“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation”

275 years ago today, 24 May 1738, John Wesley received an experience that john-wesleychanged his life and ultimately lead to the development of the Methodist movement in Britain, Ireland, and America. His “Aldersgate” experience is often called his “conversion.”

It was a conversion, but not in the sense we commonly understand. Aldersgate was not Wesley’s “conversion” to faith in Christ. He was a Christian all his life. Certainly, the months leading up to 24 May 1738 were a low period in his life. His recent experiences in Georgia, subsequent return to London, having to explain his actions to the authorities who sent him there, and his sense of failure caused Wesley to questioning his faith and standing as a Christian. Nevertheless, he never stopped being a Christian.

Thanks to his friend, the Moravian preacher Peter Bohler, Wesley received the support, counsel, and prayers he needed most at that low point in his life. Bohler helped Wesley receive his “conversion” experience at the Moravian Society meeting on 24 May 1738.

Wesley’s experience that night was a conversion in that it helped him get the order of salvation right. In the preceding years he believed that he had to be sanctified before God would accept him as a child of God. He believed that a person must be made holy before Christ would restore them to right relationship with God the Father. In other words, prior to his Aldersgate experience Wesley believed that sanctification preceded justification.

The experience on 24 May 1738 helped Wesley “convert” his understanding of the order of salvation. It made him realize that he had it all backwards. When he heard the person reading from Luther’s preface to the commentary on Romans Wesley realized that Christ alone makes him acceptable to God. Christ alone  redeems and restores his relationship with God the Father. Salvation is a pure gift of God’s amazing grace. Nothing he could ever do or say could earn God’s love and acceptance. Perhaps, for the first time, at Aldersgate Street Wesley understood the meaning of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

On 24 May 1738 John Wesley converted his understanding of the way of salvation. His experience of assurance of salvation helped him understand that he had it backwards. We are saved by grace through faith! Salvation is God’s free gift of love. Christ crucified and risen has done all the work on our behalf. He alone makes us acceptable to God and restores relationship with the Father. He alone gives us the gift of faith that equips us to then live as a child of God.

Consequently, Wesley began preaching this good news in churches throughout London. Shortly afterwards, on 11 June 1738, he preached on his renewed insight into the way of salvation at St. Mary’s Church, the University Church, in Oxford. His text was Ephesians 2:8. His title was “Salvation by Faith.” You will recognize it as Sermon #1 of Wesley’s “Standard Sermons.”

24 May 1738 was, indeed, Wesley’s conversion experience. But it was not his conversion from no faith to faith in Christ. It was a conversion of his conception of the way of salvation. At Aldersgate Street Wesley got the order of salvation right, justification precedes sanctification. It is God’s pure gift in the person and

Wesley pilgrims at the Aldersgate Monument

Wesley pilgrims at the Aldersgate Monument

work of Jesus Christ. Grace upon grace!

Here is Wesley journal entry for 24 May 1738:

In the afternoon I was asked to go to St Paul’s. The anthem was, ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with thee; therefore thou slalt be feared. …. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.’

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.

Charles Wesley, who had a similar experience of assurance three days earlier than his brother, composed one of his most powerful hymns shortly after his brother’s Aldersgate experience:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

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16 responses to ““I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation”

  1. Very Rev Dr Deji Okegbile

    O Lord do it again in my generation. Break the structure of our institution and renew us a movement again in your power.

  2. Steve, great writing! I am so glad to see you interpreting Aldersgste as JW getting justification and sanctification in the right order. I have been teaching thst for thirty years.

  3. Pingback: Persist For Christ | Persist For Christ News

  4. N'GUETTA AKA ANDRE WILSON

    Wilson N’GUETTA L’ASSURANCE M’A ÉTÉ DONNE QU’IL AVAIT PRIS MES PÉCHÉS MÊME LA MIENNE ET M’ SAUVE DE LA LOI DU PÉCHÉ ET DE LA MORT . Que s’est merveilleux JE SUS a fait çà pour nous d’ou viens t’il que certaine personne paye encore de l’argent pour le rachat de leur âme. SVP CHRIST a déjà fait cela.

    Rough translation: The assurance has been given to me that he has taken my sins, even mine, and had saved me from the law of sin and death. How marvelous that Jesus has done this for us! From where does it come that a certain personne would pay enough money to ransom their soul? If you please, Christ has already done that.

  5. This sounds very Reformed, so when did Wesley begin his turn towards Arminianism and “backslide” from his initial Aldersgate experience?

    • Before I try to answer your question, I need more information. What do you mean by “Reformed” and “Arminianism”. Wesley knew himself to be an Arminian most, if not all, of his adult life.

      • I would start with the concept of “entire sanctification” which I find to be erroneous and continue with Wesley’s rejection of predestination, which is clearly described in a number of places in the Bible. One of the problems I find with the current day UMC is how Arminian doctrine has resulted in people “accepting” or “deciding for” Christ instead of receiving salvation through grace by faith given by God. Also, the emphasis on entire sanctification has manifested itself as salvation, or perfecting your salvation, through works, IMHO.

      • The significance of Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience” is that it helped him get to order of salvation right. From that point on he began to preach salvation by grace through faith alone. He understood that salvation was a pure gift from God and was made available to humankind through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Wesley rejected predestination because he believed Scripture is clear that Christ lived and died for ALL humankind and not just for some.

        Wesley taught that Christian perfection, entire sanctification, is the telos of the working out of salvation (Philippians 2:5-13). It is the logical consequence of a life wholly devoted to Christ through loving obedience and service to his mission in the world. Sanctification for Wesley is God’s gift; the result of human cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in us to heal the damage of sin and to restore us to the image of Christ. All this is the work of God in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

      • Steve,
        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on our interpretation of scripture. I would agree that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin that is sufficient for all but effective only for the elect. Try as you might you cannot get rid of the passages in the Blble that clearly speak to predestination and election. It is our sinful human condition that compels us to rebel at the sovereignty of God and rage against the idea that God would not save everyone, but there is no place in the Bible that I can find that says all will be saved.I suppose this is why I am no longer a UMC member. I simply could no longer abide the universalist, “many paths to God” preaching I kept hearing.

  6. Mzoxolo Washington Maka

    Greeting in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our LORD and Saviour.

    Thank you for your well researched, well written, thoughtfully composed, thought provoking and challenging article on Wesley’s “Aldersgate Experience.” It is an article to savour and appreciate!

    Stay blessed!

  7. In addition, May 24, 1738 is the exact timeline for Wesley’s transformation having understood the order of salvation and painstakingly advance his understanding of perfection as a gift and something that could be achieved in a lifetime. May 24 aldersgate experience is mentioned only once by Wesley in his whole writing corpus. This could be interpreted that achieving spiritual status of perfection is far more important than giving weight to every spiritual experience one has encounter leading to it.

  8. I guess it boils down to resistable grace vs irresistible grace and which one you choose to believe. The UMC has always stated that God must intervene first, but man can, and unfortunately, resist that invitation.

  9. Christ did indeed die for all of mankind, however, not all mankind will accept the invitation to receive eternal life and that is very biblical. Don’t know which UMC the poster is visiting. I can assure him that universalism isn’t preached at my UMC.

  10. How can we say that someone was “always a Christian” when we are speaking about “salvation” as being a result of a conversion? Wesley himself decries those “almost-Christians” who are, as he was, on the cusp of salvation, but have not yet converted. So isn’t it safe to assume that this Aldersgate moment was, in Wesley’s mind, his actual conversion, not merely getting his theological cards in the correct order?

  11. Steve,
    As one who has spent most of my life studying and teaching the theology of Wesley, I found this article to be spot-on. Revivalists have tried too hard to turn this event into some “new birth” experience for Wesley. I would have trouble with a God who would have condemned Wesley to eternal perdition just because he did not have his order of salvation straight. Wesley was a person who from his mother’s arms had believed the creed and the cross. But he was misgudied as many of us have been. Aldersgate “converted” Wesley in that it helpd him get his theology straight.
    Thanks for this great post.

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