"In Church" or "In Christ"? (

In Church or In Christ? (Lessons from John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience)
Robert Wurtz II

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV)

The renowned Evangelical theologian J.I. Packer, in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, reminds us that “Aspiration, resolution, and religiosity are no substitutes for faith. Martin Luther and John Wesley had all these long before they had faith.” This is a sobering consideration, but a true one.  

One of the primary strategies of evangelists in the era leading up to the 20th century was to call into question the hearer’s assurance of salvation. We do not hear preaching like this in the main stream, so it is necessary to experience it for ourselves in order to understand the effect it would have on the hearer. George Whitefield (1714-1770) began his soul-searching sermon with this standard type of enquiry:

And, I think, if I know anything of mine own heart, my heart’s desire, as well as my prayer to God, for you all, is, that I may see you sitting down in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. But then, though we all hope to go to heaven when we die, yet, if we may judge by people’s lives, and our Lord says, “that by their fruits we may know them,” I am afraid it will be found, that thousands, and ten thousands, who hope to go to this blessed place after death, are not now in the way to it while they live. Though we call ourselves Christians, and would consider it as an affront put upon us for anyone to doubt whether we were Christians or not; yet there are a great many, who bear the name of Christ, that yet do not so much as know what real Christianity is. Hence it is, that if you ask a great many, upon what their hopes of heaven are founded, they will tell you that they belong to this, or that, or the other denomination, and part of Christians, into which Christendom is now unhappily divided. If you ask others, upon what foundation they have built their hope of heaven, they will tell you, that they have been baptized, that their fathers and mothers, presented them to the Lord Jesus Christ in their infancy; and though, instead of fighting under Christ’s banner, they have been fighting against Him, almost ever since they were baptized, yet because they have been admitted to church, and their names are in the register book of the parish, therefore they will make us believe, that their names are also written in the book of life. But a great many, who will not build their hopes of salvation upon such a sorry rotten foundation as this, yet if they are, what we generally call, negatively good people; if they live so as their neighbors cannot say that they do anybody harm, they do not doubt but they shall be happy when they die; nay, I have found many such die, as the Scripture speaks, “without any hands in their death.” And if a person is what the world calls an honest moral man, if he does justly, and, what the world calls, love a little mercy, is now and then good-natured, reaches out his hand to the poor, receives the sacrament once or twice a year, and is outwardly sober and honest; the world looks upon such an one as a Christian indeed, and doubtless we are to judge charitably of every such person. There are many likewise, who go on in a round of duties, a model of performances, that think they shall go to heaven; but if you examine them, though they have a Christ in their heads, they have no Christ in their hearts.

This opening statement was designed to call to question whether or not one was truly converted. It asks the question, “On what is your hope built?” This was akin to John the Baptist saying, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now the axe is laid to the root of the tree; every tree that does not bring forth good fruit will be hewn down and cast into the fire.” It matters not your affiliation or pedigree, but whether or not you have truly repented and trusted Christ. Have you begun in the Spirit? Does your life yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit? This is the true evidence that one has passed from death unto life.[1]

John Wesley

            George Whitefield had a dear friend named John Wesley (1703-1791). As a child Wesley had been saved from a fiery building and true to form he was indeed a man “plucked from the burning.” He became an Anglican priest in England that had studied at Christ Church, Oxford. There he helped found the “Holy Club” along with his brother Charles and George Whitefield. This was the beginning of the Methodists. He traveled to the Colonies to do a work for God, only to realize on the ship and in a raging storm that he was not truly converted himself. As shocking as that may seem, this man at the age of 35, that was raised to know the Word of God at his mother’s knee, had all his life trusted in his own righteousness for salvation. He wrote in his journal:

All the time I was at Savannah, Georgia I was thus beating the air. Being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, which by a living faith in him brings salvation “to everyone that believeth,” I sought to establish my own righteousness, and so labored in the fire all my days. I was now, properly under the Law; I knew that the Law of God was spiritual; I consented to it, that it was good. Yea, I delighted in it, after the inner man. Yet was I carnal, sold under sin. Every day was I constrained to cry out, “What I do, I allow not; for what I would, I do not; but what I hate, that I do. To will is indeed present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good which I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.[2]

He admitted that he was neither freed from sin, nor did he have the witness of the Holy Spirit. His own diagnosis was that he had sought these things by the works of the Law and not the hearing of faith. All the while, the ministry went on. He wrote, “And I continued preaching and following after and trusting in that righteousness, whereby no flesh can be justified.” Returning home, he diligently sought the Lord. He renounced his own righteousness. He added:

During this whole struggle between nature and grace, (which had now continued above ten years,) I had many remarkable returns to prayer; especially when I was in trouble. I had many sensible comforts, which are indeed no other than short anticipations of the life of faith. But I was still under the law, not under grace: (the state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in).[3]

Wesley struggled for a while coming to a place of complete trust in the finished work of Christ. Herein is the Reformers position of man’s estate before God validated—in that man is helpless in his own strength to reform himself sufficiently to become a child of God. Repentance? Wesley had much of it. Sorrow for sin? Wesley had it in superabundance. A desire to do what was right in the sight of the Lord? Indeed, Wesley burned with a desire for righteousness but he was going about it his own way. God had to arrest his attention and bring a great light upon the subject. It was on that ship somewhere in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean that God brought him into reality. As the Roman soldiers and prisoners in Acts 27, Wesley experienced the fear of imminent death by drowning in darkness. The whole experience must have been a foretaste of hell. He didn’t want to die like this—in fear rather than faith. As the Moravians prayed and sang peacefully in the ship Wesley’s nerves were frayed like no other time. All of his life he had done as the shipmaster in Acts 27, doing everything he could to get rid of things that offend. He bolstered his “ship” with all kinds of earthly disciplines, but in the midst of the sea, the chords that held his soul secure were melted before this flame. When it seemed that all of his life was destined for one massive shipwreck, he arrived in the place where God could really save him. John Wesley continues his testimony:

God prepared Peter Border for me as soon as I came to London, affirmed of true faith in Christ, (which is but one,) that it had those two fruits inseparably attending it, “Do minion over sin, and constant peace from a sense of forgiveness.” I was quite amazed and looked upon it as a new Gospel. If this was so, it was clear, I did not have faith. But I was not willing to be convinced of this. Therefore I disputed with all my might and labored to prove that faith might be where these were not; especially where the sense of forgiveness was not: for all the Scriptures relating to this I had been long since taught to construe away and to call all “Presbyterians” who spoke otherwise. Besides, I well saw, no one could (in the nature of things) have such a sense of forgiveness, and not feel it. But I felt it not. If then there was no faith without this, all my pretensions to faith dropped at once.[4](emphasis added)

One morning Wesley woke up and opened his Bible to the passage, There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that you should be partakers of the divine nature(2 Peter 1:4). Returning later he opened to another verse, you are not far from the Kingdom of God. In the evening, he went to hear a message. The experience he describes would mark a radical change in his life:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, 1 felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart.[5]

This marked John Wesley’s conversion. It is commonly referred to as his Aldersgate experience. He was 35 years old. It is instructional for those who may have been involved in Christianity all of their lives and yet have not truly been born of the Spirit. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV)

[1]The Apostle John deals with this subject in 1 John 3. Here we have a list of qualities that we may “know” if we are passed from death to life or not. The means by which we pass from death to live are given in John 5:24. The question becomes, have you believed in such a way that you have passed from death unto life? This is not a mental assent to doctrinal points but the placing of ones faith in trust completely in Christ in such a way that He can believe us.  
[2]John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley Volume I, January, 1738, 1827, P. 94-96 See also Romans 7. 
[3]Ibid, Wesley.
[4]Ibid, Wesley.
[5]Ibid, Wesley, P.98

The "Ancient" Inquiry Room (Enquiry Room and Praying Through)

The “Ancient” Inquiry Room
Robert Wurtz II

The inquiry room is an example of a once novel measure that has come and gone from mainstream Christian practice. It began prior to the ministry of Charles Finney (1800s) and continued on until early in Billy Sunday’s ministry (early 1900s). This was a room or church sanctuary set apart for the sole purpose of counseling and praying with anxious sinners in an attempt to help lead them to genuine conversion. “Anxious sinner” is a term that used to describe people who had heard the Gospel and came under great conviction of sin. We don’t use this term any more mainly because we rarely encounter anyone who is anxious for their soul. Nevertheless, we have an account of the use of such a room taken from the May 1834 edition of The Religious Intelligencer:

In all of our protracted meetings we have had the “anxious seat,” and the meeting for inquiry, and have desired those who had submitted to God to manifest it. The same measures have been adapted at this meeting, and only one new measure has been added; viz: giving liberty in the public assembly to ask prayers. And very numerous requests have been preferred, and many gracious answers have been obtained, and the influence of this measure, both upon saint and sinner, has been happy. Our measures have been those, viz: In the forenoon, meetings for prayer in different parts of the congregation, and a meeting for inquirers in the anxious room (inquiry room). At 2 o’ clock P.M. and in the evening—public preaching. At the close of the evening sermon, the impenitent were invited to present themselves on the front seats as subjects for prayer. 

Then they were sometimes addressed in a few words of instruction, and at the close, they were affectionately urged to be present the next day, at the inquiry room. This same course was pursued during the whole meeting. The inquiry room was the place for the most heavy and successful labor, because here the attention could be fixed. We did not invite into this room visitors, lest the attention should be diverted. Here the character and the claims of God were presented, and each one singly conversed with, and urged to an immediate and honest submission to God

After this interview with individuals, the whole were instructed by presenting divine truth under a variety of illustrations. These measures, whether new or old is immaterial, have been signally blessed. They are pre-eminently calculated to lead sinners into the kingdom of Christ; and to fit and to prepare souls for heaven. Any church with a minister who loves and who faithfully preaches divine truth, with a believing reliance upon the Holy Spirit, which will adopt and pursue these or similar measures, may expect certain and blessed success.[1] (emphasis added)

The Inquiry Room Experience

The use of the inquiry room became so popular, that it became necessary to provide those who labored with the anxious sinners a guide on how to conduct themselves. In 1884 George Soltau (1847-1909) of England wrote a handbook on the subject entitled, Enquiry Room: Hints for dealing with the anxious. He moves first giving basic directions.

As a company of workers desiring to engage in the solemn and important work of dealing with the anxious in the enquiry room, we all are agreed at the very outset that the Holy Spirit alone can lead a sinner to the Savior; that each of us must look to Him for the right word, the fitting text, the wise counsel; and that we are to be but the mouthpieces through whom He will speak. Our constant attitude must be one of communion with God; our memories and minds must be well stored with Scripture, that we may be ready for the Master’s use. Before entering into the details of our subject, the following general suggestions will be found worthy of consideration:

1.     Do not be too eager to lead a soul into peace. In Jeremiah 6:14, and 8:11, we find the words, “They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace; when there is no peace.’” It is not desirable to use the expression, “Have you found peace?” seeing that the anxious soul needs a Person, rather than a blessing.

2.     Avoid the expression, “You have only to believe, to be saved,” until you have very fully stated and explained the facts and promises to be believed; and then point out that it is a person in whom the soul’s trust is to be placed, and not your statements about Him.

3.     Always read your quotations from the Bible, turning to the passage; so that the Enquirer may be able to distinguish between your statements and the Word of God. The latter has an authority that your statements can never possess.

4.     Avoid telling your own experience or that of others; as the Enquirer must lean on the Word of God, and not on any one’s experience of it.

5.     Do not try to apply to the need of the Enquirer any text, the truth of which you have not yourself experienced.

6.     Make it clear that at conversion the Lord Jesus claims possession and control of the entire being. Show that it is not merely the salvation of the soul that is needed, but also deliverance for mind and body from all the power of sin in every direction.

7.     If an enquirer baffles you with difficult questions, hand such an one over at once to a more experienced Christian.

8.     As far as possible converse only with persons of your own age or younger; of your own sex and walk in life.

9.     Do not tell a person he is saved. Let the Holy Spirit be the witness in the heart of the believer, telling him that he is delivered from sin and its penalty.[2]
        George Soltau then gives directions as to the importance of making sure the anxious person recognizes their sinfulness. He continues:
An inexperienced worker, having a few favorite texts, would probably speak to each person in this way, “You must just believe that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin. You know He said, ‘Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.’ Cannot you believe that ‘Now is the accepted time,’ that ‘Now is the day of salvation’? ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.’ Just kneel down, and say from your heart, ‘Take me as I am’” We would not say that none of those thus addressed would get any blessing through such treatment: but what we ought to do is to – First ascertain the cause of this blindness; and lameness; and numbness, etc.; and then by God’s help apply the right remedy.

Our first questions then should be, “What brings you into the Inquiry Room?” “What do you think you need?” The answer may be, “I want to be saved,” or “I want to become a Christian,” or “I don’t feel I am quite right,” or, “I think I ought to turn.” In none of these replies is there any very definite statement concerning sin, or any apparent consciousness of sin. Therefore the first thing to be arrived at is to convict deeply of sin. The Gospel is not designed primarily to make people happy, and give them peace; but to deliver them from sin, its presence, power, and penalty; and to bring them into communion with a Holy God. Sin is not an accident or a misfortune, but a disease. Active in its principle, permeating every fiber and tissue of mind and body; hideous and loathsome as a foul leprosy; abominable and irremediable; not to be dealt with piece-meal, but to be attacked at this root. All the restlessness of soul, the craving for excitement, the love of the world, the dislike of holy things, the reluctance to come forward for Christ, are the effect of sin dwelling in the heart. What, then, is the state of the heart of a sinner?”[3]
    We will not continue to quote from this book as the reader may acquire it free since it is now in the public domain. Nevertheless, I have shown the approach to leading an anxious sinner to Christ in an inquiry room type environment as late as 1884. This method was similar to D.L. Moody, Charles H. Spurgeon, and many others. As we already read in the Religious Intelligencer

The inquiry room was the place for the most heavy and successful labor, because here the attention could be fixed.” Indeed it is “heavy labor” working with God to lead souls to a genuine conversion experience in Christ. There is nothing haphazard or slapdash about it. These counselors pressed the anxious to make a decision for Christ, as had been being done for almost 100 years.
As with Finney, and then with D.L. Moody, we there was an up tick of the notion that a person just needs to make a “decision for Christ” and a down tick of the New Covenant necessity of being born again of the Holy Spirit. These things happened so slowly over the course of time that they would have been almost imperceptible to anyone living in that day. New Measures serve as inflection points, but emphasis on regeneration (new birth) steadily dies out. The emphasis was shifting totally towards man and the minister. Indeed, there is a sense in which God does the work; the Word of God does the work; the minister does the work; and the anxious does the work. When this reality is forgotten the whole process is thwarted, and the result is often a spurious conversion.

[1]N. Whiting, Religious Intelligencer XVIII, 1833, P. 220 emphasis added
[2]George Soltau, The Enquiry Room: Hints For The Anxious, 1884, P. 8-10
[3]Ibid, P. 13

Selected gleanings from the late G.W. North

Sayings of the late George W. North 

George Walter Govier North was born in Bethnal Green in the East End of London in 1913 and died in Blantyre in Malawi in 2003. Early in life he was led to Christ and, in due course, became a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: initially in the UK and then in many other countries. 

Photo and bio courtesy gwnorth.co.uk

1) I am come to send FIRE on the earth… He only sends FIRE.

2) If He only sends FIRE perhaps that is why so few are sent?

3) Where is the FIRE?

4) He only sends FIRE… can He safely send you?

5) Can He FIRE when ready?

6) God’s Come!

7) Solomon understood the altar!

8) I’m pointing at you… where’s the FIRE?

9) The FIRE falls when the altar is full.

10) God don’t believe you… God has got to be able to believe us!

11. God has to change you. He can’t have you breaking His heart for all eternity.

12. God is the great unbeliever… He doesn’t believe you.

13. Preaching without FIRE is spreading death.

14. He wants to consume and consume in you until there is nothing left but what is of God.

15. Were keeping the charge for Abijah- bless him!

16. Don’t you think it would be marvelous beloved to stand before the enemies of God and say, “We keep the charge of the LORD!”

17. A sweet smelling savor unto the LORD burning night and day. Is that your life?

18. Burn, Burn unto God. It’s got to go…

19. Why did the farmer sow his seed? He wants 100%

20. Tell me you believe in Christ? That’s marvelous. Tell me you believe what the bible says? now prove it to me… let me see the FIRE.

21. Jesus doesn’t care about those things… He cares about souls going to Hell because they never met a man with FIRE in his bones.

22. He doesn’t want any nice Christians He wants rugged men that have come straight from the cross.

23. Does God want some hot headed people? Yes, someone that will go straight home into the FIRE.

24. Here’s the thing… FIRE… FIRE

25. The church that doesn’t want to grow and get out is dying on its feet.

26. Your feelings are liars in this race. Get into this race and run this race.

27. I preached on being free from sin and half the congregation were down at the front and they could all speak with tongues.

28. He will give you utterance but the Holy Spirit has not come to be a tongue wagger, He has come to free you from sin.

29. It’s a straight path… NO getting off on some hobby horse there… that leads out into the wilderness.

30. It’s peace because I stopped fighting God. You would give everything you have got if only your mind was at rest.

I don’t know who put this together, but it introduces us to the great message by G.W. North, “The Glorious Shipwreck.”

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