Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 5 February 2017

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Credited as Righteousness

 

A father brought his son to Jesus and said to him: “If you can do anything, [please] have compassion on us and help us.” The son was right beside them, convulsing on the floor and foaming at the mouth. But Jesus did not jump to the rescue. He challenged the man: “You say to me, ‘If you can?’ ‘If I can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”

Jesus taught the man – and us – a lesson: “Come to me believing and trusting that I will do this for you and your son will have his healing. Know me (know what I am like) and believe in me.” The father responded to the pressure with tears and crying out: “Lord, I do believe; help my unbelief!” Immediately, with his son foaming at the mouth (with nowhere else to go), he made a commitment to believe and trust Jesus (as far as he could), and cried out for what was lacking: “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

 

Mark 9:20-27: Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.

So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”

And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “[You say to me,] If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” 26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.”  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

 

This encounter between the father of the sick boy and Jesus had a happy end – the son was healed – but Jesus’ challenge was serious. He wanted faith. And he made a crazy promise about faith: “All things are possible to him who believes.” At another time, he said – and we studied these Bible verses over the last two Sundays – Mark 11:22-24:

 

Mark 11:22-24: So, Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore, I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

 

Jesus made faith his core teaching: “Have faith in God. Do not doubt. Believe and you will receive.” But how do you get the faith – the kind of trust that is stronger than doubt – that moves mountains, heals the sick, opens the door to opportunity and and answers all possible prayers? How do you get faith? The father of the boy struggled. Since birth the boy had been sick, and it was hard to imagine the healing of his condition. He cried out with tears that he needed help with his unbelief. And this is the good news right up front: Jesus does help our unbelief. [This morning, you can cry out to Jesus for faith.] He commands faith of us which means that we are not passive in the process of getting faith, but – ultimately – faith is a gift from him:

 

Ephesians 2:8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

 

2 Peter 1:1: … To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.

 

Philippians 1:29: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him…

 

Faith is a gift from God which is encouragement to hang in there when the journey into faith is not an easy one. And it is not easy. Nothing in the Bible suggests that the Christian life is easy.

 

Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

 

The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1959, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV – Justification, paragraph 250: Faith is not an easy thing, as our opponents imagine.

 

I will tell you the story of how John Wesely came to faith, because it was hard for him. And I tell you his story to illustrate how the most basic faith for salvation can be difficult. And you go from there believing for healing and everything else.

 

Some facts: During his life, John Wesley preached more than 40,000 times – usually preaching two or three times a day – traveled over 250,000 miles – mainly on horseback – converted thousands in open-air preaching – (in a time before microphones and sound-speakers) – and left behind 135,000 members in the Methodist movement with 541 itinerant preachers. He changed England and impacted the world.

 

John Wesley was absolutely serious about God, and became a minister of the Church of England and then a missionary, setting out for America to convert the native Indians. His daily routine on the ship will give you a glimpse of his zealous dedication:

 

October 1735 … Our common way of living was this: — From four in the morning till five, each of us used private prayer. From five to seven we read the Bible together ... At seven we breakfasted. At eight were the public prayers. From nine to twelve, I usually learned German ... At twelve we met to give an account to one another what we had done since our last meeting, and what we designed to do before our next. About one we dined. The time from dinner to four, we spent in reading to those whom each of us had taken in charge, or in speaking to them severally, as need required. At four were the evening prayers; when either the second lesson was explained, (as it always was in the morning,) or the children were catechized and instructed before the congregation. From five to six we again used private prayer. From six to seven I read in our cabin to two or three of the passengers ... At seven I joined with the Germans in their public service ... At eight we met again, to exhort and instruct one another. Between nine and ten we went to bed ...

 

John Wesley Journal – October 1735 … Our common way of living was this: –

 

·         From four in the morning till five, each of us used private prayer.

·         From five to seven we read the Bible together ...

·         At seven we breakfasted.

·         At eight were the public prayers.

·         From nine to twelve, I usually learned German ...

·         At twelve we met to give an account to one another what we had done since our last meeting, and what we designed to do before our next.

·         About one we dined.

·         The time from dinner to four, we spent in reading to those whom each of us had taken in charge, or in speaking to them severally, as need required.

·         At four were the evening prayers; when either the second lesson was explained, (as it always was in the morning,) or the children were catechized and instructed before the congregation.

·         From five to six we again used private prayer.

·         From six to seven I read in our cabin to two or three of the passengers ...

·         At seven I joined with the Germans in their public service ...

·         At eight we met again, to exhort and instruct one another.

·         Between nine and ten we went to bed ...

 

John Wesley was disciplined and determined to please God. And he doubted not that he was a good Christian. Why should he? He wrote in his journal: “And by my continued endeavour to keep his whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I was persuaded that I should be accepted of him, and that I was ... in a state of salvation.” “I omitted no sort of self-denial ... I omitted no occasion for doing good.” [The Works of John Wesley, Volume 1 Journals, October 14, 1735 – November 29, 1745, p120-121.]

But then his ship was caught up in violent storms and John Wesley made a surprising discovery. He was afraid to die and meet God face-to-face. He wrote in his journal:

 

1735 … Sun. 23 At night I was awaked by the tossing of the ship and roaring of the wind, and plainly showed I was unfit, for I was unwilling, to die ... Sat. 17 … At seven in the evening they were quieted by a storm. It rose higher and higher… I lay down in the great cabin, and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive, and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die. O how pure in heart must he be, who would rejoice to appear before God at a moment’s warning … Fri. 23. — In the evening, another storm began. In the morning, it increased, so that they were forced to let the ship drive. I could not but say to myself, “How is it that thou hast no faith?” being still unwilling to die …

 

Something was wrong. If God was so wonderful, why was John Wesley frightened? And there were other Christians on the ship that did not seem to have the same problem. He wrote:

 

Sun. 25. — At noon, our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before … We spent two or three hours after prayers, in conversing suitably to the occasion, confirming one another in a calm submission to the wise, holy, gracious will of God … At seven I went to the Germans … In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English; The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.” From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbors, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.

 

The Germans and their kind of faith – the singing of hymns to God in a storm – challenged him. What was wrong with him? John Wesley received some counsel from another pastor but he did not understand where he was coming from. He wrote:

 

Sat. 7 ... Mr. Spangenberg, one of the Pastors of the Germans. I soon found what spirit he was of; and asked his advice with regard to my own conduct. He said, “My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God? “I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it, and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” I paused, and said, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.” “True,” replied he; “but do you know he has saved you?” I answered, “I hope he has died to save me.” He only added, “Do you know yourself?” I said, “I do.” but I fear they were vain words ...

 

John Wesley faced the question: “Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?” When he confided in the German pastor that something seemed to be wrong with his faith, this was the question that came back, and the question was based on the Bible – Romans 8:16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

But this question confused John Wesley. He knew from books – the education of the mind – that Jesus was the Saviour of the world. He knew the theory that Jesus might even save him but he did not know the same in his heart because he had never heard the Spirit assure him of the fact. He had never had the experience of the Holy Spirit communicating with his spirit.

Finally, John Wesley arrived at an honest conclusion. He was a pastor but not a Christian. He had no faith – at least not the kind of faith in the Bible. He wrote:

 

Tues. 24 ...I went to America, to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near: But let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, ‘To die is gain!’ I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun My last thread, I shall perish on the shore! “I think, verily, if the Gospel be true, I am safe: For I not only have given, and do give, all my goods to feed the poor; I not only give my body to be burned, drowned, or whatever God shall appoint for me; but I follow after charity, (though not as I ought, yet as I can,) if haply I may attain it.

I now believe the Gospel is true. ‘I show my faith by my works,’ by staking my all upon it. I would do so again and again a thousand times, if the choice were still to make. Whoever sees me, sees I would be a Christian. Therefore ‘are my ways not like other men’s ways.’ Therefore, I have been, I am, I am content to be, ‘a by-word, a proverb of reproach.’ But in a storm, I think, ‘What if the Gospel be not true? Then thou art of all men most foolish. For what hast thou given thy goods, thy ease, thy friends, thy reputation, thy country, thy life? For what art thou wandering over the face of the earth?’ — A dream, ‘a cunningly-devised fable!’ O! Who will deliver me from this fear of death? What shall I do? Where shall I flee from it? Should I fight against it by thinking, or by not thinking of it?

 

When his brother, Charles Wesley, heard about John’s conclusion that he was not a Christian, he became angry with him. Both of them were pastors, dedicated with everything they had. How could John not be a Christian?

 

I asked P. Bohler again, whether I ought not to refrain from teaching others. He said, “No; do not hide in the earth the talent God hath given you.” Accordingly, on Tuesday, 25, I spoke clearly and fully at Blendon to Mr. Delamotte’s family, of the nature and fruits of faith. Mr. Broughton and my brother were there. Mr. Broughton’s great objection was, he could never think that I had not faith, who had done and suffered such things. My brother was very angry, and told me I did not know what mischief I had done by talking thus. And, indeed, it did please God then to kindle a fire, which I trust shall never be extinguished.

 

Yet, in the same year, Charles [who was to write thousands of hymns] made the same discovery. He was a pastor but not a Christian. There was something wrong with his faith. He wrote in his journal:

 

The Early Journal of Charles Wesley, London: Charles H. Kelly 1909, p134-135: [24 February 1738] He asked me [when I was on my sick-bed], “Do you hope to be saved?” “Yes.” “For what reason do you hope it?” “Because I have used my best endeavours to serve God.” He shook his head, and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable, saying in my heart, “What, are not my endeavours a sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to.”

 

The Early Journal of Charles Wesley, London: Charles H. Kelly 1909, p142-143: Wednesday, 17 May 1738: …Today I first saw Luther on the Galatians, which Mr. Holland had accidentally lit upon. We began, and found him nobly full of faith. My friend, in hearing him, was so affected as to breathe out sighs and groans unutterable. I marvelled that we were so soon and so entirely removed from Him that called us into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel. Who would believe our Church had been founded on this important article of justification by faith alone? I am astonished I should ever think this a new doctrine; especially while our Articles and Homilies stand unrepealed, and the key of knowledge is not yet taken away.

 

Charles trusted his best endeavours to serve God for salvation. He – like his brother John – trusted his religious performance (his praying, Bible reading, and risking his life in mission work) rather than relying on Jesus and his death on the cross as the all-sufficient sacrifice for salvation. Therefore, Charles became angry when John came out as an unbeliever, but then Charles ended up becoming a Christian three days before his brother. [Charles’ conversion: 21 May 1738 / John’s conversion: 24 May 1738.]

John and Charles were able to face the truth about their spiritual condition. What about you, this morning? “Do you have hope to be saved and for what reason do you hope it?” “Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?” These were the questions for John and Charles, the Wesley brothers. How would you answer both of these questions?

When the truth first dawned on John Wesley, he refused to listen to anyone that became angry with him or offered him cheap comfort about being a Christian after all. He no longer wanted to be afraid in a storm. And he wanted some more evidence of faith in his life, that the new life with God would actually come with some authority and power from God to live a new life.

He wrote in his journal:

 

If it be said, that I have faith, (for many such things have I heard, from many miserable comforters,) I answer, So have the devils, — a sort of faith; but still they are strangers to the covenant of promise. So the apostles had even at Cana in Galilee, when Jesus first “manifested forth his glory;” even then they, in a sort, “believed on him;” but they had not then “the faith that overcometh the world.” The faith I want is, “a sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, my sins are forgiven, and I reconciled to the favor of God.” I want that faith which St. Paul recommends to all the world, especially in his Epistle to the Romans: That faith which enables every one that hath it to cry out, “I live not; but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I want that faith which none can have without knowing that he hath it; (though many imagine they have it, who have it not;) for whosoever hath it, is “freed from sin, the” whole “body of sin is destroyed” in him: He is freed from fear, “having, peace with God through Christ, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”And he is freed from doubt, “having the love of God shed abroad in his heart, through the Holy Ghost which is given unto him;” which “Spirit itself beareth witness with his spirit, that he is a child of God.” ...

 

John Wesley now wanted the kind of faith – the kind of experience – that isa sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, my sins are forgiven”, and isfreed from sinaccording to the promises of the Bible: Romans 6:14: “Sin shall no longer be your master.” / Romans 8:13: “… by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body …”

However, John Wesley took a while before his expectations became clear. He had observed the Germans on the ship singing in a storm, but he needed further teaching from the Bible. The truth did not come easily to him:

 

... Peter Bohler, whom God prepared for me as soon as I came to London, affirmed of true faith in Christ ... that it had those two fruits inseparably attending it, ‘Dominion over sin, and constant Peace from a sense of forgiveness,’ I was quite amazed ...

 

... I met Peter Bohler again who now amazed me more and more, by the account he gave of the fruits of living faith, — the holiness and happiness which he affirmed to attend it ...

 

... I met Peter Bohler once more. I had now no objection to what he said of the nature of faith; namely, that it is (to use the words of our Church) ‘a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favor of God.’ Neither could I deny either the happiness or holiness which he described, as fruits of this living faith. ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,’ And, ‘He that believeth hath the witness in himself,’ fully convinced me of the former: As, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, doth not commit sin;’ and, ‘whosoever believeth is born of God,’ did of the latter.

 

John Wesley had to unlearn false doctrine and traditions, and read the Bible with fresh eyes. (And this is hard.) And when he finally agreed to the teaching on the nature of faith, he had another problem. He could neither understand nor accept that something as powerful as saving faith could be given to a person in an instant – in a moment. He wrote:

 

… But I could not comprehend what he spoke of an instantaneous work. I could not understand how this faith should be given in a moment: How a man could at once be thus turned from darkness to light, from sin and misery to righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost. I searched the Scriptures again, touching this very thing, particularly the Acts of the Apostles: But, to my utter astonishment, found scarce any instances thereof other than instantaneous conversions; scarce any so slow as that of St. Paul, who was three days in the pangs of the new birth. I had but one retreat left; namely, “Thus, I grant, God wrought in the first ages of Christianity; but the times are changed. What reason have I to believe he works in the same manner now?”

 

He fought against the Bible, but the evidence could not be denied. In the Bible, conversions – mostly – happened in an instant (see for instance Luke 23:39-43). However, fighting for his set ideas, he argued at first that the times had changed. In the Bible, people could become Christians in an instant, but today this was different. Only it wasn’t. He wrote:

 

... I was beat out of this retreat too, by the concurring evidence of several living witnesses; who testified, God had thus wrought in themselves; giving them in a moment such a faith in the blood of his Son, as translated them out of darkness into light, out of sin and fear into holiness and happiness. Here ended my disputing. I could now only cry out, ‘Lord, help thou my unbelief!’

 

At last, Wesley surrendered to the truth and sought faith for himself. His expectations were right now. But faith was still slow in coming, and he wondered whether he should not resign as a pastor, because how can you be preaching faith and not have it yourself?

However, his mentor gave him good advice:

 

... I was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved. Immediately it struck into my mind, ‘Leave of preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?’ I asked Bohler, whether he thought I should leave it is or not. He answered, ‘By no means.’ I asked, ‘But what can I preach?’ He said, ‘Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.’ [Cf. William Seymour who preached the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues before he had it.]

Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone, was a prisoner under sentence of death. His name was Clifford. Peter Bohler had many times desired me to speak to him before. But I could not prevail on myself so to do; being still (as I had been many years) a zealous assertor of the impossibility of a death-bed repentance ...

 

You can be honest about your own struggles, butpreach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” In other words, do not lower the standard of God’s truth to the standard of your current experience. Preach – speak – testify – worship – hold on to the truth of God until God makes the reality of his truth come alive in you.

Inspired by the testimonies of others, John Wesley committed himself to seek faith until he had the same, and this is what happened to him:

 

[Cf. Luke 11:9-10 [AMP]: So I say to you, ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking [persistently], receives; and he who keeps on seeking [persistently], finds; and to him who keeps on knocking [persistently], the door will be opened.]

 

… three others, all of whom testified, of their own personal experience, that a true living faith in Christ is inseparable from a sense of pardon for all past, and freedom from all present, sins. They added with one mouth, that this faith was the gift, the free gift of God; and that he would surely bestow it upon every soul who earnestly and perseveringly sought it. I was now thoroughly convinced; and, by the grace of God, I resolved to seek it unto the end,

1. By absolutely renouncing all dependence, in whole or in part, upon my own works or righteousness; on which I had really grounded my hope of salvation though I knew it not, from my youth up. 2. By adding to the constant use of all the other means of grace, continual prayer for this very thing, justifying, saving faith, a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in Him, as my Christ, as my sole justification, sanctification, and redemption.

I continued thus to seek it, (though with strange indifference, dullness, and coldness, and unusually frequent relapses into sin,) till Wednesday, May 24. 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 ye 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.”

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, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? 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.”

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.

 

Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Coromandel East: New Creation Publications 1995, English translation from the edition produced by Lutheran Publishing House – Adelaide 1966, paragraph 15-17: ‘Faith’ is not the human notion and dream which some regard as faith… On the contrary, faith is a divine work in us, which transforms us, gives us a new birth out of God, John 1:13, slays the old Adam, makes us altogether different men in heart, affections, mind, and all powers, and brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, energetic, active, mighty thing, this faith. It cannot but do good unceasingly. There is no question asked whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked the works have been done, and there is a continuous doing of them. But any person not doing such works is without faith. He is groping in the dark, looking for faith and good works, and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, although he indulges in a lot of twaddle and flummery concerning faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in the grace of God, of such assurance that it would risk a thousand deaths. This confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes a person happy, bold, and full of gladness in his relation to God and all creatures. The Holy Ghost is doing this in the believer. Hence it is that a person, without constraint, becomes willing and enthusiastic to do good to everybody, to serve everybody, to suffer all manner of afflictions, from love of God and to the praise of Him who has extended such grace to him.

Accordingly, it is impossible to separate works from faith, just as impossible as it is to separate the power to burn and shine from fire. Accordingly, beware of your own false thoughts and of idle talkers, who pretend great wisdom for discerning faith and good works and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that He may create faith in you; otherwise you will be without faith for ever and aye, no matter what you may plan and do.

 

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.

 

On the 24th of May 1738, John Wesley had his heartstrangely warmed”. At long last, he experienced the gift of saving faith and became a Christian. He did not do anything. He did not go on another mission journey. He simply listened to the preaching of the Bible and received faith as a work of the Holy Spirit in his heart.

Why did it take so long for him? Why was it such a struggle? Pastors and committed church people are the hardest to convert (if they are not already Christians). They have the most to unlearn and it is a little embarrassing when the experts in the church come out and admit to not knowing faith. [I myself did not understand faith because I mistook the experience of faith for intellectual knowing and theology. But this is for another sermon.] It can take some time for people in the church to repent and fully align their thinking with the Word of God in the Bible. [The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” and means change of mind.] But God is merciful and kind, and Jesus promised that everyone seeking him would find him. (And he initiated the seeking in the first place.)

What helped John Wesley on his journey to faith? There was the witness of others, the explanation of the Bible, his own discipline of pushing through even dull unwillingness and moral defeats, and – most of all – his dissatisfaction with what he had. He was hungry for more. Unless you want change, nothing will change.

Can you guess what happened immediately after John Wesley received faith? Was this the happy end? Did his conversion mark the beginning of an easy life of faith, trusting in God easily, with much joy and no heart-ache? No! And this is what everyone experiences. No sooner do you have faith, your faith is being tested.

John Wesley wrote:

 

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 withholdeth them, according to the counsels of his own will.

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. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

Thur. 25. — The moment I awaked, “Jesus, Master,” was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon him, and my soul waiting on him continually. Being again at St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem, which began, “My song shall be always of the loving kindness of the Lord: With my mouth, will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.” Yet the enemy injected a fear, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change?” I answered, (yet not I,) “That I know not. But this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.’ And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbid me to take thought for the morrow.”

 “But is not any sort of fear,” continued the tempter, “a proof that thou dost not believe?” I desired my Master to answer for me; and opened his Book upon those words of St. Paul, “Without were fightings, within were fears.” Then, inferred I, well may fears be within me; but I must go on, and tread them under my feet.

Fri. 26. — My soul continued in peace, but yet in heaviness because of manifold temptations. I asked Mr. Telchig, the Moravian, what to do. He said, “You must not fight with them, as you did before, but flee from them the moment they appear, and take shelter in the wounds of Jesus.” The same I learned also from the afternoon anthem, which was, “My soul truly waiteth still upon God: For of Him cometh my salvation; He verily is my strength and my salvation, He is my defense, so that I shall not greatly fall. O put your trust in Him always, ye people; pour out your hearts before Him; for God is our hope.”

 

John Wesley had one condemning thought after another: “You should be more joyful.” “You should not experience so many temptations.” “You should not experience any fears.” And he had to fight them with the truth from the Bible. For any Christian, these kinds of false demands and questions may come up by themselves or they are prompted by Satan (we do have an enemy who could even put questions in Jesus’ mind), and they are designed to sow doubt and rob us of faith. The battle is always over faith.

 

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 

 

Jesus himself tasted the full force of such testing of your faith. At the age of thirty, he was being filled with the Holy Spirit, and heard God the Father tell him audibly that he was his beloved Son. He was oncloud 9of experiencing God, but immediately afterwards the Spirit of God led him into the desert to be tempted by Satan who immediately questioned his belief that he was indeed a beloved son. He challenged a hungry Jesus with these words: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this building and be caught by the angels.” “If you are the Son of God…” It was the Spirit of God that led Jesus into the testing of his faith, and it was all about whether he would trust God – believe his words – despite what he felt and experienced in the here and now.

 

Luke 3:21-22: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Luke 4:1-13: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

 

Compare with 1 Peter 1:6-7: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. / James 1:3: …you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Welcome to the life of a Christian. You may be on quite a journey to get faith, and then the journey remains difficult. Faith is not an easy thing.

The Bible crowns one person as the absolute hero of faith. His name was Abraham, and he became the model of faith for everyone. God had promised him offspring as numerous as stars in the sky and grains of sand on the beach, but he had a barren wife and grew old without a single child. Yet, he believed God – despite his faith being tested every day and in extraordinary experiences whereby foreign kings would break up the marriage by claiming Sarah, his wife, for themselves (but God intervened) – and God was so pleased that he spelled out the most amazing truth that is at the heart of everyone’s relationship with God. This is what the Christian faith is about: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Nothing pleases God more than faith. It is more important to God what you think of him than what you do for him. Do you believe him? Do you believe in his Son Jesus Christ and what he did for you on the cross? If you trust him – despite other people bagging the Bible or despite your own feelings of unworthiness and the temptations that say that you can never be forgiven – if you dare to believe, he credits your faith to you as righteousness, meaning that he forgives you your sins and declares you blameless on account of your faith in him.

I read to you a few verses from the Bible:

 

Romans 4:1-25: What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh… What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

…The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

 

Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

 

Was it easy for Abraham to have and keep the faith? No way. And it was God who made it hard. One day, he commanded him to do something that contradicted absolutely everything that he had promised to him. Finally, God had given him a son, as promised, but – a few years later – with Abraham and his wife being older still – God commanded him to take his only son and give him back, kill and sacrifice him in obedience to God. Was God still good? Was God still intending to keep his promises? Was God still worthy to be loved and believed, or should you now stand up against God, protect your son, and curse him to his face? How many times did you come close to giving up?

Yet, the rewards of keeping the faith are priceless.

 

Genesis 22:1-19: Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lordcalled out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

 

The angel of the Lord said to Abraham: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” In his lifetime, Abraham would never have more than one son (with Sarah) [for a hero of faith, this may seem like lean pickings], but his faithfulness set up an incredible future. The rewards of keeping the faith are priceless.

And, just a reminder, this is also true from God’s perspective. Nothing is more valuable and precious to him than our faith in testing times. Luther declared that believing God is the highest form of worship, and it is. We honour him with our trust when nothing around us supports this kind of trust. On account of faith, God credits to us righteousness. This is how much faith pleases him:

 

Martin Luther: The Freedom of a Christian Man (1520), in: The Protestant Reformation, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, New York: Harper & Row 1968, p10: Faith… honours him whom it trusts… The very highest worship of God is this that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted. When this is done, the soul consents to his will…

On the other hand, what greater rebellion against God, what greater wickedness, what greater contempt of God is there than not believing his promise? For what is this but to make God a liar or to doubt that he is truthful…

 

The Bible promises us that – 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” However, the journey of faith is not easy.

 

What about the times when God does not rescue Isaac, but disappoints your faith and what you believed would happen, does not happen?

On Sunday 30 September 2007, I began a preaching series on healing. It took me until Sunday 16 November 2008 – more than one year – to complete the six-part series and I was relieved. This was the hardest preaching series ever. What was God saying? In my office, I had dozens of books on healing that contradicted each other. One book had a rather dramatic title: “The Healing Epidemic” and the author warned his readers with these words: “… healing … is being promoted in Christian circles as never before … healing seminars pack the largest conference halls in major cities across the world … We have bared our throats to the devil’s knife …” (Peter Masters: The Healing Epidemic, London: Wakeman Trust 1988, p12-13).

These words notwithstanding, I carefully – cautiously – anxiously – observed that – in the Bible – Jesus commanded us to heal people and he expected them to be healed (without regular objections). The Bible teaching seemed radical but quite simple – James 5:15: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

When the series was finished, I sighed a deep sigh of relief. We had survived another controversy and it was time to move on. Only God had other ideas. One of our members – a father (Greg Storey) with a young family – became sick with pancreatic cancer and I had the pressing conviction that God did not just want sermons on healing but the healing itself. Practise what you preach but I had objections. We had just lost a third of our congregation over the baptism with the Holy Spirit. When was this going to end? How many will leave us now over praying for the healing of cancer? I had serious issues with God, saying to him: “Cancer! God, did it have to be cancer? Could we not have prayed first for a tummy ache?”

We dared to believe, acted out a prophetic sign (Jericho Walk and Shout), and then we experienced an amazing journey of healing and renewal, but in the end he died, and I conducted the biggest funeral that we ever had…

 

Abraham is the hero of faith, but the Bible also shows us what unbelief looks like and its consequences. God promised the people of Israel that he would rescue them from slavery in Egypt and give them a land flowing with milk and honey. Then, he demonstrated his commitment by striking Egypt with ten plagues, and splitting the Red Sea for an escape route from Egypt’s army (and drowning the entire Egyptian army as they kept pursuing God’s people into the Red Sea). God provided daily miracle food (manna) on the way to the promised land, and was around them in a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. God allowed the people of Israel to experience much of his power and care, but he also tested their growing faith, and they failed one time after another. Grumbling against God seemed to work, but it displeased him, and finally – after failing the tenth test – judgement came:

 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

 

Exodus 17:1-7: The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin,traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Numbers 10:33-11:10: So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered;
    may your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.”

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.

 

Numbers 14:1-38: That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power, you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Since the Amalekites and the Canaanitesare living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”

So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.

 

This is what the people said: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” But grumbling is dangerous. Speaking out words of unbelief – whingeing – is dangerous, because God may take you by your words. And if he does, no one can accuse him of being unjust. He said to Moses, the leader of his people: “I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness, your bodies will fall—every one of you … who has grumbled against me.” [Cf. Romans 2:1: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”]

 

Martin Luther: The Freedom of a Christian Man (1520), in: The Protestant Reformation, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, New York: Harper & Row 1968, p10: Faith… honours him whom it trusts… The very highest worship of God is this that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted. When this is done, the soul consents to his will…

On the other hand, what greater rebellion against God, what greater wickedness, what greater contempt of God is there than not believing his promise? For what is this but to make God a liar or to doubt that he is truthful…

 

Martin Luther: The Freedom of a Christian Man: Wherefore, when any man is good or bad, this does not arise from his works, but from his faith or unbelief, as the wise man says, “The beginning of sin is to fall away from God”; that is, not to believe. Paul says, “He that cometh to God must believe” (Hebrews 11:6): and Christ says the same thing: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt” (Matthew 12:33)  — as much as to say, He who wishes to have good fruit will begin with the tree, and plant a good one; even so he who wishes to do good work must begin, not by working, but by believing, since it is this which makes the person good. For nothing makes the person good but faith, nor bad but unbelief.

 

What is coming out of our mouths? Have you ever had a whinge? “Nothing will ever work out.” “He never listens to my prayers.” “God doesn’t care.” “It’s always disappointing.” “This is too hard.” When his people did not stop whingeing – when they repeated the same mistake of grumbling against him – he judged them and it was their whingeing that prolonged the time in the wilderness. It was never meant to last for forty years, but there is price to pay for unbelief.

I close with a testimony from an eight-year old boy who had an experience of heaven:

 

Roberts Liardon: We Saw Heaven, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2000: Although I had this vision of Heaven at age eight [1974], I didn’t share it with people until my late teens. The Lord began to speak to me while I was in high school and said that I was to begin telling what He had shown and told me when I was little. He said, “I want you to put this into a book, and I will cause it to go around the earth. It will win more souls than you will in person in your life and ministry.” And I have done exactly that. I have written this story, and when God impresses it upon me, I retell it for the purpose of winning people to Christ. I am also able to comfort those who have lost a family member or a Christian close to them, with the reality of Heaven…

I was eight years old that summer of 1974 when I came indoors one day around noon. I had been playing a game of baseball outside with my friends, but now it was time to read my four chapters of the Bible…

As this happened, the first thing I felt was an energy or presence, which I now know was the anointing and presence of God. Of course, as an eight-year-old, I wasn’t able to identify it that way. I felt myself being pulled through the roof of my house at a high rate of speed. As I moved over the earth, I began to see the oceans as if from a distance, and moving farther through space, I saw the lights in the heavens. I did not realize it at the time, but what I was experiencing is mentioned in the Bible. The apostle Paul mentions being “caught up to the third heaven” in Second Corinthians 12:2. Today, most Bible scholars agree that the earth’s natural atmosphere is the first heaven, and the second heaven is that unseen realm of the spirit—just as real as the natural world, but invisible unless God opens our eyes to it. It is considered to be the place where satan and his demons have lived since being cast out of the third Heaven. The third Heaven is where God dwells, and due to my experience there, I refer to it as a “planet” called Heaven. It produces the feeling of a geographical location, a definite place at the top of the universe, from which all else proceeds…

That afternoon, all I knew was that I was flying through the heavens at an incredible rate of speed. In a matter of a few moments, I landed on a flat space no larger than the average living room floor, outside an enormous gate, the biggest I had ever seen—or have ever seen since. It was very tall and wide and bore no cut or blemish. In fact, it was made of one solid pearl, immense, glossy, and glowing white. The edges of the gate were carved with a design. And it had a presence to it—its own glow and its own life. I remember as a little boy looking at this gate and trying to figure out what in the world had happened! I shook myself to see if I was dreaming because it all had happened so fast. I then realized the gate was real when I reached out my hand and touched it. As I did so, I heard these words: “This is one of the gates.” I turned around to see who had spoken to me, and there stood Jesus Christ. All the glory that was about Him began to move toward me, and it came upon me. I recognized Him immediately, although He did not look like any of the pictures I had ever seen painted of Him. This much I can say: When you are faced with the presence of Jesus, you have no doubt who He is…

And the glory of that presence engulfed me. I buckled to my knees, and tears began to stream from my eyes, running down my face. I could not have stopped them if I had tried. They were not provoked by any human emotion such as sadness or excitement, but by His very presence. When He spoke to me, it was as if arrows of faith propelled by love shot into me and exploded inside. My only reaction was to weep. Then He spoke again, “I want to give you a tour through Heaven, this place I have made for all who believe, because I love you so much.” And He does not love me anymore than He does you…

Then Jesus said, “Now, no more tears, but a face full of joy would make me glad.” And then He laughed, and I did, too. He came over to me, picked me up, and dried my face. There are no human words to adequately describe either Jesus or Heaven…

Jesus escorted me through that huge gate. He didn’t ask anyone to open it, and He pushed no button; it simply opened up and we walked through to the inside of Heaven. As I entered Heaven, the first thing I saw was a street, and it was made of gold. As I continued to walk through Heaven, I saw that all the streets looked as if they were literally made of pure gold. Even the curbs were made of gold. In some places the streets looked just like the gold we have on earth, which is how I recognized what it was. Yet, in other parts, the streets were transparent, and the gold looked as clear as crystal.

I thought to myself, If this is Heaven, then these are gold streets I’m standing on. And with that, I raced for the curb. From a distance, I saw that Jesus had continued to walk ahead. He then turned to say something to me, but I had moved. Looking over at me, He inquired, “What are you doing over there?” I stood on the grass alongside the curb with both my eyes and my mouth wide open in surprise. I answered Him with two words: “Golden streets!” At that, Jesus laughed and laughed. He has a wonderful laugh that comes from deep within, similar to what we call a “belly laugh.” I thought He would never stop. Then He said, “Come over here.” I replied, “No. Those streets are gold. I can’t walk on them!” The only gold I had ever seen was in rings on people’s fingers, which I knew was valuable and very expensive. But Jesus beckoned me. “Come on,” He said and kept laughing as He walked over to where I was and led me back onto the street.

I would come to realize that the way we look at wood here on earth is the way Heaven looks at gold—useful and beautiful, but nothing out of the ordinary nor impossible to possess. “These streets were made for those who have accepted Me into their hearts. They are made for My younger brothers and sisters. You are one of My younger brothers, so enjoy them.” Jesus spoke to me on my eight-year-old level. Along the curbs, the grass was a green that I cannot express, except to say it was the original essence and very fullness of that color. In fact, all the colors there were of such a nature that the colors here on earth seem faded in comparison to the vibrancy of Heaven. The curbs were also lined with flowers in all the colors of the rainbow, and they hummed. No, they weren’t little Walt Disney flowers with tiny faces humming little songs! A “hum” emanated from them as they vibrated and surged with the life of God that fills Heaven…

As we walked on through this section of Heaven, which was really like a small town, I saw street signs. We came to one street, the name of which I cannot remember, and we turned right. We walked up what looked like an unpaved dirt path. Being a small boy, I did what small boys everywhere enjoy doing—I tried to kick up the dirt and make little dust clouds as I walked along. But the path stayed where it belonged! (Whenever I tell this part, the women in the congregation always applaud—they won’t have to dust their furniture in Heaven!) As we continued up the path, I saw a gigantic house above the trees. Even now, as a grown man remembering that house, I know it was a mansion, and that it didn’t simply look that way because I was a little boy.

While I was in Heaven, I saw different kinds of mansions or homes. They all are not the same size, but each seems to fit the desires of the ones who live in them; each one has some of the features that the person who dwells there likes. It is as if there are touches both of Heaven and of earth in them. Jesus talked to me the entire time we walked up the path toward the house. You see, Jesus is a person. You can talk to Him about everyday issues, and He’ll answer you on your level and according to your understanding, just as He did with me that day in Heaven. He is not only a member of the Godhead who rules and reigns, but He is our friend, too. And you don’t have to make a visit to Heaven to talk to Him, either! He is here with us on earth, and He has told us in Hebrews 13:5 that He will never leave us nor forsake us…

The love of Jesus permeated everything He said and did with me during my visit. I will never forget the revelations I received of what love really is. When we arrived at the door of this mansion, Jesus walked up and knocked on it—a part of His love, being considerate of other people’s feelings, time, and privacy. And all the people I met in Heaven were polite. Jesus and I waited for what seemed like a period of about three minutes, and then He knocked again.

Finally, a man opened the door, leaned his head out, and spoke to us. I did not see anyone “floating” through the walls. In fact, the entire time I was in Heaven, I saw no one float anywhere at all. Everyone walked just as we do here on earth! The man addressed us and said, “How are You doing, Jesus? And how are you doing, Roberts?” I almost took off running! That man knew my name, and then pronounced it correctly, with the “s” on the end! I remember thinking, How does he know my name? No one but Jesus knows my name up here. However, to my surprise, I found that everyone who spoke with us knew my name and also knew that I was a visitor. In addition, the conversations were just as they are on earth—people asked questions, answered them, and carried on discussions. I looked up at the man in shock, but answered him courteously as I had been taught, “Well, I’m doing okay!”

He then invited us inside; Jesus and I walked in and sat down in what I would call a living room or den area. The furniture there is different from that on earth in one very important respect—it is as if comfort “lives” in the furniture of Heaven. Earthly furniture becomes uncomfortable after you sit on it for a while, and you find yourself squirming and shifting periodically. In Heaven, comfort finds you. I sat down on a black velvet couch, and comfort reached up and “cuddled” me. I was so comfortable I never had to move once.

The man spoke with Jesus about what we would call revival. I realized that the inhabitants of Heaven have knowledge of events here on earth—not so much political events as what is going on spiritually, such as the movements of God, of the enemy, and of human beings. The man also talked about his family on earth and his concerns for them, again confirming to me that in Heaven people understand what is happening in their physical and spiritual families’ lives on earth. If you have family members who have gone to Heaven, they are aware of what is happening in your life and how you are doing.

After we finished talking, the man took us through the house. It can be described only as total perfection. The windows had curtains over them. The walls were decorated with paintings that reminded me of earth’s modern art, except they were better. I saw photographs of the man’s family members, and there were plants everywhere. In addition, the mansion was filled with beautiful furniture and luxuries. There were some things, however, that I did not recognize. Each mansion was suited to the person who lived there, for every child of God has his or her own mansion in Heaven, according to John 14:2…

We left the building, and as we walked along, Jesus began to weep. I was astounded. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, began to cry! He turned toward me, shedding tears of intercession. Some things are too sacred to repeat, but this one thing He told me I could tell: “Roberts, I love My people so much that I would go back to earth, preach My three years over again, and die for just one person. If I had not already paid the price for them, and if I thought they wanted to come to Heaven, I would do it all over again. “I would not have to know they would make it. If I just thought they wanted to come, I would do it for them, even if they were the greatest sinners of all.” He said repeatedly, “I love My people so much. Why do people not take Me at My word? Do they not know that I have all power in Heaven and on earth to back up what I said? It is so easy. I made it so simple. If people will just take Me at My word, I will do what I said.”

Then He wept even more and said, “I do not understand why people say they believe I will do something, but when it does not happen in their time, they begin to doubt My word. If they will just believe and say with confidence that I will do it, I will do it at the correct time.” I knew that Jesus was crying because of our unbelief and lack of faith. Even though I was only eight years old, I knew what unbelief was and how it hurt Him. I made a covenant, an agreement and solemn commitment, with Jesus right then never to doubt His words, and to let God be God. Now, when I am about to think or say something filled with doubt, I remember the tears of intercession that fell from Jesus’ eyes, and I rid myself of doubt and unbelief. Unbelief slaps Jesus in the face; it is a rejection of Him. He wants us to be filled with faith—strong faith…

Jesus and I continued on together and came to a branch of the river of life. I assume there is only one river in Heaven, although there may be more; I saw only one. The river of life is described in Revelation 22:1 as being crystal bright, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. In Revelation 22:17, Jesus says that He gives the pure water from it freely to the thirsty. It purifies you and cleanses you of the contamination of the earth life and gives you strength from its source, that place where God sits and rules as King of the universe.

When Jesus and I walked up to the river of life, we didn’t just look at it, but walked into it. It was knee-deep and perfectly clear. Unlike a river on earth, it doesn’t just flow around you. It flows through you, and you feel a surge of energy come up out of that water and into your being. Then Jesus did something that is quite personal and extremely precious to me. I love to tell this part of the story. The Lord Jesus, the Holy Son of God, reached over and dunked me under the water of the river of life. So I got back up, splashed Him, and we proceeded right there to have a water fight, splashing each other and laughing.

This is not easy for some people to understand, and I have sometimes received the response, “How dare you splash the Lord Jesus in the river of life!” My only answer to this is, “Well, He started it!” As unexpected as it might be to hear this, or for me to experience it, it meant something really profound to me. Jesus, the King of Glory, the Holy Lamb of God, took time out for little eight-year-old Roberts Liardon to play with him in the river of life. He related to me in a way that I could particularly understand and respond to as an eight-year-old boy.

When my time on earth is done and I return to Heaven forever, I want to put up a historical marker on that spot, which will say: This spot is where Jesus Christ became not only Roberts Liardon’s Lord and Savior, but his Friend. This is holy and very special to me. Jesus is still the rightful Lord of the entire universe. He is the only Savior of mankind. But that day, He became my personal friend. It has been that single experience that has helped me all through my life. When circumstances and the enemy have buffeted me, when I have felt like quitting, it is this one moment that has caught me, picked me up, and kept me on the path God has marked out for me…

After Jesus and I played in the river of life for a while, we got out. It was as if a giant hair dryer then began to blow and dried our clothes instantly. We put on our shoes and departed, and we began to walk past more buildings, seeing other people. Then we passed something I never expected to see in Heaven and which struck me at the time as the funniest thing I had seen. Yet, when I considered it later, it was one of the most moving and encouraging sights of my Christian walk with God. Hebrews 12:1 speaks of a “great cloud of witnesses”: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (NIV).

I saw that great cloud of witnesses. They are aware of what the Church is doing spiritually. When I am preaching, for example, they are cheering me on, yelling, “Do this…do that…go!” When “halftime” comes, every one of them hits his knees and begins to pray. Halftime is prayer time. Then they get back up and start cheering again. It is as though we are in a big game, one that is serious and for real—not a game just for fun! And we have some fans who are cheering us on. They are backing us 100 percent saying, “Go! Go get ’em! That’s right. Go!”

If we clearly understood the Scripture about there being one family in Heaven and earth, we would hear in our spirits what our family in Heaven is saying. If we could hear that “cloud of witnesses,” we would be successful in every area of our lives. To do this, we must enter the realm of the spirit through prayer and time spent with the Lord…

Jesus stopped, faced me, and took both my hands in one of His, placing His other hand on top of my head. He said to me, “Roberts, I am calling you to a great work. I am ordaining you to a great work. You will have to run like no one else and preach like no one else. You will have to be different from everyone else.” In other words, He was telling me not to copy others, not to try to fit into religious attitudes and patterns, but simply to do and be only what He wanted.

“Hard times will come,” He warned me, “but take them as stepping stones, not as stumbling blocks. Go with power and with faith. I will be beside you wherever you go. Go, go, go, go and do as I have done.” The first time, Jesus said, “Go,” the anointing and the fire of God began to flow from Him into me. It felt as if I were burning. Now, every time I talk about God, whether it is to one or three thousand, I am set afire all over again, just as Luke 3:16 says: John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (NIV). God’s people, the Church, need to experience the “fire” of God, which is what burns out all the “chaff,” the impurities, in your life. Hebrews 12:29 tells us: For our God is a consuming fire (NIV).

I cannot tell all that He said to me that day for it is too personal. However, I can say this—if you will let the fire of the Holy Spirit shoot through your being and make you pure, you will be able to walk boldly before God with a clean heart and a clear mind. You will know you can walk into His presence where you belong without being destroyed by His glory. After praying for me and ordaining me to His work, Jesus took a step backward. I then looked down at the palms of my hands. Their appearance seemed almost as red as blood.

As Jesus stepped back from me, it was as if He pulled down a large screen out of the air. On this screen, He began to show me my past life. Of course, at eight years of age, I did not have much of a past life. When Jesus began to show me my future ministry and the people who would be saved through it, however, I did not want to miss reaching a single one of them—even if it did mean living to be an old man. He said, “I want you to return to earth, and not be like anyone whom you’ve ever met or known, and do exactly what I’ve called you to do. I’ve placed inside you the ability and the strength to do it…

As He spoke these things to me, I saw myself preaching in various places. The screen disappeared. Then, I knew it was time to go. I was turning to leave through the nearest gate when Jesus said, “Roberts!” And I turned back very quickly. There stood Jesus with tears falling down His face and with His hands outstretched to me. “I love you!” When He said that, I left Heaven and returned to my earthly home…

My trip to Heaven had been so special that I cherished it close within me for a while. I was not sure that anyone would believe a little boy could be taken to Heaven for a tour with Jesus. Thus, it was nearly eight more years before I ever told anyone about this experience…

 

I thought that there would be no tears in heaven, but there are tears while this earth exists and awaits Jesus’ coming and the end of this world. John in the Bible was taken up to heaven and wept there – Revelation 5:4-5: “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lionof the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” I know of another testimony where a pastor (Jesse Duplantis) was taken to heaven and Jesus wept over the final judgement and the eternal fate of those that are lost. But here Jesus wept over unbelief, and I never forgot this part of the testimony.

Jesus values faith above all else (credits faith to us as righteousness), and he takes unbelief personal. He is so different from what you may think. He is not a remote kind of God – aloof – with no feelings – but he is a friend – having a water fight with an eight-year-old in heaven – and we can hurt him with unbelief. How can you hurt an almighty God? He loves us and love makes him vulnerable. And he feels keenly the rejection of unbelief.

This morning, commit to faith. When a father brought his son to Jesus, with the son convulsing on the floor and foaming at the mouth, he heard Jesus challenging him and making him a promise: ““[You say to me,] If you can do anything? All things are possible to him who believes.The father responded to Jesus, crying out with tears: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This morning, why not respond in the same way and invest some emotions? “Jesus, I want to step out in faith. Help my unbelief.” Jesus healed the father’s boy, and he will also grant you enough faith for healing and salvation and whatever else you need. “All things are possible to him who believes.” Amen.

 

 

 

Appendix: Extended Excerpts of John Wesley’s Journal on His Conversion

 

THE WORKS OF JOHN WESLEY, VOLUME I, JOURNALS, OCT. 14, 1735 - NOV. 29, 1745

by John Wesley

 

What occurred on Wednesday, 24, I think best to relate at large, after premising what may make it the better understood. Let him that cannot receive it ask of the Father of lights, that He would give more light to him and me.

1. I believe, till I was about ten years old I had not sinned away that “washing of the Holy Ghost” which was given me in baptism; having been strictly educated and carefully taught, that I could only be saved “by universal obedience, by keeping all the commandments of God;” in the meaning of which I was diligently instructed. And those instructions, so far as they respected outward duties and sins, I gladly received, and often thought of. But all that was said to me of inward obedience, or holiness, I neither understood nor remembered. So that I was indeed as ignorant of the true meaning of the Law, as I was of the Gospel of Christ.

2. The next six or seven years were spent at school; where, outward restraints being removed, I was much more negligent than before, even of outward duties, and almost continually guilty of outward sins, which I knew to be such, though they were not scandalous in the eye of the world. However, I still read the Scriptures, and said my prayers, morning and evening. And what I now hoped to be saved by, was, 1. Not being so bad as other people. 2. Having still a kindness for religion. And, 3. Reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers. 3. Being removed to the University for five years, I still said my prayers both in public and in private, and read, with the Scriptures, several other books of religion, especially comments on the New Testament. Yet I had not all this while so much as a notion of inward holiness; nay, went on habitually, and, for the most part, very contentedly, in some or other known sin: Indeed, with some intermission and short struggles, especially before and after the holy communion, which I was obliged to receive thrice a year. I cannot well tell what I hoped to be saved by now, when I was continually sinning against that little light I had; unless by those transient fits of what many Divines taught me to call repentance.

4. When I was about twenty-two, my father pressed me to enter into holy orders. At the same time, the providence of God directing me to Kempis’s “Christian Pattern,” I began to see, that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions. I was, however, very angry at Kempis, for being too strict; though I read him only in Dean Stanhope’s translation. Yet I had frequently much sensible comfort in reading him, such as I was an utter stranger to before: And meeting likewise with a religious friend, which I never had till now, I began to alter the whole form of my conversation, and to set in earnest upon a new life. I set apart an hour or two a day for religious retirement. I communicated every week. I watched against all sin, whether in word or deed. I began to aim at, and pray for, inward holiness. So that now, “doing so much, and living so good a life,” I doubted not but I was a good Christian.

5. Removing soon after to another College, I executed a resolution which I was before convinced was of the utmost importance, — shaking off at once all my trifling acquaintance. I began to see more and more the value of time. I applied myself closer to study. I watched more carefully against actual sins; I advised others to be religious, according to that scheme of religion by which I modeled my own life. But meeting now with Mr. Law’s “Christian Perfection” and “Serious Call,” although I was much offended at many parts of both, yet they convinced me more than ever of the exceeding height and breadth and depth of the law of God. The light flowed in so mightily upon my soul, that every thing appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help, and resolved not to prolong the time of obeying Him as I had never done before. And by my continued endeavour to keep His whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I was persuaded that I should be accepted of Him, and that I was even then in a state of salvation.

6. In 1730 I began visiting the prisons; assisting the poor and sick in town; and doing what other good I could, by my presence, or my little fortune, to the bodies and souls of all men. To this end, I abridged myself of all superfluities, and many that are called necessaries of life. I soon became a by-word for so doing, and I rejoiced that my name was cast out as evil. The next spring, I began observing the Wednesday and Friday Fasts, commonly observed in the ancient Church; tasting no food till three in the afternoon. And now I knew not how to go any farther. I diligently strove against all sin. I omitted no sort of self-denial which I thought lawful: I carefully used, both in public and in private, all the means of grace at all opportunities. I omitted no occasion of doing good: I for that reason suffered evil. And all this I knew to he nothing, unless as it was directed toward inward holiness. Accordingly this, the image of God, was what I aimed at in all, by doing his will, not my own. Yet when, after continuing some years in this course, I apprehended myself to be near death, I could not find that all this gave me any comfort, or any assurance of acceptance with God. At this I was then not a little surprised; not imagining I had been all this time building on the sand, nor considering that “other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid” by God, “even Christ Jesus.”

7. Soon after, a contemplative man convinced me still more than I was convinced before, that outward works are nothing, being alone; and in several conversations instructed me, how to pursue inward holiness, or a union of the soul with God. But even of his instructions (though I then received them as the words of God) I cannot but now observe, 1. That he spoke so incautiously against trusting in outward works, that he discouraged me from doing them at all. 2. That he recommended (as it were, to supply what was wanting in then) mental prayer, and the like exercises, as the most effectual means of purifying the soul, and uniting it with God. Now these were, in truth, as much my own works as visiting the sick or clothing the naked; and the union with God thus pursued, was as really my own righteousness, as any I had before pursued under another name.

8. In this refined way of trusting to my own works and my own righteousness, (so zealously inculcated by the mystic writers,) I dragged on heavily, finding no comfort or help therein, till the time of my leaving England. On shipboard, however, I was again active in outward works; where it pleased God of his free mercy to give me twenty-six of the Moravian brethren for companions, who endeavored to show me “a more excellent way.” But I understood it not at first. I was too learned and too wise. So that it seemed foolishness unto me. And I continued preaching, and following after, and trusting in, that righteousness whereby no flesh can be justified.

9. All the time I was at Savannah I was thus beating the air. Being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, which, by a living faith in Him, bringeth salvation “to every one that believeth,” I sought to establish my own righteousness; and so labored in the fire all my days. I was now properly “under the law;” I knew that “the law” of God was “spiritual; I consented to it that it was good.” Yea, “I delighted in it, after the inner man.” Yet was I “carnal, sold under sin.” Everyday was I constrained to cry out, “What I do, I allow not: For what I would, I do not; but what I hate, that I do. To will is “indeed” present with me: But how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good which I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me:” Even “the law in my members, warring against the law of my mind,” and still “bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.”

10. In this vile, abject state of bondage to sin, I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. Before, I had willingly served sin; now it was unwillingly; but still I served it. I fell, and rose, and fell again. Sometimes I was overcome, and in heaviness: Sometimes I overcame, and was in joy. For as in the former state I had some foretastes of the terrors of the law, so had I in this, of the comforts of the Gospel. During this whole struggle between nature and grace, which had now continued above ten years, I had many remarkable returns to prayer; especially when I was in trouble: I had many sensible comforts; which are indeed no other than short anticipations of the life of faith. But I was still “under the law,” not “under grace:” (The state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in:) For I was only striving with, not freed from, sin. Neither had I the witness of the Spirit with my spirit, and indeed could not; for I “sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

11. In my return to England, January, 1738, being in imminent danger of death, and very uneasy on that account, I was strongly convinced that the cause of that uneasiness was unbelief; and that the gaining a true, living faith was the “one thing needful” for me. But still I fixed not this faith on its right object: I meant only faith in God, not faith in or through Christ. Again, I knew not that I was wholly void of this faith; but only thought, I had not enough of it. So that when Peter Bohler, whom God prepared for me as soon as I came to London, affirmed of true faith in Christ, (which is but one,) that it had those two fruits inseparably attending it, “Dominion over sin, and constant Peace from a sense of forgiveness,” I was quite amazed, and looked upon it as a new Gospel. If this was so, it was clear I had not faith. But I was not willing to be convinced of this. Therefore, I disputed with all my might, and labored to prove that faith might be where these were not; especially where the sense of forgiveness was not: For all the Scriptures relating to this I had been long since taught to construe away; and to call all Presbyterians who spoke otherwise. Besides, I well saw, no one could, in the nature of things, have such a sense of forgiveness, and not feel it. But I felt it not. If then there was no faith without this, all my pretensions to faith dropped at once.

12. When I met Peter Bohler again, he consented to put the dispute upon the issue which I desired, namely, Scripture and experience. I first consulted the Scripture. But when I set aside the glosses of men, and simply considered the words of God, comparing them together, endeavoring to illustrate the obscure by the plainer passages; I found they all made against me, and was forced to retreat to my last hold, “that experience would never agree with the literal interpretation of those scriptures. Nor could I therefore allow it to be true, till I found some living witnesses of it.” He replied, he could show me such at any time; if I desired it, the next day. And accordingly, the next day he came again with three others, all of whom testified, of their own personal experience, that a true living faith in Christ is inseparable from a sense of pardon for all past, and freedom from all present, sins. They added with one mouth, that this faith was the gift, the free gift of God; and that he would surely bestow it upon every soul who earnestly and perseveringly sought it. I was now thoroughly convinced; and, by the grace of God, I resolved to seek it unto the end,

1. By absolutely renouncing all dependence, in whole or in part, upon my own works or righteousness; on which I had really grounded my hope of salvation though I knew it not, from my youth up. 2. By adding to the constant use of all the other means of grace, continual prayer for this very thing, justifying, saving faith, a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in Him, as my Christ, as my sole justification, sanctification, and redemption.

13. I continued thus to seek it, (though with strange indifference, dullness, and coldness, and unusually frequent relapses into sin,) till Wednesday, May 24. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, Ta megista hmin kai timia epaggelmata dedwrhtai, ina genhsqe qeiav koinwnoi fusewv. “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye 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.” 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, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? 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.”

14. 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 counselsof 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. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

17. Thur. 25. — The moment I awaked, “Jesus, Master,” was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon him, and my soul waiting on him continually. Being again at St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem, which began, “My song shall be always of the loving kindness of the Lord: With my mouth, will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.” Yet the enemy injected a fear, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change?” I answered, (yet not I,) “That I know not. But this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.’ And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbid me to take thought for the morrow.”

18. “But is not any sort of fear,” continued the tempter, “a proof that thou dost not believe?” I desired my Master to answer for me; and opened his Book upon those words of St. Paul, “Without were fightings, within were fears.” Then, inferred I, well may fears be within me; but I must go on, and tread them under my feet.

Fri. 26. — My soul continued in peace, but yet in heaviness because of manifold temptations. I asked Mr. Telchig, the Moravian, what to do. He said, “You must not fight with them, as you did before, but flee from them the moment they appear, and take shelter in the wounds of Jesus.” The same I learned also from the afternoon anthem, which was, “My soul truly waiteth still upon God: For of Him cometh my salvation; He verily is my strength and my salvation, He is my defense, so that I shall not greatly fall. O put your trust in Him always, ye people; pour out your hearts before Him; for God is our hope.”

Sat. 27. — Believing one reason of my want of joy was want of time for prayer, I resolved to do no business till I went to church in the morning, but to continue pouring out my heart before Him. And this day my spirit was enlarged; so that though I was now also assaulted by many temptations, I was more than conqueror, gaining more power thereby to trust and to rejoice in God my Savior.

Sun. 28. — I waked in peace, but not in joy. In the same even, quiet state I was till the evening, when I was roughly attacked in a large company as an enthusiast, a seducer, and a setter-forth of new doctrines. By the blessing of God, I was not moved to anger, but after a calm and short reply went away; though not with so tender a concern as was due to those who were seeking death in the error of their life ...

Mon. 29. — I set out for Dummer with Mr. Wolf, one of the first-fruits of Peter Bohler’s ministry in England. I was much strengthened by the grace of God in him: Yet was his state so far above mine, that I was often tempted to doubt whether we had one faith. But, without much reasoning about it, I holden here: “Though his be strong and mine weak, yet that God hath given some degree of faith even to me, I know by its fruits. For I have constant peace; — not one uneasy thought. And I have freedom from sin; — not one unholy desire.”

Yet on Wednesday did I grieve the Spirit of God, not only by not watching unto prayer, but likewise by speaking with sharpness instead of tender love, of one that was not sound in the faith. Immediately God hid his face, and I was troubled; and in this heaviness I continued till the next morning,

June 1: When it pleased God, while I was exhorting another, to give comfort to my soul, and (after I had spent some time in prayer) to direct me to those gracious words, “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” ...

Tues. 6. — I had still more comfort, and peace, and joy; on which I fear I began to presume: For in the evening I received a letter from Oxford which threw me into much perplexity. It was asserted therein, “That no doubting could consist with the least degree of true faith: That whoever at any time felt any doubt or fear, was not weak in faith, but had no faith at all: And that none hath any faith, till the law of the Spirit of life has made him wholly free from the law of sin and death.”

Begging of God to direct me, I opened my Testament on 1 Corinthians 3:1, etc., where St. Paul speaks of those whom he terms “babes in Christ,” who were “not able to bear strong meat,” nay (in a sense) “carnal;” to whom nevertheless he says, “Ye are God’s building, ye are the temple of God.” Surely then these men had some degree of faith; though, it is plain, their faith was but weak. After some hours spent in the Scripture and prayer, I was much comforted. Yet I felt a kind of soreness in my heart, so that I found my wound was not fully healed. O God, save thou me, and all that are “weak in the faith,” from “doubtful disputations!”

Wed. 7. — I determined, if God should permit, to retire for a short time into Germany. I had fully proposed, before I left Georgia, so to do, if it should please God to bring me back to Europe. And I now clearly saw the time was come ...

Sun. 9. — The Count preached in the old castle at Runneberg, (about three English miles from Marienborne,) where is also a small company of those who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity. Wednesday, 12, was one of the conferences for strangers; where one of Frankfort proposing the question, — Can a man be justified, and not know it? the Count spoke largely and scripturally upon it, to this effect: —l. Justification is the forgiveness of sins. 2. The moment a man flies to Christ he is justified; 3. And has peace with God; but not always joy: 4. Nor perhaps may he know he is justified, till long after. 5. For the assurance of it is distinct from justification itself. 6. But others may know he is justified by his power over sin, by his seriousness, his love of the brethren, and his “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” which alone prove the spiritual life to be begun. 7. To be justified is the same thing, as to be born of God. (Not so.) 8. When a man is awakened, he is begotten of God, and his fear and sorrow, and sense of the wrath of God, are the pangs of the new birth.

I then recollected what Peter Bohler had often said upon this head, which was to this effect: —1 When a man has living faith in Christ, then is he justified: 2. This is always given in a moment; 3. And in that moment he has peace with God; 4 Which he cannot have without knowing that he has it: 5. And being born of God, he sinneth not: 6. Which deliverance from sin he cannot have without knowing that he has it ...

Several evenings this week I was with one or other of the private bands. On Wednesday and Thursday I had an opportunity of talking with Michael Linner, the eldest of the church, and largely with Christian David, who, under God, was the first planter of it. Four times also I enjoyed the blessing of hearing him preach, during the few days I spent here; and every time he chose the very subject which I should have desired, had I spoken to him before. Thrice he described the state of those who are “weak in faith,” who are justified, but have not yet a new, clean heart; who have received forgiveness through the blood of Christ, but have not received the constant indwelling of the Holy Ghost. This state he explained once from, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” when he showed at large, from various Scriptures, that many are children of God and heirs of the promises, long before their hearts are softened by holy “mourning;” before they are comforted by the abiding witness of the Spirit, melting their souls into all gentleness and “meekness;” and much more, before they are renewed in all that “righteousness” which they “hungered and thirsted after;” before they are “pure in heart,” from all self-will and sin; and “merciful,” as their “Father which is in heaven is merciful.”

A second time he pointed out this state from those words, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, Jesus Christ our Lord. There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Hence also he at large both proved the existence, and showed the nature, of that intermediate state, which most experience between that bondage which is described in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and the full glorious liberty of the children of God described in the eighth, and in many other parts of Scripture. This he yet again explained from the Scriptures which describe the state the Apostles were in, from our Lord’s death (and indeed for some time before) till the descent of the Holy Ghost at the day of Pentecost. They were then “clean,” as Christ himself had born them witness, “by the word which He had spoken unto them.” They then had faith, otherwise He could not have prayed for them, that their “faith” might not “fail.” Yet they had not, in the full sense, “new hearts;” neither had they received “the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The fourth sermon which he preached, concerning the ground of faith, made such an impression upon me, that, when I went home, I could not but write down the substance of it, which was as follows: — “The word of reconciliation which the Apostles preached, as the foundation of all they taught, was, that we are reconciled to God, not by our own works, nor by our own righteousness, but wholly and solely by the blood of Christ. “But you will say, ‘Must I not grieve and mourn for my sins? Must I not humble myself before God? Is not this just and right? And must I not first do this, before I can expect God to be reconciled to me?’ I answer, It is just and right. You must be humbled before God. You must have a broken and contrite heart. But then observe, this is not your own work. Do you grieve that you are a sinner? This is the work of the Holy Ghost. Are you contrite? Are you humbled before God? Do you indeed mourn, and is your heart broken within you? All this worketh the self-same Spirit.

“Observe again, this is not the foundation. It is not this by which you are justified. This is not the righteousness, this is no part of the righteousness, by which you are reconciled unto God. You grieve for your sins. You are deeply humble. Your heart is broken. Well; but all this is nothing to your justification. The remission of your sins is not owing to this cause, either in whole or in part. Your humiliation and contrition have no influence on that. Nay, observe farther, that it may hinder your justification; that is, if you build any thing upon it; if you think, ‘I must be so or so contrite. I must grieve more, before I can be justified.’ Understand this well. To think you must be more contrite, more humble, more grieved, more sensible of the weight of sin, before you can be justified, is to lay your contrition, your grief, your humiliation, for the foundation of your being justified; at least, for a part of the foundation. Therefore, it hinders our justification; and a hindrance it is which must be removed before you can lay the right foundation.

The right foundation is, not your contrition, (though that is not your own,) not your righteousness; nothing of your own; nothing that is wrought in you by the Holy Ghost; but it is something without you, viz., the righteousness and the blood of Christ. “For this is the word, ‘To him that believeth on God that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ See ye not, that the foundation is nothing in us? There is no connection between God and the ungodly. There is no tie to unite them. They are altogether separate from each other. They have nothing in common. There is nothing less or more in the ungodly, to join them to God. Works, righteousness, contrition? No; ungodliness only. This then do, if you will lay a right foundation. Go straight to Christ with all your ungodliness. Tell him, ‘Thou, whose eyes are as a flame of fire searching my heart, seest that I am unholy. I plead nothing else. I do not say, I am humble or contrite; but I am ungodly.

Therefore, bring me to Him that justifieth the ungodly. Let thy blood be the propitiation for me. For there is nothing in me but ungodliness.’ “Here is a mystery. Here the wise men of the world are lost, are taken in their own craftiness. This the learned of the world cannot comprehend. It is foolishness unto them: Sin is the only thing which divides men from God. Sin (let him that heareth understand) is the only thing which unites them to God; that is, the only thing which moves the Lamb of God to have compassion upon, and, by his blood, to give them access to the Father. “This is the ‘word of reconciliation’ which we preach. This is the foundation which never can he moved. By faith we are built upon this foundation; and this faith also is the gift of God. It is his free gift, which He now and ever giveth to every one that is willing to receive it. And when they have received this gift of God, then their hearts will melt for sorrow that they have offended Him.

But this gift of God lives in the heart, not in the head. The faith of the head, learned from men or books, is nothing worth. It brings neither remission of sins, nor peace with God. Labor then to believe with your whole heart. So shall you have redemption through the blood of Christ. So shall you be cleansed from all sin. So shall ye go on from strength to strength being renewed day by day in righteousness and all true holiness.” ...

 

“‘AN EXTR