Wesley's Views Concerning Religious
Experience, Part 2
Joseph D. McPherson

In his sermon entitled, "The Wilderness State," Mr. Wesley shows how believers may fall into a state of "darkness" by ignorance or by sins of commission or omission. In his sermon entitled, "Heaviness through Manifold Temptations," he shows how a believer may experience heaviness or grief of heart because of pain, illness, lack of food and raiment for one's family, loss of a loved one, or the waywardness and sins of those near and dear to us. In the following paragraph, he corrects a supposed, but mistaken cause for a believer's experiencing "darkness" or "heaviness."

It has been frequently supposed, that there is another cause, if not of darkness, at least, of heaviness; namely, God's withdrawing himself from the soul, because it is his sovereign will. Certainly he will do this, if we grieve his Holy Spirit, either by outward or inward sin; either by doing evil, or neglecting to do good; by giving way either to pride or anger, to spiritual sloth, to foolish desire, or inordinate affection. But that he ever withdraws himselfbecause he will, merely because it is his good pleasure, I absolutely deny. There is no text in the Bible which gives any colour for such a supposition. Nay, it is a supposition contrary, not only to many particular texts, but to the whole tenor of Scripture. It is repugnant to the very nature of God: It is utterly beneath his majesty and wisdom, (as an eminent writer strongly expresses it,) "to play at bo-peep with his creatures." It is inconsistent both with his justice and mercy, and with the sound experience of all his children.

In his Journal, dated March 9, 1746, this great man acknowledges a fault that, according to him, cost him some peace of heart.

Sunday was a day of solemn joy; yet, in the afternoon, I felt a great damp, occasioned by my neglecting to speak plainly to some who were deceiving their own souls. I do not wonder at the last words of St. Augustine and Archbishop Usher, "Lord, forgive me my sins of omission."

Another interesting account, as well as serious warning to pastors, is recorded in his Journal under the date of June 13, 1771.

I spoke severally to the members of the society. I found far more life among them that I expected. Near one half of the sixty... I judged to be real believers. What a mischievous injustice it is to represent all this people as dead! It has weakened the hands of the Preachers much, and has greatly discouraged the people. The continually telling people they are dead, is the ready way to make them so.

Mr. Wesley acknowledged that "there are still many circumstances in [God's] dispensations which are above our comprehension."

We know not why he suffered us so long to go on in our own ways, before we were convinced of sin; or why he made us of this or the other instrument, and in this or the other manner: And a thousand circumstances attended the process of our conviction which we do not comprehend. We know not why he suffered us to stay so long before he revealed his Son in our hearts; or why this change from darkness to light was accompanied with such and such particular circumstances.

It is doubtless the peculiar prerogative of God, to reserve the "times and seasons in his own power." And we cannot give any reason, why, of two persons equally athirst for salvation, one is presently taken into the favour of God, and the other left to mourn for months or years. One, as soon as he calls upon God, is answered, and filled with peace and joy in believing; another seeks after him, and, it seems, with the same degree of sincerity and earnestness, and yet cannot find him, or any consciousness of his favour, for weeks, or months, or years ("The Imperfection of Human Knowledge," Sermon #69).

In a letter to Mr. Merryweather, Wesley expresses once more our lack of understanding concerning the timing of God's manifestations to a seeker's heart.

It is certain, God does at some times, without any cause, known to us, shower down his grace in an extraordinary manner. And he does, in some instances, delay to give either justifying or sanctifying grace, for reasons which are not discovered to us. These are some of those secrets of his government, which it hath pleased him to reserve in his own breast (February 8, 1766).

Can a man be always in communion with God even in the midst of the hurry and business of day-to-day work activities? Mr. Wesley was personally convinced of the answer and shares it in the following extract of a letter written to a "young disciple."

An old Clergyman told me, some years since, "I asked Mr. Böehm, (Chaplain to Prince George of Denmark,) "Sir, when you are in such an hurry of business, surrounded with a crowd of people, hearing one, and dictating to another, at the same time, does it not interrupt your mental prayer?" He answered immediately, "All that hurry no more hinders my communion with God, than if I was all the time sitting alone in my study, or kneeling at the altar." No business, therefore, of any kind, no conversation, need hinder one that is strong in faith, from rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks. Follow after this, and you will surely attain it (August 31, 1772).


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