In his journal entry for January 9, 1786, John Wesley records with something he learned while reading the autobiography of William Penn.
I was must surprised at what he relates concerning his first wife; who lived, I suppose, fifty years, and said a little before her death, “I bless God, I never did anything wrong in my life!” Was she then ever convinced of sin? And if not, could she be saved on any other footing than a Heathen?
It is an interesting passage for a couple of reasons.
First, the last line suggests that “heathens” can be saved. He opens the door to as much in other places in his writings where he writes that he has no charge to wonder about whether God saves those who live in the parts of the world where Christ is unknown. God will attend to them.
The second interesting thing about this brief entry for me is Wesley’s concern that this woman never could have been convinced of her own sin if she would say she never did anything wrong. For Wesley, it was impossible to be saved by faith in Christ without first experiencing the deep conviction of sin. It was so much on his mind, that he took note of it in reading a fairly nondescript sentence in a book and took time to record it in his journal.
Not too long ago, I wrote a United Methodist theologian and asked his opinion about the importance of the doctrine of justification. I told him that I get a lot of messages — both subtle and direct — that say we should not put much emphasis on that doctrine. His reply was brief, but to the point: Preach justification by grace.
A couple years ago, I asked whether United Methodism was a conversion-minded denomination. I guess that question is still with me. It appears to me that to the degree we are Wesleyan, we should still be preaching about conviction and justification, even if we find different words for them.