The Conversion of John Wesley

Do you know how John Wesley became converted to Christ?

God used two key divine appointments with Moravians to point John to the Savior. One encounter was a Christ-like spirit that he noticed amongst the Moravian brethren. The other was a confrontational witness by a Moravian pastor. Following is the account.

John and his brother Charles were traveling to America in the fall of 1735 to serve as Anglican missionaries. The ship, which they shared with some Moravian immigrants, was tossed and turned on one occasion in a great storm. Shipwreck seemed inevitable. John Wesley made the following entry in his journal:

At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, ‘It was good for their proud hearts,’ and ‘their loving Saviour had done more for them.’ And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness, which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. Here was now an opportunity of trying, whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards: ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked: ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly: ‘No, our women and children are not afraid to die.’

Early in 1736 John sought spiritual counsel from a Moravian pastor in Georgia, A.G. Spangenberg. On February 7 John records in his diary the pastor’s response:

‘My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?’ 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 Saviour of the world.’ ‘True,’ replied he, ‘but do you know He has saved you?’ 1 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.

Both of these incidents made a profound impact on John Wesley. Two years later John and Charles returned to England. Under deep conviction, John wrote in his journal:

I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer-religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say ‘To die is gain!’ I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore.

Back in England, the Wesleys developed a close relationship with the Moravian brethren. Peter Boehler, who later became a leading Moravian bishop, led John to salvation in Christ. On March 4, 1738 John wrote the following entry in his diary:

I found my brother at Oxford recovering from his pleurisy; and with him Peter Boehler: by whom (in the hand of the great God) I was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief; of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.

Charles Wesley also placed his faith in Christ alone for salvation. John writes:

Wednesday, May 3, 1738. My brother had a long and particular conversation with Peter Boehler. And it now pleased God to open his eyes; so that he also saw clearly, what was the nature of that one true living faith, whereby alone ‘through grace we are saved.’

Later that month, while attending a religious service, John received assurance of salvation from the Lord. He describes it as follows:

Wednesday, May 24 … 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.

On New Year’s Eve, at the close of the year 1738, the year the Wesleys were born again, they attended a Love Feast with the Moravian brethren. George Whitefield was also there and spoke to the group. They spent the rest of the evening in praise and thanksgiving to God and in an all-night prayer meeting. God met with them. John writes:

About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice-’We Praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!’

The rest is history. John Wesley preached with power, leading countless thousands to Jesus Christ. The New Year’s prayer meeting gave him a longing to continually seek the reviving presence of God all throughout his ministry. For the rest of his life John never forgot how the Christ-like testimony of the Moravian brethren and the direct confrontation of Pastor Spangenberg led to his salvation and made a lasting impression on his own conduct of life. Oh, may we be people who not only give the Gospel, but that live the Gospel!

The above account was adapted from John Greenfield’s Power From on High: The Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Great Moravian Revival, 1727-1927, Chapter 3, The Spirit’s Witness (Warsaw, Indiana, 1928).  A .pdf copy of this book may be obtained here.

 


Posted in Biography, Evangelism, History

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