Effective Evangelism – the launch of the Salvation Army

William Booth preaching
William Booth preaching

Rapid conversions
When William and Catherine Booth moved into the east end of London in 1865 their goal was to preach the Christian message and bring people to faith in Christ.

The plan was that any converts would join existing churches. But it didn’t really work out like that.

Booth’s preaching was dynamic and urgent. Many, who would never go to church, heard him and many hundreds were converted. But after their conversion they still wouldn’t go to the churches and, if they did, the churches didn’t seem to want them.

Booth began to look for meeting halls and somewhere to create a headquarters for the London mission. But he needed funds.

One minister, writing for a Christian magazine, describes a meeting he attended with William Booth one Sunday afternoon. I’ve edited down his article but it gives us a flavour of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit working in a context of consistent evangelism.

The structure of the meeting was that, after an introduction, several people would briefly tell of their experience of conversion or of adventures in evangelism and then a hymn would be sung, followed by yet more testimonies. At the end Booth preached and prayed.

As you read through this abbreviated account of the meeting, maybe you could pray for similar evangelistic zeal to characterise your life and the life of your church, and that God would similarly begin to bring large numbers of people to a personal and life-changing faith in Christ.
Here we see personal boldness in evangelism, conversations happening in homes, and in the streets. There are several references to the effective use of tracts (short, easy to read leaflets or brochures which explain the gospel) as well as public preaching. Perhaps one of the reasons the churches used to ‘reap’ more was that, quite simply, they ‘sowed’ more. Enjoy!

The Experience Meeting
‘On the afternoon of Sunday, January 31st, I was able to see some of the results of William Booth’s work in the East of London, by attending his Experience Meeting, held in the East London Theatre. About 2 o’clock some of his helpers and Converts went out from the Mission Hall, where they had been praying together, and held an Open-Air Meeting in front of a large brewery opposite the Hall. The ground was damp and the wind high, but they secured an audience, and then sang hymns along the road, till they came to the theatre, taking in any who chose to follow them. Probably about five hundred were present, though many came in late.

The Meeting commenced at three, and lasted one hour and a half. During this period fifty-three persons gave their experience, parts of eight hymns were sung, and prayer was offered by four persons.
After singing Philip Philips’ beautiful hymn, ‘I will sing for Jesus,’ prayer was offered up by Mr. Booth and two others.
A young man rose and told of his conversion a year ago, thanking God that he had been kept through the year.
A negro, of the name of Burton, interested the Meeting much by telling of his first Open-Air Service, which he had held during the past week in Ratcliff Highway, one of the worst places in London. He said, when the people saw him kneel in the gutter, engaged in prayer for them, they thought he was mad.
A middle-aged man, a sailor, told how he was brought to Christ during his passage home from Colombo. One of the tracts, entitled, ‘John’s Difficulty,’ was the means of his conversion.

A cabman said he used to be in the public-houses constantly; but he thanked God he ever heard William Booth, for it led to his conversion.
Three young men then spoke. The first, who comes five miles to these Meetings, told how he was lost through the drink, and restored by the Gospel; the second said he was unspeakably happy; the third said he would go to the stake for Christ.
A sister spoke of her husband’s conversion, and how they were both now rejoicing in God.
A young man testified to the Lord having pardoned his sins in the theatre on the previous Sunday.
Two sailors followed. The first spoke of his conversion through reading a tract while on his way to the Indies four months ago. The other said he was going to sea next week, and was going to take some Bibles, hymns, and tracts with him, to see what could be done for Christ on board.

A young man of the name of John, sometimes called ‘Young Hallelujah,’ told of his trials while selling fish in the streets; but he comforted himself by saying, ”Tis better ‘an before.’ He had been drawn out in prayer at midnight on the previous night, and had dreamed all night that he was in a Prayer Meeting.
A converted thief told how he was ‘picked up’ and of his persecutions daily while working with twenty unconverted men.
A man who had been a great drunkard, said, ‘What a miserable wretch I was till the Lord met with me! I used to think I could not do without my pint, but the Lord pulled me right bang out of a public-house into a place of worship.’
A young woman said: ‘I well remember the night I first heard Mr. Booth preach here. I had a heavy load of sin upon my shoulders. But I was invited to come up the stage. I did so, and was pointed to Jesus, and I obtained peace.’

Another told of his conversion by a tract, four years ago, on his passage to Sydney. ‘To my sorrow,’ he said, ‘I became a backslider. But I thank God He ever brought me here. That blessed man, Mr. Booth, preached, and I gave my heart to God afresh. I now take tracts to sea regularly. I have only eighteen shillings a week, but I save my tobacco and beer money to buy tracts.’
A stout man, a navvy, who said he had been one of the biggest drunkards in London, having briefly spoken, was followed by one known as ‘Jemmy the butcher,’ who keeps a stall in the Whitechapel Road. Some one had cruelly robbed him, but he found consolation by attending the Mission Hall Prayer Meeting.
Two young lads, recently converted, having given their experience, a dock labourer, converted seventeen months ago, asked the prayers of the Meeting for his wife, yet unconverted.
A young woman gave her experience very intelligently. It was a year and a half since she gave her heart to the Saviour; but her husband does not yet come with her.

The experience of an old man, who next spoke, was striking. Mr. Booth had announced his intention, some time back, of preaching a sermon on ‘The Derby,’ at the time of the race that goes by that name. This man was attracted by curiosity, and when listening compared himself to a broken-down horse. This sermon was the means of his conversion.
A young man told how his sins were taken away. He worked in the city and, through a young man talking to him in the street, he was able to see the way of Salvation, and rejoice in it. He used to fall asleep generally under preaching. ‘But here,’ he said, ‘under Mr. Booth, I can’t sleep.’
A blind girl, whom I had noticed earlier singing heartily in the street, told of her conversion.

Then Mr. Booth offered a few concluding observations and prayed. The Meeting closed by singing. Such is a brief outline of this most interesting Meeting, held Sunday after Sunday.
I could not but wonder at the change which had come over the people. The majority of those present, probably nearly five hundred, owed their conversion to the preaching of Mr Booth and his helpers.
In the evening I preached in the Oriental Music Hall, High Street, Poplar, where five or six hundred persons were assembled. This is one of the more recent branches of Mr. Booth’s work, and appears to be in a very prosperous condition. I found two groups of the helpers singing and preaching in the streets, who were only driven in by the rain just before the Meeting commenced inside. This is how the people are laid hold of.

Shall this good work be hindered for the want of a few hundred pounds?’i

More next time.

For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here

i. George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 59-64

© 2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

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How a Reformed Pastor Converted the Arminian Charles Finney

Pastor George Gale, who led Charles Finney to Christ

Charles Finney was not destined to become a schoolteacher, even though he loved it and was loved by those he taught. It was suggested to him that a career in law might be the thing.

At that time the procedure was to study, as an apprentice, under a practicing lawyer. This Finney did in the town of Adams, NY. He was a diligent and able student and during the few court appearances he made was a very real match for any opponent.[i]

The Authority of the Bible
During his studies he noticed the repeated references to the Bible. The Scriptures were often referred to as an authority in terms of legal principles. It was impossible to ignore.

‘This,’ said Finney, ‘excited my curiosity so much that I went and purchased a Bible, the first I had ever owned…This soon led to my taking a new interest in the Bible, and I read and meditated on it much more that I had ever done before.’[ii]

Free will, conviction and personal application
As a student of Law Finney learned three things that later marked his preaching. The first was the moral responsibility of a person with regard to guilt. The exercise of their own free will to commit a certain act was critical to securing a guilty verdict. If it was an involuntary act then the question of guilt is not clear. Secondly, he learned the importance of using close, searching, legal questions to convince both the guilty person and a jury of their guilt. And thirdly, he learned that in order to persuade a jury the lawyer needed to speak directly to them, not talk in an abstract way.

Finney, attending the Presbyterian Church in Adams, began to be troubled by the preaching of the Pastor, George Gale, who although younger than Peter Starr, preached in the same style. Decidedly Calvinistic, Gale emphasised the inability of a sinner to get right with God on his own, and, according to Finney, he never directly addressed the congregation – never saying ‘you!’.

Finney later acknowledged, ‘I now think that I sometimes criticised his sermons unmercifully.’[iii] But Gale continued to pursue and encourage Finney, visiting him in the law office and seeking to find out how much understanding of the gospel Finney was gaining.

Gale’s persistence and Finney’s conviction of sin
It must be acknowledged that Finney’s conversion, humanly speaking, was in large measure due to the evangelistic efforts of this young Reformed pastor.

Numbers were being added to the church in Adams. Gale was by no means an unevangelising hyper-Calvinist. Finney began to feel a certain, unshakeable conviction of sin.

After evangelistic sermons Gale would hold ‘inquiry meetings’ for those seeking salvation. Finney finally attended one. He wrote, ‘I trembled so that my very seat shook under me.’

Gale also wrote of that meeting, ‘He looked at me with an air of solemnity I shall never forget…
“I am willing now to be a Christian! Do you think there is any hope in my case?”
I told him he might be converted, but if he were it would be something very similar to God’s exercising miraculous power: It was not teaching that he needed. It was compliance with what he already knew.’[iv]

Peace at last!
Finally Finney submitted to God. He went up into the woods determined to get right with God before returning. He knelt down and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

He immediately experienced a freedom in his spirit and began to pray. He prayed for hours revelling in a peace that was inconceivable only moments before. He was determined that he would now preach the gospel to others.

To read about how Finney, on the evening after his conversion, was baptised in the Holy Spirit, click here

For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987), p.37

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid p.39

[iv] ibid p.41

JC Ryle on How to Get Right with God

(Part Two of ‘Truths that Changed a Nation’)
JC Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool in 19th century England was eager to see a revival of authentic Christianity in his own generation.

In the previous century England had witnessed such remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit and huge numbers of conversions. Ryle was hungry for a further move of God.

So he began looking back in order to gain insight about how to proceed. In the last post we saw the first three essential truths that the great Methodist leaders, Whitefield, Wesley and others, proclaimed. These were the authority of the Bible, the sinfulness of mankind and the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation.

In this post we’ll look at the other essentials that Ryle believed led to such radical cultural transformation in 18th century England.

1. Justification by Faith
The 18th century Evangelists ‘told men that faith was the one thing needful…that the moment we do believe, we live and [can obtain] all Christ’s benefits.’

The Evangelists rejected the idea that merely being a member of a church meant you were somehow right with God.

Ryle says, ‘Everything – if you will believe, and the moment you believe; nothing – if you do not believe, was the very marrow of their preaching.’ (p.27)

2. ‘You Must be Born Again’
It’s not uncommon to meet people who believe that the emphasis on being ‘born again’ was somehow a 1970’s American religious phenomena.

But actually, as Ryle demonstrates, the preachers of the 1700’s emphasised this constantly. Of course, both the term ‘born again’ and the necessity to preach the new birth goes right back to Jesus Himself (see John chapter 3).

Ryle emphasises ‘heart conversion and a new creation by the Holy Spirit.’

‘They proclaimed everywhere to the crowds whom they addressed, ‘Ye must be born again.’

And this new birth which they so constantly asserted ‘was something that could be seen, discerned and known by its effects.’ (p.28)

3. A Changed Life
Ryle says that the 18th century leaders of the Great Awakening taught ‘the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness.’ (p.28)

They were not inclined to consider anyone a true convert unless there was a definite change in lifestyle. Merely saying you were saved but not changing your lifestyle choices would cause the leaders to question the reality of your faith. If there was no evidence of the ‘fruit of repentance’ then they did not consider that a person had received true saving grace.

4. God is both a God of Wrath and Love

This is without doubt a clear feature of Christian preaching throughout church history.

‘They knew nothing’, asserts Ryle, of ‘a heaven where holy and unholy…all find admission.’ They didn’t preach that everyone goes to heaven in the end.

‘Both about Heaven and Hell they used the utmost plainness of speech.

‘They never shrunk from declaring, in plainest terms, the certainty of God’s judgement and of wrath to come, if men persisted in impenitence and unbelief.

‘Yet, they never ceased to magnify the riches of God’s kindness and compassion, and to entreat all sinners to repent and turn to God before it was too late.’ (p.28)

Conclusion
These were the teachings of the great Evangelists: The trustworthiness of the Bible, the sinfulness of the human race, Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, that we are justified not by works but by faith in Christ, and that a heart work – being born again – is absolutely necessary for salvation. This ‘heart change’ is a real change that affects every area of life. And that finally, God is a just Judge and a loving Father who is calling all people to come to Him for forgiveness.

Let us give good Bishop Ryle the last word:

‘These were the doctrines by which they turned England upside down, made ploughmen and colliers weep till their dirty faces were seamed with tears, arrested the attention of peers and philosophers, stormed the strongholds of Satan, plucked thousands like brands from the burning, and altered the character of the age…

‘The fact is undeniable: God blessed these truths…and what God has blessed it ill becomes man to despise.’ (p.28-29)

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

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Come see a Christian triumphing over death!

Newgate Prison, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newgate Prison, London by George Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

‘Nothing to Trust in Except the Blood of Christ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Eternal Life on Death Row – Astonishing Testimonies of Grace

The Notorious Newgate Prison, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

John Wesley Speaks to a Violent Mob

See the first part of this story here

John Wesley, making an entry in his journal for 20th June 1743, wrote,

‘Before five the mob surrounded the house again, in greater numbers than ever. The cry of one and all was, “Bring out the Minister! We will have the Minister!”

‘I desired one to take their captain by the hand and bring him into the house.

The ring leaders calm down once they meet John Wesley personally
‘After a few sentences interchanged between us the lion was become a lamb.

‘I desired him to go and bring one or two more of the most angry of his companions.

‘He brought in two, who were ready to swallow the ground with rage; but in two minutes they were as calm as he.

Wesley decides to go out and address the angry crowd
‘I then bade them make way that I might go out among the people.

‘As soon as I was in the midst of them I called for a chair; and, standing up, asked, “What do any of you want with me?” Some said, “We want you to go with us to the Justice.”

‘I replied, “That I will, with all my heart.”

Wesley senses an evangelistic opportunity!
‘I then spoke a few words, which God applied; so that they cried out with might and main, “This gentleman is an honest gentleman, and we will spill our blood in his defence.”

‘I asked, “Shall we go to the Justice tonight or in the morning?”

‘Most of them cried, “Tonight, tonight!”

A crowd of more than 200 people decide to walk Wesley to the Magistrate’s house!
‘[Hearing this] I went before [them] and two or three hundred followed, the rest returning whence they came.’

Wesley’s most frightening night was only just beginning. Although he thought he had steered the situation to a peaceful outcome, the decision to search for a Magistrate would prove to be a decision that Wesley and most of the crowd were later to regret.

What happened next is probably not what you think…

(All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 1, p.436-7, Baker Edition)

For more on Wesley and Whitefield click here
For the next installment of this story click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Angry Wife Leads to Evangelists’ Acquittal (because she’s no longer angry)

Ever met someone who could give such a tongue lashing that you were nervous of even saying hello?

Well, one poor husband who endured such rebukes for many years found himself in a tight spot – in court. His wife had suddenly stopped her verbal attacks and became considerate and mild – but the husband still wasn’t happy. What was the cause and what would the Judge say?

John Wesley, writing in his journal in 1742 tells the story:

Wednesday, 9 June: ‘I rode over to a neighbouring town, to wait upon a Justice of Peace, a man of candour and understanding; before whom (I was informed) their angry neighbours had carried a whole wagon-load of these new heretics.’ [ie, new Christian converts along with some of those who had been sharing the gospel with them]

‘But when asked what they had done, there was a deep silence; for that was a point their conductors had forgot.

‘At length one said, “Why, they pretend to be better than other people…and besides, they prayed from morning to night.”

‘Mr. S asked, “But have they done nothing besides?”

“Yes Sir!”, said an old man, “An’t please your worship, they have convarted my wife. Till she went among them she had such a tongue! And now she is as quiet as a lamb!”

“Carry them back, carry them back,” replied the Justice, “and let them convert all the scolds in the town!”
(From John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.378)

Gal 5:22-23 says, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

More than a Hymn-Writer: Charles Wesley the Evangelist

Charles Wesley, Hymn-writer and Evangelist

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

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

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

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

A Passionate Evangelistic Preacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Inspiring combination of the Poet and the Evangelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Wesley

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

More next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Violence Seems to Triumph – The First Methodist Martyr

(Methodism and the Mob Part 6)

The Mob Reacts – The Death of William Seward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preachers Pelted with Dirt, a Cat and a Dead Dog

(Methodism and the Mob Part 5)

William Seward
William Seward was a wealthy supporter of the work that George Whitefield and Howell Harris were doing.

He also helped John Wesley with generous funding for the meeting place in Bristol, even though Wesley was assuming a leadership role there that Seward felt excluded Whitefield (See here for how Whitefield began the work in Bristol).

Seward had accompanied these preachers and witnessed both the joys and dangers of massive crowds.

In 1740 he travelled with Howell Harris in Wales and records several occasions when the crowds became violent.

Seward with Howell Harris
On Sept 9 he wrote, ‘We had been singing and praying and discoursing for half an hour when the mob began to be outrageous, and to pelt us…till at length I was struck with a stone upon my eye, which caused me so much anguish that I was forced to go away to the Inn.

‘Bro. Harris continued to discourse for some time afterward…I got my eye dressed and went to bed as soon as possible.

The next morning they went out again, preaching in the same place to the same crowds.

Stones, dirt, a cat and a dead dog
Seward writes, ‘We had continual showers of stones, walnuts, dirt, a cat and also a dead dog thrown at us…

‘I was struck on my forehead and under my right eye again, and also on my side with a stone.

‘A drum was ordered to be beat, which drowned [our] voices…the Book [the Bible] was all covered with dirt.

‘After Bro. Harris had done, I spoke a few words, but I found my call was more to suffer than to preach.’ (from William Seward, ‘Journal of a Voyage from Savannah to Philadelphia and from Philadelphia to England’ p.27)

Perhaps he should have backed down. Perhaps he should have let others do the preaching. Perhaps…

Seward would accompany Harris again in October, 1740 as Harris preached powerfully to hostile crowds. It would be the last time Seward would share in the struggle to bring Britain to Christ.

For the next installment click here

Also see: Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

© 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

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

God’s Abiding Presence

Jonathan Edwards

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

A Cycle of Harvests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield visits Jonathan Edwards (part 3)

George Whitefield twenties
George Whitefield, probably in his twenties

Part Three (see Part One and Part Two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 2)

Part Two (see Part One)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to Part 3 of this story

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 1)

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

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

New Friends

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

Whitefield describes their meeting in his journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Part 2 of this story see here

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Passion of the Evangelist: Whitefield Preaches in America

George Whitefield, the Evangelist
George Whitefield, the Evangelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Read Part Three here

© Lex Loizides

The Gospel in the Great City

18th Century London
18th Century London

In a future post we’ll look at the experience of someone in the midst of the crowd of thousands listening to Evangelist George Whitefield.

We’ll get an idea of the excitement on hearing that he was to preach, the growing expectation as Whitefield arrives at the venue and then the power of the preaching as lives are changed.

But before we get there it will be instructive for us to hear Whitefield’s inner thoughts and excitement as he enjoyed regular scenes of crowds in excess of 10,000. A nation was being transformed by gospel preaching and Whitefield had the privilege of spearheading the movement.

Londoners Love Whitefield!
Of various London open-air meetings in mid-1739 he writes:

‘Preached this morning at Moorfields, to about twenty thousand, and God manifested Himself still more and more. My discourse was near two hours long.

‘My heart was full of love, and people were so melted down on every side…’

‘Great numbers were in tears…’

‘Preached at Kennington…with much sweetness and power…’

London is a City of Huge Congregations
It is at this point, when the massive crowds were so regular in their attendance that Whitefield calls the gatherings in Kennington, ‘my usual congregation’!

It was not until the 20th century when Christian ministers could rightly refer to normal church gatherings of ten or twenty thousand as their ‘regular congregations’.

Londoners Love Preaching!
London was in the midst of a full-on move of God. Whitefield describes preaching in Mayfair, ‘near Hyde Park Corner’ to a congregation that was estimated at being nearly 80,000 people!

Where you live in the world right now probably determines your response to that number. If you’re reading this in Nigeria, or in South America where much larger crowds have gathered in the open air to hear a visiting Evangelist you’re probably knowingly celebrating. But if you’re in Europe your tendency might be to question the estimate and want to bring it down by at least 50%. OK! Let’s bring it down by 50% – now let’s imagine 40,000 Londoners gathering to hear about Jesus!

Whatever the precise size, Whitefield wrote, ‘It was by far the largest I ever preached to yet. A high and very commodious scaffold was erected for me to stand upon…’

He preached with mighty power and passion, and finishes his description of that meeting by saying, ‘All love, all glory, be to God through Christ.’

Blackheath, Hampstead Heath, Chatham, Shadwell were on the periphery of London (‘Blessed be God!’, said GW, ‘We begin to surround this great city!’) Kennington Common, Moorfields, Mayfair, Bexley, Hackney and many other boroughs and suburbs – Londoners were suddenly craving the gospel. The foremost city of the 18th Century world was waking up and turning to Christ.

‘I have seen the Kingdom of God come with power!’

‘Oh what marvellous great kindness has God shown me in this great city!’ Whitefield wrote in his journal, ‘Indeed, I have seen the kingdom of God come with power!’

Oh London, London! Why don’t you spend a few moments praying for the gospel to have great success once again in that great city.

(Quotations from Whitefield’s Journal, quoted by Arnold Dallimore, Vol 1 p.292-294)
© 2009 Lex Loizides

A Whole Town Gathers to Hear John Wesley

A whole town hears Jesus
In Mark 1:32-34 we read an account of Jesus preaching in Capernaum. There had been a very public power encounter in the meeting earlier in the day. A man had screamed out during the service.

But rather than allow the disruption to frighten the people and jeopardise the evangelistic situation, Jesus exercised great leadership, taking authority over the evil spirit, casting it out and refocusing the peoples’ attention to him.

In the evening, we are told, the whole town came to Jesus, bringing their sick and troubled loved-ones to be healed.

A whole town hears Wesley
John Wesley tells us in his journal, that in the amazing year of 1739 he had a similar experience. He may not have fully realised the impact of the Welsh preachers like Howell Harris who had been diligently preaching across Wales for several years before Wesley’s visit, but nevertheless, Wesley’s time there was impressive.

In October he preached in Cardiff and writes,

‘At six almost the whole town (I was informed) came together, to whom I explained the six last Beatitudes;

‘but my heart was so enlarged, I knew not how to give over, so that we continued three hours.

‘O may the seed they have received, have its fruit unto holiness, and in the end, everlasting life!’ (John Wesley Journals, Baker edition, p. 233-4)

Whole towns today
There are parts of the world today where whole towns are being impacted with the gospel. We’ll come to that in due time. What about your town? If you cannot preach you can pray.

If you are not sure what your contribution should be you can at least know that you should join a local church and help build it for the benefit of the community where God has placed you. Click here for help.

If whole towns gathered 2000 years ago, and 270 years ago, whole towns can gather now, surely?

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Changed in a Moment – Demonstrations of Power in the Evangelistic Arena

John Wesley Preaching
John Wesley Preaching

Evangelistic progress in the West, and its downside
There’s little doubt that gains have been made in the Western church in terms of evangelism. While the work of evangelism has been roaring ahead in the Global South, we have been carefully seeking to engage our communities.

We are, I hope, doing so respectfully and with increasing fruit. We are creating a context in which objections can be raised and hopefully answered.

The appetite for apologetics in the church has increased. And enquirers are given time rather than exhorted to respond without much information. That’s good.

But, in the midst of our modest gains, there’s a downside. The trend towards apologetics has slowed the evangelistic process so comprehensively that some would be sceptical if a guest were to ask to become a Christian after a single sermon.

Alongside the tremendous success of multi-week evangelistic courses and seeker friendly sermon series in the Western church, we may doubt the possibility of God bringing saving power ‘right now’, as it were! We may also have become unnecessarily nervous of any ‘demonstrations of power’ in the evangelistic arena (cf. 1 Cor 2:4).

Do we still believe that someone’s heart can be ‘strangely warmed’ as they hear the gospel? Can we believe that during a single sermon ‘the Lord opens the heart to believe’? Would we, like Paul, baptise someone after such a short exposure to the Christian message? (see Acts 16:11-15)

We acknowledge that everyone goes through a process of discovery. Jesus Himself spoke about sowing and reaping. This is how the influence of the Kingdom of God expands (Matt 13:1-9, Mark 4:26-29).

But we must never forget that what’s being described is not a natural but a supernatural process.

When things were speeding up for John Wesley; when hundreds were hearing the gospel, experiencing the power of the Spirit and being converted, he was criticised for promoting it. Although he is responding primarily to concern about the power aspects of the meetings, his faith in the suddenness of genuine conversion is refreshing.

His defence, copied into his journal in May 1739, is helpful for us so that, while continuing to carefully instruct inquirers, we avoid the danger of lowering our expectation of God’s power in the gospel. (Rom 1:16)

John Wesley defends the work
Wesley writes, ‘The question between us turns chiefly, if not wholly, on matter of fact. You deny that God does now work these effects, at least that he works with them in this manner.

‘I affirm both, because I have heard these 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.

‘These are matters of fact, whereof I have been, and almost daily am, an eye or an ear witness.

‘…I know 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.

Genuine conversion
‘This is the fact,’ Wesley continued, ‘let any judge of it as they please. 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.

‘I will show you him that was a lion till then, and is now a lamb; him that was a drunkard, and is now exemplarily sober; the whoremonger that was, who now abhors the very ‘garment spotted by the flesh’.

‘These are my living arguments for what I assert, viz. ‘That God does now, as [in the past], give remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, even to us and to our children; yea, and that always suddenly, as far as I have known, and often in dreams or in the visions of God.’ (John Wesley Journals, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.195-6)

For more on the power of the Holy Spirit read here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Emerging Mob

Evangelist George Whitefield
Evangelist George Whitefield

Whitefield in London
When the Evangelist George Whitefield returned to London after his triumphant open air meetings in Bristol in 1739, he was not warmly received.

He returned to St. Mary’s Church, Islington, but was not allowed to preach there even though he had been invited to. So he immediately went out and preached in the churchyard.

‘God was pleased so to assist me in preaching’ he wrote later, ‘and so wonderfully to affect the hearers, that I believe we could have gone singing hymns to prison.

‘Let not the adversaries say I have thrust myself out. No! They have thrust me out.

‘And since the self-righteous men of this generation count themselves unworthy, I go out to the highways and hedges, and compel harlots, publicans and sinners to come in, that my Master’s house may be filled. They who are sincere will follow after me to hear the word of God.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.259)

Moorfields
19th Century Biographer, John Gillies describes Whitefield’s courage in the face of possible violence. This encounter was merely menacing. The crowd were still restrained, but, as we will see later, this restraint soon gave way to actual violence.

‘Public notice having been given, upon coming out of the coach he found an incredible number of people assembled. Many had told him that he [would] never come again out of that place alive.

‘He went in, however, between two of his friends, who by the pressure of the crowd were soon parted entirely from him and were obliged to leave him to the mercy of the rabble.

‘But these, instead of hurting him, formed a lane for him, and carried him along to the middle of the fields (where a table had been placed [but] which was broken into pieces by the crowd).

‘[then he was taken] back again to the wall that parted the upper and lower Moorfields, from whence he preached without molestation to an exceedingly great multitude.’ (John Gillies, Memoir of the Rev. George Whitefield, 1839, p.42)

Whitefield, in his journal, merely writes, ‘Preached in the morning at Moorfields, to an exceeding great multitude. At ten, went to Christ Church and heard Dr. Trapp preach most virulently against me and my friends’ (GW Journal p.260)

The growing resistance to the success of the gospel was now not only being voiced by churchmen but was being stirred by the far less predictable mob.

© 2009 Lex Loizides