Archive: Blessed Assurance

By Buford M. McElroy, Sr.
Pastor, First Methodist Church, Camp Hill, Alabama

The late Bishop Bachman G. Hodge, of the North Alabama Conference, had a favorite story he loved to tell about one of his friends, who was an Episcopal minister. This friend was always kidding the bishop about the Methodists leaving the Episcopal Church. He would always end up by saying, “Bishop, when you Methodists left, you took the stove with you.”

Methodism always has been referred to as the religion of the warmed heart. I like the description. I wish it were always and everywhere true. But we Methodists have no exclusive right to this title. We’re not the only Christians who know in our lives the power of the grace of God. But The Methodist Church was the only church which took care to build into its very structure, the means of making sure that people should not continue long in membership without this knowledge.

The Episcopal bishop was referring particularly to the heartwarming experience which came to John Wesley. He wrote in his diary, under the date of May 24th, 1738, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had saved me, even me, from the law of sin and death.” Ever since, Methodists have cherished the memory of that experience of trustful fellowship with Christ by faith alone and its resulting assurance of full salvation. And we have stressed the necessity of a similar experience for members of The Methodist Church.

“The drunkard,” wrote Wesley, “commenced to be sober and temperate; the whoremonger abstained from adultery and fornication; the unjust from oppression and wrong; the sluggard began to work with his hands, and the miser learned to deal his bread to the hungry.”

For Wesley, the heart-warming was no transient experience. It was the result of contact with the fires of saving-love which bum forever in the heart of God. It completely changed his life, and manifested itself in all his relationships with God and his fellowmen.

There is one thing we Methodists must guard against – the peril of exalting Wesley instead of Jesus Christ. John Wesley was one of the great Christians of all times, no doubt about that. But Wesley was great because he exalted Christ.

In the eighteenth century, most thoughtful people were seeking certainty in one way or another. Wesley sought certainty of salvation. For years he sought it diligently by self-discipline and good works. But he did not find Christian assurance. Until Aldersgate, he was lacking “the inward witness” of the Holy Spirit that speaks peace and assurance to the soul.

The Methodist movement, begun at Oxford University by his brother Charles and others, was essentially an earnest endeavor of these young men to “work out their own salvation.” Their fiery zeal was from the beginning turned outward, taking the form of many good works. But it included, also an avowed ambition to save their own souls. Charitable pursuits, the visiting of the sick and prisoners, alms-giving, evangelistic, missionary enterprises – all were largely inspired by their hearts’ craving for the assurance of personal salvation.

It didn’t take these very first Methodists long to find out that they had started at the wrong end. Could they give others what they themselves did not have?

In the autumn of 1735 the “Holy Club” (as their group at Oxford had been nicknamed) had grown in strength and influence. But it ceased its activities on the day the two Wesleys decided that God was calling them to America.

John felt called to go on a mission to the Indians; Charles decided to become secretary to the Governor of Georgia. “Our end,” wrote John, “in leaving our native country, was simple-to save our souls.” In time, the end was reached-but not at all as they thought. John converted no Indians; his “mission” turned out to be a failure.

In Savannah, Wesley had known Spangenberg, a simple, quiet-mannered Moravian pastor who was sustained by a Presence of which Wesley knew nothing. Wesley was quick to sense the difference. Under Spangenberg’s direct questioning, Wesley realized that he did not know his sins forgiven … that he could not say that he knew Jesus Christ. On shipboard, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Wesley found himself cringing with fear in the midst of a storm. But the Moravian passengers faced the peril with perfect poise. Why the difference? That question broke Wesley’s pride. Ever afterward, his prayer was to be delivered from a “fair-weather religion.”

This, Wesley’s greatest spiritual crisis, was created by the fact that he had no religion adequate for a crisis. For 13 years, his religion had been a load, and now his 13 years of burden-bearing produced no real confidence in God (who waits to carry our burdens. I Peter 5:7) In the twentieth century, we too are seeking certainty-in every field of endeavor, except the one that can bring peace to our troubled world. In the field of medical science, doctors were able to transplant a human heart from a 23 year old lady who was killed in an automobile accident to a 53 year old man whose heart was worn out. He lived for only two weeks, but the transplant was considered a success.

In the field of technological advancement, jet planes that now fly at the speed of 600 miles per hour will soon be replaced by jets that will travel 1600 miles per hour. In the outer space program, we are told that man will go to the moon within the next decade.

If we can know so much about all other phases of life, why don’t we know more about our relationship with the living God? It is inconceivable to think that God demands man to be born again without also giving ample knowledge of this relationship. How can a person experience God? Lots of individuals have only the experience of a religious tradition or ceremony. Not God. How can we move out of this deadness into the warmed climate of true Christian experience?

We can have Christian Assurance in our hearts, beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is God’s promise. We can know that our sins have been forgiven. We can be at peace with God. But first two conditions must be met:

(1) We must come to know Jesus as a Person. We may approach Him today, realize Him and be conscious of His Presence. Jesus can be just as real to us as any other person. He is not some mere theory, some inspiring memory, some vague personal influence; He is a Person to be approached, to be felt, to be trusted, to be loved, and obeyed – even unto death.

(2) We must acknowledge our need and confess our sins. Then comes the assurance of faith … or as Wesley called it “the faith of adherence.” For “he that believeth” with true living faith “has the witness in himself,” giving him assurance that he is God’s true child – forgiven, reclaimed and given the power of God to serve God and praise God n0w and forever.

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