John Wesley’s Happy Day
Today, May 24th, marks the 285th anniversary of John Wesley’s ‘Happy Day’. Bob Thomas explains the significance of this event.
John Wesley was an Anglican clergyman who did his best to live an obedient life before God. He had an ardent faith, but without a real relationship with God. He had gone to America to convert the Native Americans, but had failed and only recently had returned home to England.
On the morning of 24 May 1738 he woke up in distress and turmoil of soul and began to read his Bible and pray. This is his story in his own words:
John Wesley’s Conversion, Wednesday, 24 May 1738.
I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, ‘There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that we 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.’ (Matthew 12.34). 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, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand? 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.’ (Psalm 130).
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.
Consider this remarkable series of Scriptures:
2 Peter 1:3–4 … The wonder of God’s Word:
‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.’
The Bible is a book full of exceeding great and precious promises: see John 3:16; John 11:25; all of Jesus’ “I AMs”, to name just a few.
Matthew 12:34 … The encouragement of God’s Word:
‘You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’
The Bible is a Book full of encouraging invitations to turn away from the world, with all its grief, to God and all His blessings. At this point John Wesley was in the position of Agrippa before Paul: ‘Then Agrippa said unto Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”.’ (Acts 26.28). Philip P. Bliss, himself a Methodist, encapsulated this in his challenging hymn:
Romans 4:18-25 … The trustworthiness of God’s Word:
‘In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.’
God’s Word-filled way of conversion
This is the Word-filled way in which the Holy Spirit ministered God’s grace to John Wesley. Wednesday, 24 May, 1738 was John Wesley’s ‘Happy Day, that fixed (his) choice on (Christ) (his) Saviour and (his) God’.
Remember that John Wesley was an ordained minister in the Church of England. He held a Master of Arts degree from Oxford University. He had been methodical in prayer, Bible reading and doing good works. His father and grandfather were ministers. His mother had faithfully taught him the truths and duties of his religion. He had gone out as a missionary to the indigenous people of America. He had led a good life. But despite all of this, there was something missing – that personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour by which the burden of his sin was rolled away and he entered into the joy of his Lord; and knowing God, he went on to do great exploits for Him.
These events raise the question as to whether we have been trusting in any merit of our own to make ourselves right with God, or whether we are conscious that God has reached down to us in His amazing grace to fill our lives with faith and enable us to know Him through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, so that our faith will be in the Lord Jesus, ‘for this is eternal life, that (we) know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.’ The Apostle Paul wrote: ‘if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.’
The climactic event of 24 May 1738 happened at the lower end of Aldersgate Street, at its junction with London Wall and diagonally opposite the present-day Museum of London. On that very spot stands a Church of England building named ‘St Botolph’s’ which is leased to London City Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland. On my several visits to London I have felt very much at home there, and yes, my heart has been strangely warmed under the faithful preaching of the Rev Andy Pearson (now minister of St Peter’s, Dundee) and Rev Andy Longwe. Andy Pearson gave me the privilege of preaching there one Lord’s Day and I couldn’t resist the temptation of preaching on 1 Thessalonians 1:8, ‘For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything’, remembering the work that flowed from Wesley’s conversion and which continues strong today, but under a Presbyterian banner.
At the entrance to the Museum of London stands a huge brass plaque containing a facsimile of the relevant page in John Wesley’s Journal. After church I go over there for an hour or so and linger with the passers-by to engage them in conversation, taking them through the Scriptures Wesley quoted as relevant to salvation by grace through faith for good works.
If you’re ever in London, do go there – and raise a testimony.
– Bob Thomas
Bob Thomas is a former minister at St Kilda’s and Balaclava Presbyterian Church and past editor of New Life Magazine, Australia.
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