Edited by Robert V. Rakestraw (August 1, 2016)
When does hope spring from your father’s grave?
Would you speak to a group while standing on your father’s tombstone?
[John Wesley’s Journal, June 5, 1742.] “I rode for Epworth, [England, my city of birth, where my father was the Church of England pastor for decades]. . . . It being many years since I had been in Epworth, I went to an inn, in the middle of the town, not knowing whether there were any left in it now who would not be ashamed of my acquaintance. [Ed. note: Wesley had become shut out of the Church of England congregations because of his objectionable preaching on the assurance of salvation by grace through faith, which he personally experienced at the age of 35.] But an old servant of my father’s, with two or three poor women, presently found me out. I asked her, ‘Do you know any in Epworth who are in earnest to be saved?’ She answered, ‘I am, by the grace of God; and I know I am saved through faith.’ I asked ‘Have you then the peace of God? Do you know that He has forgiven your sins?’ She replied, ‘I thank God, I know it well. And many here can say the same thing.’
“Sun. 6.—A little before the Service began, I went to Mr. Romley, the Curate [clergyman], and offered to assist him either by preaching or reading Prayers. But he did not care to accept of my assistance. The church was exceeding full in the afternoon, a rumour being spread, that I was to preach. But, [instead], the [Curate’s] sermon on ‘Quench not the Spirit,’ was not suitable to the expectation of many hearers. Mr. Romley told them, one of the most dangerous ways of quenching the Spirit was by enthusiasm [unguarded fervor in preaching and in emotional outward results, as opposed to calm, reasonable discourse]; and enlarged on the character of an enthusiast [which he considered me to be], in a very florid and oratorical manner. After sermon John Taylor stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock.’
“Accordingly at six I came, and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before. I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father’s tomb-stone, and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’…
“Mon. 7.—I preached at Burnham, a mile from Epworth, on, ‘The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.’ At eight in the evening I stood again on my father’s tomb, (as I did every evening this week,) and cried aloud to the earnestly-attentive congregation, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith.’ . . .
“Sun. 13.–…At six I preached for the last time in Epworth church-yard, (being to leave the town the next morning,) to a vast multitude gathered together from all parts, on the beginning of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. I continued among them for near three hours; and yet we scarce knew how to part. O let none think his labour of love is lost because the fruit does not immediately appear! Near forty years did my father labour here; but he saw little fruit of all his labour. I took some pains among this people too; and my strength also seemed spent in vain: But now the fruit appeared. There were scare any in the town on whom either my father or I had taken any pains formerly, but the seed, sown so long since, now sprung up, bringing forth repentance and remission of sins.”
From An Extract of the Rev. Mr. John Wesley’s Journal, Vol.l, in The Works of John Wesley, Third Ed., Vol.I (Baker, 1979 reprint of 1872 ed. Issued by Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London), pp. 376-380. The above quotation may be found, along with other articles and essays, on Dr. Rakestraw’s website/blog, gracequestministries.org., where you may sign up to receive automatically such postings as this at no cost, and where you may order his books GraceQuest and Heart Cries. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .