“If you wish to serve God and go to heaven; remember you cannot serve him alone; yon must therefore find companions, or make them; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.”
Just before John Wesley returned to the University of Oxford in 1729, these words were said to him, and they helped to give his life purpose. When he got to Oxford, he joined the “Holy Club” and quickly rose to the position of leadership. Only John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Mr. Morgan, an Irish gentleman’s son, and Mr. Kirkham, a member of Merton College, made up the group. The idea for the class meeting was was given birth here. Each week, they read aloud from the Greek Testament and other classical texts three to four evenings. They set aside Sundays specifically for the study of religion. They paid visits to the sick and prisoners. The Club’s membership grew, and its efforts and devotions were organized. Whitefield joined them in 1735. Because of their systematic practices, they had already been given the moniker “Methodists.” They were rule-followers. They “built me up” in the knowledge and fear of God, according to Whitefield, and “trained me to withstand hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The famous preacher made the mistake of temporarily converting to “Quietism,” missing Club meetings in favor of solitary walks across the fields and peaceful, private prayer. However, his strong religious character quickly rebelled. “God gave me a teachable disposition, blessed be his holy name, and I was saved from those devil’s tricks,” Reading mystic writers who replaced reveries for responsibilities and self-analysis and introspection for social religious labors and pleasures caused John Wesley himself much confusion and mental hardships. They read the first and greatest commandment in such a way as to omit the second, which is equivalent to it. Mr. Wesley describes how it affected him. Everything else seemed mean and insipid to him because of the morbid and unscriptural view of inward religion and oneness with God that these writers give. “However, they also made good deeds appear to be so, including faith itself and other things. They offered me a completely different perspective on religion than I ever had before. Unfortunately, it had little in common with the religion that Christ and his apostles preached. I was exempt in full from all of God’s commands. The format was as follows: Love is everything; all other commands are merely methods to express love; you must pick the ones that feel like means to you and utilize them for as long as they do. All the links were broken at once in this way, and even though I was never able to totally accept this or willfully ignore what God commanded, I nonetheless managed to swing back and forth between obedience and disobedience. I lacked heart, enthusiasm, and fervor when it came to following orders; I constantly questioned if I was right or wrong, never out of confusion or complication. The Mystics are the most dangerous adversaries of Christianity because they stab it in the heart, and its most serious instructors are most prone to fall prey to them. I am unable to describe how or when I slightly turned back toward the correct path at this time.”
Although this is bold language, it is accurate. Isolating Christianity will kill it more conclusively and utterly than anything else. It perishes for lack of oxygen and sunlight when you imprison it selfishly in the heart.
Years prior, Mr. Wesley had a desire for harmony with God and had questioned whether it was possible to achieve. And if achieved, could it possibly not involve consciousness? He experienced a satisfying response to these inquiries on May 24, 1738, a Wednesday. He began in his Testament with these words at about five o’clock that morning: “There are given unto us exceeding great and valuable promises, even that ye should partake of the divine essence.” (See 2 Peter 1:4) He read the phrase “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” just before leaving. He grudgingly went to a society in Aldersgate Street that evening where a layperson was reading Luther’s introduction to the Epistle to the Romans. The significant and blessed transformation occurred when Luther described how the Holy Spirit transforms hearts through trust in Christ at around fifteen minutes before nine. As Mr. Wesley relates it,
I felt my heart strangely warmed. I had the conviction that I did put my faith in Christ—and in Christ alone—for salvation, and I had confirmation that he had forgiven my sins—even mine—and delivered me from the power of sin and death. However, it didn’t take long for the adversary to say, “This cannot be faith, because where is thy joy?” Then I learned that having confidence in the Captain of our Salvation requires both serenity and the ability to overcome sin; nevertheless, God does not always grant or withhold the joy that typically accompanies the beginning of that joy, especially in people who have experienced great loss. I was repeatedly tempted after I got home, but I cried out and they ran away. They kept coming back; each time I opened my eyes, He brought assistance from my holy place. I discovered that this was where the main distinction between this condition and my previous one lay. With all my power, I was battling both in the realm of the law and the realm of grace. But back then, I was occasionally, if not frequently, conquered; now, I was always the victor.
The founder of Methodism was prepared to lead in the establishment of means of grace in which converted men and women bore testimony to the new birth and to the witness of the Spirit, and edified one another in love when he realized this experience at the age of 35, following a long and hard battle.