Monday, 9 January 2017
My Year of Wesley Pilgrimage
On the first Sunday of the New Year – New Year’s Day, as it happened – we listened to a song in church which you can also listen to, here, and by a slightly convoluted train of thought it set me off pondering the political and social situation both in Europe and America, and noting the similarities with the England of the mid-eighteenth century. At that time it was said that England was heading for a revolution every bit as disruptive and bloody as the French Revolution, but it was averted by the spiritual revival that took place because of John Wesley and some of his contemporaries.
What excited me about this thought was that it was not simply the arrival of a charismatic figure or the sermons he preached that changed the nation. It was the many individual lives, transformed and going back to their homes and streets and workplaces to live out the Kingdom of God that reformed the nation. I later learned that at a time when the population of Britain was around twelve million, twenty-eight thousand people came into relationship with Jesus Christ through the Wesley brothers’ ministry. Just 2.3% of the population, in fact. As Jesus said, a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
As a result of this thought process, and in response to my own prayers to grow closer to Jesus and rediscover my first love for Him, I felt God leading me to take a pilgrimage in the steps of John Wesley this year. I began by buying a copy of his journal, and a copy of his book, “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” Next, I took a journey, last Friday, up to London to visit John Wesley’s house and chapel.
It was a profoundly spiritual experience, and I felt more like a pilgrim than a tourist. As I sat in the pew and looked around me, a few male voices in the balcony behind and above me began to sing, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.” Because they were out of sight and above me, it sounded like an angel choir reminding me of the purpose of my visit, the pursuit of Jesus.
Taking a guided tour of Wesley’s house, I did at first feel more like a tourist, although John Wesley’s whole life was so centred on serving his Saviour that all throughout the house were reminders of that focus. Seeing the table on which he wrote many of his sermons and letters gave me a frisson similar to the one I experience whenever I visit Jane Austen’s house close to my own home. Both wrote great works on surprisingly small surfaces!
But for me the highlight of the whole day was being able to step into Wesley’s own prayer room and see the spot where he knelt to pray. The walls seemed impregnated with the presence of God, and that is the one impression I shall carry with me from the visit. Returning to the chapel, I sat down again and a pianist began to play “It is well with my soul”, so that my visit was framed, at the beginning and end, by worship in song and music. If you are interested in seeing where this journey takes me, and what I learn of myself and God over the coming year, you can follow it on my blog.