Sunday 22 May 2016

To-day is Aldersgate Sunday, and each year on this date, or a Sunday close to it, we remember this day especially because it shaped the ministry of John Wesley, when he had a spiritual conversion three days after his brother Charles had a similar experience.
John had been to minister in America and it had been a dismal failure so had returned to England. On this date he had gone to a small chapel in Aldersgate in London when there was a discourse on Luther’s Letter to the Romans, when his spirit was strangely warmed and moved. He then understood that forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God was a free gift from God, and there was nothing we can do on our own to make us acceptable in God’s sight; this was all accomplished by God through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

We are called to believe that we too can have the biblical doctrine of assurance, that we can by God’s grace and through faith know our sins will be forgiven and be assured that by His death on the Cross Christ has given us eternal salvation.

For some people there is indeed a dramatic experience such as Paul had on the Damascus Road, whilst for others there is a growing in grace. Charles and John Wesley, who are in our minds at this time, experienced the Holy Spirit in special ways, too. Both were ordained into the Church and ministered as such for some years, yet both had deep spiritual experiences which changed their lives in May 1738, and went on to do greater things as a result.

Charles wrote his most loved and famous hymns afterwards, and experienced a ‘strange palpitation of heart,’ and just a few days later John felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’ From that time on, the Wesleys were used powerfully by God to spread the news of salvation.
For others there is just a steady grow in grace. We may take as an analogy two situations from life. A man and woman may meet at a social occasion and such is the chemistry between them they fall in immediate love and marry soon after, which may or may not last. Another couple may meet, find they enjoy being with each other, and gradually become totally dependent upon each other and spend the rest of their life together without ever being able to determine exactly when that came about.

Thousands attended the great Billy Graham Crusades in the 1960s/80s and were immediately affected by the atmosphere of massed choirs leading joyous praise with so many people, and hearing the preaching of the most successful preacher in all Church history. They rushed forward to the altar call, committing their lives to the Lord, but on returning to their local parish Church found 1662 Matins with chants of canticles and indifferent preaching were disillusioned. Others just grow in grace to love the Lord.
We each come as the Lord calls us, but should know when there was that moment we understood what the gospel was all about. For me, it was being at a Pentecostal meeting in Mombasa in Kenya.

I have always felt the greatness of Charles Wesley has been overlooked. It was in fact Charles who began the Methodist Church but John developed it, and John has always been given much more praise and attention. However millions now many years later still think of and remember the words of Charles’ hymns, but one needs to research to find the words of John.
Christianity owes so much to these two brothers, and it is tragic that what was once a great evangelical outreaching Church has lost so much of the fervour of these two men. I believe if they could know what is being preached in some of the Churches, and the beliefs of members that they can live in accordance with society’s standard rather than those preached by them, they would be horrified. One of Charles’ standard beliefs was, ‘that the value of a person’s life was to be measured by their faith and manner of living and not only by Church attendance.’
A previous sermon on Charles Wesley follows

Charles was born on 18th December 1707, and even at an early age was found to be academically brilliant. In 1716 he was enrolled at Westminster school London and showed awesome talent in Greek grammar which earned him a scholarship to Oxford. He went up to Oxford, where he gained an M.A in 1732.

Whilst at Oxford he and some friends formed what became known as the Holy Club, and they would meet for the purposes of joining in worship, and also to visit the sick and imprisoned. Because of their methodical actions they were named ‘Methodists’. This group was started by Charles, so earning him the right to be called the first Methodist. This is contrary to general thinking which believes John to be the founder of Methodism, and indeed would be a surprise for many Methodist Church members to learn. John later joined the group and became the leader, and indeed developed it.

Following graduation, Charles became a college tutor before being ordained into the Church of England in 1735. Shortly after ordination he sailed with John to America, but there they disliked him and he disliked them, so causing him to return to England after only six months.

On Pentecost Sunday, 21st May 1738, a momentous event took place in his life. He was being spiritually influenced by his sister and at the same time reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians, when he had a profound spiritual awakening. He wrote the first of his 6,000hymns ‘where shall my wandering soul begin’. The illness which had been debilitating him left.

Three days later John had a conversion experience whilst listening to Luther’s commentary on Romans. Charles then wrote that hymn so beloved down the ages, the one Billy Graham described as his favourite, ‘and can it be’ which described all Charles’ feelings. ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose got up and followed thee.’

Exactly a year later on the anniversary of his renewal, he wrote the hymn which was always number one in every edition of the Methodist hymn book until the 1983 edition, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’

Charles Wesley's new spiritual life was transformed. He then began as curate without license from a bishop, at St Mary's in Islington. The Wardens however objected to his preaching and the Vicar was obliged to stop him preaching, causing him to leave after just a few months.

In 1739 with John he began to preach at open air meetings, joined by George Whitefield, an Anglican priest who had been expelled from the Church of England Crowds of up to 25,000 people were reached. This offended many clergy who refused him access to their pulpits, and even led to him being driven from towns.

In 1745 at the age of 40, he visited Wales to preach and there met the 20 years old daughter of the local Squire, Sally Gwynne whom he soon married. This was a happy marriage, and Sally accompanied him on some evangelistic meetings.

In 1756, he gave up the itinerant ministry, tired of wandering around the country, and settled in Bristol for a period with the Methodist Societies

In 1771 Charles resumed preaching when he returned to London

Having looked at the biographical details of his life, I want to speak about the ministry of Charles. Whilst they were close as brothers there were inevitably strong differences of opinion between such prominent characters. Charles was seen to be the stronger minded character, and more decisive in controversial issues.

For instance, Charles took exception to the woman Grace Murray, whom John intended to marry, and when John proposed to marry Charles out rode him to York to prevent the marriage taking place.

Charles and John were still Anglican priests and wished to remain so, but few clergy sided with them for fear of the consequences from the Church, so more and more lay preachers were enrolled. Charles found them to have little depth
He displayed his more Anglican mind when he showed his dislike when he wrote, ‘Such a preacher I have never heard, and hope I never shall again. It was beyond description. I cannot say he preached false doctrine, or true, or any doctrine at all, but pure, unmixed nonsense. Not one sentence did he utter that could do the least good to any one’. If he were alive today, I think he would repeat that often, about preachers in general. On another occasion he stated, ‘John has made a preacher out of a tailor but I shall make him a tailor again.’

They differed over fees, when Charles felt he was entitled to receive fees for preaching, which John opposed.

Charles did not like the Methodist movement proposing to have an ordained ministry outside of the Anglican Episcopal structure, which was in direct opposition to John’s views. Soon after his death what he always feared occurred when Methodists separated from the Church of England.

Whenever people hear or think of Methodism, it is inevitably of John that comes to mind, and indeed many internet sites label John as the founder of Methodism. Possibly that is because in the writing of the history of Methodism, John has been portrayed more fully, whilst Charles has been seen to be just a hymn writer however prolific a one.

It has been suggested that Charles’ fondness for the Church of England caused the legacy of what he achieved in his writings, views and preaching, to be minimised and indeed covered up, and history made to record that Methodism was seen to be exclusively around John. One commentator described Charles as ‘the forgotten Wesley’. Charles was however just as involved and instrumental in spreading and sustaining the Methodist movement as his brother.

Few people still read John’s sermons, but the beautiful hymns of Charles are an enduring legacy. He may not have been the dominant figure of Methodism, but it was the practical theology of his hymns which drew many people to the Methodist Church. Also, in fact, many people reacted quite emotionally to his preaching.

No one can deny that the Wesleys, and the Methodist Movement, had an effect on Britain at this time. Historians generally agree that the evangelical revival had a profound effect on stemming a revolutionary tide in the country. Conditions were improved by changing the hearts of the people; many of the wealthy became more caring towards the workers, and the artisan working classes acted more respectfully and civilised. On one occasion in Wales a group of theatrical people protested that Methodist preaching was proving too much of an attraction and was threatening their business.

The legacy of Charles Wesley will live on wherever people gather to sing praise to the Lord, for it is difficult to select hymns for any occasion without seeing his name as one of the writers.

Let us always see Charles as the one who wrote as he thought and saw the importance of conversion and a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. He became vividly convinced of the message of salvation, and saw clearer than ever before how faith in Jesus Christ could change a person’s life. This was the message he would take to as many people as he could, particularly to the poorer classes. He preached that the value of a person’s life was to be measured by their faith and manner of living and not only by Church attendance.

In some of his hymns, the words reveal what one may think a distinct High Church theology. His aim was always renewal and never division; the unity of Christians not the separation. Whilst his heart was devoted to Methodism, he wanted this to be within the Church of England

The Methodist Church in Great Britain, like all other Churches has been in decline, but in many other parts of the world is growing so that future Christians will like us be able to pay tribute and homage to this great man and his brother John.
He died on the 29th March 1788. Just before his death, he sent for the Rector of the Church of St Marylebone in Islington, John Harley, and said ‘sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived and I die a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your Churchyard’.

He was buried in the churchyard at Marylebone Parish Church, against his brother's wishes, with eight clergymen of the Church of England as pallbearers. A memorial stone stands close by in
Marylebone High Street.

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