William Carey is one of the great heroes of the Christian Faith.
He was born into a family who considered the Church of England to be the authorised church of the English people. But when he heard the gospel and started to read the Bible, he realised he needed to find out more. He began to be drawn to those called ‘Dissenters’.
His biographer, Timothy George writes, ‘The Dissenters of Hanoverian England had inherited a legacy of persecution and harassment. When the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1662 over 2000 ministers were expelled from their posts because they refused to declare ‘unfeigned assent’ to everything in the Book of Common Prayer and seek re-ordination from an Anglican bishop…
‘In those days the Clarendon Code imposed severe penalties on those who could not conform to the established religion; John Bunyan languishing for 12 years in the Bedford jail; George Fox locked up at Scarborough Castle in a cell which was open to the wind and rain of the North Sea, so that “the water came over my bed and ran about the room”…
‘the Welsh Evangelist Vavasor Powell dying in the Fleet Prison in the 11th year of his incarceration there; sergeants disrupting services…;meeting houses burned to the ground; properties confiscated; ruinous fines exacted. Such memories lingered long in the Nonconformist conscience…
‘In 1719 Parliament passed a bill forbidding anyone who attended a Dissenting meeting from teaching, with three months in jail as the penalty’! (Timothy George, Faithful Witness, IVP, p.9)
Nevertheless, the young Carey began preaching amongst them. First, in a house-church in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire and then later as an ordained Dissenting Pastor in Moulton.
They were tough years for Carey and his new bride, but they were years of preparation.
To read the first part of the William Carey story click here
To read the next part of the William Carey Story click here
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
So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.
But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.
Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.
Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.
His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.
Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).
John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.
Locked in the second half of Romans 7
George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.
There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.
But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)
In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’
From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.
‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’
‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.
Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)
Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.
Exactly why has England produced such a feast of literature? Why does literature, plays, novels, books, poetry, journalism remain England’s primary artistic expression?
While acknowledging the massive influence of British creativity in the rock and pop scene since the 1960’s, it is still literature that is the primary artistic bestowal of the Brits to the English speaking world.
Jeremy Paxman, BBC journalist and author, in his brilliant and fascinating study of ‘the English’ suggests it was the impact of the Reformation which was then diligently applied, as we have seen already, by the Puritans that led to this phenomena.
Replacing the visual with the written word
‘If this was the moment when the English cultural tradition cut itself off from the rest of Europe, you could not find a more striking signal of the new direction in which English creativity was to turn than the tearing down of altar screens and their replacement in many churches by bare boards listing the ten commandments.
Here, literally, was the replacement of the visual by the verbal…The English not only came to a new way of appreciating the Word, they came to an appreciation of words.
We cannot know whether there would ever have been an English Titian, Raphael of Michelangelo. But we are sure that the Reformation and its aftermath threw up William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, John Bunyan and John Milton.
The literary tradition that followed them has become the most sustained and distinguished in the western world…the English certainly became a people obsessed with words…
The contrast [between their relative lack of English enthusiasm for great classical composers like Handel and Elgar] with the English love of words could not be starker.
It shows itself in the absurdly over-productive British publishing business, which turns our 100,000 new books a year – more than the entire American publishing industry.’ (Jeremy Paxman, ‘The English, A Portrait of a People’, Penguin, p.109, 110)
The Puritans in a very direct way influenced English culture around the preaching, teaching and reading of the gospel. And, at least in some measure, we have them to thank for the rich literary heritage England enjoys.
Almost any Dictionary of the English language will give you two definitions of the word Puritan.
The first should tell you that they were a group of English Christians in the late 16th and 17th Century who were convinced that the English Reformation was not effective enough and who wanted to bring about a true reformation, or restoration of the church along New Testament lines.
The second will say something like this (eg, the Oxford American Dictionary) ‘a person with censorious religious beliefs, especially about pleasure and sex’.
Censorious means ‘severely critical of others’ and is from the Latin ‘censor’, which meant, basically a judge (magistrate).
So that’s why there aren’t many Christians stepping forward and wanting to identify themselves as judgemental, severely critical, pleasure-denying ‘puritans’!
But, as with the generally undeserved negative feelings the word ‘Calvinist’ provokes, so we need to re-learn this word ‘puritan’, even though we know that ‘puritanical’ is probably past saving.
NB The Compact Oxford English Dictionary has ‘self-indulgence’ rather than ‘pleasure’, which is more accurate as the puritans were not against pleasure as such (deriving pleasure from the creation, pleasure in the presence of God etc) but they certainly were negative about self-indulgence.
English Puritanism is important in Christian history because of the wider influence the Puritans had on the church in many nations especially in relation to the massive revivals of the 18th century and the missionary outreach of the 19th century.
So we will take a brief look at these ‘restorationists’, these radical reformers, who wanted to purify the church of every unscriptural trapping and fancy and bring the word of God to the people of England.