Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Aldersgate Sunday (May 24th)

For Methodists all over the world, this Sunday is Aldersgate Sunday. Celebrated every May 24th, it is a time to remember the conversion experience of the founder of the Methodist movement. John Wesley, on the eve of May 24th, 1738. This is also famously known as the ‘Aldersgate Experience’ where Wesley wrote the words:
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.
Describing this as a turning point in his spiritual life, Wesley became a converted man. He has been brought up under a solid Christian environment; his father being a Puritan pastor, while his mother Susanna is a dedicated Christian woman. Trained in theology, he even embarked on mission trips across the sea to another land. Yet, he remains unfulfilled in many ways. His encounter with the Moravian believers stirred within him a wanting for a similar deep spiritual experience with God. Whilst on a ship traversing deep stormy waters, he was amazed at the calmness of the Moravians. Upon his return to England, he continued to grapple with these memories, his frustrations about the Christian life and his dissatisfaction with his lack of inner experience. Despite these, he continued in his regular sessions of listening and reading Scripture. On that Aldersgate Sunday, May 24th 1738, he received his inner experience which not only changed his life, which not only created a new spiritual movement, it spawned a new social movement which arguably, saved England from impending social disaster.

Below is a selection of one of his contributions to the Christian people all over the world. It is a great way to do spiritual reading.
From the preface of John Wesley’s abridgement of Thomas Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, 1735
(Frank Whaling, ed., John and Charles Wesley: selected prayers, hymns, journal notes, sermons, letters and treatises, NY: Paulist Press, 1981, pp88-89.)

First: Assign some stated time every day for this employment; and observe it, so far as you possibly can, inviolably. But if necessary business, which you could not foresee or defer, should sometimes rob you of your hour of retirement, take the next to it; or, if you cannot have that, at least the nearest you can.

Secondly: Prepare yourself for reading, by purity of intention, singly aiming at the good of your soul, and by fervent prayer to God, that he would enable you to see his will, and give you a firm resolution to perform it. An excellent form of prayer for this very purpose you have in the second or third book of this treatise.

Thirdly: Be sure to read, not cursorily or hastily, but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper pauses and intervals, and that you may allow time for the enlightening of the divine grace. To this end, recollect, every now and then, what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice. Further, let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. To taste of many things, without fixing upon any, shows a vitiated palate, and feeds the disease which makes it pleasing. Whatsoever book you begin, read, therefore, through in order; Not but that it will be of great service to read those passages over and over that more nearly concern yourself, and more closely affect your inclinations or practice; especially if you press them home to your soul, by adding a particular examination of yourself upon each head.

Fourthly: Labor to work yourself up into a temper correspondent with what you read; for that reading is useless which only enlightens the understanding, without warming the affections. And therefore intersperse, here and there, earnest aspirations to God, for his heat as well as his light. Select also any remarkable sayings or advices, and treasure them up in your memory; and these you may either draw forth in time of need, as arrows from a quiver, against temptation (more especially against the solicitations to that sin which most easily besets you) or make use of as incitements to any virtue, to humility, patience, or the love of God.

Conclude all with a short prayer to God, that he, without whom "neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that water-eth," would so bless the good seed sown in your heart, that it may bring forth fruit unto life eternal.

Let me try to summarize the above with the acronym SPEND.

S - Set aside a specific time everyday. The key is consistency.
P - Prepare your heart. There is no point to be physically present but your mind is elsewhere.
E - Engage with the passage. Don't let go of it but learn to enjoy the parts you understand, but also keep a sense of wonder on those areas that mystify you.
N - Note particular passages by either writing them down or memorizing them.
D - Dedicate your reading back to God, asking him to bless and keep you with peace.

May this help you in your own personal spiritual reading. This year, May 24th 2009 falls on a Sunday, which makes Aldersgate week particularly special. Enjoy it, and may Christians all over the world give thanks to God for such a man of God, and pray that God will raise up more servants like him.


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