Thursday 24th May marks something of a special day in the Methodist Church calendar. It is an anniversary, for on that date in 1738 John Wesley recorded that he had him ‘warmed heart’ experience. Here is the famous entry from his journal:
‘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.’
Many people know and have read this quote, and I hope know something of the experience of which John Wesley wrote. An interesting aspect of the experience is that it was not prompted by a reading from the Bible, nor even commentary on a Bible reading, but came when someone was reading the introductory preface to a commentary on a book of the Bible, namely Romans by Martin Luther. Now, I wonder how many of us have ever taken the time to discover and read this introduction that so impacted John Wesley? To save you the effort, here it is:
An extract from Martin Luther’s Preface to his commentary on the letter to the Romans (1483 – 1546)
‘…faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.
Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!’
Something written in the sixteenth century about an ancient text (The book of Romans from the New Testament of the The Bible) deeply impacted a man hearing it in the eighteenth century. Perhaps it can impact still in the 21st century?