The skinny-dipping, poem-writing, Bible-loving US President

John Quincy Adams by Stuart Gilbert, 1818 (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

I’m currently busy writing a Good Friday service for a Christian congregation in Cape Town’s central business district. The service will include a string quartet playing five short but beautiful classical pieces (including Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais), and a selection of poetry by Eliot, Phillis Wheatley, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others.

As part of my preparation I’ve been reading Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba’s American Religious Poems (a title my wife struggled to believe was real. ‘Didn’t they want to sell any?’ etc).

Still very much in the early section of the anthology, where the quality isn’t consistently high, I came across a little gem that struck me as very clever and remarkably disciplined.

John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams? Now, was he a President or a leader in the Revolutionary War? I couldn’t quite recall (the American revolution never having been a substantive part of a British education). It was his dad, John Adams, the first vice-President (to Washington) and the second President of the US, who was the philosophical revolutionary. Both father and son were intellectuals, both Harvard graduates, and both men of prayer. In fact, when John Adams took up residence in the White House, writing to his wife, he says, ‘Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.’[i]

Son was to follow father to the White House several years later, but John Quincy did not enjoy his four-year term. He was something of an eccentric, known for bathing naked in the Potomac River[ii], highly disciplined, a bit grumpy, but he began every day by reading his Bible. And he wrote many poems and hymns.

This poem is his adaptation of Psalm 139.

O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes
O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts, arise
Alike disclosed to thee:
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon, and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup,
Are open to Thy sight.

Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy heavy hand:
Such knowledge is for me too high,
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy Spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?

If I ascend to heaven on high,
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning’s wings, and fly
O’er ocean’s bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night—
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.

When Adams’ wife heard that their pastor was preparing a hymn-book for use in the congregation she showed him Adams’ adaptations of the psalms and, to his delight, some were included.

The former president couldn’t hide his joy and wrote, ‘Mr. Lunt preached this morning, Eccles. III, 1. For everything there is a season. He had given out as the first hymn to be sung [from] the Christian Psalter, his compilation and the hymn-book now used in our church. It was my version of the 65th Psalm; and no words can express the sensations with which I heard it sung. Were it possible to compress into one pulsation of the heart the pleasure which, in the whole period of my life, I have enjoyed in praise from the lips of mortal man, it would not weigh a straw to balance the ecstasy of delight which streamed from my eyes as the organ pealed and the choir of voices sung the praise of Almighty God from the soul of David, adapted to my native tongue by me.’[iii]

I’m not sure why I am surprised to discover that those who are, or who have been, in public office should spend quality time creating verse, but it is a practice worth commending.

©2017 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/johnadams
[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qnVpC4zXpM
[iii] http://www.hymnary.org/person/Adams_JohnQuincy

Hilarious Hymns That Need to be Read Again (if not sung)!

We’ve been looking at the fact that the Methodist movement, in its heyday, was truly a people movement. And their songs reflected that!

Every new movement of churches seems to produce a new resource of great songs. This has been true since the charismatic movement in the 1960’s and 70’s.

We might argue that we are enjoying an era of great creativity in the Christian Church in the West at the moment.

Testimony Songs
But nothing really compares with these gems from the Methodist archives!!

In Stith Mead’s Methodist songbook, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1807, the initial impression of a convert is reported:

‘The Methodists were preaching like thunder all about.
At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.
I thought they were distracted, such fools I’d never seen.
They’d stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.’

It is impossible to imagine such a song being sung in churches today! The closest I can think of is Paul Oakley’s ‘I love your love!’, although that is much more recognisable as a worship song than the above!

The People Were Jumping!
A later Methodist songbook, The Hesperian Harp of 1848, has a dialogue song between a Methodist and a ‘Formalist’.

In this segment we hear the Formalist’s impression of the Christian meeting he attended:

Such groaning and shouting, it sets me to doubting.
I fear such religion is only a dream.

The preachers were stamping, the people were jumping,
And screaming so loud that I nothing could hear….

The men they were bawling, the women were squalling,
I know not for my part how any could pray….

Amid such a clatter who knows what’s the matter?
Or who can attend unto what is declared?

To see them behaving, like drunkards, all raving,
And lying and rolling prostrate on the ground.
I really felt awful, and sometimes felt fearful
That I’d be the next that would come tumbling down.

He Tumbled!

Ultimately, of course, he did tumble. His heart was glowing, Christ’s love was flowing, and ‘peace, pardon, and comfort’ he found.
(from ‘Shouting Methodists’ by Winthrop S. Hudson, Encounter Magazine 1968)

Well, if describing their normal church services in song became part of the history of this amazing revivalist movement, then dancing and shouting was also a strong feature.

But more of that next time…

Click here for a great album by Paul Oakley (UK) or here for itunes USA

Click here for a new song co-written by Lex and Paul Oakley

© 2010 Lex Loizides

The Critical Importance of Reaching the Working Classes

Howard Cook's 'Worker with Harvest, Factory' circa 1929

Brilliant New Song-Writing
In terms of the great hymns of the Christian Faith, the Methodist movement was a source of unparalleled treasures…and also some hidden ones!

And it’s the hidden treasures that we will enjoy together! But first, we’ll look at possible reasons why they’re still hidden.

How can you spot a movement on the wane?

It seems an observable reality that the beginning of the end of a great movement in church history is accompanied by certain features.

One of these – perhaps the most damaging – is a disproportionate desire for respectability. We might suggest a prevalence to preserve or promote Christianity as a respectable middle class religion.

Of course, I’m not advocating that our leaders should be anything less than truly respected in their own communities, nor that they should be deliberately rough.

I am certainly not criticising a hunger to improve in knowledge. We should all should aim to be good learners and students throughout life. It’s vital to gain theological insight. Ignorance is not good.

The true nature of Christian influence
But we must guard against snobbery. The twelve men that Jesus hand-picked to follow Him were not the most sophisticated or best educated. The point is that He took them to be with Him, He trained them and He was the source of their learning and their influence.

Paul, who had some rabbinical education, had to be broken utterly and come to the point of considering all he inherited as ‘rubbish’ for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

Christianity promotes knowledge
But the Christian Faith uplifts people. It changes us! And essentially because Jesus came teaching and healing, Christians have gone into the world and built universities and medical facilities.

Christian expansion at its best has been marked by educational (and scientific) endeavour and compassionate service to the suffering. It’s because of Jesus.

In a very real way, God takes hold of us and improves us! Therefore, may God protect you from automatically distancing yourself from anyone you consider ‘below’ you, in some way. How vile! How unlike Jesus Christ!

The first generation of leaders should, like William Booth of the Salvation Army, carefully gauge the influence on ordinary people of the leaders who are emerging (Elijah Cadman, a former prize fighter, became Booth’s right hand man).

Don’t overlook ‘unschooled, ordinary men’
We mustn’t overlook those who have been transformed into leaders by ‘grace and grit’, and who like Peter and the other apostles, might be considered ‘unlearned men’, or ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, as the NIV puts it (see Acts 4:13). We might be missing some ‘mighty men’.

We would have to put aside John Bunyan, Howell Harris, William Carey, DL Moody, Elijah Cadman, CH Spurgeon (perhaps the most remarkable example of self-education in a Christian leader), and a host of others – in fact, we might question God as to why He made His Son an apprentice labourer rather than a college lecturer!

Reaching the ‘working class’ is a key to transforming a culture
The point is this – that when Christianity really breaks into a culture, it breaks through to those who, in Europe at least, are usually called ‘working class’.

Christianity’s ability to lastingly change the culture has been when the working people, the ordinary backbone of the population, have embraced the faith as theirs.

This is partly why we’ve spent so long examining the incredible suffering and persecution that took place amongst the 18th century Methodists. Before conversion the ordinary people of Britain rejected the gospel – but the preachers wouldn’t give up, and in the end, the gospel won through.

Songs of the People!

As we will later see with the breathtaking story of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century, when ordinary folk take Christ to themselves, we get some great new songs and sayings. The whole church is enriched and refreshed – not by mere novelty, but by the cultural strengths of every grouping in our culture.

Well now, all of that was really an introduction to some wonderful, informal and hilarious segments from hymns of the Methodists from the 18th and 19th Century. To check out the hymns click here

Picture: Howard Cook, Worker with Harvest, Factory © The Smithsonian American Art Museum

© 2010 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

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

A Song for Whitefield

Hymn Writer Charles Wesley
Hymn Writer Charles Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, enough from me…back to Charles Wesley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Wesley

© 2009 Lex Loizides