[b]Wesley's Views Concerning Religious Experience (part 1)[/b]
[i]Joseph D. McPherson[/i]
One of the most refreshing studies to be made is that of Mr. Wesley's views and observations concerning "feelings" in religion. We read in his Journal the following words dated May 1, 1774.
I preached at eight on that delicate device of Satan to destroy the whole religion of the heart, -- the telling men not to regard frames or feelings, but to live by naked faith; that is, in plain terms, not to regard either love, joy, peace, or any other fruit of the Spirit: Not to regard whether they feel these, or the reverse; whether their souls be in a heavenly or hellish frame!
Again, we read from the same source dated August 12, 1771 this statement:
The very thing which Mr. Stinstra calls fanaticism, is no other than heart-religion; in other words, "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." These must be felt, or they have no being. All, therefore, who condemn inward feelings in the gross, leave no place either for joy, peace, or love in religion; and consequently reduce it to a dry, dead carcass.
While preaching on the Old Green in Glasgow, Scotland in May of 1774, Mr. Wesley was conscious of the fact that very few of his hearers seemed to be at all affected. His brief remark on that occasion reveals something more concerning his views on this issue of experience in the religion of Christ. As he writes in his Journal, he preached "to a people, the greatest part of whom hear much, know everything, and feel nothing."
In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Mr. Wesley makes the following statement as a part of his commentary on 2 Peter 3:18:
It is easy to forsake the will of God, and follow our own: but this will bring leanness into the soul. It is easy to satisfy ourselves without being possessed of the holiness and happiness of the gospel. It is easy to call these frames and feelings, and then to oppose faith to one and Christ to the other. Frames (allowing the expression) are no other than heavenly tempers, "the mind that was in Christ." Feelings are the divine consolations of the Holy Ghost shed abroad in the heart of him that truly believes. And wherever faith is, and wherever Christ is, there are these blessed frames and feelings. If they are not in us, it is a sure sign that, though the wilderness became a pool, the pool is become a wilderness again.
As the physical body has it senses, so has every man the capacity to realize the possession of spiritual senses, according to Mr. Wesley. One, however, is not necessarily conscious of the existence of these spiritual senses until spiritually awakened. In the following quotation, Mr. Wesley describes in scriptural language the spiritual senses of sight, hearing, tasting, and feeling.
Faith, according to the scriptural account, is the eye of the new-born soul. Hereby every true believer in God "seeth him who is invisible." Hereby (in a more particular manner, since life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel) he "seeth the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;" and "beholdeth what manner of love it is which the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we," who are born of the Spirit, "should be called the sons of God."
It is the ear of the soul, whereby a sinner "hears the voice of the Son of God, and lives;" even that voice which alone wakes the dead, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee."
It is (if I may be allowed the expression) the palate of the soul; for hereby a believer "tastes the good word, and the powers of the world to come;" and "hereby he both tastes and sees that God is gracious," yea, "and merciful to him a sinner."
It is the feeling of the soul, whereby a believer perceives, through the "power of the Highest overshadowing him," both the existence and the presence of Him in whom "he lives, and has his being;" and indeed the whole invisible world, the entire system of things eternal. And hereby, in particular, he feels "the love of God shed abroad in his heart" (An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion).
In one page of his Journal, Mr. Wesley quotes from the letter of a friend who complains of scoffers and false teachers who persuaded many to give up their claim of an inward religion that could be experienced and enjoyed. There is not doubt that Mr. Wesley was in full agreement with the following sentiments of his corresponding friend.
All our preaching at first was pointed at the heart, and almost all our private conversation. "Do you feel the love of God in your heart? Is that mind in you which was in Christ?" were frequent questions among us. But while these Preachers to the heart were going on gloriously in the work of Christ, the false Apostles stepped in, laughed at all heart-work, and laughed many of us out of our spiritual senses: For, according to them, we were neither to see, hear, feel, nor taste the powers of the world to come; but to rest contented with what was done for us seventeen hundred years ago. "The dear Lamb," said they, "has done all for us: We have nothing to do, but to believe." Here was a stroke at the whole work of God in the heart! and ever since this German spirit hath wrought among us, and caused many to rest in a barren, notional faith, void of that inward power of God unto salvation (Jan 16, 1751).
On the subject of the witness of the Spirit, Mr. Wesley has written two sermons. The text for both is taken from Romans 8:16. In an attempt to define "the testimony or witness of the Spirit," he writes:
I mean, an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God ("The Witness of the Spirit," Sermon #10).
He further describes in the following words that which is experienced when this "witness" is made conscious to the heart of a seeker.
[The Holy Spirit] so works upon the soul by his immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm; the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus, and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled that all his "iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered" ("The Witness of the Spirit, II," Sermon #11).
The testimony of John Wesley's father, Samuel, who was dying, several years prior to John's own evangelical conversion on Aldersgate Street, left a lasting impression upon his son. In a personal letter to a Mr. John Smith, John Wesley gives his own eye witness account of that scene.
My father did not die unacquainted with the faith of the Gospel, of the primitive Christians, or of our first Reformers; the same which, by the grace of God, I preach, and which is just as new as Christianity. What he experienced before, I know not; but I know that during his last illness, which continued eight months, he enjoyed a clear sense of his acceptance with God. I heard him express it more than once, although at that time I understood him not. "The inward witness, son, the inward witness," said he to me, "that is the proof, the strongest proof, of Christianity." And when I asked him, (the time of his change drawing nigh,) "Sir, are you in much pain?" he answered aloud with a smile, "God does chasten me with pain, yea, all my bones with strong pain; but I thank Him for all, I bless Him for all, I love Him for all!" I think the last words he spoke, when I had just commended his soul to God, were, "Now you have done all." And with the same serene, cheerful countenance he fell asleep, without one struggle, or sigh, or groan. I cannot therefore doubt but the Spirit of God bore an inward witness with his spirit, that he was a child of God (March 22, 1748).
It was Mr. Wesley's persuasion that there could be no real testimony of the Spirit without the fruit of the Spirit. He believed and taught that "the fruit of the Spirit immediately springs from this testimony; not always indeed in the same degree, even when the testimony is first given: and much less afterwards." He further taught, "Neither joy nor peace is always at one stay; nor, nor love; as neither is the testimony itself always equally strong and clear." It was, however, Mr. Wesley's solemn advice to all seekers that they continue crying unto God until his Spirit was found to cry in their hears, "Abba, Father!" He expresses himself further in the following terms.
Without this [witness of the Spirit] we cannot retain a steady peace, nor avoid perplexing doubts and fears. But when we have once received this Spirit of adoption, this "peace which passeth all understanding," and which expels all painful doubt and fear, will "keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." And when this has brought forth its genuine fruit, all inward and outward holiness, it is undoubtedly the will of Him that calleth us, to give us always what he has once given; so that there is no need that we should ever more be deprived of either the testimony of God's Spirit, or the testimony of our own, the consciousness of our walking in all righteousness and true holiness ("The Witness of the Spirit, II," Sermon #11).
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