Bishop's Message

Aldersgate assurance and fluctuating feelings

John Wesley's Aldersgate experience
Illustration from John Wesley: The World, My Parish, by Favian Ee

Be merciful to those who doubt.
~ Jude 22 (NIV)

Every May, Methodists celebrate John Wesley’s Aldersgate Street experience of which he wrote: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that [h]e had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

We thank God for such times when we feel assured of God’s accepting and forgiving love. God desires all his children to be assured of his divine love. But God knows that feelings ebb and flow, and feelings of assurance and doubt are not exempt.

This seems to have been true for John Wesley also. Wesley was brutally honest about his feelings in his Journals, and within months of his heart-warming assurance of God’s forgiveness in May 1738, he would express his spiritual inadequacies and doubts. On 4 January 1739, he wrote, “I feel this moment I do not love God.”

So perhaps we should not be too alarmed if our feelings of assurance or doubt come and go. There is a place for both faith and doubt. And when doubt presses upon our hearts and minds, let us “doubt wisely”, to quote the English poet John Donne (Satire III), who was also a Christian pastor.

The Church would be wise to follow the Bible’s advice: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22 NIV). Or as a modern paraphrase renders that verse, “Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith” (The Message).

Are you feeling uneasy with doubts today?

Go easy on yourself, and be merciful to any who are living with doubts. But even as we doubt, let us find hope and help by clinging to the Bible’s promise that “(nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 NIV).

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020. He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2013 to 2020.

John Wesley: The World, My Parish by Favian Ee is a graphic novel about the life of John Wesley. The book will be sold at the Aldersgate Celebration Service and Lectures. Also available via this order form