John Wesley and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds
John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds

Have you ever read John Wesley’s Journals? They are deeply interesting. In a manner similar to Edwards he tries to observe and assess the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who hear the gospel.

‘Signs and Wonders’

Wesley writes that after preaching in one meeting, ‘We then called upon God to confirm his word. Immediately one that stood by (to our no small surprise) cried out aloud, with the utmost vehemence, even as in the agonies of death.

‘But we continued in prayer, till ‘a new song was put in her mouth’…Soon after, two other persons were seized with strong pain, and constrained to ‘roar for the disquietness of their heart.’

‘But it was not long before they likewise burst forth into praise to God their Saviour.’ He adds, ‘signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.’ (JW Journals, Vol. 1, p.187, Baker Edition)

A few days later a similar thing happened: ‘At Weaver’s Hall, a young man was suddenly seized with a violent trembling all over, and in a few minutes, the sorrows of his heart being enlarged, sunk down to the ground.

‘But we ceased not calling upon God, till he raised him up full of ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ (p.187-8)

Increased Power
Again and again as Wesley preached people were overwhelmed by God’s power. At this early stage Wesley and his fellow leaders were alarmed and concerned to help those who are affected. But then it spread…

During the sermon, as he emphasised the generous offer of mercy to all who come to Christ…’Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as thunderstruck.’ (p.188)

He then gives various descriptions of sorrow being turned to joy in those who were affected.

A Doctor’s Story
On April 30th Wesley recorded this incident:

‘We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case.

‘Today, one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out ‘into strong cries and tears.’ He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears.

‘He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud nor yet any natural disorder.

‘But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.’ (p.189)

Wesley, as Edwards had done before him, was careful not to ridicule or harshly judge those who responded to the power of God’s Spirit in these overt ways.

And, as with Edwards, we must remember that these things were happening primarily in the evangelistic context. They were not a ‘draw card’ as such, but seemed to be evidence of God’s presence and of conviction of sin, and conversion.

Perhaps we need to take a step back from the highly ordered nature of much modern evangelism and ask God to reveal His holiness and power once again.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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3 thoughts on “John Wesley and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

  1. Steve Swartz September 10, 2009 / 10:11 am

    I have blogged on a somewhat similar topic at http://hammeroffaith.blogspot.com/2009/09/two-gospels.html. My point is that Paul’s initial Gospel message among pagans was not with fancy speech, rhetoric or even, necessarily, logic. But it was with power and the Holy Spirit.

    1 Cor 2:4-5 still should apply: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

  2. Eric Farkas September 10, 2009 / 7:28 pm

    Love your site, and glad to see it’s getting posted at SD News. Email me sometime!

  3. Larry McCallister September 12, 2009 / 2:44 am

    I like what Wesley wrote in his Journal for November 25, 1759:

    “The danger was to regard extraordinary circumstances too much, such as outcries, convulsions, visions, trances; as if these were essential to the inward work, so that it could not go on without them. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them, and were a hindrance to his work. Whereas the truth is 1) God suddenly and strongly convinced many that they were lost sinners; the natural consequence whereof were sudden outcries and strong bodily convulsions; 2) to strengthen and encourage them that believed, and to make His work more apparent, He favored several of them with divine dreams, others with trances and visions; 3) in some of these instances, after a time, nature mixed with grace; 4) Satan likewise mimicked this work of God in order to discredit the whole work; and yet it is not wise to give up this part any more than to give up the whole. At first, it was, doubtless, wholly from God. It is partly so at this day; and He will enable us to discern how far, in every case, the work is pure and where it mixes or degenerates.”

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