Today is Aldersgate Day. On Aldersgate Day, Methodists commemorate John Wesley's experience of conversion or the assurance of his faith on May 24, 1738. Of that experience, Wesley writes in his journal,
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.
But what is not often quoted is what Wesley writes after this initial paragraph:
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, "This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?" Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I 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.
Faith is not always easy. It can involve fierce struggle because faith involves risk. And faith does not make life easier, even though it makes life rich with divine purpose. Faith involves more than a feeling of being strangely warmed. Those who equate faith only with a feel good experience will find it difficult to resist when "buffeted with temptations." John Wesley had a strangely warming experience that night on May 24, 1738, but he knew all too well that only true faith can withstand what assails us.
Perhaps, what Father John received that night was more of an assurance of his faith that he did indeed trust in Christ, even in the midst of his doubts. Exactly what happened to Wesley that night will continue to be debated, but one thing is clear-- faith and assurance go together; for to have both, one must continue to trust in God and the promises God has made in Jesus Christ.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)