I get John Wesley. Before he became the guy who said, “I look upon all the world as my parish”* he preferred his parochial, amicable studies and libraries rather than the great halls. He was a cave-dweller. Ministerially, he was a good Oxfordite, a proper Anglican priest, who toed the party line and desired things be done decently and with order. He had some OCD in him, I’d wager. In short, he went with the program.
I do like my cave, but, granted, that last bit is quite unlike me. I have Baptistic roots but there are doors closed to me because of my ‘aberrant’ theology, and, likewise, I have not found a home among their polar opposites (I’m too Baptist I’m told). Ah, well, such is life. My wife quipped a few years ago that if I were the type of person to “play the game”, I would be set for life with meetings and denominational appointments. She followed that up by saying, “I respect you more because you don’t.”
She so completes me.
John-surnamed-Wesley was a fussy dresser, I’m told, always neat and fashionable without being conspicuous, starched to the gills and spotless. Hands soft and manicured, Wesley’s skin was probably sallowed from dwelling indoors by candle’s glow.
He’d heard of outdoor preaching but thought such was “almost a sin”** as it did not meet with the standards of Anglican piety. The party line reasoned that outdoor preachers did so in violation of civil and canonical law. Those street preachers! How vexing and “uncouth”! If someone needed religion, it was required they come to the proper place.
All this before Aldersgate.
Until Aldersgate John was the typical minister of his day, interested primarily in maintenance and methodology (he never really departed from the latter), keeping the constituency enrolled as good Anglicans, filling his hours parsing the Greek and Latin texts, everything tidy and predictable. These, and straining to be holy enough.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit tampered with the diminutive priest (he stood barely five feet, six inches) and veered him away from idle religion. It took a failed ministry to the New World (Georgia, incidentally) to cause a downtrodden John to return to England where he would reevaluate his state of quo and not jibe with the man in the mirror. The perfunctory, finicky and methodical Wesley wound up at a meeting of Moravians in Aldersgate Street and learned for the first time he no longer needed to work his way to God by rigidly follow principles and being the best Anglican he could be.
He learned that salvation can be both instantaneous and processed and all the while have something known as the inner witness of the Spirit for complete assurance. He learned that Salvation and Rest and the Abiding Life are all listed together in the Thesaurus of Theology.
Aldersgate was like the release of pent-up, stifled air for the overstuffed, religious don. Aldersgate was the passing of religion and birthing of real living. For the first time in his 34 years, Wesley lay down for a nice long nap in Jesus’ pasture. So long Anglican-ism, hello Methodists.
There are two doors mentioned in Revelation that have everything to do with which side of Alders-gate we stand. One is a closed door (3:20) and has Jesus standing on the outside knocking.
Is anyone home? Will anyone invite me in?
The other door stands open (4:1) and invites those who respond to the call to see into the heavenlies. One door, being closed, forces Jesus to be part of what we are doing. If He comes late, or has to wait, so be it. We have our business to attend to. With or without Him.
The Second Door leads to a very wide room where choirs, thrones, angels, judgments, decrees, prayers, scrolls, horses, creatures, martyrs, armies, wedding parties and the Godhead fill the room. Through this door the Lord invites us to join Him.
Aldersgate is being freed from our safe caves of familiarity, self-effort, activity, striving, earning, doubt, and instability and ascending on eagles’ wings through a doorway into a vast cavernous place. I don’t quote from religious Elihu very often, but I like what he told Job: “Oh Job, don’t you see how God is wooing you from the jaws of danger–how He’s drawing you into wide open places…?” (Job 36:16)
There’s a door we grudgingly open (or not), and a prodigious door that is already open, waiting for us, welcoming us, inviting us. Into His world. Which do you prefer?
I know which one John preferred.
So tell me about your Aldersgate.
*The Letters of John Wesley, 1:286
**John Wesley: A Biography, by Stephen Tomkins