Mr. Spangenberg and Mr. Wesley
In February of 1736, John Wesley was preparing, along with his brother Charles, to launch out into a ministry in the wide open spaces of colonial Georgia in North America. Up to this time, John Wesley and his brother had been committed to a steady, disciplined approach to living up to the requirements of their faith. They faithfully rose early each morning to read scripture, the set an appointed time to apply themselves to prayer, and established routines that served to do good works, fulfill charity, and teach the faith. They held fast to the traditions of the faith, observed and agreed with the theological platforms of the historic church (the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Confession, and the 39 Articles of Faith of the Church of England). From before dawn to after sunset their days were arranged to be always in some productive and godly activity of helps, instruction, prayer, or service.
Mr. Olgethrope came from Savannah with one of the Pastors of the Germans, a Mr. Spangenberg. It was soon evident that Wesley and Spangenberg shared much the same faith and fervor of purpose. Wesley inquired for advice in his own life and to measure his conduct (as he prepared to minister in the area). The German asked two key questions: 1) "Have you the witness within yourself? Does the spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?" 2) "Do you know Jesus Christ?...do you know he has saved you?...do you know yourself?"
The questions threw Wesley a bit. His replies were couched in hesitant tones. He knew only with certainly that he believed who Jesus was, "I know he is Savior of the world." To the other questions he could only utter, "I HOPE he has died to save me..." He finally said in response to the question, "Do you know yourself?" that he did know, his journal records, "But I fear they were vain words." (pg. 23, The Works of John Wesley, volume 1 and 2, Baker 1996).
All that happened to Wesley while in Georgia - the abysmal relationships, the failures in ministry and the creeping sense of failure and self-doubt- all seem to be a continuation of this challenging set of questions from the German pastor. Just a few years later, Wesley is back in England and the process initiated by the German pastor comes full circle when the words read from Luther's Commentary on Romans thunders into the soul of Wesley letting him know, at last and without doubt, that he has been forgiven and he has been saved. As a result, in his normal understated way, he said his heart had been 'strangely warned.'
So often in describing the Evangelical spectrum of the religious experience there is the emphasis on the historic creeds of the church and the recognition of Jesus as the solution to sin and redeemer of the world. There should also be the experiential component of personal knowledge of an assurance that allows one to say, "Yes. I know I am saved!"
That was the response the German pastor was looking for and the one that Mr. Wesley finally found. It became the yeast to move people from becoming merely consumed in doing good deeds into people consumed with sharing the Good News!