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)

Conclusion
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

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 18th century America.

Preaching amongst the black population
In 18th century America, the African population were almost all slaves. That they were slaves in the first place is an outrage, but we’re told the white population looked upon them as little better than animals, not only as inferior in intelligence, but not even having souls.

Whitefield rejected this completely and insisted on telling slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that they were so important to God that Christ died on the cross for them.

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.’[i]

Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to many whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God.

Many African 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 she had mastered the language superbly. Her brilliance is evident in many of her published poems. She was the first African American poet to be published in America. 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.

Whitefield loved America, sought to 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

[i]  Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, Vol 1, p.494

© 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

Evangelistic Depression

18th Century Cartoon Mocking Evangelist George Whitefield

A broad overview of church history does give us a picture of the Church gaining ever-increasing strength and global relevance. Church History is encouraging!

But there are still major gaps in our knowledge of certain periods where it seems the gospel wasn’t having the kind of impact we’d desire or expect.

The Mission isn’t easy
And as you move in closer to specific periods, even periods marked with revivals, you soon see the challenges, the failures and the difficulties.

Great Evangelists like George Whitefield and John Wesley, who must rank as amongst the hardest working of Christian leaders, also had times of discouragement.

Whitefield is often quoted as saying that some of the converts ‘were like a rope of sand’. This statement, made at a time of disappointment with the numbers who had joined the Wesleyan societies, is usually taken out of context and used against Whitefield’s gospel message.

But he wasn’t saying that his gospel was ineffective, or that his Reformed theological position was evangelistically irrelevant. He was merely breathing out his disappointment at a particular time and place.

John Wesley also said much the same thing. Having spent so much time and effort in Newgate amongst the prisoners, he laments the lack of result and says, ‘I see no fruit of our labour!’ (Journal, Vol 2, p.89, Baker Edition)

Don’t give up!
Every believer who has sought to share the gospel with someone they care about knows the disappointment of non-response or negative response. This is part of the struggle we are in together.

Rather than become less evangelistic we should take courage that even the greatest Evangelists don’t see breakthrough all the time.

There’s work to be done. And if we truly believe we will reap what we sow, then we should be sowing much, much more than we are, and not give up prematurely.

Don’t give up. In the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ve got the greatest message ever given to humankind. Keep going.

‘Do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV)

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Noisy Meetings!

The Problem of Praiseless Praise and Joyless Joy!
Most Christians are used to passion in their gathered church meetings. It would be strange, in a perfectly logical sense, to encounter strict formality, dull routine and lacklustre praise (how can you praise someone blandly, with praiseless praise, joyless joy?)

The Bible repeatedly exhorts us to praise God with joy filled hearts and even with shouts of joy!

The Sound Psalmists
David says, ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart’ (Ps 9:1) and the sons of Korah cry repeatedly, ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.’ (Ps 47:6)

You have to admit, you don’t need to go far in the Book of Psalms to realise these guys are exhorting the gathered community of God’s people to exuberant expressions of joy!

Again, Psalm 66:17 says ‘I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.’ And there’s even a Biblical exhortation to clap our hands and shout – during a time of worship!! (see Psalm 47:1)

Anyhow, for the great Evangelistic preachers of the 18th Century, the noise didn’t usually come from meetings of believers.

Noise, sometimes overriding everything else, came from the mobs and crowds that were hired to disrupt their meetings, and who blew trumpets, banged on drums and threw copious amounts of dirt and stones.

The meetings were also disturbed by the loud cries and shrieks of those who were suddenly aware of their desperate need of God’s forgiveness, or who were being delivered from some form of bondage.

Non-Christians behaving, Christians raving!
However, when Wesley visited Gwennap in Cornwall (England) in 1747 he was surprised by a welcome reversal.

A very large crowd gathered to listen attentively to his preaching. Wesley writes, ‘About half an hour after five I began at Gwennap. I was afraid my voice would not suffice for such an immense multitude.

‘But my fear was groundless; as the evening was quite calm, and the people all attention.

‘It was more difficult to be heard in meeting the society, amidst the cries of those, on the one hand, who were pierced through as with a sword, and of those, on the other, who were filled with joy unspeakable.’
(from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.62, Baker Edition)

May God give us such ‘revival’ scenes once more, with multitudes gathering to hear the good news of the grace of God in Christ, and church meetings filled with foretastes of heavenly glory.

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

More than a Hymn-Writer: Charles Wesley the Evangelist

Charles Wesley, Hymn-writer and Evangelist

Charles Wesley is mainly remembered for his excellent poetic gift. This gift, thoroughly saturated in Scripture, produced some of the church’s best-loved hymns.

If you are in an English speaking church context it is quite likely that you recognize these well known opening lines from Charles Wesley hymns:

  • Hark! The herald angels sing,
    “Glory to the newborn King;
    Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
    God and sinners reconciled!”
  • Love divine, all loves excelling,
    Joy of heaven to earth come down;
    Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
    All thy faithful mercies crown!
    Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
    Pure unbounded love Thou art;
    Visit us with Thy salvation;
    Enter every trembling heart.
  • And can it be that I should gain
    An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
  • O for a thousand tongues to sing
    My great Redeemer’s praise,
    The glories of my God and King,
    The triumphs of His grace!

Actually, it’s difficult not to just go ahead and include whole hymns for the pure pleasure of enjoying them.

A Passionate Evangelistic Preacher

But my point is that Charles Wesley was not only a hymn-writer but also a passionate evangelistic preacher.

Like George Whitefield, his preaching mentor, Wesley also enjoyed great infillings of the Holy Spirit as he preached (see also, Acts 4:7-10).

Some excerpts from his journal of 1741 will give us a flavour of the kind of passion he employed in his efforts to bring men and women to Christ.

‘April 13th. While I was in great love…the Spirit of power came down, the fountain was set open, my mouth and heart enlarged, and I spoke such words as I cannot repeat. Many sunk under the love of Christ crucified…’

‘April 22nd. I sharply reproved three or four inflexible Pharisees; then prayed the Lord to give me words of consolation, and immediately I was filled with power, which broke out as a mighty torrent.

‘All our hearts caught fire in a moment, and such tears and strong cryings followed, as quite drowned my voice…’

‘Sun May 3rd. At Kingswood [Bristol] as soon as I had named my text, ‘It is finished!’ the love of Christ crucified so constrained me that I burst into tears, and felt strong sympathy with him in his sufferings. In like manner, the whole congregation looked upon him whom they had pierced, and mourned.’

His preaching was effective and many were converted. One particular Kingswood resident wasn’t happy though. Charles wrote:

‘May 5th. A wild collier [coal miner] brought me four of his children…crying, ‘You have got the mother, take the bairns [the kids] too!’

(All quotes from Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, A Heart Set Free, Crossway Books, p.107)

An Inspiring combination of the Poet and the Evangelist

Charles Wesley was an Evangelist, and an effective one at that. We’ll return to his heroic story later, but for now, let’s not forget that many of his hymns were written in the very context of urging his generation to come to Christ.

His hymn ‘Lovers of Pleasure’ provides us with an excellent example of the combination of his poetic and evangelistic gift. Enjoy!

‘Lovers of pleasure more than God,
For you He suffered pain;
Swearers, for you He spilt his blood;
And shall He bleed in vain?

Misers, for you his life He paid,
Your basest crime He bore:
Drunkards, your sins on Him were laid,
That you might sin no more.

The God of love, to earth He came,
That you might come to heaven;
Believe, believe in Jesus’ Name,
And all your sin’s forgiven.

Believe in Him that died for thee,
And, sure as He hath died,
Thy debt is paid, Thy soul is free,
And thou art justified.’

Charles Wesley

For more on the hymns of Charles Wesley and other Methodists see, ‘A Collection of hymns for use by the people called Methodists’)

More next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Violence Seems to Triumph – The First Methodist Martyr

(Methodism and the Mob Part 6)

The Mob Reacts – The Death of William Seward

How do you respond when you hear that a Christian missionary is in trouble for distributing Christian literature, or for some other attempt to communicate the Christian faith?

Maybe your first response is to assume that the believer lacked wisdom. You may be right, of course. Christians can get carried away as they try and verbalise how wonderful they think Jesus Christ is. Each incident needs to be assessed separately.

But on the other hand, we’ve got to a slightly strange place when our assumption is that a follower of Christ trying to share their faith is automatically over-zealous or unwise.

Don’t misunderstand me: the Christian needs to communicate his faith with respect, wisdom and grace, with an ability to listen to others’ objections and beliefs. (see Col 4:4-6)

But the idea that a negative response to an honest attempt at presenting the gospel is always a correction, or, worse, a sign of God’s disapproval, merely reveals our evangelistic immaturity. Jesus made it clear that there would be times when the message would be rejected. Even He was rejected (see John 15:20-21).

And it’s difficult to think of how the Christian Faith advanced from its earliest days apart from believers courageously communicating the gospel to those who didn’t respect the Christian ideals of tolerance and debate.

Another thought before we re-join the 18th century battlefield: put yourself in the position of the hapless ‘missionary’ who is in jail for trying to share the Christian faith. It’s quite likely that you would be your own harshest critic as you retrace the decisions or statements that got you into trouble. My guess is that you’d want folk to pray for you.

The First Methodist Martyr
In October 1740,William Seward and Howell Harris were out again preaching the gospel in Wales. This time, they visited Hay-on-Wye.

Suddenly, someone from the crowd took aim and Seward was hit with a large stone and lay unconscious on the ground.

Dallimore writes, ‘he was carried from the scene unconscious. For a few days he hovered between life and death, but sank steadily lower till on October 22, 1740, his spirit passed away.’ (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.584)

Seward’s death, at age 38, was a blow to the young movement. But it did not stop their passionate preaching. Undeterred, they continued to present the gospel to the masses in Britain.

It was a personal blow to Whitefield, both in terms of friendship and financial support. Seward was helping fund Whitefield’s Orphan House in Georgia and Whitefield now carried that financial burden alone. Tragically, Seward had not made a will (ibid, p.585)

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

John Wesley wrote in his journal for Mon Oct 27th, ‘The surprising news of poor Mr Seward’s death was confirmed. Surely God will maintain his own cause! Righteous art thou O Lord!’

Wesley’s trust in God’s sovereignty is totally appropriate. Is there any individual, or people too hard for God to reach by His grace? No! ‘The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness.’

We might question Seward’s enthusiasm, especially when he had been a target for violence before; the sin, however, was not his, but the one who threw the stone.

And the message of forgiveness of all sins through Jesus Christ continued to be preached throughout Britain during the 1740’s.

See Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

To see more on how John Wesley handled a mob situation click here
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Threatened at Gunpoint – The Methodist Revival Advances

(Methodism and the Mob Part 4)

John Cennick

Howell Harris did not only preach in Wales, of course, but ventured into England as well.

On one occasion he was preaching with fellow Methodist John Cennick in Swindon in Wiltshire, South West England.

Before long there was a strong reaction and considerable gang of trouble makers were out to stop these Evangelists from preaching.

Threatened with Guns
Cennick wrote, ‘The mob fired guns over our heads, holding the muzzles so near to our faces that Howell Harris and myself were both made as black as tinkers with the powder. We were not affrighted, but opened our breasts, telling them we were ready to lay down our lives.…

Splattered with Sewerage
‘Then they got dust out of the highway and covered us all over; and then they played an engine upon us, which they filled out of the stinking ditches.

‘While they played on brother Harris, I preached; and when they turned the engine upon me, he preached. This they continued till they spoiled the engine; and they threw whole buckets of water and mud over us.

‘After we left the town, they dressed up two images, called one Cennick and the other Harris, and then burnt them.

The home and family of the hospitable attacked
The next day they gathered about the home of Mr. Lawrence, who had received us, and broke all of his windows with stones, cut and wounded four of his family, and knocked down one of his daughters.’ (John Cennick, Memorable Passages relating to the Awakening in Wiltshire (unpublished, but referred to in Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press, p.142, and Christian History)

Pressing on until grace wins
Yet these heroes continued to proclaim the gospel message, overcoming the resistance and transforming the culture. If ever we needed an encouragement to persevere then here it is, in the heroism of the 18th Century Evangelists.

For the next installment click here

Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Howell Harris Gets Beaten up While Preaching

(Methodism and the Mob, Part 3)

Bala, in Wales. Not exactly a holiday destination for Howell Harris

The Evangelist preaches, is resisted, rejected and then covered in sewerage and beaten ruthlessly.

Hugh Hughes, in his biography of Harris describes one scene in Bala, Wales, in 1741. Howell Harris, the great pioneer of outdoor preaching during the Great Awakening, received a beating at the hands of violent men and women.

Suffering for Christ
Hughes writes, ‘The women were as fiendish as the men, for they besmeared him with mire, while their companions belaboured him with their fists and clubs, inflicting such wounds that his path could be marked in the street by the crimson stains of his blood.’

‘The enemy continued to persecute him…striking him with sticks and with staves, until overcome with exhaustion, he fell to the ground…They still abused him, though prostrate…’ (Hugh J Hughes Life of Howell Harris, p.142-3, quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press)

Empowered by the Spirit
Describing his resilience at another similar time of violent reaction, Harris wrote, ‘Had bullets been shot at me, I felt I should not move. Mob raged. Voice lifted up, and though by the power going with the words my head almost went to pieces, such was my zeal that I cried, ‘I’ll preach Christ till to pieces I fall!’ (ibid p.142)

Peter wrote, ‘But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.’ (1 Peter 4:13-14)

Certainly Harris was conscious of the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon him at such times. John Wesley also reports a similar experience of peace in the midst of sometimes violent storms.

While it may be difficult for us to imagine that the pleasure and power of God might rest upon us at a time of persecution, nevertheless those who have suffered prove the promise of Scripture to be true.

For the next installment click here

Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Changing Cultures – Methodism and the Mob

Road Map of England from 1736

(Methodism and the Mob Part Two)

Early Irritations and Scares
As the popularity of the movement grew, the Methodist preachers found that they were involved in a battle that, although spiritual, often found a physical expression.

Not only did they face resistance from the clergy, but actual violence from gangs who were often paid to disrupt the meetings.

Here are two accounts from John Wesley’s experience. By the way, this is about as far as you could possibly get from the ‘private jet, 5 Star only’ attitude of a few modern travelling religious celebrities.

The only frequent traveler reward that Wesley enjoyed was an extremely sore bottom! (He travelled hundreds of miles each year on horseback) But more of his personal sacrifice later.

Disturbances in the meeting rooms
This from Wesley’s Journal: ‘Tues 26th Jan, 1742

‘I explained at Chelsea, the faith which worketh by love. I was very weak when I went into the room;

‘but the more ‘the beasts of the people’ increased in madness and rage, the more was I strengthened, both in body and soul; so that I believe few in the house, which was exceedingly full, lost one sentence of what I spoke.

‘Indeed they could not see me, nor one another at a few yards’ distance, by reason of the exceeding thick smoke, which was occasioned by the wild fire, and things of that kind, continually thrown in to the room.

‘But they who could praise God in the midst of the fires, were not to be affrighted by a little smoke.’
(JW Journal, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.354)

A tortured bull is driven into the people and disturbs Wesley’s preaching
March 19, 1742: ‘I rode once more to Pensford at the earnest request of serious people. The place where they desired me to preach was a little green spot near the town.

‘But I had no sooner begun than a great company of rabble, hired (as we afterwards found) for that purpose, came furiously upon us, bringing a bull, which they had been baiting, and now strove to drive in among the people.

‘But the beast was wiser than his drivers and continually ran either on one side of us or the other, while we quietly sang praise to God and prayed for about an hour.

‘The poor wretches, finding themselves disappointed, at length seized upon the bull, now weak and tired after having been so long torn and beaten both by dogs and men; and, by main strength, partly dragged, and partly thrust, him in among the people.

‘When they had forced their way to the little table on which I stood, they strove several times to throw it down by thrusting the helpless beast against it, who, of himself, stirred no more than a log of wood.

‘I once or twice put aside his head with my hand that the blood might not drop upon my clothes; intending to go on as soon as the hurry should be over. But the table falling down, some of our friends caught me in their arms, and carried me right away on their shoulders; while the rabble wreaked their vengeance on the table, which they tore bit from bit.

‘We went a little way off, where I finished my discourse without any noise or interruption.’
(JW Journals, Baker edition, p.363)

This was actually just the beginning of the opposition to the gospel taking hold in England. Persecution has not been uncommon in the history of the Church.

There is, perhaps, comfort in the stories of yesterday to encourage us as we seek to graciously bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the places where God has sent us.

For the next installment click here

See Methodism and the Mob Part 1

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Methodism and the Mob – what it really takes to change a culture

John Wesley in Wednesbury

A Robust Faith

Although the Methodists enjoyed great successes they also endured terrible persecution which lasted several years.

But God gave them power to press through into victories.  Historian John Simon writes:

‘If Methodism had not come into contact with the mob it would never have reached that section of the English people which most needed salvation.’ [He’s not right here. All sections of English society needed (and still need) salvation. What he means is that the Methodists could never have reach the majority of the population, and thus influenced the culture of English life without facing violence – a sobering thought!].

‘The ‘Religious Societies’ shut up in their rooms, would never have reformed the country.

‘A superb courage, rarely equalled on the battlefield’

‘It was necessary that a race of heroic men should arise, who would dare to confront the wildest and most brutal of men, and tell them the meaning of sin, and show them the Christ of the Cross and of the judgement throne.

‘The incessant assaults of the mob on the Methodist preachers showed they had reached the masses.

‘With a superb courage, rarely equalled on the battlefield, the Methodist preachers went again and again to the places from which they had been driven by violence, until their persistence wore down the antagonism of their assailants.

‘Then, out of the once furious crowd, men and women were gathered whose hearts the Lord had touched.’ (John S. Simon, The Revival of Religion in the Eighteenth Century London, 1907)

In coming posts we will examine what that looked like and what that actually meant for some of the leaders and followers of the movement.

For Part 2 click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield on the Word and the Spirit

George Whitefield preaching in 1749

During the whole period of the first Great Awakening in America and Europe the power of the Holy Spirit was an obvious feature.

A season of mighty power
The power of God was evidently touching those non-Christians who were attending the massive meetings. The power of God was also touching those who were repenting. And faithful believers were coming into a new experience of God’s love and guidance as a result of being filled with the Spirit.

Inevitably, and especially where those being influenced were new converts, this occasionally led to a lack of common sense and the usual application of wisdom.

George Whitefield, the great Evangelist of the movement was eager to provide counsel that would help those newly baptised into what appear to be essentially charismatic experiences.

Wise counsel from a man full of the Spirit
In a sermon based on Genesis 5:24 (‘And Enoch walked with God’) Whitefield, in seeking to explain how the child of God receives guidance, wrote the following:

‘In order to walk closely with God, his children must not only watch the motions of God’s providence without them, but the motions also of his blessed Spirit in their hearts.

‘As many as are the sons of God, are led by the Spirit of God’ (Romans 8:14), and give up themselves to be guided by the Holy Ghost, as a little child gives its hand to be led by a nurse or parent.

‘It is no doubt in this sense that we are to be converted, and become like little children. And though it is the quintessence of enthusiasm, to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written word; yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written word of God.

Led by the Spirit and guided by the Word
‘Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most holy word: and if they are not found to be agreeable to that, reject them as diabolical and delusive.

By observing this caution, you will steer a middle course between the two dangerous extremes many of this generation are in danger of running into; I mean, enthusiasm on the one hand, and…downright infidelity on the other.’
(George Whitefield, Walking with God, quoted by Iain Murray in Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.248. The whole sermon is available here)

© 2009 Lex Loizides

God’s Abiding Presence

Jonathan Edwards

The American colonial town of Northampton (now MA), had experienced numerous seasons of spiritual excitement.

A Cycle of Harvests

Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards grandfather, had led the Northampton church from 1672 and had referred to a cycle of harvests which had brought many of its inhabitants to faith in Christ.

When Jonathan Edwards began his pastoral ministry there (beginning in 1727) he was also able to record amazing outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

George Whitefield’s visit to the town in 1740 seemed to fan into flame the longings and passions of a people hungry for the presence of God.

As Whitefield left Northampton for New York the work was continuing with great power.

‘Great attention in the town’
Edwards wrote, ‘there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons who were in a Christless state…in about a month or six weeks, there was a great attention in the town, both as to the revival of professors [those already converted, or ‘professing’ faith] and the awakening of others.’ (Quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.164)

But this was no short lived excitement lasting only briefly after the Evangelists’ visit. In May 1741, Edwards preached in someone’s home and wrote that ‘one or two [believers] were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things’ that the impact was noticeable, ‘having a very visible effect upon their bodies.’

Indeed, he noted that after the regular church services that some of the folk attending were ‘so overcome that they could not go home, but were obliged to stay all night where they were.’ (ibid, p.165)

Iain Murray in his treatment of this period suggests that Edwards is referring to a morning or afternoon service and not an evening service, which can only mean that they were having these encounters with God for many hours!

Absolute Sovereignty
‘Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.’ declared Edwards and he seemed surprisingly (refreshingly?) open to God’s Spirit moving in power upon the people as an undeniable feature of the revival.

If we look around the world today, at the great ‘harvests’ of South America, China and Africa it is practically impossible not to notice the similarity of phenomena, and the resultant increase of new followers of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is still powerfully active around the world and many thankful Christian leaders can echo Edwards’ words of 1741,

‘There was an appearance of a glorious progress of the work of God upon the hearts of sinners, in conviction and conversion, this summer and autumn, and great numbers, I think we have reason to hope, were brought savingly home to Christ.’ (ibid, p.165)

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield Comments on Jonathan Edwards’ Family Life

This is Part Four on Whitefield’s Visit to Northampton (see Part One, Two and Three)

When Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American colonial town of Northampton, he had the privilege of staying with Jonathan and Sarah Edwards and their family.

Edwards and Whitefield – Similarities and Differences
Edwards and Whitefield shared many similarities. They were both highly respected Christian leaders, they both had a reputation as powerful preachers, they were both Calvinistic in their theological outlook.

But there, the similarities ended. Their style of preaching was very different. Edwards was a careful, logical teacher. Whitefield was all life and fire, thunder and lightning.

Edwards was a meticulous writer, crafting pamphlets for publication. Whitefield barely had the time to check the proof copies of manuscripts of his sermons and had the disappointment of seeing very poor versions of his sermons in print without his permission.

Edwards was a settled Pastor overseeing a local congregation, and very much a responsible Pastor of one parish. Whitefield, on the other hand, had declared that the whole world was now his parish and lived a life of itinerant preaching.

Edwards was a family man, with a godly wife and several children. Whitefield was still single, and still waiting for the love of his life to come along.

Whitefield longs for family life
Describing the private times he enjoyed with the Edwards family, Whitefield wrote,

‘Felt wonderful satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. He is a son himself, and hath also a Daughter of Abraham for his wife.

‘A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were dressed not in silks and satins, but plain, as become the children of those who, in all things, ought to be examples of Christian simplicity.’

Whitefield Prays for a Wife
Speaking of Sarah Edwards Whitefield wrote, ‘She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talked feelingly and solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a help-meet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for some months, I have put up to God, that he would be pleased to send me a Daughter of Abraham to be my wife.

‘I find, upon many accounts, it is my duty to marry. Lord I desire to have no choice of my own. Thou knowest my circumstances; thou knowest I only desire to marry in and for thee.

‘Thou didst choose a Rebecca for Isaac, choose one for me to be a help-meet for me, in carrying on that great work committed to my charge. Lord, hear me, Lord, let my cry come unto thee.’  (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth, ps. 475-477)

It may sound strange to us that his future wife might not be a ‘choice of his own’. Surely his choice ought to come into it? But, humbly though somewhat self-consciously (he knew his Journals were being published and read avidly), he is merely expressing that he wants God’s will for his life and is nervous of messing it up himself.

It is a good thing to pray, and to take counsel from friends, to honestly ask God and Pastors for help and guidance.

He did eventually marry and found happiness. His friend John Wesley also married. But that’s another story for another time…

For more resources on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

For more on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards go here

For more on Sarah Edwards go here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield visits Jonathan Edwards (part 3)

George Whitefield twenties
George Whitefield, probably in his twenties

Part Three (see Part One and Part Two)

In the autumn of 1740, English Evangelist George Whitefield finally met the man he had so respected, Jonathan Edwards. Both these men were Reformed, (or, ‘Calvinistic’) in their theology and practice, preaching the gospel fervently and trusting God to move the people to respond.

Whitefield had already blazed a trail of powerful evangelistic work in England, Scotland and Wales and had seen multiple thousands gathered to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, his brother Charles and a small army of newly converted leaders had taken up the movement in Britain and were not only continuing to proclaim the message to the unconverted but were gathering the new converts into small groups (classes) and mid-week congregations (or ‘societies’ as they called them).

Whitefield’s fame was now legendary, and his visits to colonial America had already been wildly successful. He had been born again only 5 years previously and was just 25 years old. Jonathan Edwards had been eager to meet him and to have him preach in the church he pastored in Northampton, New England.

Jonathan Edwards on George Whitefield’s Visit
In a letter to Thomas Prince, Edwards described the impact of Whitefield’s visit:

‘He preached here four sermons in the meeting-house (besides a private lecture at my house) – one on Friday, another on Saturday, and two upon the Sabbath.

‘The congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time.

‘Mr. Whitefield’s sermons were suitable to the circumstances of the town, containing just reproofs of our backslidings, and, in a most moving and affecting manner, making use of our great profession and great mercies as arguments with us to return to God, from whom we had departed.

‘Immediately after this, the minds of the people in general appeared more engaged in religion, showing a greater forwardness to make religion the subject of their conversation, and to meet frequently together for religious purposes, and to embrace all opportunities to hear the Word preached.

‘The revival at first appeared chiefly among professors and those that had entertained the hope that they were in a state of grace, to whom Mr. Whitefield chiefly addressed himself.

‘But in a very short time there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons that looked upon themselves as in a Christless state; and there were some hopeful appearances of conversion; and some professors were greatly revived.

‘In about a month or six weeks, there was a great alteration in the town, both as to the revivals of professors and awakenings of others.’ (Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) at the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University)

It’s great to see how God raised up an itinerating Evangelist to help a Pastor who was seeking to impact his town with the gospel. Their friendship and mutual respect continued for the rest of their lives.

To read George Whitefield’s remarkable comments on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ family life go here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 2)

Part Two (see Part One)

Whitefield preaches in Edwards’ home
George Whitefield continues his account of meeting the Edwards family in Northampton in 1740:

‘In the Evening, I gave a Word of Exhortation to several that came to Mr. Edward’s House. My Body was somewhat weak; my Appetite almost gone; But my Lord gave me Meat, which the World knows nothing of.

‘Lord, evermore give me this Bread! Amen and Amen.

Saturday, October 18
‘At Mr Edwards’s Request, I spoke to his little Children, who were much affected.

Preached at Hadfield 5 Miles from Northampton, but found myself not much strengthened.

Conversed profitably on the Way about the Things of God with dear Mr. Edwards and preached about 4 in the Afternoon to his Congregation.’ (George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)


Sarah Edwards – ‘Workers throw down their tools and go to hear him!’

Sarah Edwards, in a letter to her brother, recorded the general feeling that Whitefield’s visit produced on the town:

‘It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upwards of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob.

He impresses the ignorant, and not less the educated and refined. It is reported that while the miners of England listened to him, the tears made white furrows down their smutty cheeks.

So here, our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers throw down their tools, to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected…

He speaks from a heart all aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which is almost irresistible.

Many, very many persons in Northampton date the beginning of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes, and a new life, from the day on which they heard him preach of Christ and this salvation.’
(from Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.162)

Go to Part 3 of this story

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 1)

When he was just 25 years old, the English Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American town of Northampton, the town made famous by a revival in the 1730’s.

An article in the Princeton Theological Review (Vol 2, No.4, 1904), makes reference to the impact of  the Great Awakening in both Great Britain and America, noting that ‘The chief personal bond between the two branches of this evangelistic movement was George Whitefield’.

New Friends

One of the great joys of this visit, and of real interest to us, is the meeting and subsequent friendship of Whitefield and Edwards, the Evangelist and the Theologian.

Whitefield describes their meeting in his journal:

‘Friday, October 17, 1740
When I had taken a little Refreshment, we crossed the Ferry to Northampton, where no less than 300 Souls…were savingly brought Home to the dear Lord Jesus about 5 or 6 Years ago.

‘Their Pastor’s Name is Edwards, Successor and Grandson to the great Stoddard, whose Memory will be always precious to my Soul, and whose Books…I would recommend to all.

‘Mr. Edwards is a solid, excellent Christian, but at present weak in Body.

‘I think, I may say I have not seen his Fellow in all New-England. When I came into his Pulpit, I found my Heart drawn out to talk of scarce any Thing besides the Consolations and Privileges of Saints, and the plentiful Effusion of the Spirit upon the Hearts of Believers.

‘And, when I came to remind them of their former Experiences, and how zealous and lively they were at that Time, both Minister and People wept much; and the Holy Ghost enabled me to speak with a great deal of Power.’
(George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)

And so, these two giants in their fields met and became firm friends.

For Part 2 of this story see here

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Power of the Gospel to Unite

Germantown Philadelphia old
A somewhat romaticised view of old Germantown, Philadelphia

Gospel Unity
We’re often told about how fragmented the Christian Church is. But actually, the true, final and eternal basis on which people will be united is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Although we live in a fallen world, the reality of this unity can be experienced even now. And even though we are not unrealistic about our differences, every Christian at one time or another has known the joy of this unity in Christ.

American Unity
On Tuesday 27 November 1739, George Whitefield visited Germantown, Philadelphia. What is inspiring here is that Whitfield’s visit drew together individuals, denominational leaders and people of varying ethnic backgrounds into a united experience of worship.

This kind of evangelistic moment prefigures the coming reality of Rev 7:9-10 (NIV) which says,

‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God!”’

Unity because of the Power of the Holy Spirit
Whitefield records the following:
‘Tuesday Nov 27 – According to appointment, I preached at German Town, seven miles from Philadelphia, from a balcony, to above six thousand people.

God strengthened me to speak nearly two hours, with such demonstration of the Spirit, that great numbers continued weeping for a considerable time.

I have not seen a more gracious melting for a considerable time. After I had done, people came to shake me by the hand, and invited me to their houses, and fresh places…

I had sweet converse, and felt a blessed union and communion with many souls, though of different nations and professions.

I think there are no less than fifteen denominations of Christians in German Town, and yet all agree in one thing, that is, to hold Jesus Christ as their Head, and to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

I talked with one who had been banished from Switzerland for preaching Christ. Numbers are scattered round about the town, who were driven out of their native countries for the sake of their holy religion.’ (George Whitefield, Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.358-9)

The gift of the Evangelist, as described in Ephesians 4, is a means of bringing the church to maturity and to unity. Our efforts to produce unity apart from the gifts listed in Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers) will always fall short of our hopes.

The ascended Christ gives these specific gifts to cause the church to grow and to bring her to maturity and unity. Whitfield continues to serve as an inspiration to all who would seek such gospel unity.

For more on Apostles today click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Passion of the Evangelist: Whitefield Preaches in America

George Whitefield, the Evangelist
George Whitefield, the Evangelist

(Part Three – see Part One and Two)
Nathan Cole and his wife had heard that the famous Evangelist George Whitefield would be preaching in Middletown, just 12 miles from their farm.

They immediately stopped what they were doing, saddled the horse and rode as fast as they could to get to the meeting place.

Cole describes how, as they approached Middletown, a great fog or cloud appeared. As they got nearer, it was clear that the fog was created by the hundreds of  horses and carriages, and the thousands of people rushing and racing to get to the meeting place.

Finally, the young couple find a place among the four thousand gathered and wait until Whitefield appears.

Whitefield gets up to preach
He writes, ‘When I saw Mr Whitefield come up upon the scaffold he looked almost angelic.

‘A young, slim, slender youth before thousands of people and with a bold, undaunted countenance and my hearing how God was with him everywhere he went solemnized my mind and put me in a trembling fear before he began to preach.

‘For he looked as if he was clothed with authority from the great God.’

Whitefield preached passionately and powerfully. He spoke of how Jesus paid the price in full for our sins, how forgiveness is available through the cross, how a person can truly find peace with God through faith in Christ and receive His free righteousness. He told the people how God has made a way to forgive sins and bring us to heaven.

What the Evangelist Said
A short segment of his often preached sermon, ‘The Lord our Righteousness’ gives us an idea of what he would have said on this occasion. He has already preached the gospel and is now making his appeal for the people to respond to the message:

‘Alas, my heart almost bleeds! What a multitude of precious souls are now before me! How shortly must all be ushered into eternity! And yet, O cutting thought! Was God now to require all your souls, how few, comparatively speaking, could really say, ‘the Lord our righteousness!’

‘…You need not fear the greatness or number of your sins. For are you sinners? So am I. Are you the chief of sinners? So am I. Are you backsliding sinners? So am I. And yet the Lord (for ever adored be his rich, free and sovereign grace) the Lord is my righteousness.

Come then, O young man, who (as I acted once myself) are playing the prodigal, and wandering away afar off from your heavenly Father’s house, come home, come home, and leave your swine’s trough. Feed no longer on the husks of sensual delights: for Christ’s sake arise, and come home!

‘Your heavenly Father now calls you. See yonder the best robe, even the righteousness of his dear Son, awaits you. See it, view it again and again.

‘Consider at how dear a rate it was purchased, even by the blood of God. Consider what great need you have of it. You are lost, undone, damned for ever, without it. Come then, poor, guilty prodigals, come home…’

A Broad Appeal to All
During this evangelistic appeal, he is eager that no-one be left out. He speaks specifically to young women, to young men, to merchants, to the slaves listening, to those ‘of middle age’, to the children, to those in their later years:

‘Alas, you have one foot already in the grave, your glass is just run out, your sun is just going down, and it will set and leave you in an eternal darkness, unless the Lord be your righteousness! Flee then, O flee for your lives!’

Nathan Cole, standing with his wife, in the midst of thousands, listening to Whitefield, said this:

‘My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound and by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.’

Cole did finally come to Christ and was changed forever.
(Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f)

What about us?
Where do you stand with God today? These truths are not only for yesterday but for today. You can come to Christ today.

Perhaps you are already a follower of Christ. Do you know something of this passion to communicate the gospel to others? Are you eager to see those you work with come to Christ?

Wherever you are, in whatever circumstance, you can appeal to God for mercy because of what Jesus has done for you. He came, He died, He rose again and He will hear your prayer and help you come into a genuine relationship with Him. Sins can be washed away, life can be transformed and you can become a part of God’s great purpose in the earth.

If you don’t know what to do there may be a church near you listed here or try here for more help.

‘The Lord our Righteousness’ is published in ‘The Select Sermons of George Whitefield’ (Banner of Truth). You can order it here.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Struggling for Life: Multitudes Race to Hear the Gospel Being Preached

A young couples’ morning is turned upside down when they hear news that George Whitefield, the famous English Evangelist, will be preaching in a nearby town.

It’s October 23 1740, and farmer Nathan Cole throws down his tools, runs to the house, unties the horse and he and his wife begin the fervent race towards the field where Whitefield is about to preach.

They had to cover 12 miles in a short time. But as they discovered, thousands of others were eagerly running, riding, racing towards the great event.

If you are picking up the story here then you might like to read Part One.

(Part Two)
A low rumbling thunder
Nathan continues the story:

‘Then I saw before me a great cloud or fog.

‘I first thought it was from the great river but as I came nearer the road I heard a noise something like a low rumbling thunder and I presently found out it was the rumbling of horses feet coming down the road and this cloud was a cloud of dust made by the running of horses feet.

‘It rose high into the air above the tops of the hills and trees.

‘And when I came closer into the cloud I could see men and horses slipping along  – it was like a steady stream of horses and their riders, scarcely a horse more than his length behind another all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils.

‘I found a [gap] between two horses to slip in my horse.  No one spoke a word but everyone pressing forward with great haste.

‘When we got down to the old meeting house there was a great multitude.  It was said to be three or four thousand and when I looked towards the great river I could see ferry boats running swift forwards and backwards bringing over loads of people, and the oars rowed nimble and quick.

‘Everything, men, horses and boats seemed to be struggling for life.’

(Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f)

To be continued…

Read Part Three here

© Lex Loizides