John Wesley’s Epiphany

For a short while, John Wesley, the future founder of Methodism, had a home in the young American city of Savannah. Due to conflict with the influential families of the area, Wesley was forced to flee on foot to the Carolinas where he took a ship back to England. While aboard, he reflected heavily on what he had experienced in the past, much of which he speaks of in his journal.

We spoke with two ships, outward bound, from whom we had the welcome news of our wanting but one hundred and sixty leagues of the Land’s End. My mind was now full of thought; part of which I wrote down as follows:

“I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? 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, thine 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!’

“Oh! who will deliver me from this fear of death? What shall I do? Where shall I fly from it? Should I fight against it by thinking, or by not thinking of it? A wise man advised me some time since, ‘Be still and go on.’ Perhaps this is best, to look upon it as my cross; when it comes to let it humble me and quicken all my good resolutions, especially that of praying without ceasing; and at other times to take no thought about it, but quietly to go on ‘in the work of the Lord.’” [from the entry on Tuesday, January 24, 1738]

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. [from the entry on Sunday, January 29, 1738]

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