In his journals, John Wesley recounts the remarkable story of Grace Paddy, who was convicted of sin, converted to God, and renewed in love in 12 hours, something Wesley reports he had never seen happen so quickly before.
Ms. Paddy reports that her she was careless about religion until one day in talking with her brother she found herself greatly agitated by her brother’s state of bliss and happiness in God.
I went to pray in my chamber and thought, ‘Why am not I so? O, I cannot be, because I am not convinced of sin.’ I cried out vehemently, ‘Lord, lay on as much conviction upon me as my body can bear.’ Immediately I saw myself in such a light, that I roared for the disquietness of my heart.
She sent for her brother, who rejoiced at her agonies, urged her to believe, and prayed over her.
In a short time all my trouble was gone, and I did believe all my sins were blotted out; but in the evening I was thoroughly convinced of the want of a deeper change. I felt the remains of sin in my heart; which I longed to have taken away.
This led to more fervent prayer and longing for God’s graceful action in her life, and again her prayer was answered with uncommon speed.
I felt an expressible change in the very depth of my heart; and from that hour I have felt no anger, no pride, no wrong temper of any kind; nothing contrary to the pure love of God, which I feel continually. I desire nothing but Christ; and I have Christ always reigning in my heart. I want nothing; He is my sufficient portion in time and eternity.
So ends the story, which maps for us the early Methodist geography of the spirit. Conviction, pardon, and cleansing we see. And at each stage, the person reports assurance. She knew her sins had been blotted out. She felt a deep inner change in her heart as she was fully cleansed of all sin.
For Wesley and the early Methodists, the speed of Ms. Paddy’s progress was remarkable. A Methodist could expect to toil under the agonies of conviction for an extended time, and the cleansing from all sin might tarry until the final moments of life. A long life might be lived waiting for what this woman experienced in half a day.
And they did wait for and expect it. Members of the society watched their own souls and were watched over for signs of movement along this way of salvation. A person might be a member of a society for some time before experiencing the pardoning grace of God. It may be even longer still before they were perfected in love.
Whether it came early or late, though, it was something Methodists sought and prayed for.
John Wesley reports several days later on the progress of one of the Methodist societies:
I rode to Medros, near St. Austle, where we had the Quarterly Meeting for the eastern circuit. Here likewise we had an agreeable account of a still increasing work of God. This society has 86 members, and all rejoicing in the love of God. Fifty-five or fifty-six of these believe He has saved them from all sin; and their life now way contradicts their profession. But how many will endure to the end?
One thing I am always struck by when I read Wesley’s journals and sermons is how much more sophisticated he was in his discussion about what we call discipleship. Where we struggle to even describe what a disciple is or how to know when you have one, Wesley had a whole system of stages with clear markers along the way. Which is not too say he was naive about the complicated ebb and flow of spiritual life.
If we no longer agree with him about the way of salvation and the major developments along the path, we should have something else to offer. We should be able to speak in coherent ways about discipleship and the process of becoming a fully formed Christian.
Too often, it seems to me, we sound as if we have not thought too much about it.