith, so that we could remove mountains, we may bestow all our goods to feed the poor and give our bodies to be burned,-in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, nothing will avail unless we have learned in the school of the Holy Ghost.
"I the chief of sinners am,
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But Jesus died for me."