Small towns can play a huge role in Global history
Kettering is a small town just 80 or so miles northwest of London, England, and which dates back to Roman times. Chances are that nowadays you would just drive past it on your way to somewhere else.
But it was here, in this humble, quiet town that an event took place the ramifications of which have truly changed the world.
It was here in Kettering that the evangelical churches finally caught up with the Moravians and a new century of Christian missions would begin when William Carey and a few like minded friends raised thirteen pounds, two shillings and sixpence to reach the whole wide world with the gospel.
If the powerful activity of the Spirit in the 18th century had served to awaken the English speaking world to the claims of Christ then His continued outpouring in the 19th century propelled the gospel to many other nations.
Instead of being weakened by the growing tide of rationalism and unbelief amongst scholars and academics the church radically invested in mission.
The Father of Modern Missions
William Carey was born in 1761, right in the thick of the Great Awakening led by George Whitefield and John Wesley.
He was born, not too far from Kettering, in a village called Paulerspury in Northamptonshire.
His father was a poor schoolmaster who apprenticed him to a local shoemaker aged only 14. And so, William Carey became a shoemaker by trade.
Like so many other heroes in the unfolding story of the Christian Church, Carey received no tertiary education and did not go to University.
We’ll continue Carey’s story next time…
To read the first part of the William Carey Story click here
To read the next part of the William Carey Story click here
(Part Two of ‘Truths that Changed a Nation’)
JC Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool in 19th century England was eager to see a revival of authentic Christianity in his own generation.
In the previous century England had witnessed such remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit and huge numbers of conversions. Ryle was hungry for a further move of God.
So he began looking back in order to gain insight about how to proceed. In the last post we saw the first three essential truths that the great Methodist leaders, Whitefield, Wesley and others, proclaimed. These were the authority of the Bible, the sinfulness of mankind and the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation.
In this post we’ll look at the other essentials that Ryle believed led to such radical cultural transformation in 18th century England.
1. Justification by Faith
The 18th century Evangelists ‘told men that faith was the one thing needful…that the moment we do believe, we live and [can obtain] all Christ’s benefits.’
The Evangelists rejected the idea that merely being a member of a church meant you were somehow right with God.
Ryle says, ‘Everything – if you will believe, and the moment you believe; nothing – if you do not believe, was the very marrow of their preaching.’ (p.27)
2. ‘You Must be Born Again’
It’s not uncommon to meet people who believe that the emphasis on being ‘born again’ was somehow a 1970’s American religious phenomena.
But actually, as Ryle demonstrates, the preachers of the 1700’s emphasised this constantly. Of course, both the term ‘born again’ and the necessity to preach the new birth goes right back to Jesus Himself (see John chapter 3).
Ryle emphasises ‘heart conversion and a new creation by the Holy Spirit.’
‘They proclaimed everywhere to the crowds whom they addressed, ‘Ye must be born again.’
And this new birth which they so constantly asserted ‘was something that could be seen, discerned and known by its effects.’ (p.28)
3. A Changed Life
Ryle says that the 18th century leaders of the Great Awakening taught ‘the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness.’ (p.28)
They were not inclined to consider anyone a true convert unless there was a definite change in lifestyle. Merely saying you were saved but not changing your lifestyle choices would cause the leaders to question the reality of your faith. If there was no evidence of the ‘fruit of repentance’ then they did not consider that a person had received true saving grace.
4. God is both a God of Wrath and Love
This is without doubt a clear feature of Christian preaching throughout church history.
‘They knew nothing’, asserts Ryle, of ‘a heaven where holy and unholy…all find admission.’ They didn’t preach that everyone goes to heaven in the end.
‘Both about Heaven and Hell they used the utmost plainness of speech.
‘They never shrunk from declaring, in plainest terms, the certainty of God’s judgement and of wrath to come, if men persisted in impenitence and unbelief.
‘Yet, they never ceased to magnify the riches of God’s kindness and compassion, and to entreat all sinners to repent and turn to God before it was too late.’ (p.28)
These were the teachings of the great Evangelists: The trustworthiness of the Bible, the sinfulness of the human race, Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, that we are justified not by works but by faith in Christ, and that a heart work – being born again – is absolutely necessary for salvation. This ‘heart change’ is a real change that affects every area of life. And that finally, God is a just Judge and a loving Father who is calling all people to come to Him for forgiveness.
Let us give good Bishop Ryle the last word:
‘These were the doctrines by which they turned England upside down, made ploughmen and colliers weep till their dirty faces were seamed with tears, arrested the attention of peers and philosophers, stormed the strongholds of Satan, plucked thousands like brands from the burning, and altered the character of the age…
‘The fact is undeniable: God blessed these truths…and what God has blessed it ill becomes man to despise.’ (p.28-29)
We’re busy enjoying JC Ryle’s description of the preaching of the Evangelists whom God used to change the culture of 18th century England. (This is Part Four of a short series on Ryle. See Part One, Two and Three)
Having emphasised that it was specifically preaching that was used by God, he describes the type of messages the Evangelists preached.
1. They preached attractive, accessible messages
‘They used illustrations and anecdotes in abundance, and like their divine Master, borrowed lessons from every object in nature.
‘They revived the style of sermons in which Luther and Latimer used to be so eminently successful.’ Ryle then applies a saying of Luther to the 18th century Evangelists: ‘No one can be a good preacher to the people who is not willing to preach in a manner that seems childish and vulgar to some.’ (p.25)
2. They preached fervently and directly
‘They cast aside that dull, cold, heavy, lifeless mode of delivery which had long made sermons a very proverb for dullness.
‘They proclaimed the words of faith, and the story of life with life!
‘They spoke with fiery zeal, like men who were thoroughly persuaded that what they said was true, and that it was of the upmost importance to your eternal interest to hear it.
‘They spoke like men who had got a message from God to you, and must deliver it, and must have your attention while they delivered it.
‘They threw heart and soul and feeling into their sermons and sent their hearers home convinced, at any rate, that the preacher was sincere and wished them well.
‘They believed that you must speak from the heart if you wish to speak to the heart.’ (p.25)
3. Their sermons were full of Biblical content
‘I would have it understood that it was eminently doctrinal, positive, dogmatical and distinct.
‘The trumpets which blew down the walls of Jericho were trumpets which gave no uncertain sound.
‘The English evangelists of last century were not men of an uncertain creed…’ (p.25)
Next time we’ll look at the main points the Evangelists’ preached, and which had such a transforming impact on their culture.
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
JC Ryle, the 19th century Pastor, wrote extensively about the great heroes of the 18th century awakening in England.
We’ve been enjoying his frank observations on both the source of the problems and the means of revival that God used.
Ryle specifically lifts up the role and gift of the Evangelist as being the key to the breakthroughs that took place, and we will continue to be challenged by his analysis in this post.
1. The opposition experienced by the Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘At first people in high places affected to despise them. The men of letters sneered at them as fanatics…
‘The Church shut her doors on them…the ignorant mob persecuted them. But the movement of these few evangelists went on, and made itself felt in every part of the land.’ (p.23)
2. The Primary method for changing the cultural landscape of England was Preaching
‘The instrumentality by which the spiritual reformers of the last century carried on their operations was of the simplest description.
‘It was neither more nor less that the old apostolic weapon of preaching.
‘Beyond doubt, preaching was their favourite weapon. They wisely went back to first principles.’
3. The Evangelists preached everywhere.
‘If the pulpit was open to them they gladly availed themselves of it [but] they were equally ready to preach in a barn.
‘No place came amiss to them. In the field or by the road side, on the village green, or in a market place, in lanes, or in alleys, in cellars or in garrets, on a tub or on a table, on a bench or on a horse block, wherever hearers could be gathered [they] were ready to speak…They were instant in season and out of season…’ (p.24)
4. They preached simply
‘They rightly concluded that the very first qualification to be aimed at in a sermon is to be understood!
‘They saw clearly that thousands of able and well composed sermons are utterly useless because they are above the heads of the hearers.’
Ryle says they preached in a way that could be clearly and immediately understood: ‘To attain this they were not ashamed to crucify their style and sacrifice their reputation for learning.’ (p.24-25)
We’ll continue next time, to hear about the style of preaching which God used to turn England upside down in the 18th Century.
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
What makes Ryle’s commentary so appealing is the fact that we can apply the same lessons to ourselves and trust God for major breakthrough in our various cities and nations.
1. Everyone was aware of a major change
Says Ryle: ‘That a great change for the better has come over England in the last hundred years is a fact which I suppose no well informed person would ever attempt to deny. You might as well attempt to deny that there was a Protestant Reformation in the days of Luther…’ (p.21)
2. Where the change didn’t come from Not the Government: ‘The government of the country can lay no claim to the credit of the change.’ Not the Church of England: ‘Nor…from the Church of England as a body. The leaders of that venerable communion were utterly unequal to the times. Left to herself, the Church of England would probably have died of dignity…’ Not the ‘Free’ churches: ‘Nor…from the Dissenters. Content with their hard-won triumphs, that worthy body of men seemed to rest upon their oars.’ (p.22)
3. The change came through Evangelists
‘The men who wrought deliverance for us…were a few individuals…whose hearts God touched about the same time in various parts of the country.
‘They were not wealthy or highly connected. They were simply men whom God stirred up and brought out to do His work.
‘They did His work in the old apostolic way, by becoming the evangelists of their day.’(p.22)
4. The demeanour of these Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘They taught one set of truths. They taught them in the same way, with fire, reality, earnestness, as men fully convinced of what they taught.
‘They taught them in the same spirit, always loving, compassionate…even weeping, but always bold, unflinching and not fearing the face of man.
‘And they taught them on the same plan, always acting on the aggressive; not waiting for sinners to come to them, but going after, and seeking sinners; not sitting idle till sinners offered to repent, but assaulting the high places of ungodliness like men storming a breach…
‘The movement of these gallant evangelists shook England from one end to another.’ (p.23)
We’ll continue with Ryle’s observations next time…
All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website
We’ve been looking at George Whitefield’s efforts to bring the Christian message to 18th century America.
Preaching amongst the black population
In 18th century America, the African population were almost all slaves. That they were slaves in the first place is an outrage, but we’re told the white population looked upon African as inferior in every respect, not even having souls.
Although Whitefield is not guiltless in his view of the African slave trade, he rejected this completely and insisted on telling slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that they were so important to God that Christ died on the cross for them.
He had written to the whites, ‘Think you, your children are in any way better by nature [than black children]? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin as white men are, and both, I am persuaded, are naturally as capable of the same improvement.’[i]
Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to many whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God. Many African slaves were converted to Christ and the earliest spiritual songs were heard amongst those to whom Whitefield had preached.
An African Tribute to George Whitefield
Whitefield was genuinely loved and appreciated by those who came to Christ through his preaching. Phillis Wheatley a former slave with a superb literary gift, wrote a poem of appreciation about Whitefield after his death.
Wheatley herself is a marvel of intellectual ability, having been in America only 9 years she had mastered the language superbly. Her brilliance is evident in many of her published poems. She was the first African American poet to be published in America. She later wrote a poem for George Washington. He was so impressed with her poetic skill he said it would be a privilege to meet her.
Of Whitefield’s preaching she writes,
‘Thou didst, in Strains of Eloquence refin’d,
Inflame the Soul and captivate the Mind.’
Of his praying she writes,
‘He pray’d that Grace in every Heart might dwell:
He long’d to see America excel;
He charg’d its Youth to let the Grace Divine
Arise, and in their future Actions shine.’
Using his style of preaching she exhorts her readers:
‘Take HIM, ye wretched, for your only Good;
Take HIM, ye starving Souls, to be your Food.
Ye Thirsty, come to this Life-giving Stream:
Ye Preachers, take him for your joyful Theme:
Take HIM, “my dear Americans,” he said;
Be your Complaints in his kind Bosom laid:
Take HIM, ye Africans, he longs for you;
Impartial SAVIOUR, is his Title due;
If you will choose to walk in Grace’s Road,
You shall be Sons, and Kings, and Priests to GOD.’
Whitefield’s contribution to the development of African American Christianity was imperfect, but it was significant.
Whitefield loved America, sought to build America, rebuke its wrongs and try and reach those it wronged, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To read of Whitefield’s failure to oppose slavery click here To read of Wesley’s encouragement to Wilberforce to fight slavery click here
[i] Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, Vol 1, p.494
George Whitefield is justly criticised in connection with his work amongst the first Africans in America.
Although he taught that all men had souls, and preached the gospel to the African American community, he did not fight against slavery. At the orphanage he built in Bethesda, Georgia, he first received slaves, then, later, purchased his own.[i]
Whitefield felt his responsibility was to preach to slave owners, and to correct abuses rather than launch an assault on the institution itself.
He certainly didn’t agree with the harsh treatment of slaves, but whether he acquiesced with the institution, or whether he merely felt he could do nothing, his failure to use his influence to end slavery, or even begin a serious debate to end slavery, was certainly a sin of omission on his part.
Rebuking the White Man
In an open letter, published by Benjamin Franklin, to the inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Whitefield wrote the following:
‘I must inform you in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, that God has a quarrel with you for your cruelty to the poor negroes. Whether it be lawful for Christians to buy slaves, I shall not take it upon me to determine, but sure I am that it is sinful…to use them worse than brutes.
Some, as I have been informed by an eye witness, have been, upon the most trifling provocation, cut with knives, and have had forks thrown into their flesh: not to mention what numbers have been given up to the inhuman usage of cruel task masters, who by their unrelenting scourges, have ploughed upon their backs and made long furrows, and at length brought them even to death. I hope there are but few such monsters of barbarity [among you]…
An uprising amongst the slaves would be just
Whitefield continued, ‘Although I pray God the slaves would not be permitted to get the upper hand [ie, in revolution against the white slave owners], yet should such a thing be permitted by [God], all good men must acknowledge, the judgement would be just.
‘Whilst I have viewed your plantations cleared and cultivated, and have seen many spacious houses, and the owners of them faring sumptuously every day, my blood has almost run cold within me, when I have considered how many of your slaves have neither convenient food to eat, nor proper [clothes] to put on, notwithstanding most of the comforts you enjoy were solely owing to their labours…
‘Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for the miseries that shall come upon you [for] their cries have come into the ears of the Lord…’[ii]
Thomas Kidd, in his recent biography of Whitefield shows how his initial rebuke to slave-owners and slavery gradually softened. As he spent more time in America, and became more ‘moderate’ and familiar with how things were done there, he not only accepted the reality of slavery but, in his later years, argued that Georgia’s economy would falter without it. It is of little help to point out that Jefferson, Madison and other American ‘Founding Fathers’ agitated for emancipation from Great Britain, proclaiming liberty and equality for themselves, yet still owned slaves. Although Kidd points out that white antislavery sentiment was rare during Whitefield’s life, we still feel confused over his hardening of heart. After Whitefield’s early death (before the American revolution), Wesley and others began to agitate and publish against slavery. As Kidd points out, perhaps Whitefield would have had further reason to rethink his later position.[iii]
Wesley’s view of slavery differed from Whitefield
It is important that we don’t take Whitefield’s passive response to slavery as representative of the Christian position generally.
John Wesley was outspoken – even to the point where he risked Methodism’s popularity in America. At one point, all Methodist itinerant preachers, except the valiant Francis Asbury, returned. And Asbury himself was forced to ‘lie low’. [iv]
Wesley, in a fierce attack on slave owners, wrote:
‘You know [slaves] are procured by a deliberate series of…complicated villainy (of fraud, robbery and murder)…Now it is your money that pays the merchant, and through him the captain and the African butchers.
You therefore are guilty, yea principally guilty, of all these frauds, robberies, and murders…therefore, the blood of all these wretches who die before their time, whether in their country or elsewhere, lies upon your head.’[v]
As a result of Wesley’s position, and that of the Methodist leadership generally, slave holders were not allowed to become members of the Methodist Societies both in Britain and America.
But the most important change came with William Wilberforce, as we’ll see here.
To read a former slave’s tribute to George Whitefield click here
[i] Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield – America’s Spiritual Founding Father, Yale, 2014, p190, 199
[ii] Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth edition, Vol 1. p. 495-6
[iii] Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield – America’s Spiritual Founding Father, Yale, 2014, p.260-262
[iv] Mark Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, Leicester, p.201
[v] From Welsey’s pamphlet ‘Thoughts on Slavery’ published 1774. Quoted by Noll, p.237
Less than three years after his failed engagement to Grace Murray, Wesley was becoming interested in another potential wife.
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.
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.
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
Whitefield is often quoted as saying that some of the converts ‘were like a rope of sand’. This statement, made at a time of disappointment with the numbers who had joined the Wesleyan societies, is usually taken out of context and used against Whitefield’s gospel message.
But he wasn’t saying that his gospel was ineffective, or that his Reformed theological position was evangelistically irrelevant. He was merely breathing out his disappointment at a particular time and place.
John Wesley also said much the same thing. Having spent so much time and effort in Newgate amongst the prisoners, he laments the lack of result and says, ‘I see no fruit of our labour!’ (Journal, Vol 2, p.89, Baker Edition)
Don’t give up!
Every believer who has sought to share the gospel with someone they care about knows the disappointment of non-response or negative response. This is part of the struggle we are in together.
Rather than become less evangelistic we should take courage that even the greatest Evangelists don’t see breakthrough all the time.
There’s work to be done. And if we truly believe we will reap what we sow, then we should be sowing much, much more than we are, and not give up prematurely.
Don’t give up. In the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ve got the greatest message ever given to humankind. Keep going.
‘Do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV)
On Sunday June 6th 1742 John Wesley, the English Evangelist re-visited his home town, Epworth in Lincolnshire.
This was the town of his birth and his father had been the Pastor of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church there. The Wesley children had been raised there.
Prior to the Sunday service beginning Wesley offered to assist the Curate with the service, either by preaching or ‘reading prayers’ (from the Book of Common Prayer, then used by Anglicans).
The curate wasn’t keen, and we pick up the story from Wesley’s Journal:
‘He did not care to accept my assistance. The church was exceeding full in the afternoon, a rumour being spread that I was to preach.
‘But the sermon on ‘Quench not the Spirit’ was not suitable to the expectation of many of the hearers. Mr. Romney told them one of the most dangerous ways of quenching the Spirit was by enthusiasm; and enlarged on the character of an enthusiast…’
It’s quite likely that John Wesley, his friends and many of the people could clearly understand that the dodgy ‘character’ being described was Wesley himself!
‘Mr. Wesley will preach in the graveyard!’
Wesley continues, ‘After sermon, John Taylor stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock.’
‘Accordingly at six I came, and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before.
‘I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father’s tomb stone and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’
We might expect that many left the Church of England because of the combination of the Curate’s and Wesley’s behaviour. And they did. But Wesley remained a loyal Anglican to the very end, urging new converts to attend the very churches that were teaching against the evangelical movement and preaching specifically against him and Whitefield.
In fact, because some who had left what they considered an unbelieving church were urging others to leave, Wesley, the very same day he had defied the Curate, decided to stay in Epworth and plead with several to remain within the Church of England.
It was a religious loyalty and tension that he struggled with all through his life.
While he was in Epworth he preached every evening of that week from his father’s grave to great crowds who continued to hear him. (all quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.377)
It was only near the end that he finally faced the inevitable and laid hands on the first apostolic delegate to America, Thomas Coke. Coke, in turn, had authority to appoint other leaders over the Methodist work in America.
So the Methodist movement, finally freed from its traditional English roots, became established in its own right and for many years became a mighty mouthpiece for evangelical Christianity around the world.
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.
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.’
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!’
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.
During the whole period of the first Great Awakening in America and Europe the power of the Holy Spirit was an obvious feature.
A season of mighty power
The power of God was evidently touching those non-Christians who were attending the massive meetings. The power of God was also touching those who were repenting. And faithful believers were coming into a new experience of God’s love and guidance as a result of being filled with the Spirit.
Inevitably, and especially where those being influenced were new converts, this occasionally led to a lack of common sense and the usual application of wisdom.
George Whitefield, the great Evangelist of the movement was eager to provide counsel that would help those newly baptised into what appear to be essentially charismatic experiences.
Wise counsel from a man full of the Spirit
In a sermon based on Genesis 5:24 (‘And Enoch walked with God’) Whitefield, in seeking to explain how the child of God receives guidance, wrote the following:
‘In order to walk closely with God, his children must not only watch the motions of God’s providence without them, but the motions also of his blessed Spirit in their hearts.
‘As many as are the sons of God, are led by the Spirit of God’ (Romans 8:14), and give up themselves to be guided by the Holy Ghost, as a little child gives its hand to be led by a nurse or parent.
‘It is no doubt in this sense that we are to be converted, and become like little children. And though it is the quintessence of enthusiasm, to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written word; yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written word of God.
Led by the Spirit and guided by the Word
‘Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most holy word: and if they are not found to be agreeable to that, reject them as diabolical and delusive.
By observing this caution, you will steer a middle course between the two dangerous extremes many of this generation are in danger of running into; I mean, enthusiasm on the one hand, and…downright infidelity on the other.’ (George Whitefield, Walking with God, quoted by Iain Murray in Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.248. The whole sermon is available here)
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 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
This is Part Four on Whitefield’s Visit to Northampton (see Part One, Two and Three)
When Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American colonial town of Northampton, he had the privilege of staying with Jonathan and Sarah Edwards and their family.
Edwards and Whitefield – Similarities and Differences
Edwards and Whitefield shared many similarities. They were both highly respected Christian leaders, they both had a reputation as powerful preachers, they were both Calvinistic in their theological outlook.
But there, the similarities ended. Their style of preaching was very different. Edwards was a careful, logical teacher. Whitefield was all life and fire, thunder and lightning.
Edwards was a meticulous writer, crafting pamphlets for publication. Whitefield barely had the time to check the proof copies of manuscripts of his sermons and had the disappointment of seeing very poor versions of his sermons in print without his permission.
Edwards was a settled Pastor overseeing a local congregation, and very much a responsible Pastor of one parish. Whitefield, on the other hand, had declared that the whole world was now his parish and lived a life of itinerant preaching.
Edwards was a family man, with a godly wife and several children. Whitefield was still single, and still waiting for the love of his life to come along.
Whitefield longs for family life
Describing the private times he enjoyed with the Edwards family, Whitefield wrote,
‘Felt wonderful satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. He is a son himself, and hath also a Daughter of Abraham for his wife.
‘A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were dressed not in silks and satins, but plain, as become the children of those who, in all things, ought to be examples of Christian simplicity.’
Whitefield Prays for a Wife
Speaking of Sarah Edwards Whitefield wrote, ‘She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talked feelingly and solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a help-meet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for some months, I have put up to God, that he would be pleased to send me a Daughter of Abraham to be my wife.
‘I find, upon many accounts, it is my duty to marry. Lord I desire to have no choice of my own. Thou knowest my circumstances; thou knowest I only desire to marry in and for thee.
‘Thou didst choose a Rebecca for Isaac, choose one for me to be a help-meet for me, in carrying on that great work committed to my charge. Lord, hear me, Lord, let my cry come unto thee.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth, ps. 475-477)
It may sound strange to us that his future wife might not be a ‘choice of his own’. Surely his choice ought to come into it? But, humbly though somewhat self-consciously (he knew his Journals were being published and read avidly), he is merely expressing that he wants God’s will for his life and is nervous of messing it up himself.
It is a good thing to pray, and to take counsel from friends, to honestly ask God and Pastors for help and guidance.
He did eventually marry and found happiness. His friend John Wesley also married. But that’s another story for another time…
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.
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
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)
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.
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)
When he was just 25 years old, the English Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American town of Northampton, the town made famous bya 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’.
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.
We’re often told about how fragmented the Christian Church is. But actually, the true, final and eternal basis on which people will be united is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although we live in a fallen world, the reality of this unity can be experienced even now. And even though we are not unrealistic about our differences, every Christian at one time or another has known the joy of this unity in Christ.
On Tuesday 27 November 1739, George Whitefield visited Germantown, Philadelphia. What is inspiring here is that Whitfield’s visit drew together individuals, denominational leaders and people of varying ethnic backgrounds into a united experience of worship.
This kind of evangelistic moment prefigures the coming reality of Rev 7:9-10 (NIV) which says,
‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God!”’
Unity because of the Power of the Holy Spirit
Whitefield records the following:
‘Tuesday Nov 27 – According to appointment, I preached at German Town, seven miles from Philadelphia, from a balcony, to above six thousand people.
God strengthened me to speak nearly two hours, with such demonstration of the Spirit, that great numbers continued weeping for a considerable time.
I have not seen a more gracious melting for a considerable time. After I had done, people came to shake me by the hand, and invited me to their houses, and fresh places…
I had sweet converse, and felt a blessed union and communion with many souls, though of different nations and professions.
I think there are no less than fifteen denominations of Christians in German Town, and yet all agree in one thing, that is, to hold Jesus Christ as their Head, and to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
I talked with one who had been banished from Switzerland for preaching Christ. Numbers are scattered round about the town, who were driven out of their native countries for the sake of their holy religion.’ (George Whitefield, Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.358-9)
The gift of the Evangelist, as described in Ephesians 4, is a means of bringing the church to maturity and to unity. Our efforts to produce unity apart from the gifts listed in Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers) will always fall short of our hopes.
The ascended Christ gives these specific gifts to cause the church to grow and to bring her to maturity and unity. Whitfield continues to serve as an inspiration to all who would seek such gospel unity.
(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.[i]
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.
‘The Lord our Righteousness’ is published in The Select Sermons of George Whitefield (Banner of Truth). [i] Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541
and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f
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)
(Part One) Four Thousand Gather in an American Field
The same power, which attended George Whitefield’s evangelistic meetings in Britain, was also very evident in America.
Let’s take a closer look at the kind of excitement generated when it was announced that he would be preaching. There is little doubt that the description of the gathering we are about to enjoy is not exceptional but was rather typical of Great Awakening meetings certainly until 1745 in America.
On October 23 1740, during his second American visit, he preached at Middletown, Connecticut. Whitefield states in his Journal with unpretentious familiarity, ‘Preached to about four thousand people at eleven o’clock.’
Obviously, he felt there was nothing particularly unusual about the meeting. History has, however, preserved a spectator’s account of the same meeting, which makes fascinating reading.
Nathan Cole, one of the 4000 present, describes the scene when the news that Whitefield would preach was announced:
‘Now it pleased God to send Mr. Whitefield into this land and I longed to see and hear him.
‘Then one morning, all on a sudden, there came a messenger who said, ‘Mr. Whitefield is to preach at Middletown this morning at 10 O’clock.
‘I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and through the house and bade my wife to get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach.
‘I ran to my pasture for my horse with all my might, fearing that I should be too late to hear him and took up my wife and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear,
‘and when my horse began to be out of breath I would get down and put my wife on the saddle and bid her ride as fast as she could and not stop or slack for me except I told her.
‘And so I would run until I was almost out of breath and then mount my horse again.
‘We improved every moment to get along as though we were fleeing for our lives, fearing we should be too late to hear the sermon, for we had twelve miles to ride in little more than an hour.’
(Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f) To be continued…
Wesley was miraculously healed while reading Paul on predestination
There are several accounts of physical healings during the Great Awakening.
But one is particularly amazing, seeing as it happened to John Wesley, avowed opponent of the Doctrine of Predestination. Now that statement cries out for explanation, so without any further ado let’s cut to Wesley’s journal entry for the period of 15th to 17th May 1739:
‘Wed 15 – I explained at Greyhound Lane, the latter part of the fourth chapter to the Ephesians. I was so weak in body, that I could hardly stand; but my spirit was much strengthened.
Bed-ridden all day
‘I found myself growing sensibly weaker all Thursday; so that on Friday, 17, I could scarce get out of bed, and almost as soon as I was up, was constrained to lie down again.
‘Nevertheless I made shift to drag myself on, in the evening, to Short’s Gardens.
‘Having, not without difficulty, got up the stairs, I read those words, (though scarce intelligibly, for my voice too was almost gone), ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.’ (Romans 8:29)
Instant healing while reading about God’s predestinating grace
‘In a moment both my voice and strength returned: And from that time, for some weeks, I found such bodily strength as I had never done before, since my landing in America.’ (JW Journals, Baker edition, p. 306-7)
It’s amazing that God would heal Wesley, who had so misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation, while he was reading that particular verse. But it didn’t soften him up or even cause him to pause.
When Wesley decided to preach so vehemently against predestination (and, therefore against Whitefield and Edwards) he asked that God would confirm his position. When the Spirit began to touch people with power, Wesley wrongly interpreted that as a divine confirmation of his rejection of predestination.
Why wasn’t Wesley consistent and view his instant healing as an endorsement of the verse? Because he’d already drawn a lot, to ‘preach and print’ against the Reformed position.
So the healing didn’t turn Wesley from his Arminianism to either a Reformed or a Charismatic position, nor did it cause him to become a forerunner of the modern Reformed Charismatic movement!
Wesley continued in his prejudice against election and probably interpreted the healing as God strengthening him to contradict the doctrine.
Shame that! Because of Wesley’s somewhat flawed (and inconsistent) means of gaining guidance, his continued determination to publicly blast election effectively divided the new converts’ loyalty, created bickering within the new movement, and caused energy to be directed away from the mission and onto this important, though secondary issue.
And that, folks, is why Wesley nearly (coulda, shoulda), but didn’t become a Reformed Charismatic!!