For six decades he travelled a quarter-million miles by horseback, spreading the message of Jesus. He scandalized 18th-century British sensitivities by taking the gospel out of the pulpits to the factories, market-places and mines where he found the unchurched. He began a worldwide revival that still bears his name. Among his converts was William Wilberforce, credited with ending Great Britain’s slave trade. I speak of John Wesley (1703-1791), surely one of the greatest evangelists of all time. Yet Wesley testified that the grace of God entered his head long before it finally claimed his heart. On a voyage to the American colony of Georgia, he once was terrified when a fierce storm threatened to drown everyone aboard. Wesley was awed by the calm peace of some fellow passengers who were Moravian Christians.
Later in Georgia, Wesley spoke with the leader of this small pietistic band. The Moravian pastor asked Wesley what he thought of Jesus. “He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world,” Wesley replied. “But is he your Savior?” the Moravian inquired. At that time, Wesley later wrote, he could not say that Jesus was his own Savior. But God later touched Wesley’s heart with the assurance that Jesus indeed died for him — and the preaching of Wesley, Whitefield and others soon turned an ungodly and decadent England right side up.
As we survey the grand scope of God’s redemption, we are moved to remark that Christ died for many (Matt. 26:28; Rom. 5:15, 19). When we view the divisions of humankind by language, culture, race and political boundary, we rejoice to say that Christ died for all (Rom. 5:18). When we contemplate the human condition, we acknowledge that Christ died for helpless sinners (Rom. 5:6, 8). When we consider God’s gracious purpose before the world began, we humbly confess that Christ died for the elect, for all those whom he gave to the Son — all those who do not reject God’s friendship and grace (John 6:37-39; 10:14-15; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 17:8). But when God graciously opens our eyes and illuminates our mind, we whisper through tears of repentance that Christ died for me Gal. 2:20). That is the good news of the gospel. Without this, the rest remains theory. “For me” warms our hearts with the gospel fire in our heads.