On July 18, 1738, two months after his conversion, Charles Wesley did an amazing thing. He had spent the week witnessing to inmates at the Newgate prison with a friend named “Bray,” who he described as “a poor ignorant mechanic.” One of the men they spoke to was “a black slave that had robbed his master.” He was sick with a fever and was condemned to die.
Wesley and Bray asked if they could be locked in overnight with the prisoners who were to be executed the next day. That night they spoke the gospel. They told the men that “one came down from heaven to save lost sinners.” They described the sufferings of the Son of God, his sorrows, agony, and death.
The next day, the men were loaded onto a cart and taken to Tyburn. Charles went with them. Ropes were fastened around their necks so that the cart could be driven off and leave them swinging in the air to choke to death.
The fruit of Wesley’s and Bray’s night-long labor was astonishing. Here’s what Wesley wrote:
They were all cheerful; full of comfort, peace, and triumph; assuredly persuaded Christ had died for them, and waited to receive them into paradise. . . . The black . . . saluted me with his looks. As often as his eyes met mine, he smiled with the most composed, delightful countenance I ever saw.
We left them going to meet their Lord, ready for the bridegroom. When the cart drove off, not one stirred, or struggled for life, but meekly gave up their spirits. Exactly at twelve they were turned off. I spoke a few suitable words to the crowd; and returned, full of peace and confidence in our friends’ happiness. That hour under the gallows was the most blessed hour of my life. (Journal, vol 1, 120-123)
Two things amaze and inspire me in this story. One is the astonishing power of Wesley’s message about the truth and love of Christ. All the condemned prisoners were converted. And they were so deeply converted in one night that they could look death in the face (without any long period of “follow-up” or “discipling”) and give up their spirits with confidence that Christ would receive them. O, for such power and witness!
The other thing that amazes me is the sheer fact that Wesley went to the prison and asked to be locked up all night with condemned criminals. It was a huge risk. These men had nothing more to lose if they killed another person. Wesley had no supervisor telling him that this was his job. He was not a professional prison minister. It would have been comfortable and pleasant to spend the evening at home conversing with friends. Why did he go?
God put is it in his heart to go. And Wesley yielded. Wesley believed in hell and heaven. He believed that what these prisoners believed from their hearts on that night would determine forever their eternal destiny. It was worth risking his life for. O that I might discern the leading of God when something outside my usual path is called for.
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org