In just a few pages of John Wesley’s journal tonight, I read of accounts that fill me with inspiration. For all the foul words I hear cast Wesley’s way, even by United Methodists, I always find that when I spend any time contemplating his ministry and words that I am fed by them. Although I do not think I am much like Wesley in temperament or gifts, it is these experiences that spur me to try to learn more from him.
Here he is recounting a visit to prisoners on Dec. 26, 1784:
I preached the condemned criminals’ sermon in Newgate. Forty-seven were under sentence of death. While they were coming in, there was something very awful in the clink of their chains. But no sound was heard, either from them or the crowded audience, after the text was named, “The is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, that need not repentance.” The power of the Lord was eminently present, and most of the prisoners were in tears. A few days after, twenty of them died at once, five of whom died in peace.
I’ve never preached a sermon to men on death row — although every sermon we preach is to people condemned to die. In some ways, such a sermon would have to be an indicator of the very heart of a preacher’s sense of the gospel. If you are preaching to men about to face the noose, you don’t dilly-dally around with six part sermons about how to get more enjoyment out of your sex life.
Wesley often preached and ministered to death row prisoners. I wonder what I would preach in such a circumstance? Would I deserve the name of Wesleyan?
But, of course, that word “Wesleyan” covers a lot of ground. Here he is a couple entries after his prison sermon.
At this season we usually distribute coals and bread among the poor of the society. But i now considered, they wanted clothes, as well as food. So on this, and the four following days, I walked through the town, and begged two hundred pounds, in order to clothe them that need it most.
What a great example of Christian love. What a powerful evangelical faith that preaches justification to the men on death row and takes to the snow-covered streets to beg funds to buy clothing for the poor.
And while he did not glorify the poor and was a well-known Tory, he did not gaze star-struck at the powerful and famous.
I spent two or three hours in the House of Lords. I had frequently heard that this was the most venerable assembly in England. But how was I disappointed; What is a Lord, but a sinner born to die!
From the death chamber to the seat of power, Wesley preached the same word. Whenever I slide toward dismissing him or agreeing with those who say his has no relevance to ministry today, I draw myself back easily to the light by contemplating his ministry and the great good God worked through him.