To some, what’s happening at Asbury these days sounds Pentecostal or Charismatic rather than Wesleyan, which is the tradition the school is grounded in. But this perception comes from what we see of Methodism in the present world. Today, Methodists are often known for things like holiness and reason, but at its starting point, Methodists were very used to spiritual experience. Indeed, I am convinced that Methodism would have never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit events that happened alongside John Wesley’s ministry.
But before these events happened in his ministry, these kinds of things first had to happen in his heart. After returning from England as a burnt-out missionary to Georgia, Wesley was attending a service where his heart was “strangely warmed.” A few months later, this warmth, caught on fire.
The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, so that my body was almost torn asunder. I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart. I trembled: I sung: I joined my voice with those that excel in strength.John Wesley, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M, Vol. 1, 159.
On New Year’s Eve of that year, Wesley and his friends got together to pray and God showed up tangibly. He writes in his journal, “About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground” (Ibid. 160-161). After that, the Charismatic movements of the Holy Spirit became commonplace in his ministry.
Throughout his journals, Wesley shares a few stories where he encountered demons and had to cast them out.
It seems he had sat down to dinner, but had a mind first to end a sermon he had borrowed on “Salvation by Faith.” In reading the last page, he changed colour, fell off his chair, and began screaming terribly, and beating himself against the ground. The neighbours were alarmed, and flocked together to the house. Between one and two I came in, and found him on the floor, the room being full of people, whom his wife would have kept without; but he cried aloud, “No; let them all come, let all the world see the just judgment of God.” Two or three men were holding him as well as they could. He immediately fixed his eyes upon me, and, stretching out his hand, cried, “Ay, this is he who I said was a deceiver of the people. But God has overtaken me. I said, it was all a delusion; but this is no delusion.” He then roared out, “O thou devil! thou cursed devil! yea, thou legion of devils! thou canst not stay. Christ will cast thee out. I know his work is begun. Tear me to pieces, if thou wilt; but thou canst not hurt me.” He then beat himself against the ground again; his breast heaving at the same time, as in the pangs of death, and great drops of sweat trickling down his face. We all betook ourselves to prayer. His pangs ceased, and both his body and soul were set at liberty.John Wesley, May 2, 1739
Sometimes these demonic deliverances did not take too long. For example, it only took about fifteen minutes to deliver one particular woman from a demon that manifested while Wesley was praying for a woman.
We had scarce begun, when the enemy began to tear her, so that she screamed out, as in the pangs of death: but his time was short; for within a quarter of an hour she was full of the “peace that passeth all understanding.”John Wesley, Sept 3, 1739
But other deliverances lasted much longer, such as Wesley’s encounter with the young woman from Kingswood. He describes in his journal not only the physical manifestation of these demons, but he also records what the demons said to him.
I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror, and despair, above all description, appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scare to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, ‘I am damned, damned; lost forever. Six days ago you might have helped me. But it is past. I am the devil’s now. I have given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must go to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned.’ She then began praying to the devil.John Wesley, Oct 23, 1739
Wesley and the others with him began to sing a hymn that was popular at the time, which was written by John’s brother, Charles. “Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!” they sang, which caused the woman to immediately sink down. But then, the demon manifested again, this time even more intensely. Over the next five days, Wesley constantly found himself doing deliverance ministry.
Raising the Dead
Five days before Christmas in 1742, John Wesley received word that a man by the name of Mr. Meyrick was expected to die before the next morning. Seeing as how the doctor had done all he could do, Wesley stepped in to see him that evening after having wrapped up some preaching—but it was too late.
Mr. Meyrick was speechless and senseless and his pulse was gone. He was, it seemed, dead. For many of us, this is the end of the conversation—rest in peace Mr. Meyrick. But rather than call it quits, Wesley took a note out of the gospels and prayed with the others that were there at his bedside. Astonishingly, Mr. Meyrick’s sense and speech returned. Like Lazarus, he had come back to life (Jn 11:38-44).
But unlike Lazarus, he was not back to full health and on Christmas day he was back on his deathbed. Again, he was not expected to make it through the night. But just as Jesus had to pray twice to fully heal a blind man’s eyes (Mk 8:22-26), so did John engage in prayer a second time. Wesley then records the continuation of the miracle in his journal.
I went up, and found them all crying about him; his legs being cold, and (as it seemed) dead already. We all kneeled down, and called upon God with strong cries and tears. He opened his eyes, and called for me; and, from that hour, he continued to recover his strength, till he was restored to perfect health.—I wait to hear who will either disprove this fact, or philosophically account for it.See John Wesley’s accounts from December 20th and 25th, 1742.
Slain in the Spirit (or Thunderstruck)
Pentecostals are quite used to a manifestation of the Holy Spirit where people fall to the ground and shake under the weight of the Holy Spirit, but this kind of manifestation isn’t new with Pentecostals. Indeed, it was quite familiar in Wesley’s ministry. He writes in his journal:
“We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came, among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘strong cries and tears’. He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.”
In another story, a Quaker was attending one of Wesley’s meetings and was growing angry with the supposed work of the Spirit going on around him. Wesley describes him as “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” When he finally arose from the ground, he told Wesley, “Now I know, thou art a prophet of the Lord.” In a similar situation, Wesley watched some people shake around on the ground more violently than he had ever seen. Wesley prayed that God would not “suffer those who were weak to be offended,” but despite his prayers, one woman was quite angry. But then, Wesley documents her as having “dropped down, in as violent an agony as the rest.”
Unfortunately, Methodism is remembered by most today (including those in the Methodist stream themselves) as a simple pursuit of holiness and reason. But as I said, I believe Methodism would not be around today if it wasn’t for the supernatural presence and love of God being shed on Europe. There’s no way people were flocking to fields simply to hear pastors preach rational sermons about living the right life. No, there was a presence they were looking for. Word had gotten around about people falling to the ground and convulsing under the power of the Holy Spirit and outsiders wanted to know what these crazy people at these crazy meetings were all about. Was their God real or were they fabricating the experiences?
Revival will always be scoffed at. Revival will always come with scrutiny. Revival will always have difficulties. But when it comes, the world can be changed if we receive it, just as thousands upon thousands were impacted by the Spirit’s work in Methodism.