May 24th - then and now!
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.
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 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.
John Wesley's account of the transformation that happened to him on May 24th 1738 is by now a major part of Methodist self understanding. It was an experience whose ripples spread around the world.
May 24th remains special. This is not because we worship Mr Wesley. At times, many of us have problems with him. However, we recognise the Spirit that equiped him for the challenges of his day, continues to equip people for varied acts of Christian service. In the Bideford Methodist Circuit, we gather tonight for our Wesley Day service. At it, we will see certificates granted to two of Mr Wesley's preachers who have served their Lord for a long time in that role. Mr Ewart Cockram, who will be the preacher, has been a Methodist preacher for 60 years whilst Mrs Vivienne Sheriff has been a preacher for 40 years. Both continue to minister effectively to our people.
Yes! The Spirit who called John Wesley and a few days earlier his brother, Charles, is still at work today.