John Wesley’s Reflections on the New Year

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On Monday, May 11, 1755, Wesley introduced what became known as the Wesley Covenant Renewal Service. Wesley referred to this service as “another means of increasing serious religion practiced by our forefathers, and attended with eminent blessing; namely, the joining in a covenant to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul.”Approximately 1,800 persons attended the first service held at the French church in Spitalfields, London.  In John Wesley’s journal that day he concluded, “Surely the fruit of it shall remain forever.”

Since that time, Methodist have gathered on January 1st or the Sunday after to reaffirm their covenant with God for the New Year. The early Methodist gathered at 4:00 AM. The following excerpts are taken from Wesley’s Journal describing his thoughts on the services and on the covenant he re-affirmed each year with God at the New Year.

January 1, 1756 – “We had a large congregation at four in the mourning. How much are men divided in their expectations concurring the ensuing year! Will it bring a large harvest of temporal calamities, or of spiritual blessings? Perhaps of both; of temporal affections preparatory to spiritual blessings.

Sunday, January 1, 1758 – “we began the year with the great congregation at four, rejoicing and praising God.”

Tuesday, January 1, 1760 – “We began the Service at four in the morning. A great number attended, and God was in the midst, strengthening and refreshing their souls.”

Friday, January 1, 1762 – “We had, I believe, pretty near two thousand of the society at Spitalfields in the evening…God was in the midst, while we devoted ourselves to him in the most solemn and explicit manner.”

Sunday, January 1, 1764 – “We met in the evening for that solemn purpose. I believe the number of those that met was considerably larger than it was last year. And so was the blessing: Truly the consolations of God were not small with us. Many were filled with peace and joy; many with holy fear, and several backsliders were healed.

Sunday, January 6, 1765 – “The whole society met in the evening. The service lasted from five till near nine; and I do not remember so solemn a season since the first time we joined in renewing our covenant with God.”

Wednesday, January 1, 1766 – “A large congregation met in the Foundery at four o’clock, and ushered in the new year with the voice of praise and thanksgiving. In the evening we met, as usual, at the church in Spitalfields, to renew our covenant with God. This is always a refreshing season, at which some prisoners were set at liberty.”

Thursday, January 1, 1767 – “The whole society met in the evening at Spitalfields church, and solemnly renewed their covenant with God.”

Sunday, January 1, 1769 – “We met, as usual, at Spitalfields chapel, to renew our covenant with God. And we never do this without a blessing. Many were comforted and many strengthened.”

Monday, January 1, 1770 – “About eighteen hundred of us met together: It was a most solemn season. As we did openly “avouch the LORD to be our God, so did He avouch us to be his people.”

Tuesday, January 1, 1771 – “A large congregation met at Spitalfields in the evening, in order to renew, with one heart, and one voice, their covenant with God. This was not in vain, the Spirit of glory, and of God, as usual, rested upon them.

Wednesday, January 1, 1772 – “We met, as usual, in the evening, in order solemnly and explicitly to renew our covenant with God.”

Friday, January 1, 1773 – “We (as usual) solemnly renewed our covenant with God.”

Sunday, January 1, 1775 – “We had a larger congregation at the renewal of the Covenant than we have had for many years: And I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for fresh manifestation of his grace, healing all their backsliding.”

January 1, 1776 – “About eighteen hundred of us met together in London, in order to renew our covenant with God; and it was, as usual, a very solemn opportunity.”

Wednesday, January 1, 1777 – “We met, as usual, to renew our covenant with God. It was a solemn season, wherein many found his power present to heal, and were enabled to urge their way with strength and renewed.”

Thursday, January 1, 1778 – “We had a very solemn opportunity of renewing our covenant with God.”

Friday, January 1, 1779 – “At length we have a House capable of containing the whole society. We met there this evening to renew our covenant with God; and we never met on that solemn occasion without a peculiar blessing.”

Sunday, January 2, 1780 – “We had the largest congregation at the renewal of our covenant with God, which ever met upon the occasion; and we were thoroughly convinced, that God was not departed from us. He never will, unless we first depart from him.”

Monday, January 1, 1781 – “We began, as usual, the service at four, praising Him who, magure all our enemies, had brought us safe to the beginning of another year.”

Tuesday, January 1, 1782 – “I began the service at four in West-Street chapel, and again at ten. In the evening many of us at new chapel rejoiced in God our Savior.”

Sunday, January 6, 1782 – “A larger company than ever before met together to renew their covenant with God; and the dread of God, in an eminent degree, fell upon the whole congregation.”

Wednesday, January 1, 1783 – “May I begin to live today!”

Thursday, January 1, 1784 – “I retired for two or three days to Peckham.

Sunday, January 4, 1784 – “Thought it rained violently, we had, I believe, upwards of eighteen hundred people, at the renewal of Covenant: Many found an uncommon blessing therin. I am sure I did, for one.”

Saturday, January 1, 1785 – “Whether this be the last or no, may it be the best year of my life!”

Sunday, January 1, 1786 – “We began the solemn service, the renewing of our covenant with God, not in the evening as heretofore, but at three in the afternoon, as more convenient for the generality of people. And God was with us of a truth.”

Monday, January 1, 1787 – “We began the service at four in the morning, to an unusually large congregation. We had another comfortable opportunity at the new chapel at the usual hour, and a third in the evening at West-Street.

Thursday, January 1, 1789 – “If this is to be the last year of my life, according to some of those prophecies, I hope it will be the best. I am not careful about it, but heartily receive the advice of the angel in Milton, -‘How well is thine; How long permit to Heaven.’

Sunday, January 4, 1789 – “Although the extreme severity of the weather kept many tender people away; yet we had a large congregation in the evening to renew their covenant with God; and we always find, when we avouch Him to be our God, he avouches us to be his people.”

Friday, January 1, 1790 – “I am now an old man, decayed from head to foot. My eyes are dim; my right hand shakes much; my mouth is hot and dry every morning; I have a lingering fever almost every day; my motion is weak and slow. However, blessed be God, I do not slack my labour: I can preach and write still.”

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Lee Stevenson is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. He is married to Judy, a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and in the ordination process of The United Methodist Church. They have three children, Morgan, Jordan and Katie. Lee serves as Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Pulaski, in Pulaski, TN. In his Sabbath time, Lee is an avid cyclist, has written many sermons and had long talks with God while riding his bike named, “Visitation.”

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