In the last post, I mentioned that George Clark found himself more aware of the sin in his life after his conversion experience. This experience of feeling more sinful after conversion is something I resonate with. I had a season of feeling so much like a failure as I became more and more aware of the brokenness in relationships and my own selfish motives in those relationships. I know that relationships can be hard (in this case it was college roommate relationships, a unique set of challenges) but I think there was more going on in my spirit. And I can't help but wonder if I would have been less distressed by my struggles if I had been warned that sin after conversion is to be expected. Particularly those sins that are internal and connected to motivation as much as behaviour.
John Wesley wrote a sermon on this topic, called appropriately, "On Sin In Believers." In it he argues for the existence of sin in believers, from the biblical evidence that there is provision for forgiveness. Further to the provision for forgiveness, there is hope for progress. Welsey encourages believers by untangling the assumption that once we are holy at all, we must be holy altogether. As we push in on that, it seems absurd to expect spiritual progress to be all or nothing, but I know my experience is to despair of any goodness in myself when I see even the slightest unholy internal motivation.
Even though my experience with interior sin has been hard, in hindsight, I know it has been good for me to learn more about myself and learn more about God. And the good news is that God does not want us to remain in this place, in the constant awareness of our own failure and neediness.
In the face of his struggle with the inward sinful motivations, George Clark experienced a transformation when he encountered God in a particularly immediate way on Pentecost Sunday, 1762. Here is his journal entry for that day:
This morning I thought much of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and prayed that He might rest upon me. But I found little answer till the singing of the first hymn, when his Spirit made me deeply sensible of his presence. I then pleaded with him, and that with many tears, to make me a partaker of his sanctifying love, by removing forever the bitter root of pride, self-will and unbelief. All this time my heart was broken before the Lord, and my face covered with tears: and I found nothing left but a fear lest the Spirit should depart, before he had purified me from inbred sin. While I was thus agonizing with God in prayer, the power of the Lord came upon me, so that my whole body trembled under it. But I kept my spirit still, and continually cried, “My heart, Lord! work within! work within!” In that instant I felt the Spirit of God enter into my heart with mighty power, and as it were literally accomplish that promise, I will take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh: the old heart seeming to be taken away, and God himself taking possession of my soul in the fulness of love: and all the time of the service, I enjoyed such a heaven of love as I never before experienced. All the day I watched every motion of my heart, to see if the evils I before felt were there or not: but I found none: I could find nothing there, but solid joy and heart-felt peace. (Arminian Magazine (1783) 244-245)One thing I find so inspiring about this narrative of an experience is that God met Mr. Clark with such a tangible sense of His real presence in the midst of his struggle. And the presence of God crowded out all those fears and feelings of inadequacy, replacing them with love and peace. In the face of my awareness of sin, I long for God's love to be the antidote.
Part 3: Transformation and Controversy