I am reading a book about John Wesley’s theology titled, The New Creation, by Theodore Runyon. A passage about assurance, and Wesley’s quest of it, spoke to me because it named what I think was once a cancer in my own heart not very long ago.
In the years leading up to Wesley’s conversion experience, where his “heart was strangely warmed” and he knew that Christ had died for him, for even him, he was convinced that there must be some inner witness of the Spirit with his spirit that he was a child of God. Yet he didn’t posses it.
August Spangenberg, a Moravian leader, posed questions to Wesley which unsettled him. Questions like, “Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” Wesley reports,
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 Savior of the world.” “True,” he replied, “but do you know he has saved you?” I 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.
I identify with the father of Methodism in these words above. I recall preaching and speaking of Jesus being the Savior of the world, and believing it to be true, yet not truly laying hold of this for myself. The cross was good news for my listeners but I did not know it’s power in my own spirit. They were, in the end, “vain words.”
It’s impossible to lead a person, let alone a church, where you yourself have never been!
I did what I think many of us do when found in a similar mess: focus on the stuff. It is so easy to get swept up into the tidal wave of causes, of programs, of “to do lists,” of things which in the end are nothing but works. In the doing of all this stuff we gain a false sense of assurance that we are children of God. We are so busy pursuing the causes of Christ that we forget that Christ’s greatest cause was, and still is, our heart. As Jesus said, we should have the one but not neglect the other. We ought to be concerned with our neighbor but this ought to arise out of a deep love of God. Holiness, what Wesley defined as a “recovery of the image of God, a renewal of soul after his likeness,” must become the heart’s cry of us all, particularly those of us who bear the name “pastor.”
I have great respect for Wesley because he saw the deficiency in his own heart and was honest enough to confess it and repent. On May 24, 1738, he found that assurance he so desperately desired and as a result the world was turned upside down through the preaching of a man who laid hold of God, convinced that God had laid hold of him.
So I ask you, as I ask myself:
Do you know Jesus Christ died for you? Do you know that Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins? Does the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead, bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?
Lord, may Your grace and mercy give us no rest until we can say with assurance, Yes! It is well with my soul!
- This edited post originally appeared on my other blog, Desire Mercy.