Saturday, May 23, 2009

Aldersgate Day


My apologies for my lack of posts! I have been quite busy as of late. I even missed Ascension Day. However, tomorrow, May 24, is a special day that I just could not miss. In addition to the fact that it is my daughter's birthday (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), it is also Aldersgate Day. (This is my beautiful daughter, to the right.)

What is Aldersgate Day? Well, any good Wesleyan/Methodist knows the answer to that question. It is the anniversary of John Wesley's "Evangelical Conversion." As the UMBW puts it, "On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced his 'heart strangely warmed.' This Aldersgate experience was crucial for his own life and became a touchstone for the Wesleyan movement."

The name, Aldersgate, of course, refers to Aldersgate Street, the location of the Society meeting where Wesley experienced his strangely warmed heart. (The picture below shows the Aldersgate memorial located in London.)

Prior to this Aldersgate experience, Wesley had sought assurance of his sins forgiven, but he was unable to obtain it through his many pious works.

During his trip to Georgia, where he would serve as a missionary, the ship on which he was sailing encountered a terrible storm . . . right in the middle of their time of worship. But the thing that caught Wesley’s attention was that, while the English on board were screaming for fear of their lives, the Germans simply continued singing.

Wesley asked one of them, “Weren’t you afraid? Weren’t your women and children afraid?” The man simply said, “Thank the Lord, we were not afraid; we are not afraid to die.”

Later, Wesley met with one of the German pastors for advice. The pastor asked him, “Do you have the witness within? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” Wesley was caught off guard (not something that happened very often). And so the pastor asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley said, “I know he is the Savior of the world.” The pastor replied, “That’s true, but do you know he has save you?” Wesley said, “I hope he has died to save me.” “But do you know?” And then comes those powerful lines from John Wesley, “I said, ‘I do.’ But I fear they were vain words.”

However, what was to happen to Wesley on May 24, 1738 would forever change his answer, and forever change the world. (The image to the right marks the probable location of Wesley's Aldersgate experience.)

John Wesley, himself, describes what took place that evening in his journal as follows: "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."

(Below and to the right is another marker in memorial of John & Charles' "Evangelical Conversions.)

Wesleyan/Methodists remember and observe Aldersgate Day, because it not only shaped the life and ministry of John Wesley, but also the entire Methodist movement from that time until today. It not only marks the spiritual experience of Mr. Wesley, but it calls us to worship the God who still "strangely warms the hearts" of all who place their trust in Christ alone as Lord and Savior. This experience illustrates so well the Biblical doctrine of Assurance. - We can, by grace through faith, know our sins forgiven. We can, by grace through faith, have an assurance that Christ has "taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Let us pray: Almighty God, in a time of great need you raised up your servants John and Charles Wesley, and by your spirit inspired them to kindle a flame of sacred love which leaped and ran, an inextinguishable blaze. Grant that all those whose hearts have been warmed at these altar fires, being continually refreshed by your grace, may be so devoted to the increase of scriptural holiness throughout the land that in this our time of great need, your will may fully and effectively be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(Prayer by Fred D. Gealy, as printed in the UMBW.)


(To the right is a picture of me standing next to the Aldersgate memorial during my trip to the World Methodist Conference held in England in 2001.)


2 comments:

Eric + said...

Last year, as was my custom, I remembered Aldersgate Day personally, but we did nothing with it in worship. I felt like I missed a great opportunity to give some depth to our Wesleyan heritage, and decided to do something with it this year. But then it fell on Ascension, which as a principal feast takes precedence. So next year, I will be reworking a Wesley sermon and preaching it. All the music will be Wesley hymns. I'm looking forward to it alread!

Todd Stepp said...

Eric,

Aldersgate often falls at Pentecost.

I've often done a Sunday night Aldersgate Service which has adapted Wesley's Sunday Service. I have invited participation from all of the Wesley related churches in the area.

It worked well in Greencastle, IN (a small town). We even branched out to have a Wesleyan G.S. & a Free Methodist Bishop preach.

My current location has been a bit more difficult to get it started.

Since Ascension Day is actually on Thursday, and since Sunday was Aldersgate Day (not just Aldersgate Sunday), I considered focusing on Ascension during our Wed. night service & doing Aldersgate on Sunday AM (we were not having a Sunday evening service).

In the end, I focused on Ascension, but was able to bring in Aldersgate in a way that I think fit nicely and did not seem forced.