I do want to provide some definitions to provide a framework for what I will share from my historic friends, the early Methodists. But instead of starting with theology, I want to start with biography. So, here is part of the story of George Clark, a small group leader in London, in the eighteenth century.
George Clark (1710-1797) was the last of my four thesis-friends that I discovered. I had trouble finding a narrative for my research from a lay, non-preaching man in this time period. I have a fondness for George Clark because of the earnestness I found in his diary. And in this earnestness he was honest about his struggles, and transparent in his transformation.
George Clark lived in London, working hard to support himself and his family. He was first introduced to the Methodists through his mother, who had begun attending Methodist preaching. His first impression was to reform his lifestyle to live like he was inspired to live, by the example of the Methodists. But when he tried to do this on his own strength he had limited success. Then during a Methodist service, he encountered God in a way that was sensory and immediate, not described by others, but experienced for himself. This encounter made a difference in his effort to reform his life, actually it made all the difference. He left behind the lifestyle he had been slipping back into and sought after God.
Clark matured in his faith, and became a leader in the community. Yet, he soon discovered that in seeking God, he found more of himself, and he didn't like what he found. When faced with the love of God, he found selfishness in his heart. When faced with the sin of others, he found anger toward them, not forgiveness. When faced with the humility of Christ, he saw only pride and stubbornness in himself. By taking away the outward actions of sinfulness (the drinking and carousing) he soon discovered that there was more to sin than what you did with you time and money. Sin was found in the attitudes of his heart, sin was found in the reaction he had to his friends and family, sin was found in the choices he was making everyday. For example, this journal entry:
Sunday, Sept 10 . Inexpressible has ben the painful emptiness I have found for several days past. I try my heart and my ways by the word of God, with fervent prayer, and find nothing of actual sin. But it is pride that tears me. When I have much love, I am lifted up above what I ought to be. And when I am made to possess my own iniquity, my spirit frets against God. Yet this day has been a sabbath of rest, in which I have enjoyed much love: but I know not how to keep it.
Part of what I find so compelling about George Clark is that I identify with his honest struggles (if not always with the intensity that he expresses them). We all struggle with ongoing sin in our life. And, even as I identify with him, I long for him to experience more freedom from his sin.
And the good news about the discovery of more of our sin as we seek out God, is that God is big enough, wise enough and loving enough to deal with the sin that is discovered. God doesn't just want you to know you are prideful and angry, He wants to pour out His overwhelming love to the point where it fills your heart and crowds out the sin. Even more, God wants to fill you until His love overflows in your life to the people around you. That the character of God would flow from you, not as effort, but as a flood of gratitude.