Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 5

HMS Supply, the oldest and smallest of the First Fleet ships

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.

For the next installment in this story click here

For the first post in this series click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 4

1788, The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet, by David Hill

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.

For the next installment in this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 3

The Lady Penrhyn, one of the eleven First Fleet ships

For the background to this post click here

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.

For the next installment of this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet part 2

HMS Charlotte, one of the First Fleet ships

For the introduction to this story click here

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.

Botany Bay
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.

Church Planting?
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.

We’ll look at those teaching points here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet

Transportation Notice from Dorset. Photo by Steinsky

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

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

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle on How to Get Right with God

(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)

All quotes are from JC Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth edition.

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle on the Truths that Changed a Nation

JC Ryle - Christian Leaders of the 18th Century

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.

For Ryle’s next four points click here

All quotes are from JC Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth edition.

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle on the type of preaching that awakened England

JC Ryle in his study

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

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 3

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

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 2

JC Ryle...with beard

Last time we took a brief look at Ryle’s analysis of the problem. Today we’re going to enjoy his description of how God turned things around.

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

To read the first post in this series go here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Piercing Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening p.1

JC Ryle on the 18th Century Awakening

JC Ryle

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)

Told you he didn’t hold back! Next time we’ll hear Ryle on how things got turned around.

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

John Wesley and William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

Fighting Slavery
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

Anthony Benezet’s Historical Account of Slavery

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.

Thoughts on Slavery by John Wesley

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,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley’ (from the WCO)

Wesley’s passion and encouragement, and his last letter, helped the young Wilberforce to fight successfully until the British parliament finally signed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

More next time…

[i] John Pollock, John Wesley (London:Hodder, 1989) p.235

© 2010 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and African American Christianity – 2

Phillis Wheatley, poet, aged 17

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.

The Poem for whitefield, published

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and African American Christianity – 1

George Whitefield's Journal, 1739

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)

Internal Plan for an 18th Century Slave Ship (Brookes)

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

© 2010/2011 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

John Wesley and his Wife (part 2)

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.

Make sure you read Part One to get the context!

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 here for links to the Course and to find one in your part of the world.

To read the very first of the sequence of posts about Wesley’s attempts to get a bride click here and follow the links

© 2010 Lex Loizides

John Wesley and his Wife (part 1)

Less than three years after his failed engagement to Grace Murray, Wesley was becoming interested in another potential wife.

Uh oh!

His unwillingness to consult with his brother Charles in this new romance was completely understandable.

But, of course, it is exactly what he should have done. His reluctance to take counsel on this vitally important decision was to lead to twenty years of unhappiness both for him, and for his future wife.

Introducing Molly
Molly Vazeille, widowed for three years, but wealthy, had shown an interest in spiritual things and Wesley wrote to her in 1750.

Charles Wesley and his wife, Sally, already knew Molly and were not impressed.

John, however, was impressed and said as much to her in what he probably considered a glowing letter. He said he appreciated her ‘industry’, her ‘exact frugality’ and her ‘uncommon neatness and cleanness.’ She must have been beside herself with delight!

He was careful to add that this uncommon neatness and cleanness extended to her person, her clothes and to all those things around her!

It made us all hide our faces
He merely announced to Charles and Sally his intention to marry. Charles was ‘thunderstruck’ and filled with dread.

At the next church service John announced that he was to marry Molly Vazeille. Charles, commenting on the response of the congregation, said it ‘made us all hide our faces.’

In mid-February 1751, just a couple of years after the Grace Murray disaster, John Wesley was married.

To read the highly popular Part Two click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Wesley’s Failed Courtship

If his attempts to woo the woman he loved seemed rash, on the one hand, or boring, on the other, things were about to get much, much worse.

Although the ‘unofficially together’ couple were companions on a number of speaking tours, with Grace counselling the female society members, there was a major problem.

She was promised to another!

John Bennett, probably Wesley’s most successful itinerant preacher, a committed Calvinist, was also interested and had already exchanged love letters with Grace. He too felt that she had shown him some signs of love.

John and Grace continued travelling together, and also with Charles at one point. He had no idea of John’s affection for her, and considered her almost as one of the servants.

Grace herself, had not taken Wesley’s former expression of love as binding, or as evidence of an engagement, and so kept up her correspondence with John Bennett.

John, John! Put down your book on the Plague of London and win the lady!!

The Sudden Marriage

When John finally revealed his intentions to his brother, Charles was so shocked that he immediately sought to intervene.

These two men, who along with Whitefield and others, were turning a nation to God, were completely at a loss when it came to women.

Charles had met his bride and John had married them. Surely Charles would now reciprocate! Not at all! When John declared his love for Grace, he was rebuked.

To cut a long soap opera story short, without Wesley’s knowledge, quite suddenly and at Charles’ insistence, Grace was married to John Bennett in Newcastle.

Wesley’s Deepest Sadness

John was understandably upset. At first he refused to meet Charles, but George Whitefield, probably the only person who could, brought them together. They exchanged furious words, as Whitefield wept silently. Finally the two brothers embraced.

Mr. and Mrs. John Bennett, the newly married couple, were also brought in that all might be reconciled, but Wesley undoubtedly bore the weight of the reconciliation.

After the meeting, alone, in deep sadness, Wesley rode silently away.

Following some slanderous comments and a criticism from Bennett, Wesley reacted in a private letter to him:

‘I left with you my dearest friend, one I loved above all on earth, and fully designed for my wife. To this woman you proposed marriage, without either my knowledge or consent…You wrote me word you would take no farther step without my consent but…you tore her from me…

‘I think you have done me the deepest wrong which I can receive on this side the grave. But I spare you. ‘Tis but for a little time, and I shall be where the weary are at rest.’ (Quoted in John Pollock, Wesley, Hodder, Ch. 21)

To read how John Wesley finally met and married his wife click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

John Wesley Tries to Find a Wife

John Wesley

Love is in the air!

By the late 1740’s both John and Charles Wesley’s thoughts turned to marriage.

James Hutton, a Methodist leader, wrote at length on the subject to Count Zinzendorf:

‘JW and CW, both of them, are dangerous snares to many young women; several are in love with them.

I wish they were married to some good sisters, but I would not give them one of my sisters if I had many…’ (Quoted in John Pollock, Wesley, Hodder, p.190)

Charles was married in 1748 and had, as it happens, a long and happy marriage.

Things would work out slightly differently for John.

Grace is in the air!
John Wesley had appointed Grace Murray, a Geordie, a new convert, a competent leader and a widow, to oversee the Methodist Orphanage in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

He was clearly taken with her ability. She was firm, efficient, and, upon his arriving in Newcastle sick on one occasion, wonderfully caring.

Surely she was the kind of woman who could be his wife!

As he recovered, he began to have stronger feelings towards her and, perhaps unwisely, suddenly said to her, ‘If ever I marry, I think you will be the person!’ (ibid. p.192)

She, understandably, was surprised and impacted by the statement, and, a little stunned, said to John, ‘This is too great a blessing for me! I can’t tell how to believe it! This is all I could have wished for under heaven, if I had dared to wish for it!’

Wesley soon recovered from his illness and made plans to travel down to Yorkshire. Grace, being unwilling to so quickly separate from him after their new found love, convinced him to allow her to ride with him part of the journey.

Wesley, apparently undistracted by the presence of his new found love, quietly read Hodge’s ‘Account of the Plague in London’ as they travelled silently on.

The calamities continue. To read the next installment of Wesley’s attempted courtship click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Dancing in Church!

Evan Rogers leading worship at Jubilee Community Church, Cape Town when the people refused to end the service.
Evan Rogers leading worship at Jubilee Community Church, Cape Town when the people refused to end the service.

The Origins of Dancing in Church!
It may be unrealistic to try and specify a moment when dancing in church meetings became popular.

But the specific reason for such exuberant joy is obvious to all who know the power of the gospel.

This was highlighted with characteristic insight by CH Spurgeon who noted that Isaiah 35:6 states that the mute man doesn’t merely talk but ‘shouts’ and the lame man doesn’t merely walk but ‘leaps’, when the power of the gospel works in his life!

In the most obvious sense, then, the origins of dancing in church are just the normal human responses of those who are freed by the power of the love of God in Jesus Christ. This gospel truth is made real to them by the Holy Spirit. This may well be why so many charismatics quote the verse ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty!’ (2 Cor 3:17)

‘This is the Holy Ghost, Glory!’
The early Methodists began to dance. And then they danced a lot. These guys were seriously joyful at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th Century, and they continued to dance!

This, let it be known, was considered dangerous and divisive, but from this distance of time, the descriptions are merely humourous:

‘At the spring sacrament at Turtle Creek in 1804, Brother Thompson had been constrained just at the close of the meeting to go to dancing, and for an hour or more to dance in a regular manner round the stand, all the while repeating in a low tone of voice: “This is the Holy Ghost, Glory!”

‘But it was not till the ensuing fall or beginning of the winter that [they] began to encourage one another to praise God in the dance, and unite in that exercise, justly believing that it was their privilege to rejoice before the Lord, and go forth in the dances of them that make merry.’

The Methodists used popular tunes, from the ‘drinking-saloons and playhouses’ and added new Christian lyrics.

Shaking Hands during Worship
Winthrop S. Hudson, in his article, ‘Shouting Methodists’ relates how it was common to shake hands during the close of a service, whilst still singing:

‘Shaking Hands while singing was a means, though simple in itself, to further the work. The ministers used frequently, at the close of worship, to sing a spiritual song suited to the occasion and go through the congregation and shake hands with the people while singing.

‘And several, when relating their experience at the time of their admission into the church fellowship, declared that this was the first means of their conviction.

‘The act seemed so friendly, the ministers appeared so loving, that the party with whom the minister shook hands would often be melted in tears.’

Other ‘Physical Manifestations’
At the risk of casting doubt over the credibility of the main body of these American Methodists, yet unable to resist an hilarious final paragraph, I quote Hudson once more concerning some physical phenomena that was reported amongst some of them.

An eye witness reported that sometimes, before being impelled to dance, a person’s head would ‘fly backward and forward, and from side to side, with a quick jolt.’ This phenomena was given a name: ‘the jerks’!

‘Sometimes…the whole body would be affected. The more a person labored to suppress the jerks, the more he staggered and the more rapidly the twitches increased.’

Although this was observable, it was not considered proper to merely imitate this behaviour in order to appear more spiritual! So that’s sorted that out!

In the mean time, don’t be afraid to truly rejoice in the magnificent salvation that you  have received in Christ!

(Quotes from ‘Shouting Methodists’ by Winthrop S. Hudson, Encounter Magazine 1968)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Shouting Satan’s Kingdom Down – the Dawn of American Revivalism

Before we leave the 18th Century Methodists we ought to venture into another of their meetings, this time in America.

The period we are looking at is late 18th and early 19th century, so we’re fast forwarding slightly and entering the exuberance of American Methodist revivalism.

The Shouting Methodists!
In a fascinating article that appeared in ‘Encounter’ Magazine in 1968, Winthrop S. Hudson wrote of the ‘Shouting Methodists’.

These fervent American converts were less concerned about appearing sophisticated than they were about celebrating their new found freedom in Christ.

Clearly, some of their exuberance sounds a little over the top, and, perhaps of more concern, the spontaneous expressions of praise may have become expected behaviour.

Hudson, quotes from a variety of sources, including Alexander Campbell who ‘declared that the Methodist church could not live without her cries of “glory! glory! glory!” And he reported that “her periodical Amens dispossess demons, storm heaven, shut the gates of hell, and drive Satan from the camp.”’

“Shout, shout, we’re gaining ground,” they sang. “We’ll shout old Satan’s kingdom down.”

The ‘Shout Song’
Hudson’s somewhat technical attempt to describe the phenomena of worship during these highly charged meetings make for comical reading:

‘”Shouting” was praise or, as it was often called, rejoicing. Both its practice, including the clapping of hands, and its meaning was partly shaped by Old Testament texts.

‘Initially “shouting” was probably no more than [sudden utterances] of praise. But it quickly became…a type of singing, a type of song, a “shout song,” or just a “shout.”

‘If a “shout” was an [expresion] of praise and a song of rejoicing, it also became the name of a religious service, a service of praise, a praise meeting.

‘People spoke of going to “preaching,” of going to a “class meeting,” and of going to a “shout,” a praise meeting. “When we get home,” they sang, “we’ll have a shout in glory.”

The Dancing Methodists!
‘Finally, for some, a “shout” became a dance, a shuffling of the feet, a jerking of the head, a clapping of the hands, and perhaps an occasional leap.

‘Most often it was a circular march, a “ring shout.” Thus Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “shout” as “to give expression to religious ecstasy, often in vigorous, rhythmic movements (as shuffling, jumping, jerking) specifically, to take part in a ring shout.”’

More next time….

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Hilarious Hymns That Need to be Read Again (if not sung)!

We’ve been looking at the fact that the Methodist movement, in its heyday, was truly a people movement. And their songs reflected that!

Every new movement of churches seems to produce a new resource of great songs. This has been true since the charismatic movement in the 1960’s and 70’s.

We might argue that we are enjoying an era of great creativity in the Christian Church in the West at the moment.

Testimony Songs
But nothing really compares with these gems from the Methodist archives!!

In Stith Mead’s Methodist songbook, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1807, the initial impression of a convert is reported:

‘The Methodists were preaching like thunder all about.
At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.
I thought they were distracted, such fools I’d never seen.
They’d stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.’

It is impossible to imagine such a song being sung in churches today! The closest I can think of is Paul Oakley’s ‘I love your love!’, although that is much more recognisable as a worship song than the above!

The People Were Jumping!
A later Methodist songbook, The Hesperian Harp of 1848, has a dialogue song between a Methodist and a ‘Formalist’.

In this segment we hear the Formalist’s impression of the Christian meeting he attended:

Such groaning and shouting, it sets me to doubting.
I fear such religion is only a dream.

The preachers were stamping, the people were jumping,
And screaming so loud that I nothing could hear….

The men they were bawling, the women were squalling,
I know not for my part how any could pray….

Amid such a clatter who knows what’s the matter?
Or who can attend unto what is declared?

To see them behaving, like drunkards, all raving,
And lying and rolling prostrate on the ground.
I really felt awful, and sometimes felt fearful
That I’d be the next that would come tumbling down.

He Tumbled!

Ultimately, of course, he did tumble. His heart was glowing, Christ’s love was flowing, and ‘peace, pardon, and comfort’ he found.
(from ‘Shouting Methodists’ by Winthrop S. Hudson, Encounter Magazine 1968)

Well, if describing their normal church services in song became part of the history of this amazing revivalist movement, then dancing and shouting was also a strong feature.

But more of that next time…

Click here for a great album by Paul Oakley (UK) or here for itunes USA

Click here for a new song co-written by Lex and Paul Oakley

© 2010 Lex Loizides

The Critical Importance of Reaching the Working Classes

Howard Cook's 'Worker with Harvest, Factory' circa 1929

Brilliant New Song-Writing
In terms of the great hymns of the Christian Faith, the Methodist movement was a source of unparalleled treasures…and also some hidden ones!

And it’s the hidden treasures that we will enjoy together! But first, we’ll look at possible reasons why they’re still hidden.

How can you spot a movement on the wane?

It seems an observable reality that the beginning of the end of a great movement in church history is accompanied by certain features.

One of these – perhaps the most damaging – is a disproportionate desire for respectability. We might suggest a prevalence to preserve or promote Christianity as a respectable middle class religion.

Of course, I’m not advocating that our leaders should be anything less than truly respected in their own communities, nor that they should be deliberately rough.

I am certainly not criticising a hunger to improve in knowledge. We should all should aim to be good learners and students throughout life. It’s vital to gain theological insight. Ignorance is not good.

The true nature of Christian influence
But we must guard against snobbery. The twelve men that Jesus hand-picked to follow Him were not the most sophisticated or best educated. The point is that He took them to be with Him, He trained them and He was the source of their learning and their influence.

Paul, who had some rabbinical education, had to be broken utterly and come to the point of considering all he inherited as ‘rubbish’ for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

Christianity promotes knowledge
But the Christian Faith uplifts people. It changes us! And essentially because Jesus came teaching and healing, Christians have gone into the world and built universities and medical facilities.

Christian expansion at its best has been marked by educational (and scientific) endeavour and compassionate service to the suffering. It’s because of Jesus.

In a very real way, God takes hold of us and improves us! Therefore, may God protect you from automatically distancing yourself from anyone you consider ‘below’ you, in some way. How vile! How unlike Jesus Christ!

The first generation of leaders should, like William Booth of the Salvation Army, carefully gauge the influence on ordinary people of the leaders who are emerging (Elijah Cadman, a former prize fighter, became Booth’s right hand man).

Don’t overlook ‘unschooled, ordinary men’
We mustn’t overlook those who have been transformed into leaders by ‘grace and grit’, and who like Peter and the other apostles, might be considered ‘unlearned men’, or ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, as the NIV puts it (see Acts 4:13). We might be missing some ‘mighty men’.

We would have to put aside John Bunyan, Howell Harris, William Carey, DL Moody, Elijah Cadman, CH Spurgeon (perhaps the most remarkable example of self-education in a Christian leader), and a host of others – in fact, we might question God as to why He made His Son an apprentice labourer rather than a college lecturer!

Reaching the ‘working class’ is a key to transforming a culture
The point is this – that when Christianity really breaks into a culture, it breaks through to those who, in Europe at least, are usually called ‘working class’.

Christianity’s ability to lastingly change the culture has been when the working people, the ordinary backbone of the population, have embraced the faith as theirs.

This is partly why we’ve spent so long examining the incredible suffering and persecution that took place amongst the 18th century Methodists. Before conversion the ordinary people of Britain rejected the gospel – but the preachers wouldn’t give up, and in the end, the gospel won through.

Songs of the People!

As we will later see with the breathtaking story of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century, when ordinary folk take Christ to themselves, we get some great new songs and sayings. The whole church is enriched and refreshed – not by mere novelty, but by the cultural strengths of every grouping in our culture.

Well now, all of that was really an introduction to some wonderful, informal and hilarious segments from hymns of the Methodists from the 18th and 19th Century. To check out the hymns click here

Picture: Howard Cook, Worker with Harvest, Factory © The Smithsonian American Art Museum

© 2010 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Come see a Christian triumphing over death!

Newgate Prison, London

We saw earlier how John Lancaster, a prisoner condemned to death in Newgate prison, had come to faith in Christ.

Now we see him at his last moment and at his most triumphant. The year was 1748 and John Wesley recorded the events for future generations in his journals.

As Lancaster was led out of his cell, his confession was “Blessed be the day I came into this place! O what a glorious work hath the Lord carried on in my soul since I came hither!”

“O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
Wesley adds, ‘Then he said to those near him, “O my dear friends, join in praise with me a sinner! O for a tongue to praise Him as I ought! My heart is like fire…I am ready to burst…O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”

‘One saying, “I am sorry to see you in that condition.” He answered, “I would not change it for ten thousands worlds.”

‘From the press-yard he was removed into a large room where he exhorted all the officers to repentance.

Thomas Atkins was brought in, whom he immediately asked, “How is it between God and your soul?” He answered, “Blessed be God, I am ready.”

Newgate Prison, London by George Shepherd

“By one o’clock I will be in Paradise!”
An officer asked what time it was and Lancaster happily replied, “By one I shall be in Paradise, safely resting in Abraham’s bosom…I see [Jesus] by faith, standing at the right hand of God, with open arms to receive our souls.”

Another asked, “Which is Lancaster?” and he answered, “Here I am. Come see a Christian triumphing over death.”

‘A bystander said, “Be steadfast to the end.” He answered, “I am, by the grace of God, as steadfast as the rock I am built upon, and that rock is Christ.”

Why no-one should despair
‘Then he said to the people, “Cry to the Lord for mercy, and you will surely find it. I have found it; therefore none should despair. When I came first to this place, my heart was as hard as my cell walls, and as black as hell. But now I am washed, now I am made clean by the blood of Christ.”’

Speaking of the prayer time he had with other prisoners the night before he said, “I was as it were in heaven. O, if a foretaste be so sweet, what must the full enjoyment be?”

Wesley continues, ‘The people round, the mean time, were in tears; and the officers stood like men affrighted.’

Praying for the Nations and the Local Church
‘Then Lancaster exhorted one in doubt, never to rest till he had found rest in Christ. After this he broke out into strong prayer…that the true Gospel of Christ might spread to every corner of the habitable earth; that the [Methodist] congregation at the Foundery might abound more and more in the knowledge and love of God…’

‘When the officers told them it was time to go, [the converted prisoners] rose with inexpressible joy, and embraced each other…’

“I am going to Paradise today!”
‘Coming into the press yard, he saw Sarah Peters. He stepped to her, kissed her, and earnestly said, “I am going to Paradise today; and you will follow me soon.”

‘The crowd being great, they could not readily get through. So he had another opportunity of declaring the goodness of God [saying] “Rely on Him for mercy and you will surely find it.”

‘Turning to the spectators he said, “It is but a short time and we shall be where all sorrow and sighing flee away. Turn from the evil of your ways; and you also shall stand with the innumerable company on Mount Zion…See that you love Christ; and then you will come there too!”

‘All the people who saw them seemed to be amazed; but much more when they came to the place of execution. A solemn awe overwhelmed the whole multitude.

‘As soon as the executioner had done his part with Lancaster, and the two that were with him, he called for a hymn book, and gave out a hymn with a clear, strong voice.

‘Even,’ John Wesley adds, ‘a little circumstance that followed seems worth observing. His body was carried away by a company hired by the surgeons. But a crew of sailors pursued them, took it from them by force, and delivered it to his mother…

‘He died on Friday October 28 and was buried on Sunday the 30th.’
(All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.123-125, Baker Edition)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

‘Nothing to Trust in Except the Blood of Christ’

We continue the amazing accounts of grace given to those condemned to death in the 1700’s.

John Wesley recorded these testimonies of men facing execution, in his own journals, giving them a wider audience than they might have otherwise had.

They had been faithfully visited by Sarah Peters. She shared the gospel with them and many were genuinely converted.

Thomas Atkins
‘The next who was spoken to was Thomas Atkins, nineteen years of age.

‘When he was asked (after many other questions, in answering which he expressed the clearest and deepest conviction of all his sins, as well as that for which he was condemned) if he was afraid to die; he fixed his eyes upward, and said, in the most earnest and solemn manner, ‘I bless God, I am not afraid to die; for I have laid my soul at the feet of Jesus.’

And to the last moment of his life, he gave all reason to believe that these were not vain words.’

William Gardiner
‘William Gardiner, from the time that he was condemned, was very ill… [Sarah Peters] visited him in his own cell, till he was able to [move about].

He was a man of exceeding few words, but of a broken and contrite spirit.

Some time after, he expressed great readiness to die, yet with the utmost diffidence of himself.

One of his expressions, to a person accompanying him to the place of execution was:

“O Sir! I have nothing to trust to but the blood of Christ! If that won’t do, I am undone forever!”‘

More next time…
(From John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.121-122, Baker Edition)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Eternal Life on Death Row – Astonishing Testimonies of Grace

The Notorious Newgate Prison, London

Although John Wesley was disappointed with the lack of response he received in Newgate Prison, London, there was another Christian working amongst the prisoners with great effect.

Sarah Peters
Sarah Peters, described by Wesley as caring, even-tempered and able to handle pressurised situations well, spent many hours talking with the condemned prisoners. When she died in 1748, John Wesley gave a tribute to her in his journal.

The tribute consists of the collected testimonies of some of those who were facing execution. Paying a heavy price for a range of different crimes (some of which would not receive such harsh sentences today), these men were lost and facing the reality of death. Sarah came, taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ and prayed with them.

Over the next few posts we’ll read some breathtaking statements that are her enduring legacy…

John Lancaster
Convicted, tried and condemned and unable to have his sentence reduced, said:

‘I thank God, I do feel that He has forgiven me my sins: I do know it!’

Sarah asked him how he knew that. He replied, ‘I was in great heaviness, till the very morning you came hither first.

‘That morning I was in earnest prayer; and just as St Paul’s clock struck five, the Lord poured into my soul such peace as I had never felt; so that I was scarce able to bear it.

‘From that hour I have never been afraid to die; for I know, and am sure, as soon as my soul departs from the body, the Lord Jesus will stand ready to carry it into glory.’

For the next installment of this story read here
(from John Wesley Journal, Vol 2, p.121, Baker Edition)

© 2010 Lex Loizides