Today, 24 May 2010, is Aldersgate Day. Wesleyan scholars debate the meaning of Aldersgate. Was it a full conversion to faith or a formative spiritual experience? (I believe the latter.) Wesley himself rarely referred to it after about 1740. One thing is certain: Wesley, who had previously struggled to believe that he was truly a Christian, found in Aldersgate a sense of assurance that he was forgiven, loved, and accepted by God in Christ—a conviction from which he never wavered. Assurance continues to be an important emphasis in Methodism. In general, we Christians ought to be assured by the Holy Spirit that we will be saved. It shouldn’t be something we worry about.
On this day 272 years ago, John Wesley wrote the following in his journal (dated May 24, 1738):
…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. 15. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I now first 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 essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation: But that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes with holdeth them, 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. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted.
Here’s the 250th Aldersgate anniversary address from 1988, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, by Dr. Donald English, a British Methodist scholar. Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance.