Heartwork Releases the New Man

 

 

The thing has happened: the new step has been taken and is being taken. The new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some are still hardly reconisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours . . .  When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect . . . that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even creed. [1]

C.S. Lewis

 

Sunday, January 25, 1735 . . . the waves of the sea were mighty and raged horribly. They rose up to the heavens and crashed down to hell beneath. The winds roared over the creaking battered ship, rocking it one way and then the next with violence. It took all one’s strength to hold on. Every few minutes the stern or the side of the ship would be slammed with such force, it seemed as if the planks of the ship would be dashed to pieces.

The English clergyman slowly worked his way to where the Germans were gathered. From the start of the voyage, these humble Moravians had eagerly volunteered for servile duties on behalf of the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake — receiving no pay, saying it was good for their proud hearts. And every day had given them occasions for showing a meekness, which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went their way; but no complaint was found in their mouth.  Suddenly the sea broke over the ship, splitting the mainsail in pieces, seeming to swallow her, as sea water poured through the decks.  A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on.  [2]

Clinging to the ship, fighting his private terror of dying, the young John Wesley felt a rush of wonder. In these men, women and children he saw a power at work not only delivering them from fear, but from pride, anger and revenge as well.

Fighting his way back to his own, Wesley found them crying and trembling. Wanting to rouse them to faith, being “the religious man” he was, Wesley shouted over wind and waves. But his words had no power to still the storm in their hearts. His attempt to make  his English brethren see the difference between the Moravians and themselves in the hour of trial only added shame to their fear.

Wesley was a Christian, justified by faith, but he was so stuck in religion that he had no experience with who he was as a spiritual man, a new man . . .  he spoke the truth, but it rung punitively, not redemptively. Locked up inside of him there was a man with the easy capacity for intimate acquaintance with God, but that new man was like a wonderful sculpture locked within a massive block of stone, not yet released.  In this, Wesley is a picture of the vast majority of Christian believers today

*

Heartwork

In that violent winter storm at sea, God was showing Wesley the difference between those who walk in the power of faith unafraid and those who do not. The divine dialogue was planting seed in his soul, creating a hunger for what he didn’t have and couldn’t receive — until he could walk in the power of faith as a new man.

In that telling storm, the divine sculptor stood before a block of stone with hammer and chisel in hand . . . not to punish or indict Wesley for his sorry state . . . but to free the spiritual man within.  In the future, that man would speak truth with such redemptive power that hundreds and thousands of hearts would be inflamed — longing for the union with God that Wesley would powerfully describe after his own new man was set free.

But that future was years away. In the meantime the young clergyman reached the shores of the American Colonies, doggedly preaching up and down her southern seaboard.  He had uncommon zeal, a heart to do good, a gift with words and an incredible grasp of Scripture — but John Wesley struggled, sensing his powerlessness and ineffective ministry.

In his honest self-evaluation, accepting that he was wanting, God’s aim achieved its goal: a ragged slab of waste material fell away. That which did not belong to the work of art within was taken away. He was one step closer to releasing the new man within.

*

A painful distinction

For years I have painfully observed and rigorously struggled to understand the difference between the two kinds of Christians I do life with:

  • Those believers who do not have intimate union with God, who do not experience an ongoing give-and-take with Him, who do not have an awareness of what God is currently doing and teaching them, who do not love Him with a passion that takes precedence over everything else in their life.

and

  • Those Christians who do — easily, naturally.

The same way that a clod of earth or a block of wood cannot conduct electricity like copper can — the first group seems unable to receive or conduct the “word,” the “life,” the “spiritual awareness,” the whoosh of “the Spirit”  that the second group can.

C.S. Lewis describes this second category of Christians as the new men “dotted here and there across the earth . . . who recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even creeds.  [3]

My consternation has brought me to Wesley, and here I am encouraged, seeing the heartwork that brings forth the new man capable of an entirely different sphere of life.

We can trace the heartwork that freed the new man in Wesley, because he kept a running journal of the process. Like a doctor who chronicles his healing with medical fluency, Wesley chronicled his release from religion into spiritual-life with spiritual fluency.  His story is important to all of us who struggle with the difference between knowing about God  (religion) and intimate union with Him (spiritual life).

His journal records poignant incidences, like that of a prisoner about to be executed, who was in a place of stark terror and trembling. But as Wesley read pertinent promises from Scripture, the condemned man transformed before his eyes . . . he rose from his prison floor garrisoned by peace, clear and strong, a new man utterly confident he was forgiven and beloved . . . and in the power of that promise walked nobly to his death.

The Spirit Himself [thus] testifies together with our own spirit, [assuring us] that we are children of God.

Rom 8:16, The Amplified Bible

As Wesley watched, he saw the power of God’s Spirit testifying intimately with the spirit of that prisoner, assuring him that he was His beloved child.  Understand — Wesley had never experienced this testimony in himself. Irony of irony, the felon bore the mark of the new man capable of tasting God’s intimate testimony in his life. . . but the clergyman did not.

During this time, God brought Wesley a mentor, named Peter Bohler, who loved him . . . but upon hearing him preach the first time, quipped: “My brother, my brother, that philosophy of yours must be purged away.”  [4]

From the first of their relationship the two men spoke deeply and openly with each other, but Wesley had a hard time understanding Bohler — who seemed to be coming from an entirely different place. But Bohler’s easy authenticity revealed the new man Wesley so wanted to be. Seeing the life and faith so at work in his friend convicted Wesley of the lack of his own.

Wesley rebuked himself for preaching to others, when did not have this life, this faith himself. But Bohler urged him to not give up, advising, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”  [5]

 

Wrestle Until the Break of Dawn

Please do not misunderstand: Bohler was not telling him to “fake it till you make it.”  That is the dead-end doom of those who will never get free from religion.

Wesley was an expert in philosophy; able to translate ancient and modern tongues; well versed in the science of divinity after years of study; having given all that he had to feed the poor; laboring more than others; willing to suffer, giving up friends reputation and country to go to America; yielding his body to cold, heat, hunger and danger on the sea; rationally convinced of the truths of Christianity. Yet, this man was unable to receive the Spirit-to-spirit witness of his own intimate union with God.

The punitive voice of religion told him to cease preaching. The redemptive voice of the Spirit, through his gentle mentor, told him to not give up but wrestle it through, until he found the real thing.

The preacher had to struggle manfully every time he prepared to face an audience — like Jacob alone by the Jabbok, wrestling with God, with everything in his life on the line, he refused to let go until the blessing came at the break of dawn.

All during that long hard night, Wesley questioned whether he himself was saved . . . torn up inside by his incessant struggle with sin, doubt and fear. . .

In a very dark but honest moment, just before his dawn, Wesley wrote in his journal:

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? . . . that I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.

Convicted by the presence of God’s power in others, which he knew he lacked . . . convinced that others experienced union with God that eluded him, he continued to preach . . . wrestling everything he believed to the ground — in humility, not pretense. The chisel and hammer worked closer and closer to find him.

 

This is the wrestling, this is the heartwork

that brings each of us to the revelation

that marks the break of dawn.

  

Rather than tell you how it happened, how God’s heartwork released the new man, it is better that you see the fine precision of that moment by reading it from Wesley’s journal yourself.  Notice the divine dialogue. See what words God chose to speak to him as He led him forward. Understand that Wesley recorded the confluence of words he noticed, that were preparing him for what would take place that night.

 

Wednesday, May 24.

I think it was about five this morning that I opened my Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4]. Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” [Mark 12:34].

In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Oh, let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint . . . O Israel, trust in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.”

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. . .

After my return home, I was much buffeted . . . but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state . . . I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might . . . But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

Wesley was a new man experiencing the power of the promises he had long preached, but only now was experiencing. He found himself finally capable of intimate union with God, Spirit-to-spirit, which he had never been able to experience before. The hammer and chisel of God’s heartwork had reached down and brought forth the new man awaiting his release from all that held him.

Only now, as a new man, could Wesley experience the kingdom.

God’s tender word to him that morning — “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” — was His prophetic word sent to tell John Wesley that the dawn of the new day was breaking. God’s heart work in Wesley ushered him into the kingdom, giving him not only a new heart but making him a new man.

Aldersgate marked Wesley’s release from religion into spiritual life — from knowing about God into intimate union with God —  but the heartwork accomplishing this had begun years before.

Only the new man, the spiritual man has the capacity to walk in the sphere of the kingdom — to live incandescent moments of God’s power being made visible to and through him. And in the coming weeks we are going to dig deep into this reality.

 

 


[1] Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 11

[2] The Works of John Wesley, Volume 18, Journals and Diaries (1735 – 1738), edited by W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1988. P.142-143

[3] Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 11

[4] from Journal of John Wesley, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc

[5] Ibid.

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