John Wesley and his Wife (part 2)

Why most good churches have Marriage Preparation Courses!
And so, John Wesley was married. His strategy for being a good husband was pretty simple: ‘I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.’

At first Molly accompanied him but his travel schedule (by any standard through all church history) was relentless, and she, as a newly married 40 year old woman, was clearly hoping for some normal domestic joys.

Often absent for weeks at a time, Wesley gave his wife permission to open all the mail that came for him. This included many letters from women seeking guidance and counsel, and Molly soon began to feel that some of them had more than a little affection towards her man.

Jealousy, slander and insensitivity
Her jealousy increased, as did her sense of being overlooked by him, and even unloved by him. She began to be, not only troubled by but gripped by jealousy.

She wrote disgruntled, critical, letters to him. She travelled to spy on him. She sent his private papers directly to his enemies that they might slander him. Eventually she publicly and repeatedly accused him of adultery over a period of twenty years.

At one point, after a fierce exchange of letters, he sent a scathing, hostile, reply.

‘Know me and know yourself. Suspect me no more, asperse me no more, provoke me no more: do not any longer contend for mastery…be content to be a private insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.’

Robert Southey, who quotes this letter, gives more of its contents, ‘He reminded her that she had laid to his charge things that he knew not, robbed him, betrayed his confidence, revealed his secrets, given him a thousand treacherous wounds, and made it her business so to do, under the pretence of vindicating her own character; ‘whereas’, said he, ‘of what importance is your character to mankind? If you were buried just now, or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?’

Southey adds, ‘There are few stomachs which could bear to have humility administered in such doses.’ (Robert Southey, The Life of John Wesley, Hutchinson, p.266)

Dragged along by the hair

On several occasions she left home, only returning after he begged her repeatedly. Although he had been unspeakably angry with her, he kept aiming at reconciliation.

But the home life was unhappy. John Hampson of Manchester ‘once entered a room unannounced to find Molly dragging her husband across the floor by his hair.’ (John Pollock, Wesley, Hodder, p.238)

Finally, she left for good. Wesley wryly reported in his journal, ‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’

He should have consulted with Charles. He should have asked for the wisdom of other leaders. He should have been prepared for marriage. He should have considered his wife’s needs more than his own.

In all this, the story of Wesley’s marriage is an unhappy one. But if it is uncomfortable for us to read, let’s not forget that it was far more uncomfortable for him to live. And equally uncomfortable for Molly, who, perhaps was merely hoping to have some of him for herself.

Make sure you read Part One to get the context!

The Marriage Course
If you feel you need help in your marriage, The Marriage Course, pioneered at Holy Trinity Church, London may be of help to you. Click here for links to the Course and to find one in your part of the world.
http://relationshipcentral.org/

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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John Wesley and his Wife (part 1)

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

Uh oh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the highly popular Part Two click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Wesley’s Failed Courtship

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

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

She was promised to another!

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

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

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

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

The Sudden Marriage

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

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

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

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

Wesley’s Deepest Sadness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

John Wesley Tries to Find a Wife

John Wesley


Love is in the air!

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

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

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

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

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

Things would work out slightly differently for John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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

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

A Song for Whitefield

Hymn Writer Charles Wesley
Hymn Writer Charles Wesley

It might be a little unusual, these days, to send a poem to one of your colleagues. But Charles Wesley was quite a poet, and George Whitefield was quite a preacher!

A Song for the Mission
Whitefield’s plan, as we’ve seen, was to get back across to America. He wanted to preach the gospel there and was raising funds to establish an orphanage in Georgia.

On the eve of his second trip, Charles Wesley sent him what must have been a real encouragement in the form of a kind of hymn.

I include it here for a few reasons:
Firstly, as an example of how poetry can express our joy and sense of purpose in the mission.
Secondly, to demonstrate the warmth of feeling between the Wesley brothers and Whitefield at this time.
And thirdly, as an encouragement to anyone reading who is seeking to communicate the gospel to others, or who is about to launch into a new season of ministry.

Simple Outline
Essentially, Wesley is saying, ‘You’ve been called by God to go, so be obedient and stand firm in the whole armour of God’. He is referring to Ephesians 6:10-18. He then goes through each piece of the armour with great poetic skill. Having reminded Whitefield of the armour he is wearing and will be wearing, he exhorts him to preach boldly as a champion even if it means suffering and (gulp) ultimately martyrdom!

Actually, Whitefield did eventually die in America (several years later), though not as a result of persecution, but exhaustion.

But, enough from me…back to Charles Wesley!

To the Reverend George Whitefield
Servant of God, the summons hear,
Thy master calls, arise, obey!
The tokens of His will appear,
His providence points out thy way.

Lo! we commend thee to His grace!
In confidence go forth, be strong!
They meat His will, thy boast His praise,
His righteousness be all thy song.

Strong in the Lord’s Almighty power,
And armed in panoply divine,
Firm may’st thou stand in danger’s hour,
And prove the strength of Jesus thine.

Thy breast-plate be His righteousness,
His sacred truth thy loins surround;
Shod be thy beauteous feet with peace,
Spring forth, and spread the Gospel sound.

Fight the good fight, and stand secure
In faith’s impenetrable shield;
Hell’s prince shall tremble at its power,
With all his fiery darts repelled.

Prevent thy foes, nor wait their charge,
But call their ling’ring battle on.
But strongly grasp thy sevenfold targe, (‘shield’)
And bear the world, and Satan down.

The helmet of salvation take,
The Lord’s, the Spirit’s conquering sword,
Speak from the Word – in lightning speak,
Cry out, and thunder – from the Word.

Champion of God, thy Lord proclaim,
Jesus alone, resolve to know;
Tread down thy foes in Jesus’ name:
Go – conquering, and to conquer go.

Through racks and fires pursue thy way,
Be mindful of a dying God;
Finish thy course and win the day;
Look up – and seal the truth with blood.

Charles Wesley

© 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

A Prayer Meeting that Changed the World

An English Newspaper from December 1738
An English Newspaper from December 1738

In November 1738 the 24 year old George Whitefield returned to Great Britain from his first trip to America. It had been a great success.

When he arrived in London he records that he attended a meeting in Fetter Lane. On December 8th he records, ‘In the evening went to a truly Christian Society in Fetter Lane, and perceived God had greatly watered the seed sown by my ministry when last in London. The Lord increase it more and more.’ (GW Journal, Banner Edition, p.194)

Indeed the Awakening was moving forward quickly.

Christmas Day with George Whitefield

Whitefield preached very early that Christmas morning, 1738. ‘About four this morning, went and prayed and expounded to another Society in Redcross Street, consisting of near two or three hundred people and the room was exceedingly hot. I had been watching unto prayer all night, yet God vouchsafed so to fill me with His blessed Spirit that I spoke with as great power as ever I did in my life.’ (GW Journal, p.194)

But it was New Year’s Eve which was perhaps the most significant meeting for many of the leaders of the Awakening. Whitefield merely records it as another great time of prayer, but Wesley, who was ‘catching up’ somewhat with Whitefield’s spirituality, gives us more detail and was clearly impacted by what happened:

A famous New Year’s Party!

‘Mon. Jan. 1, 1739 – Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at out love-feast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren.

‘About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried our for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.

‘As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’ (John Wesley Journal, Baker edition, p.170)

Whitefield, writing of the same occasion, said, ‘O that our despisers were partakers of our joys!’ (GW Journal, p.196) And looking back on that brief season after returning from America, as friends gathered in London to pray, he wrote:

New wine!

‘Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. Often have we been filled as with new wine. And often have we seen them overwhelmed with the divine presence and crying out, ‘Will God indeed dwell with men upon earth? How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven!’ (John Gillies, Memoirs of the Life of George Whitefield, Dilly, p.34)

This amazing season of prayer, and this company of sixty, mainly young men would usher in a new day for the British Isles.

For a famous incident in Bristol, where the blackened faces of coal miners were whitened by their tears click 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 Conversion of the Wesley Brothers

John (left) and Charles Wesley
John (left) and Charles Wesley

The disappointing ‘missionary’ attempt by the Wesley brothers to serve God in America made them realise they themselves were in real need of salvation (see, John Wesley: the non-Christian).

Charles, the First!
Charles was the first to experience the new birth, the main topic about which Whitefield was now preaching. He heard Whitefield in London and records at the time, ‘Mr Whitefield [preaches] not with persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. The churches will not contain the multitudes that throng to hear him,’ (Charles Wesley Journals, Vol 1. P.79 Baker)

The brothers had been impressed with the faith of the Moravians on board ship during a storm, and John had received a surprise grilling by the Moravian leader, Augustus Spangenberg, in America. Following these encounters they began seeking them out once they had returned to England.

The Moravian Peter Bohler was leading a regular meeting in London’s Fetter Lane. Dallimore writes, ‘Charles and John were in almost daily contact with Bohler.’
He asked Charles ‘Do you hope to be saved? He replied, ‘I do!’
‘For what reason do you hope it?’ ‘Because I  have used my best endeavours to serve God.’

Charles reports, ‘He shook his head, and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable, saying in my heart, ‘What, are not my endeavours sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to.’ (Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, Crossway, p.58-59)

Power on Pentecost Sunday
Charles had discovered the vital doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone as he read Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians.

‘21 May was Pentecost Sunday…[and] the day of Charles Wesley’s conversion.’ Charles said he felt the Spirit of God striving with his spirit ‘till by degrees He chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced…I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.’

John, in his Journal records on that day, ‘I received the surprising news that my brother had found rest to his soul.’

Indeed, Charles wrote: ‘I was in a new heaven and a new earth!’ (See Dallimore, p.61-62)

John Wesley’s ‘heart strangely warmed’
Finally, three days later, at one of the Moravian meetings in Aldersgate Street, John Wesley got his breakthrough.  He had already discussed Justification by faith with Peter Bohler, but this was different.

At 34 years of age (more than ten years older than Whitefield) he was finally born again.

He wrote in his journal:
‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ (John Wesley Journal, May 24th 1738, Vol. 1. p.103)

After this Wesley followed Whitefield’s example and began preaching both justification by faith and the new birth in the churches. And one by one, the Anglican church leaders resisted him. (see here for further examples of Wesley following Whitefield’s example)

It wasn’t long before these newly converted ‘Methodists’, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, began to gather others together to seek God for greater blessings.

1739 was approaching, and little did these men know what a significant year it was to be!

To read something of the amazing influence of the Wesleys click here

To purhcase books click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley the Non-Christian

John Wesley
John Wesley

In 1738, three years after Whitefield’s conversion, the Wesley brothers returned from a disastrous ‘missionary’ attempt in America.

John Wesley later acknowledged that while he had gone to America to convert the Indians, it was he himself that needed to get converted.

Storms at Sea
God used various circumstances to unsettle the strong headed John Wesley and show him that he was not saved.  During the outward bound voyage a terrible storm arose, smashing the ship and frightening both passengers and crew, except the Moravian Christians.

‘In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in upon the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on…’ (John Wesley, Journals Vol 1, p.22, 1872 edition reprinted by Baker)

Wesley was petrified by the enormity of the storm and the reality of death. Afterwards he asked one of them whether they were afraid. ‘No!’ the Moravian church planter replied.  Wesley asked about the women and children. Surely they were afraid. ‘Our women are not afraid to die!’

Storms on Land
When the brothers got to America they were not popular. Their strict legalism was at first, a curiosity and later, an irritation, to the settlers.

Wesley arranged a meeting with the Moravian leader, Spangenberg, who had already lived there a year. Wesley had plenty of questions for the Moravian leader about the colony.

However, Spangenberg, having listened carefully to Wesley, felt he needed to ask a few:
‘Do you know yourself?’ he asked.
‘Have you the  witness in yourself? Does the spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?’ Hmmm….Wesley hesitated.
Finally, Spangenberg asked, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’
John Pollock writes, ‘Wesley paused in some confusion, then replied lamely, ‘I know he is the Saviour of the world.’
‘True, said the German, ‘but do you know he has saved you?’ Wesley replied uncomfortably, ‘I hope he has died to save me!’
Again Spangenberg pressed the question, ‘Do you know, yourself?’
Wesley replied, ‘I do!’ (‘But I fear they were vain words’ he later wrote) (John Pollock, John Wesley, Hodder, p.68-69)

Storms in Love
But his internal problems quickly became external ones! The worst of it was when John, seeking to win the hand of the pretty Sophy Hopkey, was shocked to discover that another man had asked for her hand in marriage. And, in direct contradiction to the encouraging signs Wesley felt he had received, Sophy married this chap!

Whatever the details, the conclusion was that he barred her from taking communion and was then pursued for defamation of character by the husband.

He was also attacked by another of the young wives there. Pollock records that a certain Mrs. Hawkins became convinced that Wesley had slandered her. She invited him to her home where she ‘threatened to shoot him, then set upon him with a pair of scissors; she swore at him, tore his cossack, and threw him on to her bed where she cut off one side of his long hair.’ The shocked and humbled Wesley was finally rescued by the husband and servants. Pollock adds, ‘the story of the little parson’s adventures was soon all over the colony.’

One congregant was particularly amused to watch Wesley in the pulpit and recorded that he preached ‘with his hair so long on one side, so short on the other’! (Pollock, p.73-74)

Finally, the controversy surrounding Sophy Hopkins grew to such an extent that John and Charles fled back to England.

Although, he was one of those who used the fairly common Methodist expression, ‘The whole world is my parish’. They never returned to America.

Both brothers were now more convinced than ever that they needed to get right with God themselves, before trying to get others right.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Law Cannot Produce Life – Only the Gospel Can

So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.

But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.

The young Charles Wesley
The young Charles Wesley

Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.

Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.

His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.

Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).

John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.

Locked in the second half of Romans 7

George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.

There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.

But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)

In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’

From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.

‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’

‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.

Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)

Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Born Again – The Conversion Experience

Evangelist George Whitefield
Evangelist George Whitefield

While George Whitefield was doing menial tasks for the richer students at Oxford University, his own interests became intensely focussed.

He discovered that his experience in the ‘public house was now of service to me’, in that he was able to serve others diligently and humbly. Yet he could not throw in his lot with the other servitors, whom he felt would become a bad influence on him.

He was aiming for higher things.

Religion vs. Being Born Again
He began to read the books that Charles Wesley, his new friend, lent him. One small volume had a real impact on him, Henry Scougal’s ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man.’ (see Piper on Scougal)

Whitefield realised that, to get right with God, he needed to be born again, not merely to increase his religious efforts.

‘At my first reading it, I wondered what the author meant by saying, ‘That some falsely placed religion in going to church, doing hurt to no one, being constant in the duties of the closet [ie. private prayer], and now and then reaching out their hands to give alms to their poor neighbours.’

‘Alas!’ though I, ‘if this be not true religion, what is?’

An inward change of heart was needed. What Scougal called, the ‘union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us.’ Whitefield writes, ‘a ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in upon my soul, and from that moment…did I know that I must be a new creature.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.47)

A pre-evangelistic flurry!
At last he’d seen it! Not religious duty, but the life of God coming and changing us! And he immediately began communicating it to others even though he had not yet experienced it himself!

Whitefield realised that the New Birth was absolutely central for an individual’s relationship to God and for any hope of getting to heaven. It was a clear-as-day revelation to him – and it was to become the pivotal emphasis in his preaching.

The New Birth not a New Teaching

This doctrine of the New Birth didn’t begin with Whitefield, of course, nor with Henry Scougal.

In John’s Gospel we’re told that a highly religious man, Nicodemus visited Jesus one evening to ask him questions. Nicodemus was a well known teacher, and was a respected authority on Scripture.

Yet Jesus cuts across Nicodemus’ expectations by telling him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Faith Comes to Life
The new birth is, as Whitefield discovered, an inner work of God. As you learn more about Jesus Christ, on hearing about His perfect life, His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead – faith is aroused! Faith that perhaps wasn’t there before!

As it begins to dawn on you that Jesus truly and specifically died on the cross for your sins, to forgive you of every one, and present you before God as holy – faith is aroused, and springs up!

This faith, as it comes alive causes a desire for Christ and for His forgiveness. We find ourselves being drawn to God! We long for His forgiveness and for His purposes in our lives. We are willing to turn from sin and live for Him.

My friend, you can discover right now what George Whitefield discovered hundreds of years ago: that God loves you deeply, that He is willing to forgive your sins, and bring you home to Himself. You can have a brand new start and come into a right relationship with God today.

Why don’t you ask God to turn you around and make you into a follower of Jesus Christ?

You’ll need to find a church. You can begin by looking here.

To read more about Whitefield click here

To read the first part of the life of Whitefield click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Humble Beginnings of England’s Greatest Evangelist

Gloucester in 1725
Gloucester in 1725

George Whitefield’s Birthplace
England’s greatest Evangelist had humble beginnings. Whitefield was born at the Bell Inn, Gloucester, where his father was the landlord.

Tragically, when George was only two, his father died. His mother struggled to keep the Inn going. She re-married, but things didn’t go well. At one point George missed a year of school to help his mother run the Inn.

She was determined to get George a good education, put him back into school and discovered a means of getting him to Oxford University, to prepare him for a clerical position. As biographer John Pollock puts it, ‘his mother wormed an Oxford servitorship out of an influential friend.’ (John Pollock, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, Lion, p.6)

A servitorship enabled a poorer student to study at Oxford University by working as a servant to fee paying students.

Oxford
Once Whitefield got to Oxford he became aware of an eccentric group of students who went by the nick-name of ‘The Holy Club’. They were also mocked as ‘methodists’ because of their strict lifestyle. Whitefield knew that they were trying to save their souls by being good and by doing good.

He was afraid to approach them, feeling his inferiority as a servitor. Yet he was drawn to them. They seemed serious and courageous.

The closest he dare come to them was to attend a midweek church service, which was considered unusual for any except the most devout.

One of the notorious ‘Holy Club’ men, the tender hearted Charles Wesley noticed him and invited him to breakfast. Whitefield was overjoyed and returned from the breakfast with a small collection of books. But more importantly, he had received a precious invitation to the next meeting of the Holy Club.

To read more about Whitefield click here

To read the first part of the life of Whitefield click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Enthralling, Inspiring Life of George Whitefield

George Whitefield
George Whitefield

enthral (verb) = to captivate, hold spellbound, by pleasing qualities. (OED)

When God plans to bless a region or nation with the Gospel, He seems to begin by calling and preparing His chosen instruments.

George Whitefield, along with the Wesley brothers and many others were key figures in a mighty, sweeping, nation-changing season of God’s blessing.

Changing Society
The effect of what took place in England following their preaching and church planting has been described by historian J.R. Green:

‘A religious revival burst forth…which changed in a few years the whole temper of English society.

The church was restored to life and activity.  Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners.

A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education.’  (Green, A short history of the English People, Harper, p. 736-7)

Breathtaking Service for God
Before we get into the details of Whitefield’s incredible life let me outline a few facts:

•    he was a tireless preacher – estimates are that he preached/taught 30,000 times during his relatively short life (he died aged 56)
•    during the summer of 1739 in England the outdoor crowds are estimated to have been up to 1 million – all without amplification, obviously
•    he invested much of his time in America
•    something like 80% of the American population heard him preach
•    Whitefield became the prototype Evangelist
•    he continually emphasised the need for the new birth
•    he passionately appealed for people to come to Christ immediately
•    it wasn’t unusual for him to stop in the middle of a sermon and join the crowd in weeping at the revelation of Christ’s love
•    he often coughed up blood after preaching
•    he became the first transatlantic ‘celebrity’ – and therefore was widely ridiculed in the papers!
•    he was genuinely non-denominational, choosing to be buried in the crypt of the Presbyterian Church he had planted!
•    he was able to effectively reach both poor and rich
•    he was, by all accounts, a happy Calvinist!

It is difficult to read about Whitefield without becoming increasingly passionate for God, and passionate to see the gospel breaking into the lives of those around us.

To read more about Whitefield click 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

Book Review – Jonathan Edwards on Revival

Jonathan Edwards’ first-hand accounts of the revival in Northampton have become authoritative classics on the subject. I hope this brief review will steer you to further study of the amazing ‘Great Awakening’ that took place in the 18th Century and included such heroes as George Whitefield, Howell Harris, and John and Charles Wesley.

jone2
Jonathan Edwards on Revival

Click here to read the review

Click here to purchase the book