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Seeking faith when you should be seeking Christ

In 1738 John Wesley returned from the mission field convinced of one thing: He was not a Christian.  He wrote in his journal, "I am fallen short of the glory of God... my heart is altogether corrupt and abominable... alienated as I am from the life of God I am a child of wrath and heir of hell."  (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield, vol 1, p179)

He was certain at this point that the only way of salvation was "by faith" - whatever that meant.  He knew he needed "faith" and he also knew he didn't have it.

"I was strongly convinced [he wrote] that the cause of my uneasiness was unbelief, and that gaining a true, living faith was the 'one thing needful' for me." (p181)

At this point the Moravians made a lasting impact on both John and Charles.  Yet the "faith" which they preached was oftentimes an internal religious experience rather than an outward-looking reliance on Christ.  This was the kind of "faith" which the Wesleys sought.

Arnold Dallimore comments "The views to which the Wesleys were led by these means became of historic importance, for these views influenced the beliefs they held throughout life.  They both spoke of 'seeking Christ', yet as one analyses the pertinent passages in their Journals it becomes evident that they were actuallly seeking faith more than they were Christ. Faith had become the great desideratum in their thinking, insomuch that they began to look upon it as an entity in itself.  Under [the Moravian] Bohler's instructions they had forsaken their trust in personal endeavours and works, but faith had become a kind of new endeavour which they substituted for their former endeavours and a work which took the place of their former good works.  They had still learned nothing about receiving Christ in the fullness of His person and the completeness of His saving work, but were concerned about faith itself and what measure of it might be necessary for salvation.  Charles expected that the coming of this faith might be associated with some visible presence of Christ, and John looked for an experience which would be accompanied by an emotional response.  'I well saw', he wrote, 'that no-one could, in the nature of things, have such a sense of forgiveness and not feel it.  But I felt it not.'"  (p181-2)

They both embarked upon a tortuous spiritual path in order to discover this faith.  On the 24th May 1738, at a religious society meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, John heard someone reading Luther's preface to Romans.  As Wesley described it, Luther's writing was a "description of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ."  That in itself is an interesting take on Luther's concern!  But, understood in this way, Wesley found himself responding to these truths.  He famously wrote in his Journal:

I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my 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.

This is considered by many to be John's conversion.  Yet other factors cast doubt on it.

Within a week Wesley was, in his own words, 'thrown into perplexity' when a friend asserted that faith must be fully assured or it is no faith at all.  He took a trip to Herrnhut, home of the Moravians, to enquire about 'the assurance of faith.'

But this gave no clarity.  As Dallimore writes, "since the Moravians formulated their beliefs to a considerable degree on personal experience, their answers to Wesley's enquiry were many and vaious.  One preacher said that 'the full assurance' was a blessing received at the same time as justification, but another asserted that it was a separate experience to be entered into after conversion.  Another stated that it was the coming of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion... and still another claimed that it was no more than a rich Christian maturity and was attained simply by steady Christian growth."

Dallimore lists the effects of this confused spiritual counsel on a perplexed Wesley:

"First, it influenced him towards combining Scripture and experience in formulating doctrinal beliefs.  Secondly, it increased in him that introspective tendency.  Thirdly, it caused him to believe that the Moravians possessed something which he did not have, and therefore that (as some of them intimated) a second Christian experience was possible - an experience, he believed, which would accomplish in him that larger victory in which the experience at Aldersgate Street had failed.  By the time he returned to England, Wesley had become something of a Moravian himself."  (p194)

And what was the result for Wesley personally?  Well in the short term he continued to be greatly perplexed about his spiritual state.  So much so that eight months after his Aldersgate Street experience, John wrote this in his Journal:

"My friends affirm that I am mad because I said I was not a Christian a year ago.  I affirm I am not a Christian now.  Indeed, what I might have been I know not, had I been faithful to the grace then given, when, expecting nothing less, I received such a sense of forgiveness of sins as till I then never knew.  But that I am not a Christian at this day I as assuredly know as that Jesus is the Christ." (p196)

What an astonishing thing to say!  Completely assured that Jesus is the Christ.  Completely convinced he's not a Christian.

What do we learn from this?  Class?

22 thoughts on “Seeking faith when you should be seeking Christ

  1. sept11epicpoet

    Dear fellow blogger,
    10 years ago this week many people watched as airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in downtown New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Hundreds of innocents perished because of the hatred of a handful of people whom they had never met before.
    Perhaps you know what it is like to suffer tragedy in your life even if you were not one of the many who lost family that day. Perhaps you feel like an airplane has crashed into your heart, and that your dreams and hopes have come crashing down. If that’s the case I do not claim to have answers for all the questions you may have. But I do know where you can find the hope you need. God can save you not only from being a victim of someone else’ hatred, but also from being a perpetrator. All people have been terrorized to some extent by those around them, and all people are guilty of terrorizing others. But God wants to both forgive you for your sins (2 Peter 3:9) and to give you a home in heaven where there will be no more pain (Revelation 21:4).
    There is much in this world that is out of our control. We can never know ahead of time if someone may try to kill us, or if we will die by some natural means. But if we trust in Jesus for salvation we can be sure that we will spend eternity with God after we die (I John 5:13). That is because Jesus has already died for our sins (Romans 5:8-9). If you accept this free gift by believing and repenting you will be saved (Acts 17:30-31). But if you reject this gift you reject the only way to escape God’s wrath (II Thessalonians 1:7). God loves you, but He also loves the people you hurt, and He will avenge them by punishing you if you are too unfeeling too admit how much you have sinned against them.
    Thanks for listening to my message. I hope that you have a peaceful week and that God will lead you to eternal peace of the soul.

  2. woldeyesus

    Without prayer for personal vision of Jesus in terms of the "blood" sigifying eternal life and the "water" signifying his work of baptism in the Holy Spirit, in his perfect and diacritical death on the cross, there is no saving faith. (John 19: 30-37; Heb. 12: 1-3)

  3. John B

    Wesley taught that salvation is both an event and a journey, and his emphasis was on the latter. He was assured that Jesus is the Christ, and of God's grace and mercy. Because of God's love for his people, he forms in them the very image of his Son. This transformation, begun in this age, is salvation, which is fulfilled in the age to come, when those who belong to Christ will be raised up to eternal life. Wesley viewed the restoration of God's image in humanity as coming about by God's gifts of grace and freedom that are received through faith in Christ. And just as the Son of God's descent into our death was a 'way', and not just an event, so too, Jesus opened a 'way' of ascent to God through faith in His person and work. I think that Wesley was saying that he wasn't a Christian (Christ-like) yet ("at this day"), but was on the way of becoming a Christian.

  4. Pingback: 1 Chronicles 12-15: Seeking the Father in the days of Christ « יובל-The Sent One-

  5. justin

    umm...nice timing on the article? been reading the archives for quite some time, but this is my first time posting on here. just had to chime in because i have been going through something similar lately and to see you address it here on my favorite blog? amazing! ill be sure to stay away from wesley, spurgeon's "advice to seekers" already made me feel insecure. thanks for helping me stay Christ focused.

  6. woldeyesus

    John B,

    Salvation is a shortchange of today's gifts based on knowledge of God in Christ's characteristic death on the cross, i.e., the great Christian omission.

  7. woldeyesus

    John B,

    Sorry for the incomplete posting for technical reasons.

    Salvation, began in this age and not to be fulfilled until the age to come when those who belong to Christ will be raised up to eternal life, is a shortchange of today’s gifts based on full knowledge of God in Christ’s characteristic death on the cross, i.e., the great Christian omission.

  8. John B

    Hi woldeyesus,

    So what's your take on Wesley's remarkable statement of his conviction that he wasn't a Christian?

  9. woldeyesus

    FAITH based on personal knowledge of Christ and RELIGION are incompatible according to Jesus (John 4: 21-26). So, what is the problem in not being a Christian?

  10. Christian church yorba linda

    Really a great stuff just love it...Have a faith in Jesus and religions or all is the personal opinions of everyone.Your post really explains well each and every point of it.i learn something new from your post.Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post with us.

    God Bless

  11. John B

    Hi woldeyesus,

    Thanks for your reply. Are you saying that Wesley was indifferent on this question? From Dallimore's book, I don't see that to be the case at all. Wesley clearly suffered some real angst about the matter. When he wrote, "I am not a Christian at this day", I wonder if he had in mind the "At that day" of John 14:20.

  12. woldeyesus

    Wesley's "remarkable statement" appears to reflect the incalculable difference between being a Christian and having personal knowledge of Christ and a share of his divine nature based on his great "self-revelation" on "that day", i.e., the day of his characteristic death on the cross according to God's thoughts and ways (John 6: 62-64; 14: 18-20-21; 19: 30-37).

    If true, praise the LORD!

  13. John B

    Hey woldeyesus,

    That sounds like it might be very good for Wesley, then!

    But, John 14:20 isn't a reference to "the day of his characteristic death on the cross"; rather, Jesus is there promising to send the Holy Spirit, “At that day”.

  14. woldeyesus

    God bless Wesley, then!

    John 14: 18-21 certainly refers to Jesus' "going" or dying; and to the promise: "I will reveal myself to whoever accepts and obeys" the crucifixion-specific commandments.

    To be sure, there is no "day of Christ's characteristic death on the cross" without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They go hand in hand!

  15. John B

    Hi woldeyesus,

    Yes, the crucifixion and Pentecost go hand in hand, but they're not the same days! Wesley taught second blessing holiness, i.e., that in the new birth there is remission of sins by faith in the atonement of Christ; and later a second baptism of the Spirit, when those belonging to Christ are perfected in love. So for Wesley he could properly speak of himself as having faith that Jesus is the Christ, while at the same time holding the conviction that he was not yet perfected in love, and therefore not a Christian.

    As an aside, in addition to his Whitefield biography, Arnold Dallimore has also written biographies on Susanna Wesley (John's mother) and Charles Wesley (John's brother).

  16. woldeyesus

    The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is the first apostolic application in public of the power of Christ's all-sufficient death on the cross!

    I do not know at all what Wesley teaches.

    According to the gospel, however, the continuum between being born spiritually of the Spirit and infinite growth in His grace and knowledge all based on His death on the cross is a test of the new birth's authenticity.

    There is no better remedy for man's other imperfections than the Lord's words to Paul, "My grace is all you need, for my power is strongest when you are weak." 2 Cor. 12:9

  17. Celal

    What a thought provoking post ! Well Glen i am as astonished as you are. I will offer up my own reflections but i hope you will not leave "the class" hanging and will give us your own solution to all these issues you have raised, my brother. Ok here goes. Well first of all, we seem to be entirely dependent on Dalimore's reading of the events. Not that i find anything wrong with it but still that is the case, isn't it ? Perhaps you could tell us why you find his analysis compelling. Secondly, i would have to read Luther's preface to Romans to see what Wesley heard or mis-heard on that occasion. But what i know about Luther is that he was very much sensitive to the condemning finger of the law against him. Seems no trace of that with the Wesleys. I am inclined to think that right up to the last quotation of Wesley that Wesley was still not saved because he was still seeking faith and not Christ Himself. This then begs the question : When did Mr. Wesley finally did get saved and find assurance ? (Or maybe he didn't ?!?) My overall take on this is that Wesley from the time of his return from the mission field, right through having his "heart warmed" up to that last quote of his was put on the path to salvation like Chrisitian in Pilgrim's Progress but was still in an introspecive state -- looking in and not out to Christ. John Bunyan makes much (and rightly so, in my opinion) of "brokenness" before salvation. Maybe that is what awaited Wesley, for only then when we are utterly at the end of our rope, do we lose the last shred of inwardness and start looking outward to Christ and then He reaches down and lifts us out of our Hole (a reference to your latest video my friend).

  18. Glen

    Hi Celal,

    Well Jonathan Edwards said we always tend to late-date our own conversions (since we naturally give ourselves more credit for spiritual insight than is warranted!). So I'd be content to think Wesley was converted *before* 24th May 1738. It's often said that we're saved by faith alone and not by our formulation of the doctrine of faith alone. The same thing can be said of the new birth I think. We must be born again but that's not the same thing as being able to articulate the time of this supernatural change.

    The lesson I take from all this is that we mustn't look to our hearts nor even to our faith but to Christ Himself. He is our salvation and our assurance. Looking within for assurance of faith is to descend into a labyrinthine hall of mirrors!

  19. Glen

    Yes indeed Russell. Proof that it's not what inside that counts. It's what's on the outside that is all important!

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