Wesley and the Surprise of the Holy Spirit’s Power

During times of revival one of the greatest challenges is surely the effects upon those who are directly impacted by the Spirit’s power.

Paul talked about the importance of ‘demonstrations of the Spirit and of power’. (1 Cor 2:4)

It seems in 1739, as such things were taking place, Whitefield and Wesley were initially passive about the effects, the outcries, the falling down that was taking place amongst certain people who heard them.

Those who were overwhelmed physically in the meetings were not necessarily believers, but even sometimes those who were opposing the work.

‘The groanings of some, the cries of others’

Wesley notes the different reactions of those who witnessed such things. His comments assume impartiality. He was careful not to hinder what was happening in the meetings. In fact, it’s likely that he would have not been able to stop what was happening.

In his Journal entry of May 1st 1739 he writes, ‘Many were offended again, and indeed much more than before.

‘For at Baldwin Street, my voice could scarce be heard amidst the groanings of some, and the cries of others, calling aloud to Him that is ‘mighty to save’.

‘I desired all that were sincere of heart to beseech with me the Prince exalted for us, that he would ‘proclaim his deliverance to the captives’.

‘And he soon showed that he heard our voice. Many of those who had been long in darkness saw the dawn of a great light; and ten persons, I afterwards found, then began to say in faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’

A frustrated and then thunderstruck Quaker

‘A Quaker, who stood by, was not a little displeased at the dissimulation of those creatures, and was biting his lip and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.

‘The agony he was in was even terrible to behold. We besought God not to lay folly to his charge. And he soon lifted up his head and cried aloud, ‘Now I now thou art a prophet of the Lord.’ (All quotes from John Wesley Journals, Vol 1, p.189-190, Baker edition)

I don’t think Wesley is trying to puff himself up by recording the man’s words. But whereas the Quaker had been sceptical of the whole event, he now realised that God was working.

Some thoughts for us as we seek Revival

The question for us is, would we invite our non-Christian friends to this? My own answer is simply this, that in a time of outpouring, or revival, clearly God is working in a concentrated way. The posture of the leaders is critical.

But Wesley could hardly be heard because so much was happening in the congregation. We ought to desire God’s spirit to sweep through a town, congregation, meeting and accomplish His purposes.

That is very different to a situation where in a church meeting one or two individuals appear to be behaving strangely in a very public way, and where this behaviour is, by implication, presented as authoritative confirmation of God’s presence or favour. God’s Spirit may indeed be working there, and, it’s true, maybe only in one or two people. But in terms of handling that situation, I would refer us to 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul argues for the kind of leadership that brings security (peace and order) even in the context of seeking to release the powerful charismatic gifts in the congregation.

Where there is a delight in disorder we have gone beyond the bounds of the New Testament and we must regain our missional perspective. But when God breaks in with real power, especially in the context of mission, we should not to try and tie everything down and become guilty of quenching the Spirit.

These things can be difficult to discern and to lead, as we’ll see when we come on to the Welsh Revival of 1904, but our hope and prayer is surely that God would break in. That’s where our need is right now.

© 2009 Lex Loizides


One thought on “Wesley and the Surprise of the Holy Spirit’s Power

  1. Tracey March 24, 2010 / 2:53 am

    Thank you for your history lesson. We have lost so much of Gods power,and I am praying for a renewal and for open hearts.

    I heard of this earlier on a sermon about Wesley, and how Gods power was so very evident.

    thank you, Tracey

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