John Wesley and his Wife (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragged along by the hair

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

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

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

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

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

Make sure you read Part One to get the context!

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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The Passion of the Evangelist: Whitefield Preaches in America

George Whitefield, the Evangelist
George Whitefield, the Evangelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cole did finally come to Christ and was changed forever.[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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

I will Pour out My Spirit – A mighty move of God in Bristol

 

George Whitefield as a young man

 

In Isaiah 44 God promises ‘I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit…’ (Isa 44:3).

What took place on George Whitefield’s visits to the coal miners of Bristol seems to be an apt fulfillment of this wonderful promise.

Having ‘broken the ice’ and preached twice from a small hill to the colliers, the 24 yr old Whitefield returned several times.

On his third visit, in a freezing cold February, between four and five thousand people gathered to hear the passionate Evangelist. He says, ‘The sun shone very bright, and the people standing in such an awful [awe-filled] manner round the mount, in the profoundest silence, filled me with a holy admiration. Blessed be God for such a plentiful harvest.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.221)

However, nothing could quite prepare him for the wonder of seeing the first truly huge crowds gathering in the open air to hear him.

From 200 to 2000 to 4000 to 10,000!

He writes, ‘At four I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about ten thousand people to hear me.

‘The trees and the hedges were full. All was hush when I began; the sun shone bright, and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me.

Mr. B…n spoke right. The fire is kindled in the country; and I know, all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it.’ (ibid p.223)

The white gutters made by their tears

He adds, ‘Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend of publicans and sinners, and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

‘The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by their tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks, as they came out of their coal pits.

‘Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions, which, as the event proved, happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion.’ (quoted in ‘Memoirs of the Life of the Reverend George Whitefield, MA’, John Gillies, 1772 edition, p.28)

Mass Evangelism, Emotionalism or Effective Mission?

Ah, someone might say, typical emotionalism in Evangelism. But where’s the fruit? Didn’t Whitefield himself give the impression that he had not built stability into the young converts?

Here is John Wesley’s assessment from one year after the events we’ve been looking at. Let his testimony stand:

‘The scene is already changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. It is no more filled with drunkenness and uncleanness, no longer full of wars and fightings, of wrath and envyings. Peace and love are there. Great numbers of the people are mild, gentle and easy to be entreated.’ (Quoted by John Pollock in Wesley, Hodder edition, p.133)

Good fruit indeed!

© Lex Loizides

John Wesley the Non-Christian

John Wesley
John Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Enthralling, Inspiring Life of George Whitefield

George Whitefield
George Whitefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is difficult to read about Whitefield without becoming increasingly passionate for God, and passionate to see the gospel breaking into the lives of those around us. He was not without faults, as we shall see, but his is a life we can learn from.

To read more about Whitefield click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides