Mar 23, 2024

Charles Wesley


Are you born again? The question is often posed in certain Christian circles to determine whether someone has had a proper conversion. Experience tells me some people come to faith all at once while others come gradually over time. Charles Wesley (1707-1788) recorded in his diary on April 25, 1738, a dispute with his brother John as to whether conversion was gradual or instantaneous. John told of people who came to faith “in a moment” while Charles insisted that people need not know when they first had faith. “His obstinacy drove me out of the room,” Charles wrote. Let’s back up a moment.Charles and John were raised in a deeply devout Christian family. As students in 1729, they formed a Holy Club (later known as Methodists) and received formal training as clerics in the Church in England. They came to America in 1736 as missionaries and later returned home to preach in English churches. Suffice it to say, their dispute over conversion was nothing recent. Following a month of intense searching, Charles came to believe the gospel on May 21, 1738. Where before he sought salvation by his religious works, now he came to trust Christ alone for salvation. He wrote of that moment, “I felt myself at peace with God and rejoiced in the hope of loving Christ.” Three days later, John came to saving faith as he sensed his heart “strangely warmed.” So, who was right – John, that conversion is instantaneous or Charles, that salvation is gradual? Both, I’d say. Their salvation was both gradual and instantaneous. Conversion for each was a lengthy process that culminated in a dramatic moment. John went forward to become the organizing force of Methodism while Charles served as its able hymn-writer and poet. One of Charles’ poems about Elijah’s encounter with God’s still, small voice leads us into prayer:

Open, Lord, my inward ear,
And bid my heart rejoice;
Bid my quiet spirit hear
The comfort of thy voice:
Never in the whirlwind found,
Or where earthquakes rock the place,
Still and silent is the sound,
The whisper, of thy grace.

From the world of sin and noise
And hurry I withdraw,
For the small and inward voice
I wait with humble awe:
Silent am I now and still,
Would not in thy presence move:
To my waiting soul reveal
The secret of thy love!

Journal of Charles Wesley

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.