logo

On John Wesley’s Aldersgate

 

John Wesley’s biography indicates Aldersgate was not the time when he was converted.

     The father of John Wesley, Samuel Wesley served as a rector of the Church of England. The mother of John Wesley, Susanna Annesley, was a vicar of the Church of England. John Wesley was born on June 17 (28), 1703. And he matriculated at Charterhouse School in London–once a Carthusian monastery–as a gown boy in January 1714. When Wesley was in his mid-thirties he recalled the days of a relatively carefree youth at Charterhouse School in London, of a boy who was presumptuously satisfied with his own religious life.  
     For example, in an autobiographical narrative which preceded his Aldersgate account of May 24, 1738, Wesley observed: 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 as bad as other people; (2) having still a kindness for religion; and (3) reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayer. With the blessings of Susanna and Samuel, Bishop Potter ordained John Wesley deacon of the Church of England on September 19, 1725. Bishop Potter, the same bishop who had earlier ordained him deacon, ordained Wesley priest of the Church of England on September 22, 1728. He went to Georgia in America and worked there from late 1735 to February 1738 as a missionary. (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999, p.17,27.

John Wesley’s biography indicates that Aldersgate on May 24, 1738 was not the time when he was converted to God. If Aldersgate were to be accepted as the time of Wesley’s conversion, it makes no sense at all. His biography indicates that he was already converted to God and was already regenerated through his faith. If Aldersgate were accepted as the time of Wesley’s conversion, Bishop Potter of the Church of England ordained an unconverted man, not yet a Christian as a deacon and a priest of the Church of England. This makes no sense. The fact that he was ordained a deacon and a priest by Bishop Potter affirms that John Wesley was converted to God beforehand.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on John Wesley’s Aldersgate.

Everybody knows the story of John Wesley, who could not be more learned but was so hopeless a preacher that he was no good at all. He was a miserable failure when he went put to Georgia in America, and he came back utterly disconsolate. Of course, he could always give a learned sermon but it was quite useless. But after that experience in Aldersgate Street, this man suddenly began to preach with power, he became an evangelist. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, p.128.)

     This statement is right but it should be inferred that through that experience at Aldersgate Street, John Wesley received the power of the Holy Spirit/baptism of the Holy Spirit/the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit. After receiving the baptism of  the Holy Spirit he became a powerful evangelist by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The following statement of John Wesley shows that he himself is in great confusion.

Wesley wrote in his journal, “It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Christianity. But what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.” Some earlier biographers have let such statements stand alone in order to underscore the gravity of Wesley’s spiritual condition. Such a device is neither fair nor accurate. For much later in 1774, Wesley appended a “disclaimer” to this journal account, which appeared right after the comment “I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.” It read quite simply, “I am not sure of this.” Accordingly, Wesley was neither sure that he wasn’t converted to God while in Georgia, nor quite certain that he was. (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, p.54.)

     To write, “Wesley was neither sure that he wasn’t converted to God while in Georgia, nor quite certain that he was,” makes no sense. He had already become a priest and missionary. When anyone accepts Jesus Christ as Savior who died for his sins, he has been converted to God even though he may not have a heart-felt assurance of his conversion and salvation. Collins continues:

What makes the Georgia experience so fascinating, then, is that Wesley was ob- viously in earnest to live the Christian life in an exemplary way, to realize holiness even to the extent of the intentions of his heart, and yet he was repeatedly frustrated in this endeavor. Wesley had tried to manage his spiritual life as well as the tempers of his heart by reason, rule, and resolution, but in this he failed again and again, like the person described by the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15 (“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”). (Kenneth J. Collins, Ibid., p.52.)

     Collins says, “John Wesley had tried to manage his spiritual life as well as the tempers of his heart by reason, rule, and resolution, but in this he failed again and again.” It should be inferred that Wesley was a convert, a Christian and a priest before going to America even if in his spiritual life he failed again and again.

What happened on May 24, 1738 is expressed by Wesley’s own words.

“In the evening I went very unwilling to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistles to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the hearts 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.” As a matter of fact, in the days which immediately followed his Aldersgate experience, Wesley, while not neglecting the importance of assurance, underscored the theme of spiritual victory in a way that he had not done before: “And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted,” Wesley observed. “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 conquered.” Again, on May 25, Wesley exclaimed, “But this I know, I have now peace with God, and I sin not today.” And on May 29, although feelings of joy were no longer Wesley could yet profess, “I have constant peace, not one uneasy thought. And I have freedom from sin, not one unholy desire.” (Kenneth J. Collins, Ibid., p.62.)

     The Aldersgate experience of Wesley must be inferred to mean that he was filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit after being converted. This is also the same experience as that of the apostle Peter after his conversion. Surely, the apostle Peter had already been converted through faith in Jesus Christ before Pentecost. The apostle Peter became a new man/another man/different man after being filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit after conversion. Likewise, John Wesley became a new man/another man/different man after being filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit at Aldersgate. Wesley said, “And herein I found the difference between this and my former state.” The following facts also affirm that Wesley was filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit on May 24, 1738.

Heitzenrater’s note affirms that Wesley was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The pressure upon John became even greater on 21 May 1738, when, after hearing a sermon on “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” he received the “surprising news” that his younger brother Charles “had found rest to his soul.” Charles Wesley’s experience of assurance in the Moravian manner served to confirm John even further in his own expectations. Therefore, what happened on 24 May 1738 in the meeting of “a society in Aldersgate Street” was naturally understood by him at the time in the light of those expectations. He testified on the spot to those about him what he felt in his heart. He felt a trust in Christ alone for salvation (essential to the definition of faith as sure trust and confidence), and at that instant he did receive an assurance that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death. He was now a Christian and could claim that a week previous he had not been. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.65-66.)

     Heitzenrater comments, “After hearing a sermon on ‘They were all filled with the Holy Ghost,’ he received the ‘surprising news’ that his younger brother Charles had found rest to his soul. Charles Wesley’s experience of assurance…” This signifies that Charles Wesley was filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit, and had found rest to his soul. He had the experience of assurance by being filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit. The statement, “Charles Wesley’s experience of assurance in the Moravian manner served to confirm John even further in his own expectations,” means that John Wesley wanted to be filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit just as his brother had been. Therefore, “What happened on May 24, 1738 in the meeting of a society in Aldersgate Street” should be inferred to mean that Wesley was filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit even though he did not say that he received it and did not use the words “filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit.”
     The note, “He felt a trust in Christ alone for salvation...at that instant he received an assurance that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death,” should be inferred to mean that he had experienced the assurance of salvation and forgiveness of his sins through being filled with the power of the Spirit at Aldersgate. If it is said that he was converted at Aldersgate, it makes no sense because he was already a Christian and a priest before Aldersgate.

John Wesley questioned in his sermon in 1744, “Are you filled with the Holy Ghost”?

August 24, 1744, Wesley moved unswervingly to his conclusion in his sermon “Scriptural Christianity” by posing a number of increasing pointed questions: “Where does this Christianity now exist? Where, I pray, do the Christians live? Is this city a Christian city? Is Christianity, scriptural Christianity, found here? Are you ‘filled with the Holy Ghost? With all those ‘fruits of the Spirit’ which your important office so indispensably requires? Do ye, brethren, abound in the fruits of the Spirit?” (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, p.84.)
 
     Kenneth J. Collins comments: On August  24, 1744 Wesley questioned in his sermon “Are you filled with the Holy Ghost?” If Wesley asked this without being filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit, it makes no sense. His question affirms that he was filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit at Aldersgate even though he did not use this term. The question, “Do ye, brethren, abound in the fruits of the Spirit?” is the same as, “Are you filled with the Holy Ghost?” To abound in the fruit of the Holy Spirit is to be filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit. If one is not filled with (the power) of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to abound in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Gal. 5:22 does not record as the fruits of the Spirit but as the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Richard P. Heitzenrater comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

Through all the subsequent developments, two ideas from 1738 continued to find a central place in Wesley’s theology even though he modified their explanation: salvation by faith alone and the witness of the Spirit. These were both the result of Wesley’s having felt the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on that spring evening in London; his subsequent attempts to understand the theological dynamics and implications of that experience were crucial to the development of a Wesleyan theology. Wesley’s affirmation of justification by faith, expectation of assurance, and the possibility of perfection became hallmarks of his theology. We can say that Aldersgate is especially significant for Wesley. It is the point in his spiritual pilgrimage at which he experiences the power of the Holy Spirit and at which his theology is confronted by a dynamic pneumatology….Four days after Aldersgate, he was claiming that he had previously not been a Christian…Even within of the experience Wesley said, “I was previously not (or am not now) a fully sanctified Christian.” It is clear that in 1738 he defined that experience of the witness of the Spirit as his conversion. Wesley himself did not hearken back to Aldersgate as a model expe- rience to be universalized. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.90,91.)

     Heitzenrater comments: “These were both the result of Wesley’s having felt the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on that spring evening in London. And it is the point in his spiritual pilgrimage at which he experiences the power of the Holy Spirit.” If this is true, it can be said that Wesley simply received the power of the Holy Spirit at Aldersgate. To receive the power of the Holy Spirit is the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and it is also the same as “to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.” The statement, “Four days after Aldersgate Wesley said, ‘I was previously not (or am not now) a fully sanctified Christian,’” is a biblical observation. It is almost impossible for any Christian to be fully sanctified even though he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit after regeneration. The statement, “Four days after Aldersgate, he was claiming that he had previously not been a Christian,” is quite inaccurate even though he may have claimed this. He had already been a Christian through faith in Jesus Christ before Aldersgate.
     The statement, “I had previously not been a Christian,” though Wesley believed it, makes no sense. And the statement, “It is clear that in 1738 he defined that experience of the witness of the Spirit as his conversion,” also is quite inaccurate. Before Aldersgate he had already confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. Though the statement, “Wesley himself did not hearken back to Aldersgate as a model expe- rience to be universalized” may have been Wesley’s conclusion, it is based on the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the meaning of the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
     The 120 disciples including Peter were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit after regeneration/conversion at Pentecost. Every Christian must keep in mind that Pentecost is a model experience to be universalized. “Be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit” is the command of Jesus Christ (John 20:22; Eph. 5:18). It must be accepted that the Aldersgate of Wesley is a model experience to be universalized by all Christians.

The following statement is a mixture of biblical and inaccurate elements.

Pentecostal/Charismatic Reading: Aldersgate as Wesley’s ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit.’ The Pentecostal/Charismatic reading of Aldersgate is closely related to the holiness reading. One of the (debated!) developments in the holiness movement was the identification of entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For them this baptism was an experience, subsequent to conversion, that brought cleansing from inward sin. It required only slight alteration of such a position to construe the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an experience of new spiritual vitality and power for service, bestowed upon (previously powerless) Christians–the charismatic emphasis of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.142.) 
     “One of the developments in the holiness movement was the identification of entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Though this may have been true of the holiness movement, it is an erroneous conclusion. There is no scriptural reference to indicate that entire sanctification is identified with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To say, “…this baptism was an experience, subsequent to conversion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was an experience subsequent to conversion,” is perfectly accurate and supported by the Scripture.
     But, “this baptism brought cleansing from inward sin,” is thoroughly inaccurate. There is no scriptural reference to support that statement. The baptism of the Spirit does not bring cleansing from inward sin, but is to impart the Holy Spirit’s power after conversion. For example, before receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter was converted to God and Jesus Christ by accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord who died for his sins, actual, inward and original sin.
     When one receives Jesus as Savior, He forgives all his sins. When one repents of all sins, all sins are forgiven. Consequently, to receive Jesus as Savior is to be cleaned from all sins. To receive Jesus is to be converted to God. The apostle Peter received Jesus as Savior, and all his sins were cleaned before he was baptized with/in the Holy Spirit (and with/in fire) at Pentecost.  
     The case of Peter affirms that (1) the baptism of the Spirit was an experience subsequent to conversion, but (2) it was conversion that brought the cleansing from all sins, not the baptism. The statement, “the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an experience of new spiritual vitality and power for service, bestowed upon (previously powerless) Christians,” is biblical. The example of Peter confirms it. Before receiving this baptism (i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit), none of the disciples had a spiritual vitality. They were powerless Christians before Pentecost, but they became completely new men/different men from the day of Pentecost.
     Likewise, John Wesley had already converted (i.e., regenerated) to God and Jesus but was a powerless Christian. He was a powerless priest before Aldersgate. Before Aldersgate he was told by various churches, “Preach here no more.” (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, p.65.)
After Aldersgate he was a powerful and spiritual vital preacher like the apostle Peter who was baptized with/in the Holy Spirit (and with/in fire), i.e., filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So this fact confirms that it must be concluded that Aldersgate was John Wesley’s Pentecost. There John Wesley was baptized with/in the  fire of the Holy Spirit. Randy L. Maddox continues:

While relatively rare, there have been some advocates of a Pentecostal or Charismatic model of Christian life that have identified Aldersgate as Wesley’s “Pentecostal” experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Again, the serious questions faced by this reading would be whether such a definition of “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was congruent with Wesley’s own theological understanding and why Wesley never identified the event in this manner himself. For a convincing proof that Wesley rejected the suggestion that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was an event in Christian life subsequent to justification. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.142,173.)

     The note, “There have been some advocates of a Pentecostal or Charismatic model of Christian life that have identified Aldersgate as Wesley’s Pentecost expe- rience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” must be accepted as thoroughly accurate. Aldersgate was surely just such an experience for John Wesley. Peter’s Pentecost experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Wesley’s Aldersgate experience must be model for every Christian without a single exception. The statement, “the serious questions faced by this reading would be whether such a definition of ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ was congruent with Wesley’s own theological understanding and why John Wesley never identified the event in this manner himself,” is in error. John Wesley’s own theological understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was inaccurate. If John Wesley rejected that the baptism of the Holy Spirit as subsequent to justification/conversion/regeneration, it can be said that he did not understand the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit/the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5,8; 2:1-4). Many passages of the Bible confirm that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an event subsequent to Christian conversion. The argument, “the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an event in Christian life subsequent to conversion,” is from the mistranslation of 1 Cor. 12:13.
     The modern Methodists and most theologians still do not understand the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the relation between the baptism and the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit. Just like those in the time of John Wesley they rely on the mistranslation of the Bible. If the meaning of the baptism of the Spirit, and the relation between the baptism and the filling of the power of the Spirit and conversion are not properly understood, it is impossible to interpret Aldersgate experience. John Wesley, October 1738 after Aldersgate, confessed:
Considering my own state more deeply…what then occurred to me was as follows:

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” Now the surest test whereby we can examine ourselves, whether we be in indeed in the faith, is that given by St. Paul: “If any one be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed; behold, all things are become a new.” (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.70.)

     “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed; behold, all things are become a new” (2 Cor. 5:17) must be applied to every Christian who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord who died for his sins. To accept Jesus as Savior and Lord is to be in Christ. To be in Christ is to be a Christian, converted to Christ. To be in Christ is in a new creature. A Christian is a new creature. These doctrinal statements must be applied to every Christian believer including John Wesley. This passage confirms that Wesley who was an ordained deacon and priest was already a Christian before Aldersgate. In the following statement, Wesley said that he was not a Christian till May 24, 1738, but it makes no sense at all. John Wesley, the latter part of October 1738 after Aldersgate, reaffirmed his definition of a Christian:
 
By a Christian I mean one who so believes in Christ as that sin hath no more dominion over him. And in this obvious sense of the word I was not a Christian till May 24 last year. For till then sin had the dominion over me, although I fought with it continually; but since then, from that time to this, it hath not. Such is the free grace of God in Christ. (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, p.67.)

     “By a Christian I mean one who so believes in Christ as that sin hath no more dominion over him. And in this obvious sense of the word I was not a Christian till May 24 last year” is quite erroneous. We would rather embrace the words of Paul.

Rom. 7:15-25: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the mem- bers of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (NIV)

     In Romans 7:15-25 Paul says, “…it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature...but it is sin living in me that does it... When I want to do good, evil is right there with me…I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” If the comment of Wesley (“By a Christian I mean one who so believes in Christ as that sin hath no more dominion over him. And in this obvious sense of the word I was not a Christian till May 24 last year”) is applied to the case of Paul, Paul was not a Christian! This makes no sense at all. The confessions of Paul in Romans 7:15-25 confirm that the word of Wesley is inaccurate. In this world there is no Christian who does not struggle against the dominion of sin.

1 Cor. 9:27 says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (NKJ).

     This confession of Paul must be applied to every Christian until Jesus comes again. Wesley’s note, “For till then sin had the dominion over me, although I fought with it continually,” is reasonable. All Christians fight with sin continually as we await our ascension into the kingdom of heaven like the apostle Paul and priest Wesley. All these passages confirm that in pre-Aldersgate and post-Aldersgate Wesley was a true Christian and priest even though he said that he was not. Wesley, January 1739 after Aldersgate, confessed: “I am not a Christian now.”

My friends affirm I am mad, because I said I was not a Christian a year ago. I affirm I am not a Christian now….That I am not a Christian at this day I as assuredly know as that Jesus is the Christ. For a Christian is one who has the fruits of the Spirit of God, which (to mention no more) are love, peace, joy. But these I have not. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Aldersgate Reconsidered, p.73.)

     Consider Wesley’s friends: “My friends affirm I am mad, because I said I was not a Christian a year ago.” The word of Wesley, “I was not a Christian a year ago. I affirm I am not a Christian now…That I am not a Christian at this day,” is quite inaccurate because he himself shows a great misunderstanding of the definition of Christian. The note, “a Christian is one who has the fruits of the Spirit of God, which (to mention no more) are love, peace, joy,” is also erroneous. If anyone accepts Christ as Savior who died for his sins, he is a Christian even though he does not have the manifest fruit of the Spirit of God. The apostle Peter was a true Christian before being baptized with/in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost but he did not have the fruit of the Spirit - love, peace, joy, etc. All Christians strive with sin continually just as Paul did. Christians strive to have the fruit of the Spirit continually. John Wesley confessed, “For till then sin had the dominion over me, although I fought with it continually; but since then, from that time to this, it hath not.” This confession confirms that he was a true Christian in pre-Aldersgate and post-Aldersgate even though he said, “I am not a Christian” in January, 1739.  

Roberta C. Bondi comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

Aldersgate is a sacred event for United Methodists on two levels. According to our legend, it was the occasion when our founder, John Wesley, had an experience that both changed his life and provided his heirs with a paradigm for their own spiritual lives. As the legend runs: before Aldersgate, Wesley was a man full of doubts and anxieties, unsure of his faith and of the love of God. At Aldersgate, when his heart was “strangely warmed,” his doubts were resolved, his anxieties over. From this point on he was a new man, a simple lover of God who was now prepared to become the great preacher and director of the Methodist Revival. Therefore, Wesley’s heirs have taken what happened to him at Aldersgate as the controlling image for understanding our own patterns of Christian spirituality. Having once become Christian (i.e., having had our heats warmed), we believe that we ought also to be the kind people who love God and our neighbor is a simple and spontaneous way. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Ibid., p.21.)

     The note of Roberta C. Bondi is correct, but she did not assume that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost experience subsequent to conversion. The note reads, “Before Aldersgate John Wesley was a man full of doubts and anxieties, unsure of his faith and of the love of God. At Aldersgate, when his heart was strangely warmed, his doubts were resolved, his anxieties over.” This kind of transformation can take place only by receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit just as Peter did at Pentecost. If any Christian is not baptized with/in the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, it is impossible to become the great preacher like the apostle Peter and Paul and John Wesley. Roberta C. Bondi continues:

This standard Methodist interpretation of Aldersgate is open critical investigation on both levels of its significance. Indeed, recent studies have raised questions about the historical accuracy of isolating and emphasizing Aldersgate as Wesley’s “conversion experience.” (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Ibid., p.21.)

     The standard Methodist interpretation of Aldersgate must be that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit like Peter and Paul subsequent to conversion. To accept Aldersgate as Wesley’s “conversion experience” is thoroughly unscriptural.

Richard P. Heitzenrater comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

The proponents of the “heart-warming” as conversion/watershed point to Wesley’s own comments at the time, his claim that he was now a Christian whereas previously he was not. They support their view of the watershed nature of the event by quoting Wesley’s occasional references to a significant shift or beginning point occurring in or around 1738, and by repeating a general perception that the Methodist movement began to spread like wildfire across England in response to Wesley’s new-found zeal. (Edited by Randy L. Maddox, Ibid., p.49.)

     The note (“The proponents of the ‘heart-warming’ as conversion/watershed point to Wesley’s own comments at the time, his claim that he was now a Christian whereas previously he was not”) is an erroneous conclusion since they accepted Wesley’s misinterpretation of Aldersgate as right and biblical. Wesley’s claim, “he was now a Christian whereas previously he was not,” is inaccurate. If he had not accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord who died for his sins, how could he become an ordained priest? His office as priest of the Church of England affirms that he was a Christian before Aldersgate.  So the  phrase speaking of “the heart-warming as conversion/watershed” is erroneous. It should be inferred the heart-warming watershed moment was his baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. The note, “the Methodist movement began to spread like wildfire across England in response to Wesley’s new-found zeal,” is right. But it would be more accurate to say that the Methodist movement began to spread like wildfire across England in response to Wesley’s new-found zeal, that is, in response to Wesley’s Pentecost experience.
     He experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit/the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit like Peter and Paul. That is a more accurate explanation. It can be inferred that the first Pentecostal movement began to spread like wildfire across all Judea and to Samaria and uttermost parts of the earth as a result of the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is, the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit of the 120 disciples including the apostle Peter and Paul. Likewise, the Methodist movement began to spread like wildfire across England in response to Aldersgate experience of the baptism of the Spirit of John Wesley. Heitzenrater continues:

The opponents of the view of “Aldersgate” as conversion/watershed also use Wesley’s own comments to support their views, noting that before 1738 Wesley claimed to be a Christian, and that he also claimed several times after 1738 that he was not now a true believer and in at least one instance implied that he never had been. On the basis of Wesley’s own comments, they discard the watershed concept and see several important developments occurring in Wesley’s life and thought (and Methodist history) from 1725 onward throughout the century, some of which modify or even reject the points of view that he held in 1738. (Ibid., p.49-50.)

     If Wesley’s own comments, which are illogical and inaccurate, are accepted as correct, it becomes impossible to interpret Aldersgate, and many will be in great confusion as are the noted scholars. Only if it is accepted that Wesley was a truly converted Christian before Aldersgate, it is possible to understand Aldersgate. It must be concluded that Aldersgate was watershed/the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. This conclusion must be the standard interpretation of Aldersgate. If it is not accepted, it is impossible to interpret Aldersgate. We must accept that John Wesley himself did not exactly and accurately understand his own Aldersgate experience. Like Wesley, even many modern scholars misunderstand the relation between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and conversion/regeneration, and the relation between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit. If these relations are not thoroughly understood, it is impossible to interpret Aldersgate. Heitzenrater continues:

He does not later harken back to it as his “conversion” experience, much less celebrate the day as a spiritual anniversary, nor does he represent his own personal experience as a model for others to follow. Aldersgate was a crucial step in Wesley’s spiritual pilgrimage. (Ibid., p.50-51.)

     If the note (“He does not later harken back to it as his conversion experience, much less celebrate the day as a spiritual anniversary, nor does he represent his own personal experience as a model for others to follow”) is accepted as true, this statement itself confirms that Wesley himself did not understand the biblical meaning of Aldersgate. Wesley’s own personal experience must be accepted as biblical model for others to follow since Aldersgate was a crucial step and a watershed event in Wesley’s spiritual pilgrimage just as Pentecost was a crucial step and a watershed event in Peter’s spiritual pilgrimage. If any Christian wants to have such a watershed event in his spiritual pilgrimage like John Wesley, he must be baptized with/in the Holy Spirit like the apostles Peter and Paul subsequent to conversion. Heitzenrater continues:

We can say that Aldersgate is especially significant for Wesley. It is the point in his spiritual pilgrimage at which he experiences the power of the Holy Spirit and at which his theology is confronted by a dynamic pneumatology. (Ibid., p.90.)

     This statement is right. The statement, “Wesley experienced the power of the Holy Spirit at Aldersgate,” must be inferred to mean that he experienced the bap- tism of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit) at Aldersgate. To be baptized with/in the Holy Spirit is to receive the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5,8), that is, to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:3-4). Every Christian must receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion like John Wesley.

Theodore H. Runyon comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

Without Aldersgate, we probably would not have heard of John Wesley or of Methodism. (Ibid., p.105.)

     This statement is right but Wesleyans/Methodists have not yet interpreted and understood the meaning of Aldersgate till now. If Aldersgate is not accepted as Wesley’s Pentecost experience like that of Peter, it is definitely impossible to understand it. “Without Aldersgate, we probably would not have heard of Wesley or of Methodism,” is true. Likewise, it can be said that without Pentecost in Acts 1:4-5,8 and 2:1-4 we would not have heard of Jesus and Christianity.

Jean Miller Schmidt comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

In an interesting address (was it the opening address of the meeting?) Elmer T. Clark asked “what really happened on Wednesday evening, May 24, 1738, and what was its significance?” While not wanting to insist on the term “conversion,” since Wesley seldom used it, Clark asserted that “awakening of John Wesley was a process, of which the Aldersgate incident was the high culmination.” The point, for Clark, was that before Aldersgate Wesley was a failure in his work and miserable in his heart, and that after Aldersgate he was transformed. “The priest,” he said, “became the prophet, the ritualist became the evangelical. The whole spirit and structure of Methodism traces back to 1738.” (Ibid., p.117.)

     Clark is right to say, “after Aldersgate he was transformed.” The answer to the question, “What really happened on Wednesday evening, May 24, 1738, and what was its significance?” can be found in Acts 1:4-5,8 and 2:1-4. The 120 disciples were meeting and praying in the Upper room, waiting for the promised power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit to become witnesses. They were baptized with/in the Holy Spirit, i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit (the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit) at Pentecost.
     It must be inferred that John Wesley was baptized with/in the Holy Spirit, i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit (the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit) in the Bible study at Aldersgate. The 120 disciples, including Peter, experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost Peter and all others were transformed. Likewise, John Wesley experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At Aldersgate he was transformed as were the apostles Peter and Paul. Jean Miller Schmidt continues:

James H. Straugh wondered out loud about this revived interest in Aldersgate. “Is it that we really believe alters can be rebuilt, that fires again may burn and that Methodism may once more glow with renewed heat?” (Ibid., p.117.)

     The question, “Is it that we really believe alters can be rebuilt, that fires again may burn and that Methodism may once more glow with renewed heat?” must be answered “Yes!” If Methodists accept that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost experience of the power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit/the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, the question will be fully answered even today. If all denominations, including the Methodist, understand the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the relation between the baptism and the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit and regeneration, their altars can be rebuilt and the Holy Spirit’s fires again may burn. Their churches may once more glow with renewed heat as did the first century churches built by the disciples of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

W. Stephen Gunter comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

Throughout most of twentieth century, John Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience” has been a topic discussion among the denominations of the holiness movement. A. C. F. Mckee said that my Aldersgate convinced me that my salvation had been completed in sanctification-the missing ingredient. Mckee found that the missing ingredient was an Aldersgate-type experience. Since he received this experience in a holiness church (even though he was not a holiness movement minister), he interpreted it to be the crisis experience of entire sanctification. (Ibid., p.121,124).

     This note indicates that Mckee erroneously interpreted Aldersgate as the crisis experience of entire sanctification for salvation. Aldersgate must be interpreted to be John Wesley’s Pentecost experience. The apostle Peter became a powerful preacher after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Likewise, Wesley became a powerful preacher after receiving the power of the Spirit, i.e., the baptism of the Spirit at Aldersgate. There is no scriptural reference to indicate Peter experienced entire sanctification for salvation subsequent to conversion/regeneration. W. Stephen Gunter continues:

Peter Gentry proceeds from the presupposition that Wesley was a genuine believer prior to 1738, therefore Aldersgate could not be his conversion experience. He dismisses even those who interpret 1738 as Wesley’s “evangelical conversion,” accusing them of abusing the term conversion: “Conversion in the theological sense is bound to be evangelical unless it be purely theoretical, and Aldersgate certainly was not [theoretical].” If John Wesley had a conversion experience prior 1738, then-Gentry argues-it is incumbent upon the modern interpreter to define theologically what actually took place at Aldersgate and when John Wesley testified, ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed,’…this is his moment of glorious sanctification. (Ibid., p.125-6.)

     Peter Gentry’s claim, “Wesley was a genuine believer prior to 1738, therefore Aldersgate could not be his conversion experience,” is right. Peter Gentry who dismisses even those who interpret 1738 as Wesley’s “evangelical conversion” also is right since Wesley was already a follower of Jesus Christ before 1738. But if John Wesley’s Aldersgate is accepted as his moment of glorious sanctification, it is quite erroneous. Aldersgate was John Wesley’s moment of being baptized with/in the Holy Spirit (and with/in fire) just as Peter was at Pentecost. W. Stephen Gunter continues:

If John Wesley was “converted” in 1725-26, what was the significance of Aldersgate? David Cubie argues that it was not a choice to begin the Christian life, but a commitment to higher Christian life. Cubie believes he has shown that: Wesley’s own Christian life prior to Aldersgate was fully in harmony with the holiness understanding regarding the pre-Pentecost Christian. Thus Aldersgate, if placed descriptively in the context of the modern holiness movement, was…a moment of cleansing [i.e., entire sanctification] and preparation for a life of service. (Ibid., p.127.)

     Again, to infer that John Wesley was “converted” in 1725-26 is erroneous. In his biography (He was ordained deacon of the Church of England on September 19, 1725 by Bishop Potter) Wesley indicated he had already accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord before being ordained. It should be inferred that Wesley’s own Christian life prior to Aldersgate was fully like that of the pre-Pentecost Christians and like that of the 120 disciples before Pentecost. If Aldersgate of Wesley is inferred to mean that it was a moment of cleansing [i.e., entire sanctification] and preparation for a life of service, it is impossible to understand that experience. Aldersgate must be inferred to mean that it was not a sanctification experience but Wesley’s Pentecost experience like that of Peter and the 120 disciples.

Randy L. Maddox comments on Aldersgate of John Wesley.

It is necessary first to remind ourselves what the “standard” interpretation of Aldersgate is. Briefly put, this assumes that Aldersgate was the time of Wesley’s conversion experience. That is, it was a subjective experience by which Wesley was converted from a pre-Christian moralist into a true Christian believer. James Nelson (1988) assumes that Aldersgate was the time when Wesley was justified and regenerated (i.e., converted). (Ibid., p.13,16.)

     Though the assumption of Aldersgate as the time of Wesley’s conversion experience may be the standard interpretation, it remains erroneous and inaccurate. The standard interpretation of Aldersgate should be asserted, “John Wesley’s Pentecost experience” (i.e., the filling of the power of the Spirit) subsequent to conversion/ regeneration. The note, “It was a subjective experience by which Wesley was converted from a pre-Christian moralist into a true Christian believer,” is erroneous. Before Aldersgate he was already an ordained priest. James Nelson’s assumption, “Aldersgate was the time when John Wesley was justified and regenerated (i.e., converted),” also is quite erroneous. Maddox continues:

Richard Heitzenrater, as for the mature Wesley, says that Aldersgate was not the beginning of Wesley’s Christian life but one significant development in his spiritual pilgrimage. In particular, it was time wherein he received a profound assurance of God’s freely-given love. (Ibid., p.17.)
 
     The interpretation of Heitzenrater is right. But he did not assume that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost experience after conversion. Maddox continues:
 
Karl Heinz Voigt (1988) says that Aldersgate was not Wesley’s conversion. Manfred Marquardt, Methodist scholar in Germany, sets the tone by claiming that the significance of Aldersgate for Wesley and for today is the experience of the certainty of salvation (1988). However, he immediately adds that the mature Wesley saw that such certainty was not guaranteed and did not rule out a legitimate place for temptation and doubt in Christian life. (Ibid., p.17,18.)
 
     The interpretations of Aldersgate by Karl Heinz Voigt and Manfred Marquardt are right, but they did not assume Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost experience subsequent to conversion. Marquardt claims that the significance of Aldersgate for Wesley and for today is the experience of the certainty of salvation. This is true, but the certainty of salvation can be experienced only by the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration/conversion, i.e., salvation. Both the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the continuous reading of the Bible are guaranteed to bring every believer the certainty of salvation. Maddox continues:

It is no secret that the Aldersgate even has been interpreted in a variety of ways by Wesley scholars and those in the various traditions descended from Wesley’s ministry. Indeed, Frederick Maser has developed a typology of these various readings that divides them into five main categories: (1) Those who accept the Aldersgate experience as an important watershed or conversion in Wesley’s life; (2) Those who deny that Aldersgate was a conversion experience, assigning that experience to some earlier date, while still recognizing Aldersgate’s importance as a religious crisis in Wesley’s life; (3) Those who deny that Aldersgate had any enduring significance for Wesley’s life–emphasizing, instead, some earlier date (usually 1725) as his conversion; (4) Those who stress the gradual nature of Wesley’s spiritual development and see Aldersgate as simply one step in a steady process of growth; and (5) Those who believe that Aldersgate is one of many “conversion” in Wesley’s life. How could a single event spawn such a variety of interpretations? One obvious possibility is that the information which Wesley’s later interpreters have to work with is inconclusive. A quick reading of participants in the debate about the meaning of Aldersgate reveals that they spend much of their time dealing with the ambiguities of Wesley’s references to the event. These ambiguities have received extensively scholarly attention in recent years and the major textual dilemmas are now fairly clear. Wesley reprinted the extract of the Journal containing the Aldersgate account five times during his life. On the other hand, he almost never again mentioned Aldersgate explicitly in his journal or other published works. (Ibid., p.133-4.)

     The statement of Maddox reveals, “How could a single event spawn such a variety of interpretations? There are the ambiguities of Wesley’s references to the event. And Wesley reprinted the extract of the Journal containing the Aldersgate account five times during his life. On the other hand, he almost never again mentioned Aldersgate explicitly in his journal or other published works.” These statements confirm that Wesley himself did not exactly understand the meaning of Aldersgate, and neither do Wesley’s interpreters. If “the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the relation between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and conversion (i.e., regeneration), and the relation between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit” are not thoroughly understood, it is definitely impossible to interpret Aldersgate, as noted already. Maddox continues:

Catholic readings: Aldersgate as a “Mystical” conversion. One of the significant developments in early twentieth century Wesley Studies was the emergence of Roman Catholic investigations of Wesley. They insisted that Wesley’s real conversion to serious religious life was long before Aldersgate–in 1725. Aldersgate was then read as simply a further step of a religious man to a higher stage of devotional practice and experience. Eventually, the term “mystical conversion” was applied this reading of Aldersgate. It has been the reading of most Roman Catholic studies and of some other Wesley scholars who recognize and appreciate the catholic elements in Wesley. (Ibid., p.138.)

     The Catholic readings, “They insisted that Wesley’s real conversion to serious religious life was long before Aldersgate,” is quite right, but the statement, “he was converted in 1725,” is quite erroneous. The comment, “Aldersgate was then read as simply a further step of a religious man to a higher stage of devotional practice and experience,” is right. But the term “mystical conversion” applied to Aldersgate is erroneous. It must be concluded that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost. If this is not accepted, it is impossible to interpret Aldersgate. Maddox continues:

Holiness Readings: Aldersgate as Entire Sanctification. Justification was not the only crisis experience with which Aldersgate was identified during this time period. Some of Wesley’s descendants, particularly in the holiness movement, proposed that Aldersgate was actually his second crisis experience, i.e., his entire sanctification. According to this distinction, Aldersgate was not the time when Wesley received forgiveness of sins and began his Christian walk. It was the completion of his conversion-his purification from the “sin nature,” his filling with perfect love, his attainment of Christian perfection. (Ibid., p.141.)

     The claim, “Aldersgate was not the time when Wesley received forgiveness of sins and began his Christian walk,” is right, but the statement, “Aldersgate was actually his second crisis experience, that is, his entire sanctification, and it was the completion of his conversion–his purification from the sin nature,” is erroneous. Maddox continues:

The topic entire sanctification has been the focus of considerable debate among Wesley’s twentieth century heirs. For many Methodists it is simply an ideal toward which we (and Wesley!) continually strive but never attain in this life. By contrast, for many in the holiness movement it is an unsurpassable state which can be attained instantaneously by faith, shortly after justification. (Ibid., p.141.)

     The assumption of many Methodists, “entire sanctification is simply an ideal toward which we (and Wesley!) continually strive but never attain in this life,” is quite biblical. But the holiness movement’s claim, “It is an unsurpassable state which can be attained instantaneously faith, shortly after justification,” is quite inaccurate. There is no scriptural reference to support this conclusion. Therefore, those who identify Aldersgate with John Wesley’s entire sanctification are quite erroneous. Maddox continues:

For some, Aldersgate was the “spiritual climax” of Wesley’s life. For others, it was his transition from the state of a “babe in Christ” to that of a “young man.” (Ibid., p.142.)

     This statement is biblical since the apostle Peter’s Pentecost was a spiritual turning point of his life and it was his transition from the state of a babe in Christ to that of a young man. This kind of transition can be obtained only by the baptism of the Holy Spirit/filling of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Aldersgate event should be inferred to mean that it was Wesley’s Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit like that of Peter. Maddox continues:

Overall, most importance is the fact that Wesley never explicitly claimed to have entire sanctification–at Aldersgate or thereafter. If he intended the Aldersgate event to function as a normative model of entire sanctification for his followers, surely he would have identified it as such. (Ibid., p.142.)

     This statement is acceptable. The claim “Aldersgate was entire sanctification of Wesley” is based on the misunderstanding of the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit. Maddox continues:
 
Some scholar assumed that Wesley was already truly a Christian and growing in Christ–like before the night of May 24, 1738. But this is so, then, what was the significance of that night? Their answer is that Aldersgate was the time when Wesley’s growing Christian life was further strengthened and clarified through the “witness of the Spirit,” or gift of assurance. (Ibid., 143.)

     The assumption of some, “Wesley was already truly a Christian and growing in Christ–like before the night of May 24, 1738,” is right. But the statement, “this is so, then, what was the significance of that night? Their answer is that Aldersgate was the time when Wesley’s growing Christian life was further strengthened and clarified through the ‘witness  of the Spirit,’ or ‘gift of assurance,’” is  ambiguous. The answer should be that Aldersgate was the time when Wesley’s growing Christian life was further strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Maddox continues:

Some scholar claims “At the time of Aldersgate Wesley assumed that assurance must accompany conversion; hence, he viewed Aldersgate as his conversion! Later he becomes convinced by his observations of the Methodist revival that one can be a Christian without having full assurance. On reflection, he corrected the Journal account to portray himself as in that situation prior to Aldersgate.” (Ibid., p.173.)
 
     “At the time of Aldersgate Wesley assumed that assurance must accompany conversion; hence, he viewed Aldersgate as his conversion.” If this is what Wesley believed, he was quite mistaken. By faith John Wesley had already accepted Jesus as his Savor. He was a Christian before Aldersgate. Without understanding and accepting this, the experience at Aldersgate can lead only to great confusion and contradiction.  

Kenneth J. Collins comments: Wesley encountered strong opposition before Aldersgate.

Wesley encountered strong opposition in many Anglican pulpits, first at St. John the Evangelist and at St. Andrew’s, Holborn, in February 1738 and then in May 1738 in numerous churches such as St. Katherine Cree, St. Lawrence’s St. Helene’s, St. Ann’s, St. John’s Wapping, St. Benet’s, St. Antholin’s, and St. George’s, Bloomsbury. All these churches said in effect to Wesley, “Preach here no more!” Ironically, though Wesley believed he finally had a suitable message to proclaim, he was now quickly losing his audience. Wesley’s messages: a justified person is freed from the guilt of sin, a regenerated one from its power, and the entirely sanctified from its being. So then, if freedom from all sin (even its being) as characterizing the real or altogether Christian was the substance of the gospel that Wesley preached from March to May 1738 and following, it is little wonder that he was told by various churches to “preach here no more.” (Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian-The life of John Wesley, p.58,65.)

     Why did John Wesley encounter strong opposition in many Anglican pulpits in February 1738 and then in May 1738? Kenneth J. Collins says, “John Wesley’s messages: a justified person is freed from the guilt of sin, a regenerated one from its power, and the entirely sanctified from its being.” He was told by various churches to “preach here no more” because his message was inaccurate and illogical.

Lycurgus M. Starkey comments on John Wesley’s conversion.

Wesley had himself experienced the difference between a nominal Christianity and a vital personal faith. He grew up in a Christian home, and was nurtured spiritually at the knee of a consecrated and learned mother. He studied theology and entered priesthood with greater seriousness than many another of his day. He was well instructed in the skeletal structure of the Christian faith. He scrupulously tried to be a soldier of Christ according to the rules and percepts of Christian “warfare” laid down by the New Testament and the early church. The private devotions and charitable projects of the Oxford Holy Club, of which he became leader, reflect his earnest desire to please God and follow his commandments. (Lycurgus M. Starkey, Jr., The work of the Holy Spirit, New York Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962, p.15.)

     This statement shows that Wesley had already become a converted and regenerated Christian before May 24, 1738. Lycurgus M. Starkey continues:

John Wesley sailed forth to Georgia in another attempt to demonstrate the form of his godliness. It was in Georgia, as an intended chaplain to the Anglican settlers and missionary to the Indians, far distant from the props of a conventional religion of the homeland, that he discovered the futility of a Christianity in name only. Alone on the frontier he sensed the barrenness of a secondhand religion accepted from outside authority and never genuinely authenticated as a personal conviction. During this period he saw in the Moravians the vital faith he lacked. (Ibid., p.16.)

     This comment shows that John Wesley had become a converted Christian before May 24, 1738. The NT confirms that Peter was transformed into a new man/different man/another man through the experience of Pentecost, that is, the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit/the filling of the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Starkey’s statement mentioned above shows that John Wesley was transformed into a new man/different man/another man after the experience of Aldersgate so that it should be inferred that Aldersgate was Wesley’s Pentecost like that of Peter.