Celebrities or Servants – How Christian Leadership should be

William Chalmers Burns


After a short while in China, Hudson Taylor met someone who had a huge impact on him and helped further shape his own ministry.

A Bright New Star Arrives on the Christian Scene
By today’s standards, the Scotsman William Burns could have been as great a celebrity as any successful leader. He could have published extensively, taken speaking engagements across Britain and America. He had, after all, just witnessed a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Sensing his own call to take the gospel to the nations, Burns had considered India as well as China but had suddenly been offered the opportunity – as his first ministerial assignment – to preach in Dundee for Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

M’Cheyne was already well known in Scotland and had gathered a large congregation. Humanly speaking it would be fairly tough to match his standard of leadership. For Burns, this was his first regular preaching assignment – but something unusual happened!

Holy Spirit Revival!
Undeterred by a possible nonresponsive Scottish reserve, Burns had prayed for and now preached for conversion, trusting God for the power of the Holy Spirit![i]

The meetings went well, and returning for a meeting in his home town of Kilsyth, he preached there and the power of God fell. He describes the scene:

[I began] ‘to plead with the unconverted before me instantly to close with God’s offers of mercy, and continued to do so until the power of the Lord’s Spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the rushing mighty wind of Pentecost !

During the whole of the time that I was speaking, the people listened with the most riveted and solemn attention, and with many silent tears and inward groanings of the spirit;

but at the last their feelings became too strong for all ordinary restraints, and broke forth simultaneously in weeping and wailing, tears and groans, intermingled with shouts of joy and praise from some of the people of God.’[ii]

Returning to Dundee, at the regular Thursday evening prayer meeting, he told the congregation news of the outpouring he had just witnessed.

The Holy Spirit was poured out once again and every night for four months meetings were held and thousands felt the impact. One biographer says ‘the whole city was moved as family after family were converted![iii]

The Relative Obscurity of Faithfulness
Following such a hugely successful season of evangelistic preaching we might have expected Burns to redirect his steps and stay in the UK. However, he followed through with his conviction, left Scotland, and became an obscure missionary to China where he spent the rest of his life.

What a great encouragement he was to Hudson Taylor, as was Taylor to him. Burns followed Taylor’s example of adopting Chinese rather than European dress.

But what a lesson for us – in a day when publishers and people so love the celebrity status of our leaders, to observe one of the most highly gifted Christian leaders move out of the publishing spotlight into years of humble ‘unseen’ service for those who don’t know Christ.

To read the next part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here

For the first part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here

© Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Memoir of the Rev William C Burns, Islay Burns (London, James Nisbet, 1873) (Current edition: Lightning Source, UK)

[ii] ibid

[iii] Old Time Revivals, John Shearer (Revival Library)

Exit Whitefield Enter Wesley

Whitefield's Mobile - no, not a phone, a pulpit!

Whitefield's Mobile - no, not a phone, a pulpit!

‘I hope God will bless the Ministry of my friend, John Wesley’

At the beginning of April Whitefield was ready, as planned, to move on from Bristol. It had been an incredible few weeks which had seen multiplied thousands gather in the fields to hear him preach the gospel.

It was an amazing mark of Whitefield’s trust and humility that he was eager for his friend and companion John Wesley to come and take up the work after him, seeking to establish the new believers in the faith.

He writes in his journal (Mar 29), ‘I hope God will bless the ministry of my honoured friend Mr. John Wesley.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 240)

Tears for Whitefield as he announces his departure

The believers gathered in the society that now existed in Castle Street ‘wept aloud’ when Whitefield announced his departure. ‘Blessed be God, there is one coming after me who, I hope, will cherish the spark of divine love now kindled in their hearts, till it grows into a flame.’ (ibid p.241)

A couple of days later he was able to say, ‘I was much refreshed with the sight of my honoured friend, Mr. John Wesley, whom God’s providence has sent to Bristol.’ (p.242)

On the morning of April 2nd Whitefield spent time with friends and followers who crowded to his lodgings to say goodbye. ‘Floods of tears flowed plentifully, and my heart was so melted, that I prayed for them with strong cryings – and many tears…Crowds were waiting at the door to give me a last farewell, and near twenty friends accompanied me on horseback.’ (p.242)

Many good works accomplished

Summarising his few weeks there he notes that thousands of books had been distributed, great numbers had been converted, about £200 (a huge sum then) had been collected as a donation to build an Orphan House in America on his return there.

Finally he went back to Kingswood to lay the stone for a school for the children of the coal workers there.

Heroic humility to advance the work

Whitefield’s willingness to leave was not irresponsible. He trusted Wesley completely.

He wrote with characteristic humility, ‘My heart is so knit to Bristol people, that I could not with so much submission leave them, did I not know dear Mr. John Wesley was left behind to teach them the way of God more perfectly. Prosper, O Lord, the works of his hands upon him.’ (p.242)

This statement is not a concession to Wesley’s later Arminian emphases, nor was it somehow an expression of submission to Welsey’s ministerial oversight; after all, as Ministers, they were equals. This was pure, beautiful humility between brothers.

Although this, and other self-effacing statements of Whitefield’s have been misunderstood by those who prefer Wesley’s Arminianism rather than Whitefield’s Calvinism, the fact is Whitefield was simply being a godly, humble man.

Remember, nothing quite like this had been seen in England before. If Whitefield had not been humble he certainly could not have entrusted such an incredibly fruitful work to another leader.

Next time we’ll see what happened as Wesley stepped onto the evangelistic battlefield!

You can purchase Whitefield Resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Cultivating Humility

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

One of Winston Churchill’s most famous and funny quips concerned his political opponent Clement Attlee. Apparently interrupting a Churchill rant, a friend said, ‘But surely, Mr. Churchill, you admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man?’ To which Churchill replied, ‘He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!’

Churchill himself was, of course, criticised many times for his over confidence!

To dwell on the quality of humility is good for the soul.

Jonathan Edwards, in his careful style, does just that in his sermons on 1 Corinthians 13. The sermons were collected together and published as ‘Charity and its Fruits’. Here are a few quotes that go right to the heart of the matter.

On Self-Centredness
‘As you have not made yourself, so you were not made for yourself.’ (Charity and its Fruits, Banner of Truth, p.181)

On Self-importance
‘Humility tends also to prevent an arrogant and assuming behaviour. He that is under the influence of an humble spirit…when he is amongst others…does not carry it toward them as if he expected and insisted that a great deal of regard should be shown to himself.

His behaviour does not carry with it the idea that he is the best amongst those about him, and that he is the one to whom the chief regard should be shown, and whose judgment is most to be sought and followed.’ (p.139-140)

Mocking Others
[Those who are humble] ‘are not found treating with scorn and contempt what others say, or speaking of what they do with ridicule and sneering reflections, or sitting and relating what others may have spoken or done, only to make sport of it.’ (p. 141)

Self-Interest
‘If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow-beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are.’ (p.184)

More next time…

You can purchase ‘Charity and its Fruits’ by Jonathan Edwards here
You can read more about Jonathan Edwards’ ministry here
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Humility, Hell and the Assurance of Salvation

New Edition of Edwards' Thoughts on the New England Revival

New Edition of Edwards' Thoughts on the New England Revival

Here are some choice quotes from Jonathan Edwards. These thoughts and insights represent a sampling of his style both in the pulpit and on paper.

Most are pretty challenging and all show his eagerness to apply Biblical thinking to living the Christian life.

Humility
‘The humble man is…disposed to renounce all the glory of the good he has or does, and to give it all to God.’ (Charity and its Fruits (Sermons on 1 Cor 13), Banner of Truth, p.137)

On Martin Luther’s Aggressive Style
‘Luther, that great Reformer, had a great deal of bitterness with his zeal.’ (Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, Banner of Truth, p.28)

Edwards on the Reasonableness of Passion when urging folk to escape the possibility of Hell
‘If any of you who are heads of families saw one of your children in a house all on fire, and in imminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, yet seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape after you had often called to it–would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner?

Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly in delaying, in the most lively manner of which you was capable?

If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself?’ (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, from Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p.107)

On a Man being powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit
‘There have been instances before now, of persons crying out in transports of divine joy in New England.

We have an instance in Capt. Clap’s Memoirs, published by the Rev. Mr. Prince, not of a silly woman or child, but a man of solid understanding, that in a high transport of spiritual joy, was made to cry out aloud on his bed.

His words are: “God’s Holy Spirit did witness (I do believe) together with my spirit, that I was a child of God; and did fill my heart and soul with such full assurance that Christ was mine, that it did so transport me as to make me cry out upon my bed with a loud voice, He is come, he is come!”’ (Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, Banner of Truth, p.22)

You can purchase several books by Jonathan Edwards here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Mighty Outpourings of the Spirit – Puritanism in Ireland

Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning

Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning

The breakout of passionate evangelistic preaching in the 1620’s in Ireland was accompanied by the power of the Spirit.

The ‘least gifted’ minister sparks a revival!
The eccentric puritan James Glendinning began preaching in Ulster and God seemed to touch the peoples’ hearts. The people began to respond despite Glendinning’s rough style (his sermons, we’re told, tended to focus primarily on the judgement and wrath of God).

One rather uncharitable author writes,
‘God often works by weak instruments, that the glory may be all His own. Of the ministers who had settled in Ulster, James Glendinning was the least gifted, yet God made use of him to begin the revival.’ (Matthew Kere, The Ulster Revival of the Seventeenth Century, 1859)

Glendinning was encouraged to relocate to a more remote place, and went to Oldstone near Antrim.

Andrew Stewart, an eye-witness of the awakening, described the preacher and the work in this way:

‘He was a man who would never have been chosen by a wise assembly of ministers, nor sent to begin a reformation in this land, yet this was the Lord’s choice to begin with him the admirable work of God, which I mention on purpose that all men may see how the glory is only the Lord’s, in making a holy nation in this profane land, and that it was not by might, nor by power, nor by man’s wisdom, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ (quoted by Kere)

‘Behold the success!’
Iain Murray also quotes the eye-witness Andrew Stewart’s report:
‘Behold the success! For the hearers finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in His word, fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned;

and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?’

I have seen them myself stricken into a swoon with the Word; yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead, so marvelous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin…

And of these were…some of the boldest spirits, who formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market town in a fray; yet in defence of their stubbornness cared not to lie in prison and in the stocks.’ (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, p.30)

‘The people had a vehement appetite for the Word…no day was long enough, no room large enough!’

Robert Blair, another contemporary witness wrote,
‘So mightily grew the Word of God, and His gracious work of conversion was now spread beyond the bounds of Down and Antrim, to the skirts of neighbouring counties, whence many came to the monthly meetings…

The Lord was pleased to bless His Word, the people had a vehement appetite for it that could not be satisfied: they hung upon the ministers, still desirous to have more; no day was long enough, no room large enough.’ (ibid. p.31)

These eye-witness testimonies show us that although the puritan movement was concerned with personal holiness, it was intentionally evangelistic. It was a ‘revival’ movement. In fact it was the fruit of Holy Spirit empowered evangelism that created sanctified lives.

The Christian preaching that laid such significant cultural foundations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 17th Century was preaching accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Their goal was not only the individual sanctification of those already converted, but the transformation of the nation through gospel preaching, ie, through actually communicating convincingly with the non-believer.

Any impulse that over-focusses on sanctification to the detriment of actual evangelism is already adrift of the missional impulse of both Reformers and Puritans.

And the gracious Head of the Church, while changing us by grace, is still recruiting us into His mission to ‘seek and to save that which is lost.’ (Luke 19:10)

Read the next post, on ‘Shaping the Culture – the literary legacy of the Puritans’

You can purchase Iain Murray’s ‘The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides