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This guest post is by Sarah N. Nkansah
It was recognized at an early stage that the boy John Wesley had an unusual mission to fulfill on earth. Although the form it was to take was not clearly defined at this stage, his parents; particularly his mother, Susanna Wesley did not hesitate to play her role in preparing him for this very special assignment. She admits to taking special care of him. On the evening of May, 17, 1711 Susanna wrote concerning John as follows: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His mercies?...I would offer unto thee myself and all that thou hast given me…I do intend to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child, that Thou has so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been; that I may endeavour to instill into his mind the principles of thy true religion, and virtue. Lord give me grace to do it sincerely and prudently, and bless my attempts with good success”
The incident that left this impression on John’s parents was his narrow escape from a fire outbreak when he was the age of five. On February 1709, the thatched roof of the Epworth Rectory caught fire, and in the mist of the confusion, everyone run out of the house with the exception of John; who was asleep on the attic. When he woke up to find the whole house on fire he threw himself out of the window and was caught by two young men, just before the blazing roof caved in. He was thus referred to as “a brand plucked from the burning”.
The interpretation given to this event, being that John was delivered from the fire because he had a great mission in life, had a lasting impact on the Wesley household including John Wesley himself and probably explains his exceptional zeal and dedication. It is therefore not surprising that, a prime minister two centuries later, described John Wesley as “undoubtedly the greatest religious leader the Anglo-Saxon race ever produced.”
Rev. John Benjamin Wesley has been rightly described as the founder of Methodism. He, through his ministry, led a revival that swept through the whole of England and subsequently the USA. A man once declared, during one of Rev. John Wesley’s ministrations “now I know you are a prophet of the Lord”. What did this person mean by saying John Wesley was a prophet?
TWO PHASES OF WESLEY MINISTRY
John Wesley’s ministry could be divided into two phases. Some writers have suggested that John Wesley experienced two distinct conversions, the first being his high church conversion and the second his evangelical conversion.
His ordination in 1725 significantly marked the commencement of the first phase of his ministry. A significant event that characterized the first phase of his ministry was his failed missionary exploit to Georgia in 1735, purportedly to convert the Indians. However at this stage the “unusual works of the Holy Spirit” which followed his ministry were not to be until, “his strange heartwarming experience” at Aldersgate Street in 1738.
On the 24th of May, 1738 as John Wesley recounts himself: “in the evening of that day, I went very unwillingly to a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street. About 8:45, I was listening to a reading of Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
It remains without doubt that, what distinguished the second phase of Rev. John Wesley’s ministry from the first was his Aldersgate Street experience; partly because several events distinguished this part of John Wesley’s ministry to affirm this assertion. The Lord healed the sick and delivered the oppressed whenever John Wesley ministered. There are reports of persons being slain under the power of God during such ministrations. The following are but the slightest fraction of the manifestations of God’s power that characterized the Founder’s Ministry after his Aldersgate Experience.
1. John Wesley recorded one such incident in his journal thus; “those who received this new living faith through the Holy Spirit continued to meet together. About sixty of us were holding a love feast on New Year’s Eve on Fetter. At about three in the morning, as we were continuing in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us. Many cried out in complete joy. Others were knocked to the ground. As soon as we recovered a little from that awe and amazement at God’s presence, we broke out in praise”.
2. On another occasion he felt while preaching in a prison to say that; “God wills all men to receive this saving faith”. He therefore called to God to bear witness to this truth. Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the ground. People dropped on every side as though thunderstruck and some of them cried aloud. The next day the whole prison was filled with the cries of those whose hearts were being touched by God and two of these are reported to have received joy in a moment to the astonishment of the onlookers.
3. Also at Baldwin Street while Rev. John Wesley preached on the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, he asked God to confirm this teaching. “Immediately a woman cried out loud as though she was in the agonies of death. Two other persons were likewise seized with pain and were later able to burst forth praise to their Saviour.” Countless of such powerful manifestations, which for want of space cannot be recounted, continued to characterize the founder’s ministry.
It worthy of note that, the greatest miracle remained to John Wesley the conversion of person to the saving knowledge of Christ. The movement grew and waxed strong even in the face of opposition. In 1739 approximately five thousand converts were made and several thousands influenced. Indeed, some writers have suggested that it is doubtful if an equal number of genuinely evangelical Christians have ever been born into the Kingdom of God in an equal length of time.
SOME CRITICAL QUESTIONS
It is imperative, at this stage to ask ourselves, some critical questions.
· Would an observer describe and identify the people called Methodists with these powerful manifestations that were a normal feature of the Founder’s ministry?
· Do we as Methodists still lay emphasis on the unusual works of the Holy Spirit which followed and blessed our Founder’s ministry?
If our answer to any of these questions is no, then it would not be out of place to suggest that we take a moment to reflect on our Methodist heritage. We would find embodied in this very rich and intense heritage, an electrifying powerful, charismatic and prophetic ministry which unlike others has the desired aim of bringing the lost to also have the Aldersgate experience.
It could conclusively be stated that Methodism has firm roots in the prophetic ministry and thus by the declaration of 2012 as a YEAR OF THE PROPHETIC by the Kumasi Diocese of the Methodist Church Ghana, the Church is only revisiting its roots; which exercise has usually proved to have positive impact on the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Are you a Methodist? Well, if your answer is yes then you must know that a true Methodist is the one who desires the infilling of the Holy Spirit for unusual works; for this was the path treaded by our Founder Rev. John Wesley and most importantly Jesus Christ our Lord.
This guest post is by Sarah N. Nkansah
An archivist at the Methodist Diocesan office Kumasi.
1. Robert Aboagye Mensah, John Wesley and the Methodists, 2005
2. W. T. Watkins, Out of Aldersgate, 1937
3. Clare George WeakleyJr(Ed.), The Nature of Spiritual Growth,- Wesley’s Messages on the Holy Spirit, 1977