A child of the Church of England
Carey was a child of the Church of England, having been christened as a baby and assuming, as almost everyone did in 18th Century England, that any other kind of church was bogus, not a real church at all.
But one of the other apprentices, John Warr, was not a member of the Church of England. And, rather than his being strange or artificial, Warr had a definite and clear faith in Christ.
Biographer, Timothy George writes, ‘As parish clerk, Edmund Carey (William’s father) had required his children to attend church where they listened to the Psalms and lessons from the Book of Common Prayer.
‘Although Carey never disparaged this religious training, it left him, as he put it, ‘wholly unacquainted with the scheme of salvation by Christ.’ Indeed, he confessed, ‘Of real experimental [experiential] religion, I scarcely heard anything until I was fourteen years of age.’ (Quoted in Faithful Wtiness, Timothy George, IVP, p.6)
Convinced by Scripture
Eventually, he did indeed put his trust in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. He was converted and immediately began to zealously tell everyone of Christ’s love.
Being convinced by Scripture, which the so-called ‘Dissenters’ preached, William broke with family and church tradition and was baptised as a believer in 1783.
The Baptist Pastor, John Ryland, who oversaw his baptism, later wrote,
‘On October 5, 1783, I baptised in the Nene, just beyond Doddridge’s meeting- house, a poor journeyman-shoemaker, little thinking that before nine years elapsed he would prove the first instrument of forming a Society for sending missionaries from England to the heathen world, and much less that later would become professor of languages in an Oriental College, and the translator of the Scriptures into eleven different tongues.’ (ibid. p.12)
To read the first part of the William Carey Story click here
To read the next part of the William Carey Story click here
Small towns can play a huge role in Global history
Kettering is a small town just 80 or so miles northwest of London, England, and which dates back to Roman times. Chances are that nowadays you would just drive past it on your way to somewhere else.
But it was here, in this humble, quiet town that an event took place the ramifications of which have truly changed the world.
It was here in Kettering that the evangelical churches finally caught up with the Moravians and a new century of Christian missions would begin when William Carey and a few like minded friends raised thirteen pounds, two shillings and sixpence to reach the whole wide world with the gospel.
If the powerful activity of the Spirit in the 18th century had served to awaken the English speaking world to the claims of Christ then His continued outpouring in the 19th century propelled the gospel to many other nations.
Instead of being weakened by the growing tide of rationalism and unbelief amongst scholars and academics the church radically invested in mission.
The Father of Modern Missions
William Carey was born in 1761, right in the thick of the Great Awakening led by George Whitefield and John Wesley.
He was born, not too far from Kettering, in a village called Paulerspury in Northamptonshire.
His father was a poor schoolmaster who apprenticed him to a local shoemaker aged only 14. And so, William Carey became a shoemaker by trade.
Like so many other heroes in the unfolding story of the Christian Church, Carey received no tertiary education and did not go to University.
We’ll continue Carey’s story next time…
To read the first part of the William Carey Story click here
To read the next part of the William Carey Story click here
In the 19th Century – the explosion of the message to nations beyond Europe, with thousands leaving Europe to take the gospel to those who have never heard it. ‘Go into all the world!’
In other words there was a rediscovery of the Bible as the authoritative guide for a relationship to God and each other, a thorough attempt to apply it pastorally, and then a Spirit empowered evangelistic proclamation of the gospel, first in Europe and America and then to the ends of the earth.
This progression gives us a general but helpful guide to place movements and leaders in their historical context. Of course, if you read previous posts, you’ll know that all of these various emphases have been happening all through church history, and with mighty demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, but it is not altogether inaccurate when considering Christianity in the 19th Century to speak of ‘the missionary movement’ or even ‘the missionary century’ as some do.
Nor is it altogether inaccurate to refer to one particular pioneer as ‘the father of modern missions’ as we turn our consideration to one of the most inspiring figures in church history, William Carey.
To read the next part of the William Carey Story click here
John Piper once said, ‘We do not know what prayer is for until we know that life is war!’
And Terry Virgo also famously said, ‘The Christian life is not like a battle – it is a battle!’
The pressure of a new work, the move to a new place, the loneliness of building a new team, the discouragement of financial hardship, the unexpected setbacks – all these things can lead to a weakening of our resolve, and the temptation to retreat.
The first European settlers made many mistakes. Their approach to the Aboriginal people was intended to be respectful, but, inevitably, an innate sense of superiority soon asserted itself.
But there were comical moments too. As a boat of sailors landed on one beach, the cautious Aboriginal leaders gathered. Some small gifts were exchanged but still the locals seemed nervous. They wanted to know which gender the Europeans were. They looked like strange women, seeing as they had smooth, shaved chins and were covered with ornate clothing (the locals were completely naked).
As soon as the officer understood the locals’ dilemma he ordered one particularly unfortunate sailor to momentarily disrobe. On discovering that the European visitors were male ‘a great shout of admiration’ went up from the men who then signaled to other nervous locals that it was safe to approach.
Things didn’t always go so peaceably. Although Governor Philip had the respect of several local leaders, many didn’t know him. He was to learn the hard way, when, in an attempt to be jovial he scared a nervous local who promptly threw his spear at him. The spear went clean through Philip’s shoulder and out his back. The wound was made worse by the fact that the spear kept snagging the ground as Philip and his men ran back towards their boat in panic.
But the settlers had their own internal challenges. David Hill describes the pandemonium that took place on February 6th 1788.
‘…it was to be ten days [after arriving in Sydney Cove] before the majority of the female convicts were unloaded from their transports and rowed to the shore, by which time a large number of tents had been pitched for them.
‘[Governor Arthur] Philip’s caution turned out to be not unwise, because the women’s eventual landing resulted in wild scenes and debauchery that shocked many of the officers.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p. 154)
Whenever church planters attempt to break into a new community for the gospel there is resistance. Sometimes the battle is outside – cultural miscommunication, persecution, hostility. And sometimes the battle is inside – pride, sin, divisiveness and failure.
Paul exhorts us to ‘Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’ (Eph 6:11) We are to be alert and aware always.
Recognise the potential of a new beginning
Arthur Philip is a fascinating figure. He exercised wisdom at a number of key points in an age where he may have acted ruthlessly.
He showed a care and concern for all the passengers of the first fleet. He allowed the convicts time up on deck for exercise and made sure they were kept healthy. This is in stark contrast to the terrible cruelty and mistreatment of those convicts who survived the Second Fleet. Relatively few died at sea under Philip’s care.
Although he didn’t have the choicest examples of human potential, he nevertheless realised that each one would contribute to the new community, for good or bad.
Clearly Philip felt the best way to proceed with the convicts was to help them realise the possibility of a brand new start in New South Wales. This could be, for everyone, a new beginning.
Their past, with its variety of criminal misdemeanours (some serious and some petty) was now truly past. The new community provided an opportunity for them to rise above their past.
In the church we are a new community because of the power of the work of Christ on the cross. His shed blood has opened a new and living way for us to be reconciled to God and to one another. We are now united with Him in His death and in His resurrection and are now living new lives in the grace of God.
Thus a new church plant represents a new era of grace to a village, town, city or people group. May God give you grace, strength and protection as you take the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world!
Expect Providential Blessings
God both develops perseverance in us, perfecting our character and faith, but also surprises us with welcome provisions and comforts!
Being convinced of God’s sovereignty should never produce in us a fatalistic or stoic attitude. He can and does respond to our cries for relief, sometimes radically changing circumstances on our behalf.
At times His providential care for us can be seen in utterly unexpected ways.
Providence in a broken tooth!
I was struck by this when I read a strange but remarkable fact about Philip Arthur, first Governor of the Sydney settlement. It reminds us to trust God for amazing manifestations of providence.
In his book The Birth of Sydney’ (an edited collection of eye witness accounts of the earliest years of the settlement), Tim Flannery notes a peculiarity which may be of interest to those keen to establish cross-cultural relationships.
‘Young Cadigalean [Aborignal] men were initiated during a ceremony known as Yoo-lahng Erah-ba-daihng…held in Camerigal territory at Wallamola.
There the tribes would gather and, after days of ceremony, the highlight came when the initiates had an upper incisor knocked out with a stone.
The teeth were carefully kept by their Camerigal hosts, who returned them to the Cadigal at a ceremony some years later.
This practice of knocking out a front incisor, incidentally, was to have some significance for the Europeans, for Governor Phillip was lacking just such a tooth.
The Aborigines clearly viewed him as an important person, perhaps as an initiated elder who had returned from the dead. They called him Beeana – father.’ (Tim Flannery, The Birth of Sydney, Text Publishing, Melbourne, p.21)
God knows all things. He knows your need. He can help form bridges for us – we need to cross them, exercise sensitivity and wisdom – but He can give us unexpected help.
Commitment to the new community
It seems to me that there’s a connection between growing a large church and longevity in the leadership. The leading elder, along with other elders, is there for good, for the long haul. This obviously provides stability.
So I’ve been surprised over the years, to meet church-planters who are eager to leave after a very short time. And not surprised by the negative impact on the plant if that happens.
Of course, the Apostle Paul was often compelled, by persecution, to move on, but I’m not sure that’s always an applicable model for planters who may need to persevere until the work is established.
It finally dawned on the Australian ‘First Fleeters’ of 1788 that they were truly leaving the known world behind them. This truly hit home for the crew when they left Cape Town, about half way on their journey to Botany Bay.
David Hill writes, ‘Many felt as they headed away from the Cape that they were leaving behind all connections with the civilised world.’
David Collins, who was to act as the new colony’s Magistrate, writes, ‘When, if ever, we might again enjoy the commerce of the world, was doubtful and uncertain…All communication with families and friends now cut off, [we were] leaving the world behind us, to enter a state unknown.’ (1788, David Hill, William Heinemann Australia, p.130-131)
And so it is with us! At some point the daunting, but exciting, challenge hits home. We have left home and are building a new community for God in a new place. If we are alone, then we are in trouble. But, here’s the good news, Jesus tells us ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age!’ (Matt 28:20)
Autonomy is the goal
The First Fleet of 11 ships were given enough provisions to hopefully last until they could begin farming for themselves in Australia. The list itself makes interesting reading!
1400 shovels and spades, 175 hammers and 747,000 nails!! They took many animals on board including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs – even 4 mares and 2 stallions. But they only took 12 ploughs. Clearly, they expected to do line fishing as they only took 14 fishing nets but 8000 fish hooks! Somehow or other a printing press was taken on this first journey. Click here for the full list
The relationship between the local Aboriginal people and the settlers is described by Hill as one of ‘mutual incomprehension’! And so the settlers undoubtedly lost key opportunities to learn.
Initially they were dependent on their own provisions and the whole colony came close to starvation a couple of times until they were relieved by more supplies from England. Finally, however, their farming skills grew.
Dependence on external resources may be initially necessary as a new church is planted, but obviously, the evidence that the work has taken root is that it is not only self-sustainable but also can become a centre of generous giving into other pioneering situations.
Be prepared for the challenge of moving
For some church-planters, just physically relocating can be an intensely complex process.
John Hosier has suggested that moving house and family can actually become a major spiritual warfare issue for a church plant and we would be naïve to assume that the move to a new town or country for the purpose of establishing a new church should go smoothly.
Multi-national companies move people from place to place with relative ease – but church-planters have sometimes hit what appear to be immovable obstacles.
As we read of the incredibly ambitious relocation of over a thousand people on the First Fleet to Australia, we are immediately struck by their perseverance.
The voyage itself took 8 months! Today we become impatient if a flight is delayed by just one hour! And a delay of 8 days due to volcanic ash can seem intolerable. I heard one comic recently talking about the speed and the wonder of flight, where you have passengers who don’t appreciate the almost miraculous nature of literally sitting down in a chair and flying through the sky!! ‘Agh,’ he said, imitating a disgruntled passenger, ‘but it doesn’t go back very far!’
On route to Australia Arthur Philip, first Governor of New South Wales, had to endure an outbreak of scurvy (which was restrained by a stop at Rio de Janiero where fresh fruit was obtained), a conspiracy to mutiny (which was uncovered in time) and extremely unhelpful Dutch authorities in the Cape who made the fleet wait while they were desperate for supplies.
But they were on their way and there was no turning back. So for us in church planting: Selling houses, relocating, getting visas, organising funding, ensuring key leaders get on site, losing folk who we hoped would be with us etc. all these are significant challenges. We must not be taken by surprise at the apparent difficulty of getting the new plant up and running. We can meet the challenges with prayer. ‘I will be with you!’ said Jesus in the context of worldwide mission (Matt 28:18-20)
The novelty of the new and the reality of the work
For my wife and I, relocating itself – getting to the new place – has always been exciting! New sights, new places, new people! If you consider yourself a student in life then every new place is full of interest.
I have deliberately trained my mind, whenever we’ve gone into a new setting, to discover the most positive things about the culture, people, the natural beauty, the architecture etc. and I keep enjoying those positives and remind myself of them when pressure comes.
The reality of the challenge doesn’t take long to crowd in and demand your attention. And that’s appropriate. There is work to be done.
A new work in a new place can feel isolated and under-resourced, even though you’re aware of it. Almost every church-planter feels this because they usually come out of a well-resourced context.
This was so obvious in terms of the First Fleeters that the parallels were striking: they were not only preparing to build houses, but also to begin farms. They took seeds and basic farm tools. They took live animals on the ships, cows and sheep and chickens and geese, in the hope of successful breeding in the new community.
But there was also the realisation, heightened by the distance, that they were leaving the source of regular supply in every sense, from clothing, to nails, to paper, even to food! In fact, a week before they arrived they ran out of cattle feed and several animals died on board.
‘The struggle to build a new life in the harsh and unfriendly Australian bush was about to begin. For the next few years life would be uncomfortable, to say the least, and most of the settlers would have no chair to sit on, no table to eat at and no bed or cot to sleep in.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p.151)
Are we tempted to complain? Speaking personally, the most difficult period of relocation for my wife and I was from the US to the Cape and lasted about 8 months.
Money was scarce; the house in which we lived was, frankly, odd (doors missing, no sink in the kitchen etc). We arrived in winter and were not at all prepared for the cold, did not have a telephone for a time and kept receiving unexpected bills we couldn’t pay, in addition to the other more usual factors of arriving in a different country with a young family.
It was a tough time for us – but it sounds pathetic compared to the First Fleeters! What was I complaining about? Things began finally to ease for us after about 8 months, but Hill writes that life continued to be intensely difficult for the new Australian community ‘for the next few years’. And so it was.
All these things are challenges in relocating. Challenges that church-planters face. Challenges that can be overcome.
Get to know the place
Do your homework and make sure your research is accurate. If you can, personally go and visit the place as much as possible. Get to know the people, the surroundings, the needs, the history and the opportunities there. Be thrilled with the beauty and variety of the surroundings and the people but be ready to face challenges. Building something new doesn’t come easily.
The glowing reports given to Parliament about Botany Bay were way too optimistic and were based on only six days of relatively superficial observation. The initial site was rejected.
Even when the fleet moved on to Sydney, the settlers couldn’t contain their optimism!
Hill writes, ‘The first recorded impressions of Sydney Cove…gave no indication that the newcomers had any inkling of the problems that lay ahead.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p.149) One settler initially described the harbour as the finest ‘in the universe’!
Well, it’s good to be full of faith and to believe that things will go well, but we also need to face our challenges realistically. David met Goliath with genuine faith, not unreality. There was a mix of previous experience, faith and boldness. He didn’t downplay the task but faced it with holy realism.
Make the right decisions quickly
After ten long weeks at sea, from Cape Town, the fleet finally drew close to Australian shores.
Arthur Bowes Smyth was aboard the Lady Penrhyn and expresses the wonder of their first sighting of land.
‘At 7am we discovered land about forty miles distant. The joy everyone felt upon so long wished for an event can be better conceived than expressed.’ (Hill, p.141)
Hopes were high. But they were met with an unexpected challenge. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Botany Bay itself was ‘totally unsuitable’.
Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales, wrote, ‘I began to examine the bay as soon as we anchored, and found that…I did not see any situation of which there was not some strong objection.’ (p. 143)
Captain Watkin Tench recorded their discouragement, ‘In the evening we returned on board, not greatly pleased with our discoveries.’ (p.143)
Here, Arthur Philip’s leadership was excellent. Within just three days, and with all the convicts still aboard the various ships, Philip and a few others set out in three small boats to explore the coastline further to the North.
It was here they discovered the more suitable site they called Sydney Cove, where the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are today. The decision to change location was made quickly.
The party returned to Botany Bay where convicts were attempting (unsuccessfully) to clear the ground in case this really was their best spot. Philip ordered the whole fleet to move up to Sydney.
Interestingly, two French ships, arrived at Botany Bay as the First Fleet were leaving. They had heard that the British had decided to establish a settlement there and fully expected to find a town, with houses and roads already built.
The French were bemused to find what looked like a hurried and comprehensive withdrawal from the Bay, but nevertheless entertained various of the leaders on their ships with some fine dining. It is amazing to think that information of a global nature took months and sometimes even years to get from place to place.
Clear decision making, especially in terms of location could be critical in establishing a new church community. And if a decision has been made that proves to be incorrect, surely wise leadership can acknowledge that and make an adjustment that benefits the community.
Many struggles still lay ahead for the settlers, and they very nearly came to starvation early on, but this single location decision certainly saved many lives.
The ‘First Fleet’
In 1788, 11 small ships carrying nearly 1500 people, half of whom were convicts, embarked on a heroic, dangerous and untested mission – to plant a new community in Australia.
After the Revolutionary War in America, England could no longer send its unwanted prisoners there. A new solution was necessary. Several exploratory trips to the west coast of Africa proved fruitless.
Back in England, decommissioned ships on the Thames and elsewhere were being filled with prisoners at the rate of about a thousand a year. Soon these ships were filled to overflowing and became breeding grounds for sickness and violence.
Finally, under immense pressure, and, somewhat on impulse, Australia (known as ‘New Holland’ at the time) was decided upon as the chosen destination.
Captain Cook had visited Australia briefly in 1770 and named the west coast New South Wales. Optimistic reports were given to Parliament about a potential site which Cook had named Botany Bay. The decision was made.
As I read the excellent historical account of the First Fleet, ‘1788’ by David Hill, I was reminded of the experiences and challenges of church planters around the world.
The manner with which these ‘First Fleeters’ faced the difficulty of establishing a new community in unfamiliar surroundings seemed compelling to me, and encouraging.
Today, against a backdrop of apparently sudden successes, patience and perseverance in establishing a church can be viewed as a lack of faith, or anointing.
Obviously a modern day church planter’s motives and objectives are very different to those of an 18th century colonialist (especially one sent to establish a penal colony!) – but, given the significant differences, the experiences of the First Fleet to Australia, and the earliest generations of Australian settlers, in establishing a new community in a new place may provide some teaching points.
Setting the scene
‘Farewell to olde England forever
Farewell to my olde pals as well
Farewell to the well known Old Bailey
Where I once used to look such a swell.
Singing Too-ral Li-ooral li-ad-dity
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ay
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ad-dity
And we’re bound for Botany Bay!’ (From a song of the ‘first fleeters’ who sailed from England to Australia in 1787 see http://firstfleet.uow.edu.au/s_ballad.html)
They were unusual times. British law was harsh. The death penalty was handed down for convictions as slight as petty theft.
As time went on, many judges became increasingly uneasy about sentencing to death those convicted of relatively petty crimes.
In fact, in 1800, Sir Samuel Riley declared that ‘there is probably no other country in the world in which so many and so great a variety of human actions are punishable with loss of life than in England.’ (Quoted in 1788, David Hill, William Heinemann Australia, p.8)
Transportation to America
The merciful alternative was to reduce the sentences to ‘transportation’, where the convicted criminal would be shipped off to one of Britain’s colonies, rather than be ‘launched into the next world.’
It sounds like an unusual solution to us now, but back in the 18th century it was the English solution to the unpleasant problem of dealing with the unruly and lawless!
Up until the revolutionary war, the American colonies were considered the perfect place for such convicts. And the English Judges, reluctant to so easily send people to their death, sent some 40,000 convicts to America instead.
However, a new option was now necessary, and a new community would be settled in a very far off place.
For the second installment of this story click here
(Part Two of ‘Truths that Changed a Nation’)
JC Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool in 19th century England was eager to see a revival of authentic Christianity in his own generation.
In the previous century England had witnessed such remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit and huge numbers of conversions. Ryle was hungry for a further move of God.
So he began looking back in order to gain insight about how to proceed. In the last post we saw the first three essential truths that the great Methodist leaders, Whitefield, Wesley and others, proclaimed. These were the authority of the Bible, the sinfulness of mankind and the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation.
In this post we’ll look at the other essentials that Ryle believed led to such radical cultural transformation in 18th century England.
1. Justification by Faith
The 18th century Evangelists ‘told men that faith was the one thing needful…that the moment we do believe, we live and [can obtain] all Christ’s benefits.’
The Evangelists rejected the idea that merely being a member of a church meant you were somehow right with God.
Ryle says, ‘Everything – if you will believe, and the moment you believe; nothing – if you do not believe, was the very marrow of their preaching.’ (p.27)
2. ‘You Must be Born Again’
It’s not uncommon to meet people who believe that the emphasis on being ‘born again’ was somehow a 1970’s American religious phenomena.
But actually, as Ryle demonstrates, the preachers of the 1700’s emphasised this constantly. Of course, both the term ‘born again’ and the necessity to preach the new birth goes right back to Jesus Himself (see John chapter 3).
Ryle emphasises ‘heart conversion and a new creation by the Holy Spirit.’
‘They proclaimed everywhere to the crowds whom they addressed, ‘Ye must be born again.’
And this new birth which they so constantly asserted ‘was something that could be seen, discerned and known by its effects.’ (p.28)
3. A Changed Life
Ryle says that the 18th century leaders of the Great Awakening taught ‘the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness.’ (p.28)
They were not inclined to consider anyone a true convert unless there was a definite change in lifestyle. Merely saying you were saved but not changing your lifestyle choices would cause the leaders to question the reality of your faith. If there was no evidence of the ‘fruit of repentance’ then they did not consider that a person had received true saving grace.
4. God is both a God of Wrath and Love
This is without doubt a clear feature of Christian preaching throughout church history.
‘They knew nothing’, asserts Ryle, of ‘a heaven where holy and unholy…all find admission.’ They didn’t preach that everyone goes to heaven in the end.
‘Both about Heaven and Hell they used the utmost plainness of speech.
‘They never shrunk from declaring, in plainest terms, the certainty of God’s judgement and of wrath to come, if men persisted in impenitence and unbelief.
‘Yet, they never ceased to magnify the riches of God’s kindness and compassion, and to entreat all sinners to repent and turn to God before it was too late.’ (p.28)
These were the teachings of the great Evangelists: The trustworthiness of the Bible, the sinfulness of the human race, Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, that we are justified not by works but by faith in Christ, and that a heart work – being born again – is absolutely necessary for salvation. This ‘heart change’ is a real change that affects every area of life. And that finally, God is a just Judge and a loving Father who is calling all people to come to Him for forgiveness.
Let us give good Bishop Ryle the last word:
‘These were the doctrines by which they turned England upside down, made ploughmen and colliers weep till their dirty faces were seamed with tears, arrested the attention of peers and philosophers, stormed the strongholds of Satan, plucked thousands like brands from the burning, and altered the character of the age…
‘The fact is undeniable: God blessed these truths…and what God has blessed it ill becomes man to despise.’ (p.28-29)
We’ve been enjoying JC Ryle’s insights into the preaching that shook England in the 18th century, and which led to many thousands coming to Christ.
In this post we’ll look at the content of the messages that were given. In outlining these for us, Ryle is obviously suggesting that there was a need, in his own day, for a revival of such preaching.
It may be that in quaint 19th century England the ministers and evangelists had softened their message, taken the edges off, in order not to offend those outside the churches.
If we really believe that the message should stay the same, even though we should package it appropriate to the context, then it is surely helpful to hear good old Bishop Ryle’s warnings and exhortations.
Ryle gives seven essential truths that the Methodist preachers all agreed on and asserted to their hearers. We’ll look at the first three in this post.
1. The Authority of the Bible
Ryle says that they ‘taught constantly the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture.’
‘They knew nothing of any part of Scripture being uninspired.
‘They never flinched from asserting that there can be no error in the Word of God.
‘To that one book they were content to pin their faith, and by it to stand or fall. This was one grand characteristic of their preaching.’ (p.26)
2. The Sinfulness of Man
‘They taught constantly the total corruption of human nature.
‘They never flattered men and women…They told them plainly that they were dead, and must be made alive again…
‘Strange and paradoxical as it may seem to some, their first step towards making men good was to show them that they were utterly bad; and their primary argument in persuading men to do something for their souls was to convince them that they could do nothing at all.’ (p.26-27)
3. The Necessity of Christ’s Death
Ryle says that the Methodist preachers of the 18th century ‘taught constantly that Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin; and that, when Christ died, he died as our substitute – ‘the just for the unjust’.
‘This, in fact, was the cardinal point in almost all their sermons.
‘They never taught the modern doctrine that Christ’s death was only a great example of self-sacrifice.
‘They saw in it the payment of man’s mighty debt to God.
‘They loved Christ’s person they rejoiced in Christ’s promises; they urged men to walk after Christ’s example. But the one subject above all others, concerning Christ, which they delighted to dwell on, was the atoning blood which Christ shed for us on the cross.’ (p.27)
It would probably be a good exercise for every preacher who is attempting to present the Christian message to their culture to review these points (and the three to follow) and see if any adjustment ought to be made in the content, if not the style, of their messages.
We’re busy enjoying JC Ryle’s description of the preaching of the Evangelists whom God used to change the culture of 18th century England. (This is Part Four of a short series on Ryle. See Part One, Two and Three)
Having emphasised that it was specifically preaching that was used by God, he describes the type of messages the Evangelists preached.
1. They preached attractive, accessible messages
‘They used illustrations and anecdotes in abundance, and like their divine Master, borrowed lessons from every object in nature.
‘They revived the style of sermons in which Luther and Latimer used to be so eminently successful.’ Ryle then applies a saying of Luther to the 18th century Evangelists: ‘No one can be a good preacher to the people who is not willing to preach in a manner that seems childish and vulgar to some.’ (p.25)
2. They preached fervently and directly
‘They cast aside that dull, cold, heavy, lifeless mode of delivery which had long made sermons a very proverb for dullness.
‘They proclaimed the words of faith, and the story of life with life!
‘They spoke with fiery zeal, like men who were thoroughly persuaded that what they said was true, and that it was of the upmost importance to your eternal interest to hear it.
‘They spoke like men who had got a message from God to you, and must deliver it, and must have your attention while they delivered it.
‘They threw heart and soul and feeling into their sermons and sent their hearers home convinced, at any rate, that the preacher was sincere and wished them well.
‘They believed that you must speak from the heart if you wish to speak to the heart.’ (p.25)
3. Their sermons were full of Biblical content
‘I would have it understood that it was eminently doctrinal, positive, dogmatical and distinct.
‘The trumpets which blew down the walls of Jericho were trumpets which gave no uncertain sound.
‘The English evangelists of last century were not men of an uncertain creed…’ (p.25)
Next time we’ll look at the main points the Evangelists’ preached, and which had such a transforming impact on their culture.
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
JC Ryle, the 19th century Pastor, wrote extensively about the great heroes of the 18th century awakening in England.
We’ve been enjoying his frank observations on both the source of the problems and the means of revival that God used.
Ryle specifically lifts up the role and gift of the Evangelist as being the key to the breakthroughs that took place, and we will continue to be challenged by his analysis in this post.
1. The opposition experienced by the Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘At first people in high places affected to despise them. The men of letters sneered at them as fanatics…
‘The Church shut her doors on them…the ignorant mob persecuted them. But the movement of these few evangelists went on, and made itself felt in every part of the land.’ (p.23)
2. The Primary method for changing the cultural landscape of England was Preaching
‘The instrumentality by which the spiritual reformers of the last century carried on their operations was of the simplest description.
‘It was neither more nor less that the old apostolic weapon of preaching.
‘Beyond doubt, preaching was their favourite weapon. They wisely went back to first principles.’
3. The Evangelists preached everywhere.
‘If the pulpit was open to them they gladly availed themselves of it [but] they were equally ready to preach in a barn.
‘No place came amiss to them. In the field or by the road side, on the village green, or in a market place, in lanes, or in alleys, in cellars or in garrets, on a tub or on a table, on a bench or on a horse block, wherever hearers could be gathered [they] were ready to speak…They were instant in season and out of season…’ (p.24)
4. They preached simply
‘They rightly concluded that the very first qualification to be aimed at in a sermon is to be understood!
‘They saw clearly that thousands of able and well composed sermons are utterly useless because they are above the heads of the hearers.’
Ryle says they preached in a way that could be clearly and immediately understood: ‘To attain this they were not ashamed to crucify their style and sacrifice their reputation for learning.’ (p.24-25)
We’ll continue next time, to hear about the style of preaching which God used to turn England upside down in the 18th Century.
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
What makes Ryle’s commentary so appealing is the fact that we can apply the same lessons to ourselves and trust God for major breakthrough in our various cities and nations.
1. Everyone was aware of a major change
Says Ryle: ‘That a great change for the better has come over England in the last hundred years is a fact which I suppose no well informed person would ever attempt to deny. You might as well attempt to deny that there was a Protestant Reformation in the days of Luther…’ (p.21)
2. Where the change didn’t come from Not the Government: ‘The government of the country can lay no claim to the credit of the change.’ Not the Church of England: ‘Nor…from the Church of England as a body. The leaders of that venerable communion were utterly unequal to the times. Left to herself, the Church of England would probably have died of dignity…’ Not the ‘Free’ churches: ‘Nor…from the Dissenters. Content with their hard-won triumphs, that worthy body of men seemed to rest upon their oars.’ (p.22)
3. The change came through Evangelists
‘The men who wrought deliverance for us…were a few individuals…whose hearts God touched about the same time in various parts of the country.
‘They were not wealthy or highly connected. They were simply men whom God stirred up and brought out to do His work.
‘They did His work in the old apostolic way, by becoming the evangelists of their day.’(p.22)
4. The demeanour of these Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘They taught one set of truths. They taught them in the same way, with fire, reality, earnestness, as men fully convinced of what they taught.
‘They taught them in the same spirit, always loving, compassionate…even weeping, but always bold, unflinching and not fearing the face of man.
‘And they taught them on the same plan, always acting on the aggressive; not waiting for sinners to come to them, but going after, and seeking sinners; not sitting idle till sinners offered to repent, but assaulting the high places of ungodliness like men storming a breach…
‘The movement of these gallant evangelists shook England from one end to another.’ (p.23)
We’ll continue with Ryle’s observations next time…
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
I am reluctant to pull away from the 18th century! Much more can be said and I need to get on to William Carey and the explosion of missionary activity in the 19th century.
So perhaps you will forgive me for rounding up a few thoughts and insights from British Pastor and popular 19th century author, JC Ryle. These insights can speak to us today and stir us to pray and work for the good of those around us.
All quotes are from Ryle’s excellent book, Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century, originally published as ‘The Christian Leaders of the Last Century, or England a Hundred Years Ago’ (references are to the Banner of Truth edition of 1978).
1. The Christian Faith was not influential
‘Christianity seemed to lie as on dead…There was darkness in high places and darkness in low places…a gross, thick, religious and moral darkness – a darkness that might be felt.’ (p.14)
2. The Church was ineffective
Describing both the Anglican Churches and the Free Churches he writes, ‘They existed, but they could hardly be said to have lived. They did nothing; they were sound asleep.’
‘Cold morality, or barren orthodoxy, formed the staple teaching both in church and chapel. Sermons everywhere were little better than miserable moral essays, utterly devoid of anything likely to awaken, convert or save souls.’ (p.14)
3. Church Leaders were distracted
Speaking of the Anglican clergy, Ryle doesn’t hold back: ‘The vast majority of them were sunk in worldliness, and neither knew nor cared anything about their profession…They hunted, they shot, they farmed, they swore, they drank, they gambled. They seemed determined to know everything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’
‘And when they did preach, their sermons were so unspeakable and indescribably bad, that it is comforting to reflect they were generally preached to empty benches.’ (p.17)
4. The People were sceptical of true Christian faith
‘The land was deluged with infidelity and scepticism. The prince of this world made good use of his opportunity.’ (p.15)
‘It may suffice it to say that duelling, adultery, fornication, gambling, swearing, Sabbath-breaking and drunkenness were hardly regarded as vices at all. They were the fashionable practices of people in the highest ranks of society, and no one was thought the worse of for indulging them.’ (p.18)
While George Whitefield was seeking to improve the treatment of slaves in America, and to bring them to Christ, John Wesley could, from the relative comfort of England, see far more objectively: Slavery must not merely be adjusted or improved – it must be abolished altogether!
Wesley had not come to this conclusion all at once. Like Whitefield, he was appalled at the treatment of the slaves he had seen in America, but he had not then thought it a crime.
He later met John Newton, a former slave trader who had been converted and had quit the trade. But apparently neither of the two Johns had yet seen the need to oppose slavery.
The value of reading widely
The change came when he read an account of slavery written by American Quaker, Anthony Benezet, which described in detail the reality of slavery.
Wesley was horrified by the brutality and shamed by the heartlessness of such wickedness and became determined to go to print.
In 1774 he published ‘Thoughts on Slavery’ in which he wrote,
‘If therefore you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor of the revealed law of GOD) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.
‘Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle towards men. And see that you invariably do unto every one, as you would he should do unto you.’ (‘Thoughts on Slavery’ by John Wesley)
It was primarily through reading the words of Wesley in this short publication that John Newton came to see that slavery was indeed a crime. [i]
The value of writing letters
John Wesley influenced many of the major players in the fight against slavery in 18th Century Britain and America.
In fact, his very last letter was sent to a young politician named William Wilberforce, who would spend much of his political life fighting for the abolition of the slave trade.
Wesley’s last letter
To Wilberforce he wrote,
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, [an ‘Athanasius against the world.’] I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.
‘Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.
‘But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing.
‘Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
‘Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance, that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a law in all our Colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
‘That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
We’ve been looking at George Whitefield’s efforts to bring the Christian message to the whole population of 18th century America.
Preaching amongst the black population
Unbelievably, in 18th century America, the African slaves were considered little better than animals, without souls and certainly not equal to whites in any respect.
Whitefield rejected this completely and insisted on preaching to the slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that Christ loved them so much He died for them!
In the letter quoted above, he had written to the whites, ‘Think you, your children are in any way better by nature [than black children]? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin as white men are, and both, I am persuaded, are naturally as capable of the same improvement.’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth edition, Vol 1, p.494)
And so Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to the racist whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God.
Many slaves were converted to Christ and the earliest spiritual songs were heard amongst those to whom Whitefield had preached.
An African Tribute to George Whitefield
Whitefield was genuinely loved and appreciated by those who came to Christ through his preaching.
Phillis Wheatley a former slave with a superb literary gift, wrote a poem of appreciation about Whitefield after his death.
Wheatley herself is a marvel of intellectual ability, having been in America only 9 years, mastered the language so superbly and having written the remarkable poem aged only 17! She later wrote a poem for George Washington. He was so impressed with her poetic skill he said it would be a privilege to meet her.
Of Whitefield’s preaching she writes,
‘Thou didst, in Strains of Eloquence refin’d,
Inflame the Soul and captivate the Mind.’
Of his praying she writes,
‘He pray’d that Grace in every Heart might dwell:
He long’d to see America excel;
He charg’d its Youth to let the Grace Divine
Arise, and in their future Actions shine.’
Using his style of preaching she exhorts her readers:
‘Take HIM, ye wretched, for your only Good;
Take HIM, ye starving Souls, to be your Food.
Ye Thirsty, come to this Life-giving Stream:
Ye Preachers, take him for your joyful Theme:
Take HIM, “my dear Americans,” he said;
Be your Complaints in his kind Bosom laid:
Take HIM, ye Africans, he longs for you;
Impartial SAVIOUR, is his Title due;
If you will choose to walk in Grace’s Road,
You shall be Sons, and Kings, and Priests to GOD.’
Whitefield’s contribution to the development of African American Christianity was imperfect, but it was significant.
But Whitefield determined to love America, build America, rebuke its wrongs and try and reach those it wronged, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To read of Whitefield’s failure to oppose slavery click here
To read of Wesley’s encouragement to Wilberforce to fight slavery click here
Generally, Whitefield is justly criticised in connection with his work amongst the first Africans in America.
He did not fight against slavery. At the Orphanage he built in Bethesda, Georgia, he purchased slaves, who although they were treated well, were nevertheless, slaves.
Whitefield felt his responsibility was to preach to slave owners, and to correct abuses rather than launch an assault on the institution itself.
He certainly didn’t agree with the harsh treatment of slaves, but whether he acquiesced with the institution, or whether he merely felt he could do nothing, his failure to use his influence to end slavery, or even begin a serious debate to end slavery, was certainly a sin of omission on his part.
Rebuking the White Man
In an open letter, published by Benjamin Franklin, to the inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Whitefield wrote the following:
‘I must inform you in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, that God has a quarrel with you for your cruelty to the poor negroes. Whether it be lawful for Christians to buy slaves, I shall not take it upon me to determine, but sure I am that it is sinful…to use them worse than brutes.’
‘Some, as I have been informed by an eye witness, have been, upon the most trifling provocation, cut with knives, and have had forks thrown into their flesh: not to mention what numbers have been given up to the inhuman usage of cruel task masters, who by their unrelenting scourges, have ploughed upon their backs and made long furrows, and at length brought them even to death. I hope there are but few such monsters of barbarity [among you]…
An uprising amongst the slaves would be just
Whitefield continued, ‘Although I pray God the slaves would not be permitted to get the upper hand [ie, in revolution against the white slave owners], yet should such a thing be permitted by [God], all good men must acknowledge, the judgement would be just.
‘Whilst I have viewed your plantations cleared and cultivated, and have seen many spacious houses, and the owners of them faring sumptuously every day, my blood has almost run cold within me, when I have considered how many of your slaves have neither convenient food to eat, nor proper [clothes] to put on, notwithstanding most of the comforts you enjoy were solely owing to their labours…
‘Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for the miseries that shall come upon you [for] their cries have come into the ears of the Lord…’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth edition, Vol 1. P,495-6)
Wesley’s view of slavery differed from Whitefield
It is important that we don’t take Whitefield’s passive response to slavery as representative of the Christian position generally.
John Wesley was outspoken – even to the point where he risked Methodism’s popularity in America. At one point, all Methodist itinerant preachers, except the valiant Francis Asbury, returned. And Asbury himself was forced to ‘lie low’.[i]
Wesley, in a fierce attack on slave owners, wrote:
‘You know [slaves] are procured by a deliberate series of…complicated villainy (of fraud, robbery and murder)…Now it is your money that pays the merchant, and through him the captain and the African butchers.
You therefore are guilty, yea principally guilty, of all these frauds, robberies, and murders…therefore, the blood of all these wretches who die before their time, whether in their country or elsewhere, lies upon your head.’[ii]
As a result of Wesley’s position, and that of the Methodist leadership generally, slave holders were not allowed to become members of the Methodist Societies both in Britain and America.
But the most important change came with William Wilberforce, as we’ll see here.
To read a former slave’s tribute to George Whitefield click here
[i] Mark Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, Leicester, p.201
[ii] From Welsey’s pamphlet ‘Thoughts on Slavery’ published 1774. Quoted by Noll, p.237
Why most good churches have Marriage Preparation Courses!
And so, John Wesley was married. His strategy for being a good husband was pretty simple: ‘I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.’
At first Molly accompanied him but his travel schedule (by any standard through all church history) was relentless, and she, as a newly married 40 year old woman, was clearly hoping for some normal domestic joys.
Often absent for weeks at a time, Wesley gave his wife permission to open all the mail that came for him. This included many letters from women seeking guidance and counsel, and Molly soon began to feel that some of them had more than a little affection towards her man.
Jealousy, slander and insensitivity
Her jealousy increased, as did her sense of being overlooked by him, and even unloved by him. She began to be, not only troubled by but gripped by jealousy.
She wrote disgruntled, critical, letters to him. She travelled to spy on him. She sent his private papers directly to his enemies that they might slander him. Eventually she publicly and repeatedly accused him of adultery over a period of twenty years.
At one point, after a fierce exchange of letters, he sent a scathing, hostile, reply.
‘Know me and know yourself. Suspect me no more, asperse me no more, provoke me no more: do not any longer contend for mastery…be content to be a private insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.’
Robert Southey, who quotes this letter, gives more of its contents, ‘He reminded her that she had laid to his charge things that he knew not, robbed him, betrayed his confidence, revealed his secrets, given him a thousand treacherous wounds, and made it her business so to do, under the pretence of vindicating her own character; ‘whereas’, said he, ‘of what importance is your character to mankind? If you were buried just now, or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?’
Southey adds, ‘There are few stomachs which could bear to have humility administered in such doses.’ (Robert Southey, The Life of John Wesley, Hutchinson, p.266)
Dragged along by the hair
On several occasions she left home, only returning after he begged her repeatedly. Although he had been unspeakably angry with her, he kept aiming at reconciliation.
But the home life was unhappy. John Hampson of Manchester ‘once entered a room unannounced to find Molly dragging her husband across the floor by his hair.’ (John Pollock, Wesley, Hodder, p.238)
Finally, she left for good. Wesley wryly reported in his journal, ‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’
He should have consulted with Charles. He should have asked for the wisdom of other leaders. He should have been prepared for marriage. He should have considered his wife’s needs more than his own.
In all this, the story of Wesley’s marriage is an unhappy one. But if it is uncomfortable for us to read, let’s not forget that it was far more uncomfortable for him to live. And equally uncomfortable for Molly, who, perhaps was merely hoping to have some of him for herself.
The Marriage Course
If you feel you need help in your marriage, The Marriage Course, pioneered at Holy Trinity Church, London may be of help to you. Click herefor links to the Course and to find one in your part of the world. http://relationshipcentral.org/
To read the very first of the sequence of posts about Wesley’s attempts to get a bride click here and follow the links