Whitefield and Harris in Bristol – some further observations

Believers Baptism in the 18th Century

Believers Baptism in the 18th Century

Honouring Christian Leaders from other Church Backgrounds

Whitefield’s friendship with Howell Harris proved to be strategic in a number of ways. Firstly, he began preaching the gospel to massive audiences in the fields. As Whitefield once remarked of Harris, ‘I follow him!’

But due to Harris’ rejection by the Church of England and his friendship with leaders from other church groupings, Whitefield began to meet many other Christian leaders of real weight and authority. Reading his journals, he gives the ‘dissenters’ (non CofE) equal standing with those from the traditional Church.

That openness to evangelical leaders from other church backgrounds was to prove pivotal in Whitefield’s ministry in America (and Scotland) and has been a healthy feature of Evangelists that have followed in Whitefield’s footsteps.

Writing of the Welsh ministers Harris introduced him to, he says, ‘They have many burning and shining lights among both the Dissenting and Church ministers…so that there is a most comfortable prospect of the spreading of the Gospel in Wales.’ (George Whitefield’s Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.231)

We would do well to follow these Evangelists’ example as we seek to see churches planted and the gospel extended around the world.

Whitefield’s gracious leadership before Wesley fully enters the work

One of the frustrating factors for those who know the history of this period is the oft-repeated and incorrect impression that John Wesley was acknowledged as the leader of the new movement at this point.

This simply wasn’t the case. We shall see how Wesley’s formidable preaching and organisational gifts certainly did establish him as the clear leader in Whitefield’s absence. But at this point Wesley, though older in years, and though leading the Society at Oxford, was actually following Whitefield, even as Whitefield was following Harris!

Wesley sent Whitefield a letter about this time in which he excitedly spoke of meetings attended by crowds of two or sometimes three hundred (p.224). Those numbers were not inconsiderable, but he was apparently unaware that Whitefield was preaching out of doors to crowds of 10,000 and 14,000!

Whitefield himself says, ‘I now preach to ten times more people than I should if I had been confined to the churches…Every day I am invited to fresh places.’ (p.233)

Wesley, on seeing Whitefield in action, soon abandoned his stuffy sense of decorum and bravely became a great evangelistic preacher in his own right.

23,000 gather to hear George Whitefield in Bristol!

But before Wesley arrived in Bristol to see the work that Whitefield began, Whitefield himself broke yet another attendance record: ‘Sun Mar 25. Preached at Hannam to a larger congregation than ever, and again in the afternoon to upwards (as was computed) of 23,000 people…Oh may God speak to them by His Spirit.’ (p.238)

Joy in the Holy Spirit

A recurring feature of Whitefield’s beautifully written Journals is the joy he experienced when the Holy Spirit came upon him. Constantly serving those who came to hear him, he speaks of his wages being joy!

‘Mon Mar 26. After I had done [preaching to about 1000], I went to a Christian house, where many waited for me. At my return home, my Master paid me my wages: for my soul was filled with an intenseness of love, and I knew what it is not only to have righteousness and peace, but joy in the Holy Ghost. This is my continual food.’ (p.239)

While we must always remember that our joy is ultimately in our salvation (Luke 10:20) we must also fully embrace the outpoured love of God into our souls as we experience the joy of serving Christ in our generation.

You can purchase Whitefield resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Fire in the Fields – Howell Harris cuts the Gospel Loose!

 

Howell Harris

Howell Harris

 

After the rediscovery of Justification by Faith and the key doctrine of the New Birth the genius of the 18th Century Awakening was outdoor evangelistic preaching!

That may not sound very radical to us but in those days church was confined to…well, church! Church buildings were the legitimate context for church services and the few that gathered did so without making any noise or disturbing the culture outside.

There was, however, one Welshman who arose to shake up the status quo. Born in 1714 and born again in 1735 (the same year as Whitefield), Howell Harris could not stay silent!

In fact, Harris would not shut up! He had a job as a schoolmaster, but had not yet gone on to University or to ordination in the Church of England in Wales. Later on, he was rejected for both.

The failure of legalism and the triumph of faith

His youth was filled with rebellion and he lamented, ‘no one told me that I was on the way to hell.’ (Richard Bennett, Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival, Evangelical Press of Wales, p.16)

Bennett tells us that ‘the majority of the clergy were content to leave their parishioners to live just as they pleased.’ (ibid p.19)

But in 1735 Harris became powerfully convicted of his sinfulness and then, like George Whitefield, launched into a highly legalistic and superstitious set of ritual and religion that brought no relief whatsoever. He later described it as ‘being in hell for five weeks’ (ibid p.25)

Finally, as he was taking communion one Sunday, he was enabled to ‘believe that I was receiving pardon on account of that blood.’ He describes the freedom that followed: ‘I lost my burden. I went home leaping for joy, and I said to my neighbour…I know my sins have been forgiven!’ (ibid p.26)

Baptism in the Spirit

He was truly set free and yet his soul yearned for more. About three weeks later he experienced what many would describe as a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and this truly marked him out and empowered him for service.

While not quoting Harris verbatim (which is disappointing) Bennett conveys Harris’ experience: ‘when he was at…the sacred spot where he had given himself to God, God now gave Himself to him…The richest biblical terms are heaped one on another in an attempt to give expression to his experience at that time. He was cleansed from all his idols, and the love of God was shed abroad in his heart. Christ had come in previously, but now He began to sup with him; now he received the Spirit of adoption…’ (ibid p.27)

Harris himself tells us the result: ‘I devoted myself to exhorting everyone I met to flee from the wrath to come!’ (ibid p.36)

Rejected by men

In 1736 he offered himself as a candidate for ordination within the Church of England but it had become known that Harris was already preaching evangelistically (Harris preferred to call his preaching ‘exhorting’ or ‘reading’ out of deference to the fact that only ordained clergy were really authorised to ‘preach’).

This unofficial preaching was considered inappropriate. Preaching to the people in streets, and at fairs and in homes was irregular and unrefined. Not the dignified behaviour for a potential vicar, or priest of the Church of England. His application was rejected.

His brother was keen to try and get him to Oxford so that he might be ordained after having obtained a degree. But things were moving way too fast for the hero of the Welsh awakening: ‘I could not rest, but must go to the utmost of my ability to exhort. I could not meet or travel with anybody, rich or poor, young or old, without speaking to them of religion and concerning their souls.’ (ibid p. 41)

What is the source of your authority?

The question for Harris, and one that troubled him for much of his life, was this: ‘What is the source of your authority?’ – not ordained by the establishment church, not having obtained a degree, therefore unrecognised by both English religion and English academia, was the power of the Holy Spirit really enough to authorise this young man to preach?

And could that young man really awaken a nation and bring his people to Christ? And could that young man really begin a preaching phenomena that released the gospel from the confines of religious walls to actually impact and shape the surrounding culture?

Oh yes! The answer is yes!

The source of authority was the word of God and the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God calling him to the work, but I must refrain.

Read more about Howell Harris here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Review of ‘Betjeman’ by A.N. Wilson

A.N. Wilson's biography of John Betjeman

A.N. Wilson's biography of John Betjeman

John Betjeman was a much loved modern poet whose unashamed ‘Englishness’ and chummy loyalty to the Church of England won him a place in many English hearts. His light and amusing poetry made him a popular hit giving him access (and sales) where other more serious poets stayed on the fringes of popular culture. He was tutored briefly by CS Lewis, was a keen lover of church architecture (including Edward Irving’s London church buildings) and a muddle of emotions and guilt when it came to relationships.

Read the full review here

Puritan Priorities – A Passion for Souls

St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, where Joseph Alleine served

St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, where Joseph Alleine served

Inspirational Quotes from Puritan Works
I propose, over the next few posts to quote from those puritan authors who have had an impact on me.  This merely serves as an introduction and is by no means exhaustive.

Spurgeon’s description of the works of Puritan pastor Thomas Watson is in many ways characteristic of much Puritan literature:

‘There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom throughout.’ (Introduction, A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth)

And the mighty Evangelist of the 18th Century, George Whitefield, wrote in 1767, ‘For these thirty years past I have remarked that the more true and vital religion hath [increased] either at home or abroad, the more the good old Puritanical writings…have been called for.’
(Quoted in J.I Packer, A Quest for Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p.46 )

Joseph Alleine
Alleine (1634-1668) was chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, and later served as assistant Pastor in Taunton, Somerset, England. He was also a keen evangelist. As with about a thousand other faithful Puritan pastors, he was fired and turned out of the Church of England in 1662, and was later imprisoned for continuing to preach the gospel. He died aged only 34.

These quotes are taken from his incredible book, ‘An Alarm Call to the Unconverted’ (BOT edition), which has recently been republished as ‘A Sure Guide to Heaven’. You can certainly feel his evangelistic passion in these few quotes, and they also provide a good example of puritan thinking and style.

Man like a choice instrument
‘Unconverted man is like a choice instrument that has every string broken or out of tune.’ (p. 52)

On the futility of religion to appease God
‘You can no more please God than one who, having unspeakably offended you, should bring you the most loathsome thing to pacify you; or having fallen into the mire, should think with his filthy embraces to reconcile you.’ (p. 55)

On continuing in sin
‘If you have a false peace continuing in your sins, it is not of God’s speaking, and therefore you may guess the author.’ (p.56)

‘To save men from the punishment, and not from the power of sin, were to do His work by halves, and be an imperfect Saviour.’ (p.65)

‘You cannot be married to Christ except you be divorced from sin.’ (p.107)

On the spiritual condition of those not yet made alive in Christ
‘In a word, he carries a dead soul in a living body, and his flesh is but the walking coffin of a corrupt mind that is twice dead.’ (p.82)

On preaching about Hell
‘I would not trouble you, nor torment you before the time with the thoughts of your eternal misery, but in order that you may make your escape.’ (P.100)

Read the next post here

You can purchase ‘A Sure Guide to Heaven’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides