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

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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

The Tragedy of Evangelistically Irrelevant Sermons


Evangelist George Whitefield
Evangelist George Whitefield

Committed to Changing the World

From 1739 onwards Whitefield, both Wesley brothers, Howell Harris and an increasing army of young men began preaching the gospel outdoors to multitudes.

Wesley, with superior organizational skills than Whitefield, took charge of the societies and formed new ones, drawing Whitefield’s converts into regular fellowship and accountability.

Whitefield also formed many societies but was more passionate about preaching the gospel to the crowds.  With his commitment to preach in America he effectively gave complete charge of the English societies to Wesley.

Pretty but Powerless

But from the earliest days of the outpouring of the Spirit to the end of their lives these leaders kept a clear focus on bringing those outside of church life to Christ.

Even as late as 1774 when Wesley was preaching in Glasgow he couldn’t help but be frustrated at the failure of preachers who ignored the unbeliever.

Writing of two church services he attended there he declared that the sermons ‘contained much truth, but were no more likely to awaken one soul than an Italian opera.’ (Quoted by Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, p.106)

The tragedy of evangelistically irrelevant sermons is not that there is nothing there which delights the believer but nothing that can rescue the nonbeliever.

The sooner we recognise this deficiency and follow the example of men like Whitefield and the Wesley’s the closer we shall be to seeing the gospel triumph in our communities.

To read about CH Spurgeon’s view on this subject click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley Joins the Evangelistic Battlefield

John Wesley Preaching
John Wesley Preaching

George Whitefield, the pioneer Evangelist of the 18th Century Christian Awakening’ was thrilled to see his good friend John Wesley come to Bristol and join the work he had begun.

Wesley had heard about Whitefield’s ‘field preaching’, which had been modelled on Howell Harris’ approach in Wales.

There was no guarantee that Wesley would agree with it or participate in it and, being more inclined to formality, he was at first reluctant.

Wesley wrote about his Bristol visit in his journal.

Wesley reluctant at first

‘Saturday, 31. In the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there.

‘I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday;

‘I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.’

‘April 1.—In the evening (Mr. Whitefield being gone) I began expounding our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (one pretty remarkable precedent of field-preaching, though I suppose there were churches at that time also), to a little society which was accustomed to meet once or twice a week in Nicholas Street.

Wesley’s first, uncomfortable attempts at field preaching

‘Monday, 2.—At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. ‘

‘Sunday, 8.—At seven in the morning I preached to about a thousand persons at Bristol, and afterward to about fifteen hundred on the top of Hannam Mount in Kingswood.

‘I called to them, in the words of the evangelical prophet, “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;.…come, and buy wine and milk without money and without price” [Isa. 55:1].

Wesley finds his life’s work

‘About five thousand were in the afternoon at Rose Green (on the other side of Kingswood); among whom I stood and cried in the name of the Lord, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:38].’ (John Wesley’s Journals, Vol 1, p.185, Baker Edition, or Christian Classics Library)

So Wesley joined the evangelistic battlefield for the souls of 18th Century England. It has been estimated that by the end of his life he had preached something like 40,000 times, and travelled over 200,000 miles on horseback.

Wesley was not merely picking up Whitefield’s methods for a temporary season; field preaching, founding societies and, later, training leaders, became his life’s work.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Whitefield and Harris in Bristol – some further observations

Believers Baptism in the 18th Century
Believers Baptism in the 18th Century

Honouring Christian Leaders from other Church Backgrounds

Whitefield’s friendship with Howell Harris proved to be strategic in a number of ways. Firstly, he began preaching the gospel to massive audiences in the fields. As Whitefield once remarked of Harris, ‘I follow him!’

But due to Harris’ rejection by the Church of England and his friendship with leaders from other church groupings, Whitefield began to meet many other Christian leaders of real weight and authority. Reading his journals, he gives the ‘dissenters’ (non CofE) equal standing with those from the traditional Church.

That openness to evangelical leaders from other church backgrounds was to prove pivotal in Whitefield’s ministry in America (and Scotland) and has been a healthy feature of Evangelists that have followed in Whitefield’s footsteps.

Writing of the Welsh ministers Harris introduced him to, he says, ‘They have many burning and shining lights among both the Dissenting and Church ministers…so that there is a most comfortable prospect of the spreading of the Gospel in Wales.’ (George Whitefield’s Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.231)

We would do well to follow these Evangelists’ example as we seek to see churches planted and the gospel extended around the world.

Whitefield’s gracious leadership before Wesley fully enters the work

One of the frustrating factors for those who know the history of this period is the oft-repeated and incorrect impression that John Wesley was acknowledged as the leader of the new movement at this point.

This simply wasn’t the case. We shall see how Wesley’s formidable preaching and organisational gifts certainly did establish him as the clear leader in Whitefield’s absence. But at this point Wesley, though older in years, and though leading the Society at Oxford, was actually following Whitefield, even as Whitefield was following Harris!

Wesley sent Whitefield a letter about this time in which he excitedly spoke of meetings attended by crowds of two or sometimes three hundred (p.224). Those numbers were not inconsiderable, but he was apparently unaware that Whitefield was preaching out of doors to crowds of 10,000 and 14,000!

Whitefield himself says, ‘I now preach to ten times more people than I should if I had been confined to the churches…Every day I am invited to fresh places.’ (p.233)

Wesley, on seeing Whitefield in action, soon abandoned his stuffy sense of decorum and bravely became a great evangelistic preacher in his own right.

23,000 gather to hear George Whitefield in Bristol!

But before Wesley arrived in Bristol to see the work that Whitefield began, Whitefield himself broke yet another attendance record: ‘Sun Mar 25. Preached at Hannam to a larger congregation than ever, and again in the afternoon to upwards (as was computed) of 23,000 people…Oh may God speak to them by His Spirit.’ (p.238)

Joy in the Holy Spirit

A recurring feature of Whitefield’s beautifully written Journals is the joy he experienced when the Holy Spirit came upon him. Constantly serving those who came to hear him, he speaks of his wages being joy!

‘Mon Mar 26. After I had done [preaching to about 1000], I went to a Christian house, where many waited for me. At my return home, my Master paid me my wages: for my soul was filled with an intenseness of love, and I knew what it is not only to have righteousness and peace, but joy in the Holy Ghost. This is my continual food.’ (p.239)

While we must always remember that our joy is ultimately in our salvation (Luke 10:20) we must also fully embrace the outpoured love of God into our souls as we experience the joy of serving Christ in our generation.

You can purchase Whitefield resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield Meets Howell Harris

George Whitefield Preaching in the Fields
George Whitefield Preaching in the Fields

Whitefield imitates Harris’ freedom

Howell Harris, the Welsh Evangelist was a shining example to others in the 18th Century.

His work was effective on a massive scale, and thousands came to Christ in Wales.

George Whitefield had been in touch by letter and had already begun to imitate his faith by preaching outside normal church services and buildings.

This new style of preaching was effective for Whitefield too. And he was able to report huge numbers coming to hear him preach in the fields of Bristol:

14,000 people gather to hear Whitefield

‘Sunday 4 March. At four in the afternoon, I went to the mount on Rose Green, and preached to above fourteen thousand souls, and so good was my God, that all could hear.

‘I think it was worth while to come many miles to see such a sight. I spoke, with great freedom…’ (George Whitefield’s Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.226)

During February and March Whitefield preached from a wall, from the steps of a house, from a table, on a bowling green, and from the Judges Seat in the local Town Hall!

Whitefield on Harris: A Burning and Shining Light!

At last, in March 1739, these two great servants of God finally met.

‘After I came from [preaching in the Judges] Seat, I was much refreshed with the sight of my dear Brother Howell Harris, whom, though I knew not in person, I have long since loved in…Christ, and have often felt my soul drawn out in prayer in his behalf.

‘A burning and shining light has he been in those parts; a Barrier against profaneness and immorality, and an indefatigable promoter of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘He is now about twenty five years of age. Twice he has applied (being every way qualified) for holy orders; but was refused, under a false pretence, that he was not of age.

‘About a Month ago he offered himself again, but was put off. Upon this, he was, and is still resolved to go on in his work…

Harris’ zeal, courage and generosity of spirit

‘For these three years…he has discoursed almost twice every day for three or four hours together…

‘Many alehouse people, fiddlers, harpers etc sadly cry out against him for spoiling their business.

‘He has been made the subject of numbers of sermons, has been threatened with public prosecutions, and had Constables sent to apprehend him.

‘But God has blessed him with inflexible courage; instantaneous strength has been communicated to him from above; and he still continues to go on from conquering to conquer.

Harris was willing to work with all true Believers

‘He is of a most catholic Spirit, loves all that love our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, he is [described] by Bigots as a Dissenter.

‘…Many call, and own him as their spiritual Father, and, I believe, would lay down their Lives for his sake.

‘He discourses generally in a Field; but at other times in a house, from a wall, a table, or any thing else. He has established nearly thirty Societies in South Wales, and still his sphere of action is enlarged daily. He is full of faith, and the Holy Ghost.

Catching the Fire!

‘When I first saw him, my heart was knit closely to him. I wanted to catch some of his fire, and gave him the right hand of fellowship with my whole heart.

‘After I had saluted him…we spent the remainder of the evening in taking sweet council together, and telling one another what God had done for our souls.

‘My heart was still drawn out towards him more and more. A divine and strong sympathy seemed to be between us, and I was resolved to promote his interest with all my might.

The Birth of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism?

‘Accordingly we took an Account of the several Societies, and agreed on such Measures as seemed most conducive to promote the common interest of our Lord.

‘After much comfortable and encouraging Discourse with each other, we kneeled down and prayed…

‘This done, we eat a little Supper, and then, after singing a Hymn, we went to Bed, praising and blessing God for bringing us Face to Face.

‘I doubt not but Satan envied our Happiness. But, I hope, by the help of God we shall make his Kingdom shake.

God loves to do great things by weak instruments, that the power may be of God, and not of man.’ (ibid p.228-230)

For Whitefield, meeting Harris and a cluster of non-Anglican preachers was to prove a turning point. But an equally significant turning point was about to take place for the burgeoning evangelical movement: John Wesley was due to arrive in Bristol and participate in the work.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

I will Pour out My Spirit – A mighty move of God in Bristol

George Whitefield as a young man
George Whitefield as a young man

In Isaiah 44 God promises ‘I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit…’ (Isa 44:3).

What took place on George Whitefield’s visits to the coal miners of Bristol seems to be an apt fulfillment of this wonderful promise.

Having ‘broken the ice’ and preached twice from a small hill to the colliers, the 24 yr old Whitefield returned several times.

On his third visit, in a freezing cold February, between four and five thousand people gathered to hear the passionate Evangelist. He says, ‘The sun shone very bright, and the people standing in such an awful [awe-filled] manner round the mount, in the profoundest silence, filled me with a holy admiration. Blessed be God for such a plentiful harvest.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.221)

However, nothing could quite prepare him for the wonder of seeing the first truly huge crowds gathering in the open air to hear him.

From 200 to 2000 to 4000 to 10,000!

He writes, ‘At four I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about ten thousand people to hear me.

‘The trees and the hedges were full. All was hush when I began; the sun shone bright, and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me.

Mr. B…n spoke right. The fire is kindled in the country; and I know, all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it.’ (ibid p.223)

The white gutters made by their tears

He adds, ‘Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend of publicans and sinners, and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

‘The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by their tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks, as they came out of their coal pits.

‘Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions, which, as the event proved, happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion.’ (quoted in ‘Memoirs of the Life of the Reverend George Whitefield, MA’, John Gillies, 1772 edition, p.28)

Mass Evangelism, Emotionalism or Effective Mission?

Ah, someone might say, typical emotionalism in Evangelism. But where’s the fruit? Didn’t Whitefield himself give the impression that he had not built stability into the young converts?

Here is John Wesley’s assessment from one year after the events we’ve been looking at. Let his testimony stand:

‘The scene is already changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. It is no more filled with drunkenness and uncleanness, no longer full of wars and fightings, of wrath and envyings. Peace and love are there. Great numbers of the people are mild, gentle and easy to be entreated.’ (Quoted by John Pollock in Wesley, Hodder edition, p.133)

Good fruit indeed!

You can see more Whitefield resources here

© Lex Loizides

The Birth of Modern Evangelism

George Whitefield Preaching
George Whitefield Preaching

From the Pub to the Street to the Fields

In the last post we saw how George Whitefield ‘broke the ice’ by following Howell Harris’s bold example and preaching in the fields.

His first attempt at this was to coal miners in Kingswood, Bristol. About 200 gathered to listen to him as he preached from a small hill (which he calls a ‘mount’).

Whitefield had, of course, already realised that he needed to take his message outside the confines of church buildings. Although there were exceptions, he was gradually being excluded by local vicars who were not allowing him the use of their facilities.

This led to Whitefield preaching in a pub, and then in a street. Of preaching in the street, this was somewhat unintended, and he says, ‘I hastened to Nicholas Street, where was a great crowd waiting for me upon the stairs, yard, and entry of the house, as well as in the room itself…

‘God was pleased to fill me with unspeakable joy and power. All were wondrously touched and when, after my exposition, I prayed…the whole company was in tears, and said most earnest Amens…

It is remarkable we have not had such a continued presence of God amongst us since I was threatened to be excommunicated.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 219)


From 200 to 2000!

But the breakthrough was really happening in Kingswood. When he first preached there about 200 gathered. Four days later, it was more like 2000:

‘At three in the Afternoon, according to my Appointment, I went to Kingswood amongst the Colliers.

‘God highly favoured us in sending a fine Day, and near two thousand People were assembled on that Occasion.

‘I preached on John ch. 3. ver. 3 [‘Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’] and enlarged for near an Hour, I hope, to the Comfort and Edification of those who heard me.

‘God grant the Seed sown may not fall on stony or thorny, but on good Ground.’ (p.220)

Without being conscious of it, George Whitefield was beginning to model many of the features of modern evangelism: the passionate style of preaching, the appeal for people to follow Christ without delay, an emphasis on the New Birth.

In addition to this, and perhaps as important, was the context of his preaching – to large numbers outside normal church services. He was, in effect, creating a spiritual event that was able to win the attention of the masses. And as we’ll see in his subsequent visits to the colliers of Kingswood, it was an event so powerful as to draw tens of thousands.

You can purchase Whitefield resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

A Brave Day for England – The Gift of the Evangelist released!

George Whitefield
George Whitefield

‘The Devil in Hell is in you all!’

Resistance to Whitefield’s preaching was growing. One member of the clergy wrote, ‘I believe the devil in hell is in you all. Whitefield has set the town on fire, and now he is gone to kindle a flame in the country.’

The friend who reported these words to Whitefield adds, ‘Shocking language for one who calls himself a minister of the gospel…

‘I am persuaded, it is not a fire of the Devil’s kindling, but a holy fire that has proceeded from the Holy and Blessed Spirit. Oh, that such a fire may be kindled, but blow up into a flame all England, and all the world over!’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 213-214)

Churches closed but the people need to hear the gospel

Whitefield, ever willing to serve the people by preaching the good news to them, found himself not only criticised privately but opposed publicly. While not all clergy were hostile, increasing numbers were, and, even where permission to preach in certain Anglican churches was granted, the local vicars were not always willing to let him in.

A coincidental by-product of this hostility was that people would go to him wherever he was. This gradually compelled him to preach in places he never would have before.

Preaching in a Pub

Describing one evening in February 1739, he writes, ‘afterwards [I] was agreeably surprised by several who came uninvited to see me. After a little conversation, I perceived they were desirous to hear the Word of God, and being in a large dining room in the public house, I gave notice I would expound to as many as would come.

‘In a short time I had above a hundred very attentive hearers, to whom I expounded for above an hour…

‘Blessed be God for his opportunity! I hope I shall learn more and more every day, that no place is amiss for preaching the gospel.

‘God forbid that the Word of God should be bound because some, out of a misguided zeal, deny the use of their churches…

‘The more I am bidden to hold my peace, the more earnestly will I lift up my voice like a trumpet.’ (p.208-209)

A growing sense of destiny

Feb 11, 1739 – ‘There are many promises to be fulfilled in me, many souls to be called, many sufferings to be endured, before I go hence.’ (p.211)

Into the fields – the coal workers in Bristol (1st sermon)

Saturday Feb 17, 1739 – ‘About one in the afternoon, I went with my brother Seward and another friend, to Kingswood…[I] have long since yearned [for] the poor colliers, who are very numerous and as sheep having no shepherd.

‘After dinner, therefore, I went upon a mount, and [spoke] to as many people as came unto me. They were upwards of two hundred.

‘Blessed be God that I have now broken the ice! I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields.’ (p.216)

The great C.H Spurgeon, preaching a century after Whitefield, said ‘It was a brave day for England when Whitefield began field preaching.’ (Quoted by Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.248)

The work in Bristol proved to be a major turning point in the history of 18th century Christianity. What followed there was truly breathtaking and is very moving to read.

God, in His mercy, was seeking to reach a generation far from Himself. And so He raised up the gift of the Evangelist. We’ll see what the Evangelist did, and what God did through him, next time!

You can purchase George Whitefield resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

A brief glimpse at those dynamic 18th Century Christian Leaders

John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Wesley (large centre) and Howell Harris
John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Wesley (large centre) and Howell Harris

Before we approach the momentous prayer meeting of January 1st 1739 let’s enjoy a glimpse into the highly charismatic and evangelistic nature of some key players in the Great Awakening of the 18th century.

What were these men really like? Were they as reserved as we sometimes imagine? Or were they on fire for God and eager to create evangelistic opportunities?

Of course, by inference, I am asking the question: ‘How ‘normal’ are we in comparison?’

Below are merely snippets without background info, but we still gain some insight into the freedom and power they enjoyed.

Charles Wesley

‘In the coach to London I preached faith in Christ. A lady was extremely offended; avowed her merits in plain terms; asked if I was not a Methodist; threatened to beat me.

I declared I deserved nothing but hell; so did she; and must confess it before she could have a title to heaven. This was most intolerable to her.’ (Charles Wesley Journal Vol 1, quoted by Dallimore, Charles Wesley, A heart set free, Crossway, p.68)

‘My inward temptations are, in a manner, uninterrupted. I never knew the energy of sin, till now that I experience the superior strength of Christ.’ (ibid, p.69)

‘In riding to Blenton, I was full of delight, and seemed in new heavens and new earth. We prayed and sang, and shouted all the way!’ (ibid, p.69)

Howell Harris

‘My food and drink was praising my God. A fire was kindled in my soul, and I was clothed with power, and made altogether dead to earthly things…

‘I lifted up my voice with authority, and fear and terror would be seen on all faces…I thundered greatly, denouncing the gentry, the carnal clergy and everybody!’ (ibid, p.77)

George Whitefield

‘[January 1738 At] Deal I preached to a weeping and thronged congregation…the Clerk pronounced a loud ‘Amen’ to every person who received either bread or wine, an excellent custom, and worthy in my opinon to be imitated in all churches. After this, I and my friends went on our way rejoicing….

‘In the afternoon preached at Upper Deal. The church was quite crowded and many went away for want of room; some stood on the leads of the church outside, and looked in at the top windows, and all seemed eager to hear the Word of God.’ (GW Journal, Banner of Truth edition, p.117)

‘In the evening, such numbers came to hear me that I was obliged to divide them into four companies, and God enabled me to expound to them from six till ten [that’s four hours of preaching on the trot!].

Some would have persuaded me to have dismissed the last company [who had been waiting 3 hours!!] without expounding, but I could not bear to let so many go empty away. I find the more we do for God, the more we may. My strength held out surprisingly, and I was but little, if at all fatigued.’ (GW Journal, p.118)

John Wesley

(In a letter responding to a critic of the sometimes uncontrolled behaviour of those who were converted in the evangelistic meetings)

‘’You deny that God does now work these effects: at least, that he works them in this manner. I affirm both; because I have herd those things with my own ears, and have seen them with my eyes.

I have seen (as far as a thing of this kind can be seen) very many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of fear, horror, despair, to the spirit of love, joy and peace; and from sinful desire, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God…

I have known several persons in whom this great change was wrought in a dream, or during a strong representation to the eye of their mind, of Christ either on the cross, or in glory…

And that such a change was then wrought, appears (not from their shedding tears only, or falling into fits, or crying out: these are not the fruits, as you seem to suppose, whereby I judge, but) from the whole tenor of their life, till then, many ways wicked; from that time, holy, just and good.’ (JW Journals Vol 1, p.195 Baker Edition)

This response, incidentally, is remarkably similar to Jonathan Edwards when he was also called upon to account for the highly emotional or demonstrative aspects of his meetings. See here for more information.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Holy Spirit and Authority in Preaching (MLJ on Harris part 4)

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

We’ve been spending some time looking at the conversion experience of the Welsh Evangelist Howell Harris.

Harris, through his tireless evangelistic work is credited with being the founder of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. He also, through his example, helped launch George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers’ ministry of preaching in the fields.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (also a Welshman) spoke about him at the Puritan Conference in London in 1973 and emphasised not only Harris’ conversion but also the fact that he received ‘a baptism of power’ in the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones believed this was the key to his evangelistic success.

Indeed, thousands came to Christ. The power of the Spirit in Harris’ life affected not only his willingness to speak but also his effectiveness in speaking. He talked about ‘the authority’ of God coming upon him and moving the hearers.  He would wait for the ‘authority’ to come and then speak with greater freedom and power.

Lloyd-Jones last sermon

Lloyd-Jones also was deeply concerned for this subjective but vital aspect in his own preaching. The preached word was to come with authority.

I have friends who were at Barcombe Baptist Chapel, in East Sussex and heard Lloyd-Jones deliver his very last sermon. One told me how the Doctor started slowly and seemed to get going with some difficulty. But then, wondrously, it was as though a sudden power came upon him, that energised him and electrified the congregation. Suddenly all were awake and alert: God was speaking with authority through a man. Lloyd-Jones felt that in Harris’ case (where he would sense ‘the authority’ and then speak spontaneously without any notes or preparation and with powerful effect) it was close to the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12.

A first-hand gospel

For Harris, as well as Lloyd-Jones, this was a deeply prized token of God’s presence and favour both for him and his hearers. It had the effect of making the gospel ‘first-hand’, fresh, and immediately powerful.

Harris, describes this immediacy. He was more concerned with preaching an experienced Christ and the Spirit enabled him to do so: ‘That which I experienced, proved, and felt and saw and heard of the Word of Life, that also I proclaim.’ (quoted by MLJ in Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition p.296)

A bold man dies much loved by the people he served

Wales mourned when Harris died. A truly great and much loved hero had gone to glory. 20,000 people were present! The Countess of Huntingdon attended and wrote of the emotion that was too strong to suppress:

‘But amidst the sorrow and tears of the audience that thronged the building an interruption took place. The officiating clergyman, being unable to proceed on account of his emotion, handed the Prayer Book to another – that does not often happen – but the second clergyman also lost self-control and passed the book to a third, when he again by reason of the same cause was unable to go on; and thus in silence were the remains of the great man laid to rest in the chancel in the Parish Church at Talgarth, and in the same grave in which his wife had been buried a few years before’. (quoted by MLJ, ibid, p.301)

What about us?

Oh my dear friend, are you a Christian? Then go to God and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If you need to find a church near you try here as one option.

Have you been baptised in the Spirit? Why did you think it was just for you? There are multitudes all around you who do not know Christ. Are you going to leave them as you travel on your way to heaven? Are you not going to be stirred by God to get up and do something for Him that will help people find their way to Christ?

How long O Lord, before you pour out your Spirit once more upon your people and turn our nations to you?

To read part one of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the next post in this series click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Power of the Spirit and Mission

(Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris part 3)

In his lecture on Howell Harris, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great evangelical Bible teacher, argued that an experience of the Holy Spirit’s power was the key to Harris’ effectiveness in the 18th century ‘Great Awakening’.

It was this ‘baptism of fire’ that spurred Harris on to reach others with the gospel of Christ.

Here, he continues to argue his point effectively, whilst applying it to the reader with stinging relevance!

The Baptism of the Spirit as the Stimulus to Effective Evangelism

‘This is what created within [Howell Harris] a compassion for the lost. This is what urged him to go out and to tell the people about their condition and do something about them. His concern for the lost and the perishing was the consuming passion of his soul.

I would make this comment at this point. Is not that always the crucial test which we must apply to those who claim to have received the baptism of the Spirit?

The crucial test is the concern for souls, compassion for the lost. That was the great characteristic of our Lord. He saw the people as ‘sheep without a shepherd’. He ‘had compassion upon them’; and the man who is filled with the Spirit in this way is like his Lord.

His outstanding characteristic is his compassion for the lost; his concern for them was the test of ‘the baptism of the Spirit’.’

The power of the Spirit leads to mission not self-indulgence

Lloyd-Jones continues, ‘It does not lead to an inward looking, self-indulgent, church movement that turns in on itself and spends its time reciting and even boasting at times of experiences. It always leads to this concern for others…

The baptism of or with the Spirit shows itself primarily by giving its recipients a great evangelistic concern.’ (Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition p.292-3)

Oh that we could placard that statement over every church that claims an experience of the Holy Spirit!

To read Part One of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the Part Four click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Holy Spirit, Howell Harris and Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ on Harris part 2)

Martyn Lloyd Jones, 'The Puritans and Their Successors' (1st edition)
Martyn Lloyd Jones, 'The Puritans and Their Successors' (1st edition)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that Howell Harris was one of the most extraordinary preachers in the history of the church. He deeply admired the evangelistic passion that characterised Harris’ life. Here, we continue to listen to the ‘Doctor’ as he was affectionately called, as he outlines what he considers to be the source of that passion. (Page numbers refer to Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition)

On Harris’ Baptism in the Spirit

Describing Harris’ experience some three weeks after his conversion, which we have already considered, Lloyd-Jones calls it ‘that crucial experience’.

‘To me, this is the key to the understanding of Howell Harris, as it is the key to the understanding of Revival.’ (p.290)

He goes on, ‘as I have always understood this man’s story, and as I still understand it more and more, you cannot explain him or understand him, or what happened through him, except in the light of this crucial experience of June 18th…What was it? To me, there is only one expression to use. It was the expression used by these men themselves and by their successors. It was a baptism ‘of fire’ or a ‘baptism of power’.’

The Doctor continues, ‘What I would emphasize particularly is that Harris was already converted, had already received forgiveness of sins, and he knew that he had it, and had been dancing in joy. But it was now just over three weeks later that he received this crucial experience which turned him into a flaming Evangelist.’ (p.290)

On Harris’ continuing experience of the Spirit as an example to us

Having recounted that Harris essentially celebrated this experience each year, he also emphasises how Harris was not content to merely rest in that one experience of the Spirit’s power but went on to seek more of Him.

‘This to him was the turning point, the crucial event that made him an Evangelist. It is essential to an understanding of Revival. We can further demonstrate this by showing that he had several repetitions of this experience…he also had similar experiences.’

Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘Another extract from his diary says, ‘In private society till two in the morning like a drunken man. Could say nothing but glory, glory for a long time.’ (p.292)

‘May 1749, ‘The Lord came, overpowering me with love like a mighty torrent that I could not withstand or reason against or doubt.’ (p.292)

‘Even in his ‘dying testimony’ as it is called, he says ‘that we are not to speak of what we have had from the Lord, but what we now have afresh from Him.’ This was of great concern to him. This great vital experience could be repeated…’ (p.293)

Has Lloyd-Jones become over-excited? Has the Doctor embraced some terrible Charismatic or Pentecostal doctrine? Or is he fully aware of the argument he is making and its implications. He explains emphatically:

‘There is always this distinction between receiving forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Ghost.’ (p. 292)

So, back in 1973 when he delivered the lecture from which I have quoted, Lloyd-Jones knew exactly what he was saying and why he was saying it.

He wanted us to learn from Harris that we might encounter the power of God as Harris did, in order that we might influence our generation as Harris did.

To read part one of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the next post in this series click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris part 1

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors

‘Harris is one of the great heroic figures in the Christian Church, and his story is truly an astonishing one.’ Lloyd-Jones (1973)

Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest evangelical teachers of the 20th Century. Few would argue with that. His powerful and faithful teaching ministry both in Wales (1927-1938) and later in London (1939-1968) has continued to inspire leaders and movements around the world.

Leading evangelical preachers such as J.I. Packer and Terry Virgo were powerfully impacted by his passionate expository style of preaching. His was a voice of authority and certainty in an increasingly wishy-washy church context.

In 1950 Packer and others urged Lloyd-Jones to begin a regular teaching conference on the importance of the Puritans and the Puritan movement. Papers were delivered followed by robust discussion chaired (and adjudicated?) by Lloyd-Jones himself.

Lloyd-Jones lectured on many subjects during the conferences (called first, The Puritan and, later, The Westminster Conference).

In 1959 he preached on ‘Revival: An historical and Theological Survey’, in 1964 on ‘John Calvin and George Whitefield’, in 1972 on ‘John Knox – The Founder of Puritanism’ and in 1973 on ‘Howell Harris and Revival’.

It is to this particular lecture that we now turn our attention. We’ve seen something of Harris’ amazing influence in Wales and we shall go on to see his continuing influence in England through the preaching methods of George Whitefield (Harris also pastored Whitefield’s London church in his absence). But what does ‘The Doctor’, as Lloyd-Jones was affectionately called, say of Harris?

Lloyd-Jones’ excellent lectures have been published by the Banner of Truth Trust (the publishing company he helped form) under the title ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’. Page numbers refer to that edition.

On Harris’ conversion

Lloyd-Jones mentions the phrase that was to have such an impact on Harris. He had been in church when, during an announcement for communion, the Minister had said, ‘If you are not fit to take Communion you are not fit to pray, and if you are not fit to pray you are not fit to live, and if you are not fit to live you are not fit to die.’

Lloyd-Jones remarks, ‘These words hit this thoughtless schoolmaster with great force…I emphasise this incident because it reminds us of one of the amazing things about being a servant of God. You can bring people to conviction of sin even through an announcement! You never know what God is going to use; your asides are sometimes more important than your prepared statements.’ (p.285)

On the descending of the Spirit as a definition of Revival

Of particular interest is that Lloyd-Jones emphasises Harris’ encounter with the Holy Spirit as the key experience of his ministry.

This is typical of Lloyd-Jones who was frankly fed up of what he saw as a misunderstanding of the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit which was then prevalent amongst Reformed teachers and preachers. Happily, things have normalised in our day but it was different then and a post conversion experience of the Spirit needed to be constantly emphasised.

Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘What is revival?  Revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God. It is a kind of repetition of Pentecost. It is the Spirit descending upon people.

This needs to be emphasised in this present age. For we have been told so much recently by some that every man at regeneration receives the baptism of the Spirit, and all he has to do after that is to surrender to what he has already.

But revival does not come as a result of a man surrendering to what he already has; it is the Spirit being poured upon him, descending upon him, as happened on the day of Pentecost.’ (p.289)

To read the Part Two click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

‘A Fire was Kindled in my Soul’ – Howell Harris and Revival

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

We’ve seen that Howell Harris, the man who pioneered outdoor preaching in the 1700’s, was spurred on to a preaching ministry by a direct infilling of the Holy Spirit.

He saw the Spirit’s anointing as the source of his authority to preach and bring multitudes to Christ – even though he was angrily opposed by clergymen and violent mobs.

But he writes, ‘A fire was kindled in my soul and I was clothed with power…I could have spoken to the King were he within my reach – such power and authority did I feel in my soul…I lifted up my voice with authority…’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth, Vol 1. P.240)

Waiting for the Spirit’s Power

He began by simply going from house to house and reading from a book. When he felt the power of the Spirit filling him he would preach, but still as though he were reading.

Eventually, as the Spirit fell upon him with such power he began to preach freely, often without any particular preparation and often with a sweeping power that affected all who listened. He referred to this as ‘the gale descending’. Houses became too small to contain the hearers. And so he began preaching in fields, and at town fairs.

Dallimore writes, ‘Because he was unordained, Harris refused to practice any kind of formal sermonisation, and stood before his congregations without a prepared message.

He looked to God for wisdom and power and as he began to speak his soul took fire and his speech became like a mighty torrent and rushed forth with tremendous conviction.’

Scorching hot from the Preacher’s heart

‘It was said, ‘The words flowed scorching hot from the preacher’s heart’, and ‘He would go on thus, pouring out old things and new for two, three or even four hours. Indeed, we have instances of his services continuing without a break for six hours.’

This work was mightily used of God. Harris ranged over a wide area of South Wales, and held meetings anywhere and at any time till the whole countryside became conscious of his condemnation of sin.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit hearts were broken, and it was not uncommon for people to come under such conviction that they would cry aloud to God for mercy while he preached.

Hundreds were converted – among them some of the most notorious sinners – and Harris made plans for their upbuilding by organizing them into societies.’ (ibid, p.241-242)

2500 miles on foot!

Harris himself kept detailed accounts of his meetings and his experiences of the Spirit in his diaries and was able to record that he had walked more than 2500 miles between meetings in Wales in just two years!

His passion for evangelism and his breathtaking success in bringing thousands to Christ became a stimulus to Whitefield and others. He was so popular in Wales that at his funeral the Countess of Huntingdon recorded that no fewer than 20,000 people gathered at his funeral.

A Voice in the Wilderness

But, back in the late 1730’s, as multitudes in Wales were gathering to hear him, as the ‘ordained’ clergy opposed him, Howell Harris, almost a voice in the wilderness, wondered ‘There must be some worthy men in the world of the same mind as myself!’  (ibid p.234)

Indeed, God had not only saved this pioneer preacher in Wales. In the year of Harris’s conversion Daniel Rowland had also come to Christ, so had George Whitefield and John Cennick. Thus God had sovereignly saved four of the men who were to be used mightily in the Great Awakening. 1735 was a vintage year!

The Wesleys’ conversions soon followed and a prayer meeting took place on January 1st 1739 that was to be the launch of a revival movement that would shake Britain and America.

These men had experienced individual outpourings of the Spirit, now the Spirit was to come upon them as they gathered together!

More next time…

To read Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Fire in the Fields – Howell Harris cuts the Gospel Loose!

 

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

 

After the rediscovery of Justification by Faith and the key doctrine of the New Birth the genius of the 18th Century Awakening was outdoor evangelistic preaching!

That may not sound very radical to us but in those days church was confined to…well, church! Church buildings were the legitimate context for church services and the few that gathered did so without making any noise or disturbing the culture outside.

There was, however, one Welshman who arose to shake up the status quo. Born in 1714 and born again in 1735 (the same year as Whitefield), Howell Harris could not stay silent!

In fact, Harris would not shut up! He had a job as a schoolmaster, but had not yet gone on to University or to ordination in the Church of England in Wales. Later on, he was rejected for both.

The failure of legalism and the triumph of faith

His youth was filled with rebellion and he lamented, ‘no one told me that I was on the way to hell.’ (Richard Bennett, Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival, Evangelical Press of Wales, p.16)

Bennett tells us that ‘the majority of the clergy were content to leave their parishioners to live just as they pleased.’ (ibid p.19)

But in 1735 Harris became powerfully convicted of his sinfulness and then, like George Whitefield, launched into a highly legalistic and superstitious set of ritual and religion that brought no relief whatsoever. He later described it as ‘being in hell for five weeks’ (ibid p.25)

Finally, as he was taking communion one Sunday, he was enabled to ‘believe that I was receiving pardon on account of that blood.’ He describes the freedom that followed: ‘I lost my burden. I went home leaping for joy, and I said to my neighbour…I know my sins have been forgiven!’ (ibid p.26)

Baptism in the Spirit

He was truly set free and yet his soul yearned for more. About three weeks later he experienced what many would describe as a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and this truly marked him out and empowered him for service.

While not quoting Harris verbatim (which is disappointing) Bennett conveys Harris’ experience: ‘when he was at…the sacred spot where he had given himself to God, God now gave Himself to him…The richest biblical terms are heaped one on another in an attempt to give expression to his experience at that time. He was cleansed from all his idols, and the love of God was shed abroad in his heart. Christ had come in previously, but now He began to sup with him; now he received the Spirit of adoption…’ (ibid p.27)

Harris himself tells us the result: ‘I devoted myself to exhorting everyone I met to flee from the wrath to come!’ (ibid p.36)

Rejected by men

In 1736 he offered himself as a candidate for ordination within the Church of England but it had become known that Harris was already preaching evangelistically (Harris preferred to call his preaching ‘exhorting’ or ‘reading’ out of deference to the fact that only ordained clergy were really authorised to ‘preach’).

This unofficial preaching was considered inappropriate. Preaching to the people in streets, and at fairs and in homes was irregular and unrefined. Not the dignified behaviour for a potential vicar, or priest of the Church of England. His application was rejected.

His brother was keen to try and get him to Oxford so that he might be ordained after having obtained a degree. But things were moving way too fast for the hero of the Welsh awakening: ‘I could not rest, but must go to the utmost of my ability to exhort. I could not meet or travel with anybody, rich or poor, young or old, without speaking to them of religion and concerning their souls.’ (ibid p. 41)

What is the source of your authority?

The question for Harris, and one that troubled him for much of his life, was this: ‘What is the source of your authority?’ – not ordained by the establishment church, not having obtained a degree, therefore unrecognised by both English religion and English academia, was the power of the Holy Spirit really enough to authorise this young man to preach?

And could that young man really awaken a nation and bring his people to Christ? And could that young man really begin a preaching phenomena that released the gospel from the confines of religious walls to actually impact and shape the surrounding culture?

Oh yes! The answer is yes!

The source of authority was the word of God and the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God calling him to the work, but I must refrain.

Read more about Howell Harris here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

A Great Awakening in Great Britain

Can a nation be born in a day?
Low church attendance, binge drinking, poor housing, violent crime, limited Christian impact. It looked like Christianity was in trouble.

At the beginning of 18th Century Britain, confidence in the old faith was in serious decline.

John Toland's 'Christianity Not Mysterious'
John Toland's 'Christianity Not Mysterious'

‘God is not Great’ circa 1700
Amongst scholars belief in the miraculous elements of the Christian faith were considered superstitious. ‘Christianity Not Mysterious’ (1696) by John Toland, a leading Deist, represented the only serious intellectual position of that period. Perhaps mild by today’s standards, at the time it represented a new departure.

It is interesting to note that such publications seem to precede a sudden, sweeping and unexpected moves of God’s grace. Could it be that God Himself seeks to vindicate His own glory? Can God be provoked?

Now that we’ve had ‘The God Delusion’ (Richard Dawkins) and ‘God is not Great’ (Christopher Hitchens), could we also suddenly find ourselves in a fresh era of power and Christian influence, where God’s Spirit seems to be poured out more effectively, more powerfully and with greater impact than we’ve seen before?

Church Influence and Attendance in Decline
As Deist and Rationalist ideas gained ground across the leadership of the church in the early 1700’s both the spiritual and moral impact of Christianity began to wane.
Church attendance began to fall rapidly and churches began to be reorganised and scaled down.

Binge Drinking
The infamous ‘Gin Craze’, spurred on by the prohibition of imported liquor, swept the nation as multitudes took to making their own gin and created a genuine national crisis.  Alcoholism was common.

Social and Economic Crisis – Poverty and Violent Crime
The former restraints of the Puritan era were being thrown off with relative ease.  Living conditions for many were squalid.  The slums were a breeding ground for disease as well as violent crime and the meagre efforts of churches, religious organisations and Parliament made very little impact.

The general view of the Christian faith was summed up by Bishop Butler who, in 1738 asserted that Christianity was treated as though ‘it was now discovered to be fictitious…and nothing remained but to set it up as the subject of mirth and ridicule (Quoted by Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.31)

A Brand Plucked from the Fire!
What the good Bishop failed to take into account was that three years previously a young man called George Whitefield had been born again. He had begun preaching the gospel with a fervency that hadn’t been heard since the days of John Bunyan.

Also, in the very year in which Butler lamented the loss of Christian influence in England, two brothers had finally humbled themselves, followed in Whitefield’s footsteps, and given their lives to Christ, John and Charles Wesley.

You can purchase Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The 18th Century Awakening in Europe and America

The 18th Century Awakening in Europe and America

Early 18th C map of England and Wales
Early 18th C map of England and Wales

Introduction
To understand the global expansion of the Christian Faith across the world in the 19th and 20th centuries it is necessary to focus on the remarkable events of the 18th century in the relatively smaller area of Europe and America.

In Germany, America and Britain, against an unpromising backdrop of unbelief, there were a series of spiritual ‘explosions’ which occurred almost continuously through the 18th century.

When it seemed as though Christianity was finally outdated and running out of steam, a mighty breakthrough of spiritual life occurred which became almost irresistible.

The result of these numerous ‘revivals’ affected not only the life of the Church but also society as a whole.

Rooted strongly in the theology of the Reformation (16th Century) and the Puritans (17th Century) these young evangelists and church planters proclaimed a Bible-based message with a new passion.

Their experiences of God’s love and their encounters of the power of the Holy Spirit brought them criticism from the religious minority, and a skeptical press, but it gave them an irresistible magnetism amongst ordinary people.  Unprecedented numbers attended their meetings.

Soon a formidable army of preachers and leaders had been raised up who overcame both apathy and violent persecution and brought multitudes into the Kingdom, formed thousands of new churches and set the scene for an even greater thrust of the gospel into all the world.

Come! Let us return to an era where spiritual giants walked the land and the great sheaves of the Lord’s Harvest were carried home by rejoicing believers.

We will first enjoy the early sparks of the Awakening and then consider the mighty reforming fire that followed. If you have never read the history of the Christian Church in the 18th Century then you will surely be thrilled by what you are about to read. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended the 18th Century to any who were feeling discouraged and asking the question, ‘Can God truly break through, in our situation?’

To read about the Moravians click here

To read about the Wesley brothers click here

To read about George Whitefield click here

To read about Howell Harris click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides