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John Wesley's Conversion

One of the reformers who believed in the doctrine of Christian Perfection was John Wesley. The following account of his life leading up to the time of his conversion has been slightly edited with some modernization of the language to make it more readable.
Ellen White had this to say of John Wesley: “Workers were raised up who ably defended the faith once delivered to the saints. ... The Waldenses, John Wycliffe, Huss and Jerome, Martin Luther and Zwingli, Cranmer, Latimer, and Knox, the Huguenots, John and Charles Wesley, and a host of others brought to the foundation material that will endure throughout eternity. ...”{AA 598}



1. During the first ten years of my life I had been strictly educated and carefully taught, that I could only be saved “by total obedience, that is, by keeping all the commandments of God;” I was diligently taught what these commandments meant, and I gladly received those instructions, so far as outward obedience was concerned, and I often thought of them. But all that was said to me of inward obedience, or holiness, I neither understood nor remembered. So I was just as ignorant of the true meaning of the Law, as I was of the Gospel of Christ.

2. The next six or seven years were spent at school where, away from the restrictions of my parents, I was much more negligent than before, even of outward duties, and almost continually guilty of outward sins, which I knew to be sins, though they might not have been seen as such in the eyes of the world. However, I still read the Scriptures, and said my prayers, morning and evening. And what I now hoped to be saved by, was,

a.. Not being so bad as other people.

b. Still having a good attitude towards religion.

c. Reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers.

3. Next, I went to University for five years. I still said my prayers both in public and in private, and read, along with the Scriptures, several other books of religion, especially comments on the New Testament. Yet all this while I had not even the faintest idea of what inward holiness meant. I went on habitually, and, for the most part, very contentedly, in some or other known sin: It is true that sometimes I stopped for a while and had short struggles, especially before and after the holy communion, which it was necessary for me to take three times a year. I do not know what I hoped to be saved by now, because I was continually sinning against that little light I had. The only hope I had was that maybe because now and then I repented, this would be enough.

4. When I was about twenty-two, my father encouraged me to become a minister. At the same time, the providence of God led me to the book by Kempis entitled, “Christian Pattern.” I began to see, that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God's law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions. I was, however, very angry at Kempis, because he was too strict; Yet I frequently had much comfort in reading from his book. At the same time I met with a religious friend, which I had never had before and I began to change my conversation, and I set out to live a new life. I set apart an hour or two each day for prayer and study. I took communion every week. I watched against all sin, whether in word or deed. I began to aim at, and pray for, inward holiness. So that now, “doing so much, and living so good a life,” I had no doubt in my mind that I was a good Christian.

5. Soon after I moved to another College, and there I carried out a resolution which I was before convinced was of the utmost importance, that is, giving up at once all my worldly friends. I began to see more and more the value of time. I applied myself more closely to study. I watched more carefully against actual sins; I advised others to be religious, according to that idea of religion by which I lived my own life. But now I encountered some books by William Law, entitled, “Christian Perfection” and “Serious Call.” Although I was much offended at many parts of both, yet they convinced me more than ever of the exceeding height and breadth and depth of the law of God. The light flowed in so mightily upon my soul, that every thing appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help, and resolved as I had never done before that I would not put off the time of obeying Him, and I was persuaded that by my continued endeavor to keep His whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I should be accepted of Him, and that I was even then in a state of salvation.

6. In 1730 I began visiting the prisons; assisting the poor and sick in town; and doing what other good I could to the bodies and souls of all men, either by my presence, or by my little money. With this goal in mind I put away all excesses, and many of the things that are called the necessities of life. I soon became a cause for scornful comment because of what I was doing, and I rejoiced that my name was cast out as evil. The next spring I began fasting on Wednesday and Friday as they commonly used to do in the ancient Church; I would taste no food till three in the afternoon. And now I did not know how to go any farther. I diligently strove against all sin. I left out no sort of self-denial which I thought was lawful: In public and in private, I used all the means of grace available at every opportunity. I omitted no occasion of doing good: For that reason I suffered evil. Yet I knew all this to be nothing, unless it was directed toward inward holiness. Accordingly, the image of God, was what I aimed at in all, by doing his will, not my own. But after continuing some years in this course, I thought myself to be near death, and I could not find that all this gave me any comfort, or any assurance of acceptance with God. When I discovered this, I was very surprised, not imagining I had been all this time building on the sand, nor considering that “other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid” by God, “even Christ Jesus.”

7. Soon after, a thoughtful man convinced me still more than I was convinced before, that outward works are nothing,. We spoke together several times and he instructed me, how to pursue inward holiness, or a union of the soul with God. At the time, I received his instructions as the words of God, but now thinking back I have to note a couple of negative things,

1. He spoke so strongly against trusting in outward works, that he discouraged me from doing them at all.

2. He recommended mental prayer, and similar exercises, as the most effective means of purifying the soul, and uniting it with God.

8. Now these were, in truth, as much my own works as visiting the sick or clothing the naked; and the union with God which I was pursuing in this way, was just as really my own righteousness, as everything else I had done before. In this refined way of trusting to my own works and my own righteousness, I dragged on heavily, finding no comfort or help in them, till the time of my leaving England. On shipboard, however, I was again active in outward works; where it pleased God in his mercy to give me twenty-six of the Moravian brethren for companions, who endeavored to show me “a more excellent way.” But I understood it not at first. I was too learned and too wise, so that it seemed foolishness unto me. And I continued preaching, and following after, and trusting in, that righteousness whereby no flesh can be justified.

9. All the time I was at Savannah I was thus beating the air. Being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, which, through a living faith in Him, bringeth salvation “to every one that believeth.” I sought to establish my own righteousness; and so labored in the fire all my days. I was now properly “under the law;” I knew that “the law” of God was “spiritual; I consented to it that it was good.” Yea, “I delighted in it, after the inner man.” Yet was I “carnal, sold under sin.” Everyday I was compelled to cry out, “What I do, I allow not: For what I would, I do not; but what I hate, that I do. To will is “indeed” present with me: But how to perform that which is good, I find not.”

10. In this vile, abject state of bondage to sin, I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. Before this, I had willingly served sin; now it was unwillingly; but still I served it. I fell, and rose, and fell again. Sometimes I was overcome, and in heaviness: Sometimes I overcame, and was in joy. Just as in my earlier condition I had some foretaste of the terrors of the law, so now I had some foretaste, of the comforts of the Gospel. During this whole struggle between nature and grace, which had now continued above ten years, I had many remarkable times when I returned to prayer; especially when I was in trouble: I had many real moments of comfort which are indeed just a preview of the life of faith. But I was still “under the law,” not “under grace:” (The state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in:) For I was only striving with sin, I was not free from it. Neither had I the witness of the Spirit with my spirit, and indeed could not; for I “sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

11. In my return to England, January, 1738, being in danger of death, and very uneasy because of it, I was strongly convinced that the cause of that uneasiness was unbelief; and that gaining a true, living faith was the “one thing needful” for me. But still I did not focus this faith on its right object: I was seeking to have only faith in God, not faith in or through Christ. Again, I did not know that I had none of this faith; but I thought that I only did not have enough of it. But as soon as I came to London, Peter Bohler was there, prepared for me by God, and he spoke to me clearly of the one true faith in Christ. He explained that it had two fruits always attending it, “Dominion over sin, and constant Peace from a sense of forgiveness.” I was quite amazed, and looked upon it as a new Gospel. I knew that if this was so, it was clear I had not faith. But I was not willing to be convinced of this. Therefore, I contradicted him with all my might, and tried hard to prove that faith might be present without those two fruits, and especially that it could be there without a sense of forgiveness. There are many Scriptures which said the opposite to what I believed, but long ago I had been taught to explain them away. Besides, I could see very clearly that, no one could have such a sense of forgiveness, and not feel it. But I felt it not so if there was no faith without this sense of forgiveness, it was clear to me that, all my pretence that I had faith had to be dropped at once.

12. When I met Peter Bohler again, he agreed to settle the dispute using the authority that I desired to use, which was, the teaching of Scripture and personal experience. I first consulted the Scripture. But when I set aside the ideas of men, and simply considered the words of God, comparing them together, endeavoring to understand the vague passages by using the plainer passages; I found they all testified against me, and I was forced to take refuge in my last defense. I began to argue that if we interpreted the Scriptures literally, then we would have a problem, because we would find that our experience was never in harmony with the Scriptures. Furthermore, I could not accept that it was true, until I found some living witnesses of it.” He replied that he could show me such witnesses at any time if I desired it and accordingly, the next day he came again with three others, all of whom testified, on the basis of their own personal experience, that a true living faith in Christ comes with a sense of pardon for all past sins, and freedom from all present, sins. They unanimously agreed that this faith was the gift, the free gift of God; and that he would surely bestow it upon every soul who earnestly and perseveringly sought for it. I was now thoroughly convinced; and, by the grace of God, I resolved to seek it unto the end. This I would do by,

1. absolutely renouncing all dependence, whether wholly or partially, upon my own works or righteousness; on which I had really grounded my hope of salvation from my youth up although I had not known it.

2. In addition to all the other means of grace, I would be continually praying for this very thing, that is, justifying, saving faith, a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in Him, as my Christ, as my only justification, sanctification, and redemption.

13. I continued thus to seek it, (though I found myself with a strange indifference, dullness, and coldness, and unusually frequent relapses into sin,) until Wednesday, May 24. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my New Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4.) Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul's. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.”

14. In the evening I went very unwillingly to a religious meeting in Aldersgate-Street, where somebody was reading Martin Luther's article, entitled, “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.

15. I began to pray with all my might for those who had despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I now 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 two things which always come when we have faith in the Captain of our salvation: But as for the great joy that usually comes at the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes gives, and sometimes withholds it, according to the counsels of his own will.

16. After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. Every time I lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” I found out that the difference between this and my former state was that, I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But under the law I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always victorious.

17. Thur. 25. — The moment I awakened, “Jesus, Master,” was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon him, and my soul waiting on him continually. ... Yet the enemy injected a fear into me, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more obvious change?” I answered, (yet not I,) “That I know not. But this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.' And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbidden me to take thought for the morrow.”

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

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