The old Methodists had a question; Do you know the one in whom you believe?
For them this was a distinction that made all the difference. It was one thing to know about God. It was one thing to have learned the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. It was one thing to see in the wonders of nature signs of a creating God. It was quite another to know God.
John Wesley taught that we by nature are unable to see or know the invisible God. We can formulate doctrines about God, but we cannot see God any more than we can see the moons of Saturn with our unaided eyes. And if we cannot see (or hear or feel) God, then we cannot really love God. We can make some motions, but we cannot force our hearts to love what remains hidden to us.
It is only by an act of God’s grace that we come to “see” God by the witness of our spiritual senses. We gain eyes to see because God gives them to us. And seeing God, coming to know God, we will not help but love God, who is good and just and loving and beautiful beyond all our words to explain it.
The big problem Wesley saw in the church was that there were lots of people running around who were the blind leading the blind. They did not know God, but they talked a lot about the things of God. They substituted doctrines and liturgy for an experience of God’s grace. And so, they were Christians in name, but were in fact no different in heart from the men and women who remained outside the church. Indeed, Wesley would often write, the heathens outside the church often lived outwardly more like real Christians than most who bear the name.
This doctrine of assurance, then, was far more than just a warm feeling that we are saved. It was really the entire foundation of what Wesley called real Christianity. God reveals Godself to sinners, which allows them to actually perceive the God they had heard about but never known. This is the gift of faith, the evidence of things not seen. In the moment of this faith, we come to see not only the majesty of God, but also the love of God in Jesus Christ who died for us. Our heart is filled by the love of God. We have the witness of the Spirit to our spirit that we are beloved and forgiven.
This is assurance. This is heart religion.
It was uncommon in Wesley’s day. Methodists were always a tiny minority of the Church of England. It is even more uncommon today. But Wesley believed it was the foundation of actual Christianity.
Do we understand it? Do we teach it? Do we believe it? Have we experienced it?
Do you know the God in whom you believe?