William and Catherine Booth: Mercy, Mission and Faith

William and Catherine Booth and their family
William and Catherine Booth and their family

Long before William Booth was known as the General of the Salvation Army he was known as a Methodist Evangelist. He was passionate, fiery, insistent on results.

And he remained an Evangelist until his death.

He seemed to know little embarrassment when dealing with the subject of hell (once famously saying he wished that preachers would get just five minutes at the gates of hell in order to arouse their compassion).

Mercy! Have you heard the word?
But he was also a preacher of Christian compassion:

‘Mercy! Have you heard the word? Have you felt its power? Mercy! Can you describe its hidden, unfathomable meaning? Mercy! Let the sound be borne on every breeze! Mercy! Shout it to the world around until there is not a sin-unpardoned, a pollution-spotted, a Hell-marked spirit unwashed, unsanctified! Until there is not a sign of the curse in existence, not a sorrow unsoothed, not a tear unwiped away! Until the world is flooded with salvation and all men are bathing in its life-giving streams!’[i]

He might well have become a popular local pastor, as the great CH Spurgeon became at about the same time. But Booth felt the same itinerating pull of his Methodist forefathers, who had said, ‘The whole world is now my parish!

My Horizon was smaller and needed less to fill it!
Reflecting in later years on the invitation to pastor a church, he wrote, ‘The Spalding people welcomed me as though I had been an angel from Heaven, providing me with every earthly blessing within their ability, and proposing that I should stay with them forever! They wanted me to marry [Catherine] right away, offered to furnish me a house, provide me with a horse to enable me more readily to get about the country, and proposed other things that they thought would please me. With them I spent the happiest eighteen months of my life. Of course my horizon was much more limited in those days than it is now, and consequently required less to fill it.’[ii]

After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855, and his continued success as a traveling evangelist, his role amongst the Methodist new Connexion began to be debated by his peers.

Local Methodist pastors were not entirely happy with Booth riding into town, preaching up a storm, getting their congregants ‘saved’ and then disappearing in a cloud of glory. He needed to be brought into line.

The infighting is painful to read, but, in the end, the Methodists made it so uncomfortable for the Booths that they felt they had no option but to resign.

The Booths break away from Methodism
Catherine, writing to her parents, expressed their resolute determination to break free (there is, of course, an irony in this, as the Salvation Army later had to defend itself against charges of inflexibility):

‘I do not see any honourable course for us but to resign at once and risk all (if trusting in the Lord for our bread in order to do what we believe to be His will ought to be called a risk).’[iii]

The break finally came in 1861. At the final meeting where their future was to be decided, a compromise was offered to them but which was unacceptable to Booth. Catherine was seated in the gallery above the proceedings and when Booth took a glance upward to her, she called out ‘Never!’

Booth stood up and waved his hat towards the door, while shouts of ‘Order! Order!’ rang out. He walked across the chapel floor where he met his wife at the foot of the stairs to the gallery, embraced her, and then walked out of the meeting and into their future.

It was a future that held continued evangelistic fruit for them both, but one which later drew thousands of others into that fruitfulness. But more of that later…

©2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:92

[ii] ibid 1:133

[iii] ibid 1:250

Shouting Satan’s Kingdom Down – the Dawn of American Revivalism

Before we leave the 18th Century Methodists we ought to venture into another of their meetings, this time in America.

The period we are looking at is late 18th and early 19th century, so we’re fast forwarding slightly and entering the exuberance of American Methodist revivalism.

The Shouting Methodists!
In a fascinating article that appeared in ‘Encounter’ Magazine in 1968, Winthrop S. Hudson wrote of the ‘Shouting Methodists’.

These fervent American converts were less concerned about appearing sophisticated than they were about celebrating their new found freedom in Christ.

Clearly, some of their exuberance sounds a little over the top, and, perhaps of more concern, the spontaneous expressions of praise may have become expected behaviour.

Hudson, quotes from a variety of sources, including Alexander Campbell who ‘declared that the Methodist church could not live without her cries of “glory! glory! glory!” And he reported that “her periodical Amens dispossess demons, storm heaven, shut the gates of hell, and drive Satan from the camp.”’

“Shout, shout, we’re gaining ground,” they sang. “We’ll shout old Satan’s kingdom down.”

The ‘Shout Song’
Hudson’s somewhat technical attempt to describe the phenomena of worship during these highly charged meetings make for comical reading:

‘”Shouting” was praise or, as it was often called, rejoicing. Both its practice, including the clapping of hands, and its meaning was partly shaped by Old Testament texts.

‘Initially “shouting” was probably no more than [sudden utterances] of praise. But it quickly became…a type of singing, a type of song, a “shout song,” or just a “shout.”

‘If a “shout” was an [expresion] of praise and a song of rejoicing, it also became the name of a religious service, a service of praise, a praise meeting.

‘People spoke of going to “preaching,” of going to a “class meeting,” and of going to a “shout,” a praise meeting. “When we get home,” they sang, “we’ll have a shout in glory.”

The Dancing Methodists!
‘Finally, for some, a “shout” became a dance, a shuffling of the feet, a jerking of the head, a clapping of the hands, and perhaps an occasional leap.

‘Most often it was a circular march, a “ring shout.” Thus Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “shout” as “to give expression to religious ecstasy, often in vigorous, rhythmic movements (as shuffling, jumping, jerking) specifically, to take part in a ring shout.”’

More next time….

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Tumbled!

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

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

But more of that next time…

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides

The Critical Importance of Reaching the Working Classes

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

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

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

How can you spot a movement on the wane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs of the People!

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

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

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

© 2010 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Evangelistic Depression

18th Century Cartoon Mocking Evangelist George Whitefield

A broad overview of church history does give us a picture of the Church gaining ever-increasing strength and global relevance. Church History is encouraging!

But there are still major gaps in our knowledge of certain periods where it seems the gospel wasn’t having the kind of impact we’d desire or expect.

The Mission isn’t easy
And as you move in closer to specific periods, even periods marked with revivals, you soon see the challenges, the failures and the difficulties.

Great Evangelists like George Whitefield and John Wesley, who must rank as amongst the hardest working of Christian leaders, also had times of discouragement.

Whitefield is often quoted as saying that some of the converts ‘were like a rope of sand’. This statement, made at a time of disappointment with the numbers who had joined the Wesleyan societies, is usually taken out of context and used against Whitefield’s gospel message.

But he wasn’t saying that his gospel was ineffective, or that his Reformed theological position was evangelistically irrelevant. He was merely breathing out his disappointment at a particular time and place.

John Wesley also said much the same thing. Having spent so much time and effort in Newgate amongst the prisoners, he laments the lack of result and says, ‘I see no fruit of our labour!’ (Journal, Vol 2, p.89, Baker Edition)

Don’t give up!
Every believer who has sought to share the gospel with someone they care about knows the disappointment of non-response or negative response. This is part of the struggle we are in together.

Rather than become less evangelistic we should take courage that even the greatest Evangelists don’t see breakthrough all the time.

There’s work to be done. And if we truly believe we will reap what we sow, then we should be sowing much, much more than we are, and not give up prematurely.

Don’t give up. In the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ve got the greatest message ever given to humankind. Keep going.

‘Do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV)

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Leading From the Front

Every season of spiritual reform encounters resistance.

Every culture-changing spiritual breakthrough is accompanied by resistance. It is naïve of us to imagine, or hope, it might not be so.

As the Christian message had ever increasing impact outside the acceptable confines of the local churches and into the culture of 18th Century England, the leaders and new converts had to deal with opposition.

We’ll come to the inspirational bravery of the converts who continued to live and trade in hostile contexts after the preachers had moved on to new towns in a later post.

For now we will continue with John Wesley’s description of his experience in Staffordshire in October 1743.

To catch up with the story begin here and follow the links

Wesley continues to reason with an angry and violent mob
‘I began asking, “What evil have I done?”…and continued speaking for above a quarter of an hour, till my voice suddenly failed.

Then the floods began to lift up their voice again; many crying out, “Bring him away! Bring his away!”

‘In the mean time my strength returned and I broke out aloud into prayer.

A sudden change of heart after hearing Wesley pray
‘And now the man who just before headed the mob turned, and said, “Sir, I will spend my life for you! Follow me and not one soul here shall touch a hair of your head.”

‘Two or three of his fellows confirmed his words and got close to me immediately.

‘At the same time, the gentleman in the shop cried out, “For shame, for shame! Let him go!”

‘An honest butcher, who was a little further off…pulled back four or five, one after another, who were running on the most fiercely.

The Final escape
‘The people then, as if it had been by common consent, fell back to the right and the left, while those three or four men took me between them…

‘But on the bridge the mob rallied again. We therefore went on one side, over the mill-dam, and thence through the meadows; till…God brought me safe to Wednesbury; having lost only one flap of my waistcoat and a little skin from one of my hands.

A woman punches Wesley’s opponents
‘The poor woman of Darlaston, who had headed that mob, and sworn, that none should touch me, when she saw her followers give way, ran into the thickest of the throng and knocked down three or four men, one after another.

‘But she was soon overpowered and had probably been killed in a few minutes had not a man called to one of them, “Hold, Tom, hold!” So they held their hand and let her get up…’

Wesley recounts the injuries he had received whilst preaching
Wesley genuinely believed he was spared pain and danger, trusting, as he did, in the sovereignty of God.

He recalled his various injuries during his efforts to preach the gospel: ‘By how gentle degrees does God prepare us for his will! Two years ago a piece of brick grazed my shoulders.

‘It was a year after that the stone struck me between the eyes.

‘Last month I received one blow, and this evening two; one before we came into the town, and one after we were gone out; but both were as nothing:

‘For though one man struck me on the breast with all his might, and the other on the mouth with such a force that the blood gushed out immediately, I felt no more pain from either of the blows, than if they touched me with a straw.’

Back to the believers
Wesley found his way back to the four other leaders who had accompanied him through the ordeal, and back to the newly formed ‘society’ who had been praying.

William Sitch had been at Wesley’s side but was dragged away and beaten but afterwards he got up and found his way back to Wesley.

When asked what he thought would happen to them, Sitch replied, ‘To die for Him who had died for us!’

What became of the Two Justices of the Peace?
Following this outrageous violence, the two Justices, who had refused to face the crowd or see Wesley to protect him, wrote a letter to all the Police Constables and Peace Officers within Staffordshire.

It was a letter of warning, informing them of several ‘disorderly persons styling themselves Methodist Preachers’ who ‘go about raising routs and riots to the great damage’ of the people.

The police were instructed to search for these preachers, arrest them and bring them before Justices of the Peace throughout the county!
(All quotes from John Wesley Journal, Vol 1, p.439-441, Baker Edition)

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Violence Seems to Triumph – The First Methodist Martyr

(Methodism and the Mob Part 6)

The Mob Reacts – The Death of William Seward

How do you respond when you hear that a Christian missionary is in trouble for distributing Christian literature, or for some other attempt to communicate the Christian faith?

Maybe your first response is to assume that the believer lacked wisdom. You may be right, of course. Christians can get carried away as they try and verbalise how wonderful they think Jesus Christ is. Each incident needs to be assessed separately.

But on the other hand, we’ve got to a slightly strange place when our assumption is that a follower of Christ trying to share their faith is automatically over-zealous or unwise.

Don’t misunderstand me: the Christian needs to communicate his faith with respect, wisdom and grace, with an ability to listen to others’ objections and beliefs. (see Col 4:4-6)

But the idea that a negative response to an honest attempt at presenting the gospel is always a correction, or, worse, a sign of God’s disapproval, merely reveals our evangelistic immaturity. Jesus made it clear that there would be times when the message would be rejected. Even He was rejected (see John 15:20-21).

And it’s difficult to think of how the Christian Faith advanced from its earliest days apart from believers courageously communicating the gospel to those who didn’t respect the Christian ideals of tolerance and debate.

Another thought before we re-join the 18th century battlefield: put yourself in the position of the hapless ‘missionary’ who is in jail for trying to share the Christian faith. It’s quite likely that you would be your own harshest critic as you retrace the decisions or statements that got you into trouble. My guess is that you’d want folk to pray for you.

The First Methodist Martyr
In October 1740,William Seward and Howell Harris were out again preaching the gospel in Wales. This time, they visited Hay-on-Wye.

Suddenly, someone from the crowd took aim and Seward was hit with a large stone and lay unconscious on the ground.

Dallimore writes, ‘he was carried from the scene unconscious. For a few days he hovered between life and death, but sank steadily lower till on October 22, 1740, his spirit passed away.’ (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.584)

Seward’s death, at age 38, was a blow to the young movement. But it did not stop their passionate preaching. Undeterred, they continued to present the gospel to the masses in Britain.

It was a personal blow to Whitefield, both in terms of friendship and financial support. Seward was helping fund Whitefield’s Orphan House in Georgia and Whitefield now carried that financial burden alone. Tragically, Seward had not made a will (ibid, p.585)

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

John Wesley wrote in his journal for Mon Oct 27th, ‘The surprising news of poor Mr Seward’s death was confirmed. Surely God will maintain his own cause! Righteous art thou O Lord!’

Wesley’s trust in God’s sovereignty is totally appropriate. Is there any individual, or people too hard for God to reach by His grace? No! ‘The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness.’

We might question Seward’s enthusiasm, especially when he had been a target for violence before; the sin, however, was not his, but the one who threw the stone.

And the message of forgiveness of all sins through Jesus Christ continued to be preached throughout Britain during the 1740’s.

See Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

To see more on how John Wesley handled a mob situation click here
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Threatened at Gunpoint – The Methodist Revival Advances

(Methodism and the Mob Part 4)

John Cennick

Howell Harris did not only preach in Wales, of course, but ventured into England as well.

On one occasion he was preaching with fellow Methodist John Cennick in Swindon in Wiltshire, South West England.

Before long there was a strong reaction and considerable gang of trouble makers were out to stop these Evangelists from preaching.

Threatened with Guns
Cennick wrote, ‘The mob fired guns over our heads, holding the muzzles so near to our faces that Howell Harris and myself were both made as black as tinkers with the powder. We were not affrighted, but opened our breasts, telling them we were ready to lay down our lives.…

Splattered with Sewerage
‘Then they got dust out of the highway and covered us all over; and then they played an engine upon us, which they filled out of the stinking ditches.

‘While they played on brother Harris, I preached; and when they turned the engine upon me, he preached. This they continued till they spoiled the engine; and they threw whole buckets of water and mud over us.

‘After we left the town, they dressed up two images, called one Cennick and the other Harris, and then burnt them.

The home and family of the hospitable attacked
The next day they gathered about the home of Mr. Lawrence, who had received us, and broke all of his windows with stones, cut and wounded four of his family, and knocked down one of his daughters.’ (John Cennick, Memorable Passages relating to the Awakening in Wiltshire (unpublished, but referred to in Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press, p.142, and Christian History)

Pressing on until grace wins
Yet these heroes continued to proclaim the gospel message, overcoming the resistance and transforming the culture. If ever we needed an encouragement to persevere then here it is, in the heroism of the 18th Century Evangelists.

For the next installment click here

Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Howell Harris Gets Beaten up While Preaching

(Methodism and the Mob, Part 3)

Bala, in Wales. Not exactly a holiday destination for Howell Harris

The Evangelist preaches, is resisted, rejected and then covered in sewerage and beaten ruthlessly.

Hugh Hughes, in his biography of Harris describes one scene in Bala, Wales, in 1741. Howell Harris, the great pioneer of outdoor preaching during the Great Awakening, received a beating at the hands of violent men and women.

Suffering for Christ
Hughes writes, ‘The women were as fiendish as the men, for they besmeared him with mire, while their companions belaboured him with their fists and clubs, inflicting such wounds that his path could be marked in the street by the crimson stains of his blood.’

‘The enemy continued to persecute him…striking him with sticks and with staves, until overcome with exhaustion, he fell to the ground…They still abused him, though prostrate…’ (Hugh J Hughes Life of Howell Harris, p.142-3, quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press)

Empowered by the Spirit
Describing his resilience at another similar time of violent reaction, Harris wrote, ‘Had bullets been shot at me, I felt I should not move. Mob raged. Voice lifted up, and though by the power going with the words my head almost went to pieces, such was my zeal that I cried, ‘I’ll preach Christ till to pieces I fall!’ (ibid p.142)

Peter wrote, ‘But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.’ (1 Peter 4:13-14)

Certainly Harris was conscious of the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon him at such times. John Wesley also reports a similar experience of peace in the midst of sometimes violent storms.

While it may be difficult for us to imagine that the pleasure and power of God might rest upon us at a time of persecution, nevertheless those who have suffered prove the promise of Scripture to be true.

For the next installment click here

Methodism and the Mob Part 1, Part 2

© 2009 Lex Loizides

A Song for Whitefield

Hymn Writer Charles Wesley
Hymn Writer Charles Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, enough from me…back to Charles Wesley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Wesley

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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