Names In 1865 Booth and his team set up headquarters in Whitechapel, London. But they had difficulty deciding on a suitable name.
Here are the early variations they used:
‘The East London Christian Revival Society’ (it’s quite an accomplishment to create a name from which even the most diligent can’t force some kind of acronym).
This soon became ‘The East London Christian Mission’. This was definitely better but, as George Railton tells us[i], they had to drop ‘East London’ because the work was so successful they opened mission sites outside London. ‘East London’ was now only one sphere of their activity.
Finally, ‘The Christian Mission’ remained.
And they kept it for a while but there was an obvious problem with this name. Theirs was one among many good and definitely ‘Christian’ missions operating in England and, by defining their mission as the Christian one, the name seemed to imply haughtiness on their part and a snub towards the others.
So for six years[ii] they were in a kind of awkward limbo. A dynamic work with a not very helpful name. Another interesting intermediary link in the evolution of the Salvation Army’s name was that Booth was then called the General Superintendent. When they became The Salvation Army the shift to General was easy.
Not a Church but an Army! William Booth recalls,
After a while the work began to spread and show wonderful promise, and then, when everything was looking like progress a new trouble arose…Some of the evangelists whom I had engaged to assist me rose up and wanted to convert our Mission into a regular Church…They wanted to settle down in quietness. I wanted to go forward at all costs…so I called them together and said, ‘My comrades, the formation of another Church is not my aim. There are plenty of churches. I want to make an Army.’
He then offered to help those who wanted to leave to find work amongst the churches, but all decided to stay.
By 1878 (13 years from the formation of the London Mission) they had grown to 80 mission sites, which they didn’t name as churches but Stations, and then later – in keeping with army-sounding designations – ‘corps’.
The growth was phenomenal. By 1880, they had 162 Stations. They weren’t just fussing over names – there was such growth behind them that the name had to encapsulate the spirit of what was quickly being recognised as a missionary movement. Remember, their appeal was not to Christians who were restless and unhappy in their churches – their first aim, and the primary pool from which they gained members, was to reach the unbelieving working classes who had no interest in church-going.
A Volunteer Army? Richard Collier writes,
Early one morning in May 1878…Bramwell and Railton were summoned to Booth’s bedroom for the day’s instructions. As Booth, who was recovering from flu, paced the floor in a long yellow dressing gown and felt slippers, Railton scanned the proofs of the pink eight-page folder which was the Mission’s annual report.
It’s preliminary was bold and succinct:
THE CHRISTIAN MISSION
Under the superintendence
of the Rev. William Booth
A VOLUNTEER ARMY
Recruited from amongst the multitudes who are without God and without hope in the world…
At this time the Volunteers, a part-time citizens’ Army … were a favourite butt of cartoonists. Bramwell, aged twenty-two, was stung by the imputation.
‘Volunteer!’ he exclaimed … ‘Here, I’m not a volunteer. I’m a regular or nothing!’
Booth stopped dead in his tracks … Abruptly, he crossed to where Railton sat, taking the pen out of his hand. He struck decisively through the word ‘volunteer’ and substituted the word ‘Salvation.’ Simultaneously, they scarecely knew why, Bramwell and Railton leapt from their chairs, crying, ‘Thank God for that!’[iii]
The Salvation Army it is then…
More next time
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
Rapid conversions When William and Catherine Booth moved into the east end of London in 1865 their goal was to preach the Christian message and bring people to faith in Christ.
The plan was that any converts would join existing churches. But it didn’t really work out like that.
Booth’s preaching was dynamic and urgent. Many, who would never go to church, heard him and many hundreds were converted. But after their conversion they still wouldn’t go to the churches and, if they did, the churches didn’t seem to want them.
Booth began to look for meeting halls and somewhere to create a headquarters for the London mission. But he needed funds.
One minister, writing for a Christian magazine, describes a meeting he attended with William Booth one Sunday afternoon. I’ve edited down his article but it gives us a flavour of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit working in a context of consistent evangelism.
The structure of the meeting was that, after an introduction, several people would briefly tell of their experience of conversion or of adventures in evangelism and then a hymn would be sung, followed by yet more testimonies. At the end Booth preached and prayed.
As you read through this abbreviated account of the meeting, maybe you could pray for similar evangelistic zeal to characterise your life and the life of your church, and that God would similarly begin to bring large numbers of people to a personal and life-changing faith in Christ.
Here we see personal boldness in evangelism, conversations happening in homes, and in the streets. There are several references to the effective use of tracts (short, easy to read leaflets or brochures which explain the gospel) as well as public preaching. Perhaps one of the reasons the churches used to ‘reap’ more was that, quite simply, they ‘sowed’ more. Enjoy!
The Experience Meeting ‘On the afternoon of Sunday, January 31st, I was able to see some of the results of William Booth’s work in the East of London, by attending his Experience Meeting, held in the East London Theatre. About 2 o’clock some of his helpers and Converts went out from the Mission Hall, where they had been praying together, and held an Open-Air Meeting in front of a large brewery opposite the Hall. The ground was damp and the wind high, but they secured an audience, and then sang hymns along the road, till they came to the theatre, taking in any who chose to follow them. Probably about five hundred were present, though many came in late.
The Meeting commenced at three, and lasted one hour and a half. During this period fifty-three persons gave their experience, parts of eight hymns were sung, and prayer was offered by four persons.
After singing Philip Philips’ beautiful hymn, ‘I will sing for Jesus,’ prayer was offered up by Mr. Booth and two others.
A young man rose and told of his conversion a year ago, thanking God that he had been kept through the year.
A negro, of the name of Burton, interested the Meeting much by telling of his first Open-Air Service, which he had held during the past week in Ratcliff Highway, one of the worst places in London. He said, when the people saw him kneel in the gutter, engaged in prayer for them, they thought he was mad.
A middle-aged man, a sailor, told how he was brought to Christ during his passage home from Colombo. One of the tracts, entitled, ‘John’s Difficulty,’ was the means of his conversion.
A cabman said he used to be in the public-houses constantly; but he thanked God he ever heard William Booth, for it led to his conversion.
Three young men then spoke. The first, who comes five miles to these Meetings, told how he was lost through the drink, and restored by the Gospel; the second said he was unspeakably happy; the third said he would go to the stake for Christ.
A sister spoke of her husband’s conversion, and how they were both now rejoicing in God.
A young man testified to the Lord having pardoned his sins in the theatre on the previous Sunday.
Two sailors followed. The first spoke of his conversion through reading a tract while on his way to the Indies four months ago. The other said he was going to sea next week, and was going to take some Bibles, hymns, and tracts with him, to see what could be done for Christ on board.
A young man of the name of John, sometimes called ‘Young Hallelujah,’ told of his trials while selling fish in the streets; but he comforted himself by saying, ”Tis better ‘an before.’ He had been drawn out in prayer at midnight on the previous night, and had dreamed all night that he was in a Prayer Meeting.
A converted thief told how he was ‘picked up’ and of his persecutions daily while working with twenty unconverted men.
A man who had been a great drunkard, said, ‘What a miserable wretch I was till the Lord met with me! I used to think I could not do without my pint, but the Lord pulled me right bang out of a public-house into a place of worship.’
A young woman said: ‘I well remember the night I first heard Mr. Booth preach here. I had a heavy load of sin upon my shoulders. But I was invited to come up the stage. I did so, and was pointed to Jesus, and I obtained peace.’
Another told of his conversion by a tract, four years ago, on his passage to Sydney. ‘To my sorrow,’ he said, ‘I became a backslider. But I thank God He ever brought me here. That blessed man, Mr. Booth, preached, and I gave my heart to God afresh. I now take tracts to sea regularly. I have only eighteen shillings a week, but I save my tobacco and beer money to buy tracts.’
A stout man, a navvy, who said he had been one of the biggest drunkards in London, having briefly spoken, was followed by one known as ‘Jemmy the butcher,’ who keeps a stall in the Whitechapel Road. Some one had cruelly robbed him, but he found consolation by attending the Mission Hall Prayer Meeting.
Two young lads, recently converted, having given their experience, a dock labourer, converted seventeen months ago, asked the prayers of the Meeting for his wife, yet unconverted.
A young woman gave her experience very intelligently. It was a year and a half since she gave her heart to the Saviour; but her husband does not yet come with her.
The experience of an old man, who next spoke, was striking. Mr. Booth had announced his intention, some time back, of preaching a sermon on ‘The Derby,’ at the time of the race that goes by that name. This man was attracted by curiosity, and when listening compared himself to a broken-down horse. This sermon was the means of his conversion.
A young man told how his sins were taken away. He worked in the city and, through a young man talking to him in the street, he was able to see the way of Salvation, and rejoice in it. He used to fall asleep generally under preaching. ‘But here,’ he said, ‘under Mr. Booth, I can’t sleep.’
A blind girl, whom I had noticed earlier singing heartily in the street, told of her conversion.
Then Mr. Booth offered a few concluding observations and prayed. The Meeting closed by singing. Such is a brief outline of this most interesting Meeting, held Sunday after Sunday.
I could not but wonder at the change which had come over the people. The majority of those present, probably nearly five hundred, owed their conversion to the preaching of Mr Booth and his helpers.
In the evening I preached in the Oriental Music Hall, High Street, Poplar, where five or six hundred persons were assembled. This is one of the more recent branches of Mr. Booth’s work, and appears to be in a very prosperous condition. I found two groups of the helpers singing and preaching in the streets, who were only driven in by the rain just before the Meeting commenced inside. This is how the people are laid hold of.
Shall this good work be hindered for the want of a few hundred pounds?’i
More next time.
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here
i. George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 59-64
After a year working in East London, Booth had managed to gather about 60 people. This was a ‘mission’ rather than a church, the focus being on evangelism and not on Christian worship as such.
Booth and Barnardo One of Booth’s early partners in the East End of London was soon to leave him: Thomas Barnardo, then a medical student, but who soon founded the impressive Barnardo’s charity, which opened schools and orphanges for abandoned children and is still operating today.
Generously, Booth said, ‘You look after the children and I’ll look after the adults – and together we’ll convert the world.’[i]
Early skirmishes and victories One of Booth’s earliest converts became his first bodyguard. Peter Monk, an Irish prizefighter, was an imposing figure and accompanied Booth to evangelistic meetings.
But one bodyguard is apparently not always enough. Richard Collier records that disturbances were frequent at Booth’s early London meetings. Mrs Eliza Trotman narrowly escaped death when some yobs fired a train of gunpowder at her, causing her clothes to catch fire.
Peter Monk, the ‘General’s Boxer’, would walk up and down the meeting place staring menacingly at trouble-makers to keep them quiet while Booth was preaching.
Booth’s operation gradually became successful. The famous evangelist Gypsy Smith was converted and trained for ministry by Booth when he was only seventeen. Smith was one of numerous young, poor, uneducated men who became the chief evangelists in London. While others were wowing crowds with oratory, these unschooled, rough, preachers were somehow able to reach those who would never approach church or chapel.
Young people released into leadership It may seem crazy to us, but Booth had little choice. He worked with those God gave him – and they were often young. Very young. Gypsy Smith was rejected when he was sent by Booth to Chatham in Kent. Even the other new converts thought a seventeen-year-old way too young to be a leader.
Smith’s answer? ‘If you let me stop here awhile I shall get older. [And] if I haven’t any more whiskers than a gooseberry I have got a wife.’[ii]
Booth began to send these young preachers to different locations across London and beyond. Careful not to call them ‘churches’, in the early days they were known simply as ‘mission stations.’ They were led – overwhelmingly – by those in their twenties, or younger (more of that in a later post).
Booth was clear: he did not want settled congregations enjoying their favourite preacher: He wanted evangelists on a mission to reach their cities – ‘Godly go-ahead dare-devils.’[iii]
We could probably do with a few more of them today.
1865 is a landmark year for historians, friends and members of the Salvation Army.
It was in July, 1865, that William and Catherine Booth finally moved to the capital city of England and of the British Empire. Catherine had already ministered effectively at an outreach to prostitutes. William was eager to preach the Christian message among those who seemed most resistant to it: the working classes.
The decision was made but the strategy wasn’t yet clear.
Darling, I’ve found my destiny! Richard Collier, in his superb biography of Booth, The General Next to God, paints Booth’s turning point skilfully:
He came up the Mile End Road, East London … Outside the drab red-brick façade of The Blind Beggar tavern he halted. From beneath his arm he drew a book and … gave out the verse of a hymn.
In an instant faces were glued to the pub’s glass windows; a ragged unwashed throng pressed curiously about the stranger …
‘There is a heaven in East London for everyone,’ they heard him cry, ‘for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Saviour.’
From the pub there came only a spattering volley of jeers and oaths … Then from the rear a rotten egg came whizzing to find its mark and the subtle spell was broken. With the yolk trickling slowly down his pallid cheek the stranger paused, and prayed. Then, pulling his hat over his eyes, he walked rapidly westwards …
Towards midnight, as Catherine later recalled, a key grated abruptly in the lock and Booth, his eyes shining, strode into the living-room.
‘Darling,’ were the first words that burst from his lips, ‘I’ve found my destiny!’[i]
Booth was deeply concerned for the unchurched. Evangelical churches in the city seemed to be doing well, but there was a vast multitude of those who were utterly apathetic about God, faith, or Christian ethics.
More than two-thirds of the working classes never come to church Booth could see the poverty and the bitterness that went along with it:
The moral degradation and spiritual destitution of the teeming population of the East of London are subjects with which the Christians of the metropolis are perfectly conversant. More than two-thirds of the working-classes never cross the threshold of church or chapel, but loiter away the Sabbath in idleness, spending it in pleasure-seeking or some kind of money-making traffic. Consequently, tens of thousands are totally ignorant of the Gospel; and, as they will not attend the means ordinarily used for making known the love of God towards them, it is evident that if they are to be reached extraordinary methods must be employed.[ii]
Both William and Catherine were extraordinarily hard-working. They rarely seemed to rest. And so, with no regular form of income, William set about organising campaigns, tent missions, evangelistic outreaches – irrespective of the likelihood of a positive response.
A passionate determination for mission His passion and urgency to communicate the love of God to ‘dying men’ became the driving force of the remainder of his life, and of the organisation that would soon come to birth: The Salvation Army.
He later wrote,
When I saw those masses of poor people, so many of them evidently without God or hope in the world, and found that they so readily and eagerly listened to me, following from Open-Air Meeting to tent, and accepting, in many instances, my invitation to kneel at the Saviour’s feet there and then, my whole heart went out to them. I walked back to our West-End home and said to my wife:
‘O Kate, I have found my destiny! These are the people for whose Salvation I have been longing all these years. As I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces to-night (sic) I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, “Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?”
And there and then in my soul I offered myself and you and the children up to this great work. Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.’[iii]
Is there such a passion for those who are so indifferent to the Christian message today?
Is there such a longing, such a willingness to sacrifice, to work, to pray, to preach, in order to see lives turn to Christ in our day?
As churches organise for mission in the great cities of the world, may we not take early discouragements to heart. May the great churches in our cities not only focus on those who are already open to our message; may they find a resolve to reach those who have already written Christianity off.
A rotten egg smacked Booth on the side of his face. As he walked home at midnight a conviction was born in his heart – the Gospel must be preached – ‘That night,’ he later declared, ‘The Salvation Army was born.’[iv]
More next time…
To read the whole William Booth story beginhere
[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) 15,19 [ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:302 [iii] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 56 [iv] ibid
At 19 William Booth moved to London. It was 1849. Like many others from the rural areas, he needed to find work.
His sister and her family lived in London, but her drunken husband would not allow Booth to stay with them for any length of time.
‘He arrived in London as a seeker of work, the son of a poor and struggling mother in the provinces, with no influence, with no money, and with no friends.’ [i]
He was alone in a very crowded city, where poverty and sickness were on every side. As had been the case in Nottingham, his own experiences of personal need combined with his compassionate observation of the needs of others, would shape his future ministry.
Booth’s biographer, Harold Begbie gives us a description of London that is both vivid and powerful.
And before we press on too much further with the story of The Salvation Army and how they began to actually sought to solve some of these problems, let’s read Begbie’s account with our own cities in mind.
While there clearly are differences, aren’t his descriptions of mid-nineteenth century London unnervingly familiar to those of us living in the great cities of the world today?
And don’t we need some present-day William and Catherine Booths to rise up? Don’t we need many more modern-day Salvation Armys to get to work and engage with the pressing issues of the major cities of the world?
London in 1849
‘It is difficult for the modern mind to conceive truly of the England of that period. Humanitarianism, which has become with us, if not a passion and a religion, at least good manners, was then regarded as the misguided hobby of a few fussy and mischief-making philanthropists…
Little concern was shown by the churches or the chapels for the bodies of men. No shame was felt for such a term as ‘Ragged Schools.’ There was no system of national education, factory legislation permitted children to work for ten hours a day, there was no real inspection of these insanitary places, no idea of housing reform, no provision for poverty but the execrable Poor-House.
Few agencies existed for ministering to the physical needs of the poor, the mental needs of the uneducated, the spiritual needs of the sunken masses, the most elemental needs of perishing children…
The phrase ‘social conscience’ had not been invented; men were satisfied with, accepted as a God ordained system of human government, a state of individualism which trod millions underfoot for the enrichment of tens.’ [ii]
Booth’s response began with the somewhat awkward method of simply standing up and preaching to crowds, if he could gather them. Although our specific methodology may differ according to our context, as followers of Christ, the passionate proclamation of the gospel of Christ must also be central – as central as it was for Booth and the early Salvation Army.
But I jump ahead. For now, take a closer look at your city, your town. How can you reach the majority of the residents there with the gospel?
What initiatives are in place in your city to tackle poverty, vice, greed, homelessness, violence?
Let us know!
To read Booth on the balance between Education and Evangelism click here
For the first post in the Salvation Army series click here
[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:77
We’ve all been appalled by the news footage of looting and theft in London and other cities in the UK.
We’ve seen cars burning, shops being broken into, buildings on fire, violence. We’ve seen who are doing these things – largely young people who clearly don’t have an internal restraint.
Groups of hundreds have been moving up and down local high streets, smashing windows and stealing whatever they can.
Obviously pastors and elders all across London will be evaluating both the measure of their impact amongst young people as well as what they could or should be doing in the future.
Many churches have worked hard to create respectful, relevant community engagement. Kings Church, Catford and Jubilee Church Enfield (both in boroughs where looting took place) are just two examples of vibrant, growing, multi-racial churches with strong youth groups. So this post is not intended to be a corrective to those churches who are making a difference. See here for a statement by Tope Koleoso, Pastor at Jubilee, Enfield.
Some may be questioning whether a concert-and-motivational-talk type of ministry is really penetrating London’s population – and whether a far more robust ministry both on Sundays and in the midst of the communities is now more obviously necessary. Time to serve.
And it seems that as the British media, and the culture generally, has pushed evangelical Christianity into a corner, and as the church has submitted to this marginal role in modern British life, something of a beast has been growing in its place – and we’re seeing something of the fruit of that in the behaviour of the young people involved in these looting sprees. Why would we expect a Christian ethic to be in place when we’ve repeatedly displaced the Christian message?
[Added later]: Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone was interviewed on Sky News (evening, August 9th) and, comparing the mischief his contemporaries got up to as youngsters, said: ‘Something’s changed in the last thirty years. We’ve got to find out what it is, and then tackle it!’ (Sky News Live Broadcast)
No God – no authority
The logic seems to be: ‘If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate authority, there’s no real basis for any other form of authority – therefore, we can take the moment and go for it! Why not?’
So how has the church actually grappled with these issues in the past? One obvious example that comes to mind sprang up in London itself – through William and Catherine Booth and the movement of unashamed evangelism they created: The Salvation Army.
Your view of the Salvation Army today may be of something that is very tame – closer to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers than the SAS.
A Return to Unashamed Evangelism and Social Engagement
I want to suggest that church leaders and believers looking on at this problem today could do well to learn from the London-based Salvation Army of yesterday.
They were crystal clear on preaching the gospel, not just from ‘the pulpit’ but actually in the communities they were reaching, and their ranks were filled with self-sacrificing Christians who were determined to meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalised. Many of the early full time officers were younger than 23.
So, I hope you’ll excuse me by putting a link here to a pretty thorough overview of their early methods and successes. It is based on years of research and is a message I brought at a Newfrontiers conference in the UK, in 2010.
My hope is that as you hear what the Booths and others did, the Holy Spirit will strengthen your resolve to actually make a difference in our cities. If you want to skip past Booth’s formative years, jump in at around 20 minutes.
William Carey had already stirred up a new interest in world mission. He had already prompted the formation of a ‘Missionary Society’ which had begun to raise funds for world mission.
Now came the real test: who should go?
For Carey it was clear. He knew he had been called by God to go (George, Faithful Witness,IVP p.76). What may seem strange to us is that his wife and family would not be going with him.
William: Yes. Dorothy: No!
He had a clear call to India – an ‘appointment’, he called it. But Dorothy was not keen to go, and only consented that their eldest son should go with him until he was able to establish a home there. Then, possibly, the rest of the family would follow.
So the original party was to be William, his eight year old son, Felix, and another minister, John Thomas. But all that was to change, as we shall see.
In a final service in London, Carey shared his dream of translating the Bible in to the local Indian languages. A printer, William Ward, was in the congregation and spoke with Carey afterwards. ‘You must come over and print it for us!’ said Carey. Seven years later he did just that.
Colonialists and Missionaries were not serving the same purpose
Carey had no official documentation or permission to preach in the British territories in India. In fact, the Empire kept missionaries out. The gospel inevitably leads to emancipation and while you could go as a chaplain to expats it was not at all easy to go as a church planter amongst locals. Empire and missionary work did not always go hand in hand – as we are often led to believe.
Newton on Carey: ‘He is an Apostle!‘
Carey went to the converted slaver and, now, Anglican Minister John Newton for advice.
‘What is the company [The British ‘East India Company’] should send us home on our arrival in Bengal?’ asked Carey. ‘Then conclude’, replied Newton, ‘that your Lord has nothing there for you to accomplish. But if He have, then no power on earth can hinder you.’ Not brilliant advice, and Carey sought to appeal to the Company before going. (George:82)
Newton was later to describe William Carey in glowing terms: ‘Such a man as Carey is more to me than bishop or archbishop: he is an apostle.’ (ibid)
Visas aren’t just a modern necessity
Carey urged Newton to try and get special permission from the East India Company for Carey’s work but he failed. William Wilberforce, who was working hard in the background to have the company’s policy towards evangelism changed, had not succeeded yet in adding the possibility of ‘religious improvement’ to the responsibilities of the company, thus clearing a way for church planters to go officially. It seemed they were unlikely to get on board any ship bound for India without the proper licence.
To read the next post, ‘Colonialism and Christian Mission’, click here
To read the first part of the William Carey Story click here
We saw earlier how John Lancaster, a prisoner condemned to death in Newgate prison, had come to faith in Christ.
Now we see him at his last moment and at his most triumphant. The year was 1748 and John Wesley recorded the events for future generations in his journals.
As Lancaster was led out of his cell, his confession was “Blessed be the day I came into this place! O what a glorious work hath the Lord carried on in my soul since I came hither!”
“O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
Wesley adds, ‘Then he said to those near him, “O my dear friends, join in praise with me a sinner! O for a tongue to praise Him as I ought! My heart is like fire…I am ready to burst…O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
‘One saying, “I am sorry to see you in that condition.” He answered, “I would not change it for ten thousands worlds.”
‘From the press-yard he was removed into a large room where he exhorted all the officers to repentance.
‘Thomas Atkins was brought in, whom he immediately asked, “How is it between God and your soul?” He answered, “Blessed be God, I am ready.”
“By one o’clock I will be in Paradise!”
An officer asked what time it was and Lancaster happily replied, “By one I shall be in Paradise, safely resting in Abraham’s bosom…I see [Jesus] by faith, standing at the right hand of God, with open arms to receive our souls.”
Another asked, “Which is Lancaster?” and he answered, “Here I am. Come see a Christian triumphing over death.”
‘A bystander said, “Be steadfast to the end.” He answered, “I am, by the grace of God, as steadfast as the rock I am built upon, and that rock is Christ.”
Why no-one should despair
‘Then he said to the people, “Cry to the Lord for mercy, and you will surely find it. I have found it; therefore none should despair. When I came first to this place, my heart was as hard as my cell walls, and as black as hell. But now I am washed, now I am made clean by the blood of Christ.”’
Speaking of the prayer time he had with other prisoners the night before he said, “I was as it were in heaven. O, if a foretaste be so sweet, what must the full enjoyment be?”
Wesley continues, ‘The people round, the mean time, were in tears; and the officers stood like men affrighted.’
Praying for the Nations and the Local Church
‘Then Lancaster exhorted one in doubt, never to rest till he had found rest in Christ. After this he broke out into strong prayer…that the true Gospel of Christ might spread to every corner of the habitable earth; that the [Methodist] congregation at the Foundery might abound more and more in the knowledge and love of God…’
‘When the officers told them it was time to go, [the converted prisoners] rose with inexpressible joy, and embraced each other…’
“I am going to Paradise today!”
‘Coming into the press yard, he saw Sarah Peters. He stepped to her, kissed her, and earnestly said, “I am going to Paradise today; and you will follow me soon.”
‘The crowd being great, they could not readily get through. So he had another opportunity of declaring the goodness of God [saying] “Rely on Him for mercy and you will surely find it.”
‘Turning to the spectators he said, “It is but a short time and we shall be where all sorrow and sighing flee away. Turn from the evil of your ways; and you also shall stand with the innumerable company on Mount Zion…See that you love Christ; and then you will come there too!”
‘All the people who saw them seemed to be amazed; but much more when they came to the place of execution. A solemn awe overwhelmed the whole multitude.
‘As soon as the executioner had done his part with Lancaster, and the two that were with him, he called for a hymn book, and gave out a hymn with a clear, strong voice.
‘Even,’ John Wesley adds, ‘a little circumstance that followed seems worth observing. His body was carried away by a company hired by the surgeons. But a crew of sailors pursued them, took it from them by force, and delivered it to his mother…
‘He died on Friday October 28 and was buried on Sunday the 30th.’ (All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.123-125, Baker Edition)
Although John Wesley was disappointed with the lack of response he received in Newgate Prison, London, there was another Christian working amongst the prisoners with great effect.
Sarah Peters, described by Wesley as caring, even-tempered and able to handle pressurised situations well, spent many hours talking with the condemned prisoners. When she died in 1748, John Wesley gave a tribute to her in his journal.
The tribute consists of the collected testimonies of some of those who were facing execution. Paying a heavy price for a range of different crimes (some of which would not receive such harsh sentences today), these men were lost and facing the reality of death. Sarah came, taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ and prayed with them.
Over the next few posts we’ll read some breathtaking statements that are her enduring legacy…
Convicted, tried and condemned and unable to have his sentence reduced, said:
‘I thank God, I do feel that He has forgiven me my sins: I do know it!’
Sarah asked him how he knew that. He replied, ‘I was in great heaviness, till the very morning you came hither first.
‘That morning I was in earnest prayer; and just as St Paul’s clock struck five, the Lord poured into my soul such peace as I had never felt; so that I was scarce able to bear it.
‘From that hour I have never been afraid to die; for I know, and am sure, as soon as my soul departs from the body, the Lord Jesus will stand ready to carry it into glory.’
For the next installment of this story read here (from John Wesley Journal, Vol 2, p.121, Baker Edition)
Make the most of every opportunity
OK, OK, maybe I’m being a bit unfair to the Charismatics here but this is a fascinating little experiment that Wesley attempted for two days.
Fortunately for multiplied thousands he gave up the attempt, but, unnervingly, many Christians actually do their personal evangelism like this.
I’m not going to preface this with many scriptures. Just one:
Paul writes, ‘Pray that I may proclaim [the gospel] clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ (Col 4:4-6 NIV)
Our goal should be to graciously seek to make the most of every opportunity to share our faith with others. Obviously the application of wisdom will help us determine what and how much we should share. If we are with folks we regularly see we are clearly not to exasperate them with constant mini-sermons, but if we are with folk briefly, say on a plane, or purchasing something at a check out, there may be a moment to bring encouragement or to leave a Personal Tract.
‘For these two days, I had made an experiment which I had been so often and earnestly pressed to do: speaking to none concerning the things of God, unless my heart was free to it.
‘And what was the event?
Why, 1. That I spoke to none at all for fourscore miles together: no, not even to him that travelled with me in the [carriage], unless a few words at first setting out.
‘2. That I had no cross either to bear or to take up, and commonly in an hour or two fell fast asleep.
‘3. That I had much respect shown me wherever I came; everyone behaving to me, as to a civil, good-natured gentleman.
‘O how pleasing is all this to flesh and blood!’ (JW Journals, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.313)
Why pick on the Charismatics?
Well, the phrase ‘unless my heart was free to it’ is equivalent to ‘unless the Spirit prompts me’ nowadays, and you tend to hear Charismatics use that kind of language more often, and particularly with regard to evangelism.
But maybe I’m wrong. After all, those urging his change in behaviour may have been merely embarrassed by his boldness: ‘I had been so often and earnestly pressed to do’ this, he says.
In other words, John Wesley’s default position was that he was always on a mission, and every appropriate opportunity should be taken to help others understand the gospel and maybe come closer to Christ.
This was something he was ‘often and earnestly pressed’ to abandon in favour of more particular promptings. Maybe that’s not just a ‘charismatic’ weakness but affects most evangelicals who are either nervous of getting things wrong or who are fearful and would be helped by being filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:8).
Either way, we can be thankful that Wesley gave up the wretched experiment. May God give you and I grace to likewise give it up and ‘make the most of every opportunity.’
In a future post we’ll look at the experience of someone in the midst of the crowd of thousands listening to Evangelist George Whitefield.
We’ll get an idea of the excitement on hearing that he was to preach, the growing expectation as Whitefield arrives at the venue and then the power of the preaching as lives are changed.
But before we get there it will be instructive for us to hear Whitefield’s inner thoughts and excitement as he enjoyed regular scenes of crowds in excess of 10,000. A nation was being transformed by gospel preaching and Whitefield had the privilege of spearheading the movement.
Londoners Love Whitefield!
Of various London open-air meetings in mid-1739 he writes:
‘Preached this morning at Moorfields, to about twenty thousand, and God manifested Himself still more and more. My discourse was near two hours long.
‘My heart was full of love, and people were so melted down on every side…’
‘Great numbers were in tears…’
‘Preached at Kennington…with much sweetness and power…’
London is a City of Huge Congregations
It is at this point, when the massive crowds were so regular in their attendance that Whitefield calls the gatherings in Kennington, ‘my usual congregation’!
It was not until the 20th century when Christian ministers could rightly refer to normal church gatherings of ten or twenty thousand as their ‘regular congregations’.
Londoners Love Preaching!
London was in the midst of a full-on move of God. Whitefield describes preaching in Mayfair, ‘near Hyde Park Corner’ to a congregation that was estimated at being nearly 80,000 people!
Where you live in the world right now probably determines your response to that number. If you’re reading this in Nigeria, or in South America where much larger crowds have gathered in the open air to hear a visiting Evangelist you’re probably knowingly celebrating. But if you’re in Europe your tendency might be to question the estimate and want to bring it down by at least 50%. OK! Let’s bring it down by 50% – now let’s imagine 40,000 Londoners gathering to hear about Jesus!
Whatever the precise size, Whitefield wrote, ‘It was by far the largest I ever preached to yet. A high and very commodious scaffold was erected for me to stand upon…’
He preached with mighty power and passion, and finishes his description of that meeting by saying, ‘All love, all glory, be to God through Christ.’
Blackheath, Hampstead Heath, Chatham, Shadwell were on the periphery of London (‘Blessed be God!’, said GW, ‘We begin to surround this great city!’) Kennington Common, Moorfields, Mayfair, Bexley, Hackney and many other boroughs and suburbs – Londoners were suddenly craving the gospel. The foremost city of the 18th Century world was waking up and turning to Christ.
‘I have seen the Kingdom of God come with power!’
‘Oh what marvellous great kindness has God shown me in this great city!’ Whitefield wrote in his journal, ‘Indeed, I have seen the kingdom of God come with power!’
Oh London, London! Why don’t you spend a few moments praying for the gospel to have great success once again in that great city.
Whitefield in London
When the Evangelist George Whitefield returned to London after his triumphant open air meetings in Bristol in 1739, he was not warmly received.
He returned to St. Mary’s Church, Islington, but was not allowed to preach there even though he had been invited to. So he immediately went out and preached in the churchyard.
‘God was pleased so to assist me in preaching’ he wrote later, ‘and so wonderfully to affect the hearers, that I believe we could have gone singing hymns to prison.
‘Let not the adversaries say I have thrust myself out. No! They have thrust me out.
‘And since the self-righteous men of this generation count themselves unworthy, I go out to the highways and hedges, and compel harlots, publicans and sinners to come in, that my Master’s house may be filled. They who are sincere will follow after me to hear the word of God.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.259)
19th Century Biographer, John Gillies describes Whitefield’s courage in the face of possible violence. This encounter was merely menacing. The crowd were still restrained, but, as we will see later, this restraint soon gave way to actual violence.
‘Public notice having been given, upon coming out of the coach he found an incredible number of people assembled. Many had told him that he [would] never come again out of that place alive.
‘He went in, however, between two of his friends, who by the pressure of the crowd were soon parted entirely from him and were obliged to leave him to the mercy of the rabble.
‘But these, instead of hurting him, formed a lane for him, and carried him along to the middle of the fields (where a table had been placed [but] which was broken into pieces by the crowd).
‘[then he was taken] back again to the wall that parted the upper and lower Moorfields, from whence he preached without molestation to an exceedingly great multitude.’ (John Gillies, Memoir of the Rev. George Whitefield, 1839, p.42)
Whitefield, in his journal, merely writes, ‘Preached in the morning at Moorfields, to an exceeding great multitude. At ten, went to Christ Church and heard Dr. Trapp preach most virulently against me and my friends’ (GW Journal p.260)
The growing resistance to the success of the gospel was now not only being voiced by churchmen but was being stirred by the far less predictable mob.
Persecution was on its way. But it was first experienced as a voice raised in mockery rather than a fist raised in violence.
George Whitefield was far and away the most successful preacher the English-speaking world had ever known. Inevitably, as the populations of London, Bristol and Gloucester became more familiar with him, the jokes began.
He had been born with a slight squint. While this is overlooked by the many descriptions of his appearance on a platform as being ‘full of authority’ or, even, ‘angelic’, those who were less ready to receive his message were more inclined to snigger at his appearance. He was mocked as ‘Dr. Squintum’.
His increasing success did nothing to diminish the laughter. Nothing quite like this had ever been seen before. Who could estimate crowds that were clearly in excess of thirty or forty thousand? ‘Success’ brought scepticism.
In London, May 1739, on the eve of his second trip out to Georgia where he intended to build an orphan house, he writes:
‘Preached this morning to a prodigious number of people in Moorfields, and collected for the orphans £52, 19s.6d, above £20 of which was in halfpence.’ (This was a massive amount and would have needed several to carry it.)
‘Went to public worship twice, and preached in the evening to near sixty thousand people.’ (The editor of the 1756 edition of the Journals adds, ‘to so many thousand that many went away because they could not hear.’)
Whitefield continues, ‘It is very remarkable what a deep silence is preserved while I am speaking…I doubt not but that many self-righteous bigots, when they see me spreading out my hands to offer Jesus Christ freely to all, are ready to cry out, “How glorious did the Rev. Mr. Whitfield look today, when neglecting the dignity of a clergyman, he stood venting his enthusiastic ravings in a gown and cassock upon a common, and collecting mites from poor people.”
‘But if this is to be vile, Lord grant that I may be more vile. I know this foolishness of preaching is made instrumental to the conversion and edification of numbers. Ye Pharisees mock on! I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.264-265)
In November 1738 the 24 year old George Whitefield returned to Great Britain from his first trip to America. It had been a great success.
When he arrived in London he records that he attended a meeting in Fetter Lane. On December 8th he records, ‘In the evening went to a truly Christian Society in Fetter Lane, and perceived God had greatly watered the seed sown by my ministry when last in London. The Lord increase it more and more.’ (GW Journal, Banner Edition, p.194)
Indeed the Awakening was moving forward quickly.
Christmas Day with George Whitefield
Whitefield preached very early that Christmas morning, 1738. ‘About four this morning, went and prayed and expounded to another Society in Redcross Street, consisting of near two or three hundred people and the room was exceedingly hot. I had been watching unto prayer all night, yet God vouchsafed so to fill me with His blessed Spirit that I spoke with as great power as ever I did in my life.’ (GW Journal, p.194)
But it was New Year’s Eve which was perhaps the most significant meeting for many of the leaders of the Awakening. Whitefield merely records it as another great time of prayer, but Wesley, who was ‘catching up’ somewhat with Whitefield’s spirituality, gives us more detail and was clearly impacted by what happened:
A famous New Year’s Party!
‘Mon. Jan. 1, 1739 – Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at out love-feast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren.
‘About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried our for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.
‘As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’ (John Wesley Journal, Baker edition, p.170)
Whitefield, writing of the same occasion, said, ‘O that our despisers were partakers of our joys!’ (GW Journal, p.196) And looking back on that brief season after returning from America, as friends gathered in London to pray, he wrote:
‘Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. Often have we been filled as with new wine. And often have we seen them overwhelmed with the divine presence and crying out, ‘Will God indeed dwell with men upon earth? How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven!’ (John Gillies, Memoirs of the Life of George Whitefield, Dilly, p.34)
This amazing season of prayer, and this company of sixty, mainly young men would usher in a new day for the British Isles.
For a famous incident in Bristol, where the blackened faces of coal miners were whitened by their tearsclick here
Gathering Information on the health of the new believers
In John Wesley’s Journal entry for December 5th 1738 he writes,
‘About this time, being desirous to know how the work of God went on among our brethren in London, I wrote to many of them concerning the state of their souls.’ He then quotes from some of the replies he received.
The experiences described, and which he includes in his journal may well have been the perfect preparation for him to be positive about the outpouring of the Spirit that took place on January 1st 1739. This outpouring, during an all night prayer meeting, has arguably been portrayed as the beginning, the spark, of the Great Awakening in the British Isles.
[N.B. In sharing these quotes I am encouraging us to learn about the processes of church history. I am noting openness to the Holy Spirit exhibited by the early Methodist leadership – just on the eve of a mighty breakthrough that radically affected their generation. I am not endorsing Wesley’s later teaching on sinless perfection.]
Sealed with the Spirit
One of the letters Wesley quotes from includes the following remarkable statements:
‘Now St. Paul says, ‘After ye believed, ye were sealed with the Spirit of promise.’ So it was with me.
After I had believed on Him that ‘justifieth the ungodly,’ I received that seal of the Spirit, which is the ‘earnest of our inheritance.’…
‘then I began to feel the ‘Spirit of God bearing witness with my spirit, that I was born of God.’
‘Because I was a child of God, He ‘sent forth the Spirit of his Son into me, crying, Abba, Father.’ For that is the cry of every new born soul.
The love of God undeniably experienced
‘O mighty, powerful, happy change!…
‘The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, so that my body was almost torn asunder.
‘I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart.
‘I trembled: I sung: I joined my voice with those ‘that excel in strength’
Hungering after God!
‘My soul was got up into the holy mount. I had no thoughts of coming down again into the body. I who not long before had called to ‘the rocks to fall on me, and the mountains to cover me,’ could now call for nothing else but, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’
‘Then I could cry out with great boldness, There, O God, is my Surety! There, O death, is thy plague! There, O grave, is thy destruction! There, O serpent, is the Seed that shall for ever bruise thy head!
The Lover and the Beloved
‘O, I thought my head was a fountain of water. I was dissolved in love. ‘My Beloved is mine, and I am his.’ He has all charms.
‘He has ravished my heart. He is my comforter, my friend, my all. He is now in his garden, feeding among the lilies.
‘O, ‘I am sick of love.’ He is altogether lovely, ‘the chiefest among ten thousand.’”
(From John Wesley Journals Vol 1, p.168-169, Baker edition)
Wesley makes no comment on the letters he quotes but leaves judgement to the reader.
Next time we’ll look at the historic gathering on January 1st 1739…
Before we approach the momentous prayer meeting of January 1st 1739 let’s enjoy a glimpse into the highly charismatic and evangelistic nature of some key players in the Great Awakening of the 18th century.
What were these men really like? Were they as reserved as we sometimes imagine? Or were they on fire for God and eager to create evangelistic opportunities?
Of course, by inference, I am asking the question: ‘How ‘normal’ are we in comparison?’
Below are merely snippets without background info, but we still gain some insight into the freedom and power they enjoyed.
‘In the coach to London I preached faith in Christ. A lady was extremely offended; avowed her merits in plain terms; asked if I was not a Methodist; threatened to beat me.
I declared I deserved nothing but hell; so did she; and must confess it before she could have a title to heaven. This was most intolerable to her.’ (Charles Wesley Journal Vol 1, quoted by Dallimore, Charles Wesley, A heart set free, Crossway, p.68)
‘My inward temptations are, in a manner, uninterrupted. I never knew the energy of sin, till now that I experience the superior strength of Christ.’ (ibid, p.69)
‘In riding to Blenton, I was full of delight, and seemed in new heavens and new earth. We prayed and sang, and shouted all the way!’ (ibid, p.69)
‘My food and drink was praising my God. A fire was kindled in my soul, and I was clothed with power, and made altogether dead to earthly things…
‘I lifted up my voice with authority, and fear and terror would be seen on all faces…I thundered greatly, denouncing the gentry, the carnal clergy and everybody!’ (ibid, p.77)
‘[January 1738 At] Deal I preached to a weeping and thronged congregation…the Clerk pronounced a loud ‘Amen’ to every person who received either bread or wine, an excellent custom, and worthy in my opinon to be imitated in all churches. After this, I and my friends went on our way rejoicing….
‘In the afternoon preached at Upper Deal. The church was quite crowded and many went away for want of room; some stood on the leads of the church outside, and looked in at the top windows, and all seemed eager to hear the Word of God.’ (GW Journal, Banner of Truth edition, p.117)
‘In the evening, such numbers came to hear me that I was obliged to divide them into four companies, and God enabled me to expound to them from six till ten [that’s four hours of preaching on the trot!].
Some would have persuaded me to have dismissed the last company [who had been waiting 3 hours!!] without expounding, but I could not bear to let so many go empty away. I find the more we do for God, the more we may. My strength held out surprisingly, and I was but little, if at all fatigued.’ (GW Journal, p.118)
(In a letter responding to a critic of the sometimes uncontrolled behaviour of those who were converted in the evangelistic meetings)
‘’You deny that God does now work these effects: at least, that he works them in this manner. I affirm both; because I have herd those things with my own ears, and have seen them with my eyes.
I have seen (as far as a thing of this kind can be seen) very many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of fear, horror, despair, to the spirit of love, joy and peace; and from sinful desire, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God…
I have known several persons in whom this great change was wrought in a dream, or during a strong representation to the eye of their mind, of Christ either on the cross, or in glory…
And that such a change was then wrought, appears (not from their shedding tears only, or falling into fits, or crying out: these are not the fruits, as you seem to suppose, whereby I judge, but) from the whole tenor of their life, till then, many ways wicked; from that time, holy, just and good.’ (JW Journals Vol 1, p.195 Baker Edition)
This response, incidentally, is remarkably similar to Jonathan Edwards when he was also called upon to account for the highly emotional or demonstrative aspects of his meetings. See here for more information.
‘Harris is one of the great heroic figures in the Christian Church, and his story is truly an astonishing one.’ Lloyd-Jones (1973)
Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest evangelical teachers of the 20th Century. Few would argue with that. His powerful and faithful teaching ministry both in Wales (1927-1938) and later in London (1939-1968) has continued to inspire leaders and movements around the world.
Leading evangelical preachers such as J.I. Packer and Terry Virgo were powerfully impacted by his passionate expository style of preaching. His was a voice of authority and certainty in an increasingly wishy-washy church context.
In 1950 Packer and others urged Lloyd-Jones to begin a regular teaching conference on the importance of the Puritans and the Puritan movement. Papers were delivered followed by robust discussion chaired (and adjudicated?) by Lloyd-Jones himself.
In 1959 he preached on ‘Revival: An historical and Theological Survey’, in 1964 on ‘John Calvin and George Whitefield’, in 1972 on ‘John Knox – The Founder of Puritanism’ and in 1973 on ‘Howell Harris and Revival’.
It is to this particular lecture that we now turn our attention. We’ve seen something of Harris’ amazing influence in Wales and we shall go on to see his continuing influence in England through the preaching methods of George Whitefield (Harris also pastored Whitefield’s London church in his absence). But what does ‘The Doctor’, as Lloyd-Jones was affectionately called, say of Harris?
Lloyd-Jones’ excellent lectures have been published by the Banner of Truth Trust (the publishing company he helped form) under the title ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’. Page numbers refer to that edition.
On Harris’ conversion
Lloyd-Jones mentions the phrase that was to have such an impact on Harris. He had been in church when, during an announcement for communion, the Minister had said, ‘If you are not fit to take Communion you are not fit to pray, and if you are not fit to pray you are not fit to live, and if you are not fit to live you are not fit to die.’
Lloyd-Jones remarks, ‘These words hit this thoughtless schoolmaster with great force…I emphasise this incident because it reminds us of one of the amazing things about being a servant of God. You can bring people to conviction of sin even through an announcement! You never know what God is going to use; your asides are sometimes more important than your prepared statements.’ (p.285)
On the descending of the Spirit as a definition of Revival
Of particular interest is that Lloyd-Jones emphasises Harris’ encounter with the Holy Spirit as the key experience of his ministry.
This is typical of Lloyd-Jones who was frankly fed up of what he saw as a misunderstanding of the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit which was then prevalent amongst Reformed teachers and preachers. Happily, things have normalised in our day but it was different then and a post conversion experience of the Spirit needed to be constantly emphasised.
Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘What is revival? Revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God. It is a kind of repetition of Pentecost. It is the Spirit descending upon people.
This needs to be emphasised in this present age. For we have been told so much recently by some that every man at regeneration receives the baptism of the Spirit, and all he has to do after that is to surrender to what he has already.
But revival does not come as a result of a man surrendering to what he already has; it is the Spirit being poured upon him, descending upon him, as happened on the day of Pentecost.’ (p.289)
We’ve been seeing how the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Moravian believers in the early 18th Century led them directly into evangelistic passion.
This passion not only resulted in fervent prayer, but also in actual plans to reach the nations of the world with the gospel message.
These Spirit-baptised believers did not merely revel in their enjoyment of the experience of God’s power but got to work, began to plan and sacrificially left home and country to proclaim the good news to others.
Organised for Mission
For every 60 Moravian believers, one was a missionary! That’s a staggering statistic compared to estimates for the rest of 18th Century Protestantism, which has been put at 1:5000 (See Ruth Tucker – From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, Zondervan, p.69).
In 1727 (two weeks after the outpouring) they began a 24 hour a day prayer meeting that lasted all through the Great Awakening and on for over a hundred years!
It was while Peter Boehler was on his way to America that he met John Wesley (in 1738) in the Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London and sparked the Evangelical Revival by gaining Wesley’s conversion!!
Zinzendorf even planted a church in Geneva (in 1741), having moved 50 people from Herrnhut as the core group.
A ‘Missional’ Church
In 1862 Bost wrote:
‘The church of the United Brethren may indeed be called a ‘missionary church’. No other body of professing Christians can lay an equal claim to that appellation;
for the establishment of missions to the heathen is considered by them as part of the business of the church, as such, and one of the main designs of its existence, while every brother and sister stands prepared to go wherever the general voice shall determine, according to the opinion entertained of their qualifications and gifts.’ (A Bost – History of the Moravians, London, 1862, Religious Tract Society, p.400)
Jesus said we would ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes’ on us. But He didn’t stop at saying we were to enjoy God’s power. Something would happen. Something would change. And it is this: ‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)
Are you seeking God for a similar outpouring of God’s ‘power’ on your life, and for similar results of His power?
The English Puritans have a reputation. Within our popular culture, it’s not a good one!
These ‘Old Calvinists’ didn’t really hold back, and when they felt the souls of men and women were in danger. They cried, and called, and declared and wept – to try and turn people from sin to Christ.
Here is Ralph Venning again, urging his readers to change their beliefs and lifestyle. This is as ‘pure puritan’ as it gets, and while some of the statements are strong, they represent the passion of the Puritan preachers of the 17th century accurately.
On the Weakness of Punishment over the Power of Sin
‘Even the flood, which washed away so many sinners, could not wash away sin; the same heart remains after the flood as before.’ (p.46)
On the Deceitfulness of Sin
‘[Sin] It is like the pleasure of the man who receives much money, but it is all counterfeit.’ (p.210)
On the Eternal Consequences of sin
‘Sin costs dear, but profits nothing. They make a bad purchase who buy their own damnation.’ (p.201)
‘The torments themselves will be universal. It will not be merely one or two torments but all torments united. Hell is the place of torment itself (Luke 16.28). It is the centre of all punishments, sorrow and pain, wrath and vengeance, fire and darkness’ (p.84)
The Deceitfulness of Sin
‘Sin disappoints men; they have false joys but true miseries.’ (p.131)
On the Need to put our Trust in Jesus Christ
‘No matter how much you have, and how much you use it, [sin] will never satisfy, and therefore must vex you. No satisfaction, no profit! A man’s aim is satisfaction (Luke 12.19), but the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear with hearing (Ecclesiastes 1.8). Now if these things cannot satisfy the senses (Ecclesiastes 6.7), much less can they satisfy the souls of men.’ (p.203)
‘Sin cannot fill up the boundless and infinite desire which is in the heart of man, but disappoints it.’ (p.207)
On the Goodness of God in the Gospel
‘The goodness of God leads you to repentance; he might have driven you into it by terrors, but he gently leads you…God waits to be gracious, and is patient…
He might have called and knocked at your door once and then no more, but he has stood and knocked and begged, and [has] given you space and means (Revelation 2.21; Luke 16.31)…If, then, you do not repent, it is a greater affront to God than was your former sin.
On Finding Salvation at last!
‘Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3.19); they shall be as if they had not been…God looks upon men, and…if anyone repents, he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light (Job 33.27,28).
Indeed, God is not only merciful, but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.9). How this obliges us to repent!’ (p.218-219)
All quotes are taken from ‘The Plague of Plagues’ Banner of Truth edition, now published as ‘The Sinfulness of Sin’.