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)
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)
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)
Late one evening, in Wednesbury, England, the famous Evangelist John Wesley found the house he was staying in surrounded by an angry mob. He called the ringleaders inside and spoke wisely to them.
(Read the first part of the story here, the second part here)
Sensing the crowd would be pacified, Wesley decided to go out to them but several still demanded he be taken to a local magistrate to be censured for disturbing the peace.
Wesley, being perhaps a little over-confident, agreed to go with them despite the relative lateness of the hour.
‘Let it Rain!’
A ridiculous, lumbering crowd of between two and three hundred pushed and shoved along for about a mile. Then, typical of June in England, the rain began to pour down. ‘Heavy rain’, says Wesley in his journal.
Finally, after a two mile rain-soaked walk, those running ahead arrived at the Wednesbury Magistrate’s house.
Not very surprisingly, he wasn’t keen to meet the unruly crowd and had a servant tell them he was in bed and they should take Wesley back into Wednesbury.
The charge against the Evangelicals
However, when the main bulk of the crowd got to the house they began banging on the door. This time, the bold Justice sent his son to the door. He asked for information on what Wesley and his colleagues had actually done wrong.
The answer was this: ‘Why, an’t please you, they sing psalms all day. Nay, and make folks rise at five in the morning.’
After a brief pause the Magistrate’s doorstep verdict was delivered: “Go home and be quiet!”
Unfortunately, one bright spark suggested that they try another Magistrate in the nearby town of Walsal. And that’s when the real trouble began…
John Wesley, making an entry in his journal for 20th June 1743, wrote,
‘Before five the mob surrounded the house again, in greater numbers than ever. The cry of one and all was, “Bring out the Minister! We will have the Minister!”
‘I desired one to take their captain by the hand and bring him into the house.
The ring leaders calm down once they meet John Wesley personally
‘After a few sentences interchanged between us the lion was become a lamb.
‘I desired him to go and bring one or two more of the most angry of his companions.
‘He brought in two, who were ready to swallow the ground with rage; but in two minutes they were as calm as he.
Wesley decides to go out and address the angry crowd
‘I then bade them make way that I might go out among the people.
‘As soon as I was in the midst of them I called for a chair; and, standing up, asked, “What do any of you want with me?” Some said, “We want you to go with us to the Justice.”
‘I replied, “That I will, with all my heart.”
Wesley senses an evangelistic opportunity!
‘I then spoke a few words, which God applied; so that they cried out with might and main, “This gentleman is an honest gentleman, and we will spill our blood in his defence.”
‘I asked, “Shall we go to the Justice tonight or in the morning?”
‘Most of them cried, “Tonight, tonight!”
A crowd of more than 200 people decide to walk Wesley to the Magistrate’s house!
‘[Hearing this] I went before [them] and two or three hundred followed, the rest returning whence they came.’
Wesley’s most frightening night was only just beginning. Although he thought he had steered the situation to a peaceful outcome, the decision to search for a Magistrate would prove to be a decision that Wesley and most of the crowd were later to regret.
What happened next is probably not what you think…
(All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 1, p.436-7, Baker Edition)
God gives us encouragements in the midst of difficulties. And each encouragement is deeply appreciated. Your leadership challenge may be tough for reasons that are entirely outside yourself.
It’s great to hear news of numerical breakthroughs and blessing in other places. We’re often helpfully stirred to pray and believe for greater breakthrough in our own towns.
But faithfulness to God’s call, with a heart toward God and a helping hand toward man, can sow spiritual seed that will produce fruit not only in our generation but also in the one to come.
After preaching each day for a week in his home-town of Epworth (Lincolnshire, England), John Wesley describes the huge crowd who heard him and reflects on the faithful labours of his father, Samuel Wesley, who was a minister in that town.
Wesley preaches to ‘a vast multitude’
He writes, ‘At six I preached for the last time in Epworth church-yard [he had been preaching on his father’s grave stone, after being denied the use of the church pulpit] to a vast multitude gathered together from all parts…
‘I continued among them for near three hours; and yet we scarce knew how to part.
‘O let none think his labour of love is lost because the fruit does not immediately appear!
‘Near forty years did my father labour here; but he saw little fruit of all his labour…but now the fruit appeared.
‘There were scarce any in the town on whom either my father or I had taken any pains formerly, but the seed, sown so long since, now sprung up, bringing forth repentance and remission of sins.’ (John Wesley’s Journals, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.379-380)
Galatians 6:9 says, ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’
1 Corinthians 15:58 says, ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’
Be encouraged as you seek to share the gospel of grace in your community – and remember Epworth and how years of sowing did eventually produce a massive harvest!
On Sunday June 6th 1742 John Wesley, the English Evangelist re-visited his home town, Epworth in Lincolnshire.
This was the town of his birth and his father had been the Pastor of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church there. The Wesley children had been raised there.
Prior to the Sunday service beginning Wesley offered to assist the Curate with the service, either by preaching or ‘reading prayers’ (from the Book of Common Prayer, then used by Anglicans).
The curate wasn’t keen, and we pick up the story from Wesley’s Journal:
‘He did not care to accept my assistance. The church was exceeding full in the afternoon, a rumour being spread that I was to preach.
‘But the sermon on ‘Quench not the Spirit’ was not suitable to the expectation of many of the hearers. Mr. Romney told them one of the most dangerous ways of quenching the Spirit was by enthusiasm; and enlarged on the character of an enthusiast…’
It’s quite likely that John Wesley, his friends and many of the people could clearly understand that the dodgy ‘character’ being described was Wesley himself!
‘Mr. Wesley will preach in the graveyard!’
Wesley continues, ‘After sermon, John Taylor stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock.’
‘Accordingly at six I came, and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before.
‘I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father’s tomb stone and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’
We might expect that many left the Church of England because of the combination of the Curate’s and Wesley’s behaviour. And they did. But Wesley remained a loyal Anglican to the very end, urging new converts to attend the very churches that were teaching against the evangelical movement and preaching specifically against him and Whitefield.
In fact, because some who had left what they considered an unbelieving church were urging others to leave, Wesley, the very same day he had defied the Curate, decided to stay in Epworth and plead with several to remain within the Church of England.
It was a religious loyalty and tension that he struggled with all through his life.
While he was in Epworth he preached every evening of that week from his father’s grave to great crowds who continued to hear him. (all quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.377)
It was only near the end that he finally faced the inevitable and laid hands on the first apostolic delegate to America, Thomas Coke. Coke, in turn, had authority to appoint other leaders over the Methodist work in America.
So the Methodist movement, finally freed from its traditional English roots, became established in its own right and for many years became a mighty mouthpiece for evangelical Christianity around the world.
In December 1742 John Wesley and trainee leader Thomas Meyrick travelled to the North of England to preach the gospel.
It was a bitterly cold journey and they both became ill. Meyrick’s sickness, however, took a turn for the worse and twice he was feared dead.
Wesley tells the story of this particular event in his journal.
‘Wed 15th Dec. [Each of us had caught] a violent cold by riding the day before. Mine gradually wore off; but Mr Meyrick’s increased, so that on Friday, he took his bed…’
The Physician fears the worst
Mon 20th…they told me the Physician said, he did not expect Mr. Meyrick would live till morning. I went to him but his pulse was gone.
‘He had been speechless and senseless for some time. A few of us immediately joined in prayer: (I relate the naked fact) Before we had done, his sense and his speech returned.
‘Now he that will account for this by natural causes has my free leave: But I choose to say, This is the power of God.’
Keep praying and never give up!
Sat 25th Dec. ‘The Physician told me he could do no more; Mr. Metyrick could not live over the night. I went up and found them all crying about him; his legs being cold, and (as it seemed) dead already.
‘We all kneeled down, and called upon God with strong cries and tears.
‘He opened his eyes, and called for me; and from that hour he continued to recover his strength till he was restored to perfect health.
‘I wait to hear who will either disprove this fact, or philosophically account for it.’
(From John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.405-6)
A life of service to God
You might wonder what happened next – especially as he sank back into sickness after the initial bout of prayer.
Well, he did indeed recover and live a further 28 years, finally dying in 1770 (see here).
Prayer is not automatic. We come to a Person, to God the Father, who knows our need. But we can come with strong encouragements that He hears us according to His purpose and will.
Jesus said, ‘For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.’ (Matt 7:8 – see the verses in their context here)
Charles Wesley is mainly remembered for his excellent poetic gift. This gift, thoroughly saturated in Scripture, produced some of the church’s best-loved hymns.
If you are in an English speaking church context it is quite likely that you recognize these well known opening lines from Charles Wesley hymns:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
Actually, it’s difficult not to just go ahead and include whole hymns for the pure pleasure of enjoying them.
A Passionate Evangelistic Preacher
But my point is that Charles Wesley was not only a hymn-writer but also a passionate evangelistic preacher.
Some excerpts from his journal of 1741 will give us a flavour of the kind of passion he employed in his efforts to bring men and women to Christ.
‘April 13th. While I was in great love…the Spirit of power came down, the fountain was set open, my mouth and heart enlarged, and I spoke such words as I cannot repeat. Many sunk under the love of Christ crucified…’
‘April 22nd. I sharply reproved three or four inflexible Pharisees; then prayed the Lord to give me words of consolation, and immediately I was filled with power, which broke out as a mighty torrent.
‘All our hearts caught fire in a moment, and such tears and strong cryings followed, as quite drowned my voice…’
‘Sun May 3rd. At Kingswood [Bristol] as soon as I had named my text, ‘It is finished!’ the love of Christ crucified so constrained me that I burst into tears, and felt strong sympathy with him in his sufferings. In like manner, the whole congregation looked upon him whom they had pierced, and mourned.’
His preaching was effective and many were converted. One particular Kingswood resident wasn’t happy though. Charles wrote:
‘May 5th. A wild collier [coal miner] brought me four of his children…crying, ‘You have got the mother, take the bairns [the kids] too!’
(All quotes from Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, A Heart Set Free, Crossway Books, p.107)
An Inspiring combination of the Poet and the Evangelist
Charles Wesley was an Evangelist, and an effective one at that. We’ll return to his heroic story later, but for now, let’s not forget that many of his hymns were written in the very context of urging his generation to come to Christ.
His hymn ‘Lovers of Pleasure’ provides us with an excellent example of the combination of his poetic and evangelistic gift. Enjoy!
‘Lovers of pleasure more than God,
For you He suffered pain;
Swearers, for you He spilt his blood;
And shall He bleed in vain?
Misers, for you his life He paid,
Your basest crime He bore:
Drunkards, your sins on Him were laid,
That you might sin no more.
The God of love, to earth He came,
That you might come to heaven;
Believe, believe in Jesus’ Name,
And all your sin’s forgiven.
Believe in Him that died for thee,
And, sure as He hath died,
Thy debt is paid, Thy soul is free,
And thou art justified.’
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!’
William Seward was a wealthy supporter of the work that George Whitefield and Howell Harris were doing.
He also helped John Wesley with generous funding for the meeting place in Bristol, even though Wesley was assuming a leadership role there that Seward felt excluded Whitefield (See here for how Whitefield began the work in Bristol).
Seward had accompanied these preachers and witnessed both the joys and dangers of massive crowds.
In 1740 he travelled with Howell Harris in Wales and records several occasions when the crowds became violent.
Seward with Howell Harris
On Sept 9 he wrote, ‘We had been singing and praying and discoursing for half an hour when the mob began to be outrageous, and to pelt us…till at length I was struck with a stone upon my eye, which caused me so much anguish that I was forced to go away to the Inn.
‘Bro. Harris continued to discourse for some time afterward…I got my eye dressed and went to bed as soon as possible.
The next morning they went out again, preaching in the same place to the same crowds.
Stones, dirt, a cat and a dead dog
Seward writes, ‘We had continual showers of stones, walnuts, dirt, a cat and also a dead dog thrown at us…
‘I was struck on my forehead and under my right eye again, and also on my side with a stone.
‘A drum was ordered to be beat, which drowned [our] voices…the Book [the Bible] was all covered with dirt.
‘After Bro. Harris had done, I spoke a few words, but I found my call was more to suffer than to preach.’ (from William Seward, ‘Journal of a Voyage from Savannah to Philadelphia and from Philadelphia to England’ p.27)
Perhaps he should have backed down. Perhaps he should have let others do the preaching. Perhaps…
Seward would accompany Harris again in October, 1740 as Harris preached powerfully to hostile crowds. It would be the last time Seward would share in the struggle to bring Britain to Christ.
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.
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.
Early Irritations and Scares
As the popularity of the movement grew, the Methodist preachers found that they were involved in a battle that, although spiritual, often found a physical expression.
Not only did they face resistance from the clergy, but actual violence from gangs who were often paid to disrupt the meetings.
Here are two accounts from John Wesley’s experience. By the way, this is about as far as you could possibly get from the ‘private jet, 5 Star only’ attitude of a few modern travelling religious celebrities.
The only frequent traveler reward that Wesley enjoyed was an extremely sore bottom! (He travelled hundreds of miles each year on horseback) But more of his personal sacrifice later.
Disturbances in the meeting rooms
This from Wesley’s Journal: ‘Tues 26th Jan, 1742
‘I explained at Chelsea, the faith which worketh by love. I was very weak when I went into the room;
‘but the more ‘the beasts of the people’ increased in madness and rage, the more was I strengthened, both in body and soul; so that I believe few in the house, which was exceedingly full, lost one sentence of what I spoke.
‘Indeed they could not see me, nor one another at a few yards’ distance, by reason of the exceeding thick smoke, which was occasioned by the wild fire, and things of that kind, continually thrown in to the room.
‘But they who could praise God in the midst of the fires, were not to be affrighted by a little smoke.’ (JW Journal, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.354)
A tortured bull is driven into the people and disturbs Wesley’s preaching
March 19, 1742: ‘I rode once more to Pensford at the earnest request of serious people. The place where they desired me to preach was a little green spot near the town.
‘But I had no sooner begun than a great company of rabble, hired (as we afterwards found) for that purpose, came furiously upon us, bringing a bull, which they had been baiting, and now strove to drive in among the people.
‘But the beast was wiser than his drivers and continually ran either on one side of us or the other, while we quietly sang praise to God and prayed for about an hour.
‘The poor wretches, finding themselves disappointed, at length seized upon the bull, now weak and tired after having been so long torn and beaten both by dogs and men; and, by main strength, partly dragged, and partly thrust, him in among the people.
‘When they had forced their way to the little table on which I stood, they strove several times to throw it down by thrusting the helpless beast against it, who, of himself, stirred no more than a log of wood.
‘I once or twice put aside his head with my hand that the blood might not drop upon my clothes; intending to go on as soon as the hurry should be over. But the table falling down, some of our friends caught me in their arms, and carried me right away on their shoulders; while the rabble wreaked their vengeance on the table, which they tore bit from bit.
‘We went a little way off, where I finished my discourse without any noise or interruption.’ (JW Journals, Baker edition, p.363)
This was actually just the beginning of the opposition to the gospel taking hold in England. Persecution has not been uncommon in the history of the Church.
There is, perhaps, comfort in the stories of yesterday to encourage us as we seek to graciously bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the places where God has sent us.
Although the Methodists enjoyed great successes they also endured terrible persecution which lasted several years.
But God gave them power to press through into victories. Historian John Simon writes:
‘If Methodism had not come into contact with the mob it would never have reached that section of the English people which most needed salvation.’ [He’s not right here. All sections of English society needed (and still need) salvation. What he means is that the Methodists could never have reach the majority of the population, and thus influenced the culture of English life without facing violence – a sobering thought!].
‘The ‘Religious Societies’ shut up in their rooms, would never have reformed the country.
‘A superb courage, rarely equalled on the battlefield’
‘It was necessary that a race of heroic men should arise, who would dare to confront the wildest and most brutal of men, and tell them the meaning of sin, and show them the Christ of the Cross and of the judgement throne.
‘The incessant assaults of the mob on the Methodist preachers showed they had reached the masses.
‘With a superb courage, rarely equalled on the battlefield, the Methodist preachers went again and again to the places from which they had been driven by violence, until their persistence wore down the antagonism of their assailants.
In the autumn of 1740, English Evangelist George Whitefield finally met the man he had so respected, Jonathan Edwards. Both these men were Reformed, (or, ‘Calvinistic’) in their theology and practice, preaching the gospel fervently and trusting God to move the people to respond.
Whitefield had already blazed a trail of powerful evangelistic work in England, Scotland and Wales and had seen multiple thousands gathered to hear the message of Jesus Christ.
John Wesley, his brother Charles and a small army of newly converted leaders had taken up the movement in Britain and were not only continuing to proclaim the message to the unconverted but were gathering the new converts into small groups (classes) and mid-week congregations (or ‘societies’ as they called them).
Whitefield’s fame was now legendary, and his visits to colonial America had already been wildly successful. He had been born again only 5 years previously and was just 25 years old. Jonathan Edwards had been eager to meet him and to have him preach in the church he pastored in Northampton, New England.
Jonathan Edwards on George Whitefield’s Visit
In a letter to Thomas Prince, Edwards described the impact of Whitefield’s visit:
‘He preached here four sermons in the meeting-house (besides a private lecture at my house) – one on Friday, another on Saturday, and two upon the Sabbath.
‘The congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time.
‘Mr. Whitefield’s sermons were suitable to the circumstances of the town, containing just reproofs of our backslidings, and, in a most moving and affecting manner, making use of our great profession and great mercies as arguments with us to return to God, from whom we had departed.
‘Immediately after this, the minds of the people in general appeared more engaged in religion, showing a greater forwardness to make religion the subject of their conversation, and to meet frequently together for religious purposes, and to embrace all opportunities to hear the Word preached.
‘The revival at first appeared chiefly among professors and those that had entertained the hope that they were in a state of grace, to whom Mr. Whitefield chiefly addressed himself.
‘But in a very short time there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons that looked upon themselves as in a Christless state; and there were some hopeful appearances of conversion; and some professors were greatly revived.
It’s great to see how God raised up an itinerating Evangelist to help a Pastor who was seeking to impact his town with the gospel. Their friendship and mutual respect continued for the rest of their lives.
To read George Whitefield’s remarkable comments on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ family life go here
(Part Three – see Part One and Two)
Nathan Cole and his wife had heard that the famous Evangelist George Whitefield would be preaching in Middletown, just 12 miles from their farm.
They immediately stopped what they were doing, saddled the horse and rode as fast as they could to get to the meeting place.
Cole describes how, as they approached Middletown, a great fog or cloud appeared. As they got nearer, it was clear that the fog was created by the hundreds of horses and carriages, and the thousands of people rushing and racing to get to the meeting place.
Finally, the young couple find a place among the four thousand gathered and wait until Whitefield appears.
Whitefield gets up to preach
He writes, ‘When I saw Mr Whitefield come up upon the scaffold he looked almost angelic.
‘A young, slim, slender youth before thousands of people and with a bold, undaunted countenance and my hearing how God was with him everywhere he went solemnized my mind and put me in a trembling fear before he began to preach.
‘For he looked as if he was clothed with authority from the great God.’
Whitefield preached passionately and powerfully. He spoke of how Jesus paid the price in full for our sins, how forgiveness is available through the cross, how a person can truly find peace with God through faith in Christ and receive His free righteousness. He told the people how God has made a way to forgive sins and bring us to heaven.
What the Evangelist Said
A short segment of his often preached sermon, ‘The Lord our Righteousness’ gives us an idea of what he would have said on this occasion. He has already preached the gospel and is now making his appeal for the people to respond to the message:
‘Alas, my heart almost bleeds! What a multitude of precious souls are now before me! How shortly must all be ushered into eternity! And yet, O cutting thought! Was God now to require all your souls, how few, comparatively speaking, could really say, ‘the Lord our righteousness!’
‘…You need not fear the greatness or number of your sins. For are you sinners? So am I. Are you the chief of sinners? So am I. Are you backsliding sinners? So am I. And yet the Lord (for ever adored be his rich, free and sovereign grace) the Lord is my righteousness.
Come then, O young man, who (as I acted once myself) are playing the prodigal, and wandering away afar off from your heavenly Father’s house, come home, come home, and leave your swine’s trough. Feed no longer on the husks of sensual delights: for Christ’s sake arise, and come home!
‘Your heavenly Father now calls you. See yonder the best robe, even the righteousness of his dear Son, awaits you. See it, view it again and again.
‘Consider at how dear a rate it was purchased, even by the blood of God. Consider what great need you have of it. You are lost, undone, damned for ever, without it. Come then, poor, guilty prodigals, come home…’
A Broad Appeal to All
During this evangelistic appeal, he is eager that no-one be left out. He speaks specifically to young women, to young men, to merchants, to the slaves listening, to those ‘of middle age’, to the children, to those in their later years:
‘Alas, you have one foot already in the grave, your glass is just run out, your sun is just going down, and it will set and leave you in an eternal darkness, unless the Lord be your righteousness! Flee then, O flee for your lives!’
Nathan Cole, standing with his wife, in the midst of thousands, listening to Whitefield, said this:
‘My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound and by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.’
Cole did finally come to Christ and was changed forever. (Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f)
What about us?
Where do you stand with God today? These truths are not only for yesterday but for today. You can come to Christ today.
Perhaps you are already a follower of Christ. Do you know something of this passion to communicate the gospel to others? Are you eager to see those you work with come to Christ?
Wherever you are, in whatever circumstance, you can appeal to God for mercy because of what Jesus has done for you. He came, He died, He rose again and He will hear your prayer and help you come into a genuine relationship with Him. Sins can be washed away, life can be transformed and you can become a part of God’s great purpose in the earth.
If you don’t know what to do there may be a church near you listed here or try here for more help.
‘The Lord our Righteousness’ is published in ‘The Select Sermons of George Whitefield’ (Banner of Truth). You can order it here.
A young couples’ morning is turned upside down when they hear news that George Whitefield, the famous English Evangelist, will be preaching in a nearby town.
It’s October 23 1740, and farmer Nathan Cole throws down his tools, runs to the house, unties the horse and he and his wife begin the fervent race towards the field where Whitefield is about to preach.
They had to cover 12 miles in a short time. But as they discovered, thousands of others were eagerly running, riding, racing towards the great event.
If you are picking up the story here then you might like to read Part One.
(Part Two) A low rumbling thunder
Nathan continues the story:
‘Then I saw before me a great cloud or fog.
‘I first thought it was from the great river but as I came nearer the road I heard a noise something like a low rumbling thunder and I presently found out it was the rumbling of horses feet coming down the road and this cloud was a cloud of dust made by the running of horses feet.
‘It rose high into the air above the tops of the hills and trees.
‘And when I came closer into the cloud I could see men and horses slipping along – it was like a steady stream of horses and their riders, scarcely a horse more than his length behind another all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils.
‘I found a [gap] between two horses to slip in my horse. No one spoke a word but everyone pressing forward with great haste.
‘When we got down to the old meeting house there was a great multitude. It was said to be three or four thousand and when I looked towards the great river I could see ferry boats running swift forwards and backwards bringing over loads of people, and the oars rowed nimble and quick.
‘Everything, men, horses and boats seemed to be struggling for life.’
(Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f)
(Part One) Four Thousand Gather in an American Field
The same power, which attended George Whitefield’s evangelistic meetings in Britain, was also very evident in America.
Let’s take a closer look at the kind of excitement generated when it was announced that he would be preaching. There is little doubt that the description of the gathering we are about to enjoy is not exceptional but was rather typical of Great Awakening meetings certainly until 1745 in America.
On October 23 1740, during his second American visit, he preached at Middletown, Connecticut. Whitefield states in his Journal with unpretentious familiarity, ‘Preached to about four thousand people at eleven o’clock.’
Obviously, he felt there was nothing particularly unusual about the meeting. History has, however, preserved a spectator’s account of the same meeting, which makes fascinating reading.
Nathan Cole, one of the 4000 present, describes the scene when the news that Whitefield would preach was announced:
‘Now it pleased God to send Mr. Whitefield into this land and I longed to see and hear him.
‘Then one morning, all on a sudden, there came a messenger who said, ‘Mr. Whitefield is to preach at Middletown this morning at 10 O’clock.
‘I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and through the house and bade my wife to get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach.
‘I ran to my pasture for my horse with all my might, fearing that I should be too late to hear him and took up my wife and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear,
‘and when my horse began to be out of breath I would get down and put my wife on the saddle and bid her ride as fast as she could and not stop or slack for me except I told her.
‘And so I would run until I was almost out of breath and then mount my horse again.
‘We improved every moment to get along as though we were fleeing for our lives, fearing we should be too late to hear the sermon, for we had twelve miles to ride in little more than an hour.’
(Sources: Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol.1, Banner of Truth, p541 and John Pollock, George Whitefield, Hodder, p164f) To be continued…
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.’
A whole town hears Jesus
In Mark 1:32-34 we read an account of Jesus preaching in Capernaum. There had been a very public power encounter in the meeting earlier in the day. A man had screamed out during the service.
But rather than allow the disruption to frighten the people and jeopardise the evangelistic situation, Jesus exercised great leadership, taking authority over the evil spirit, casting it out and refocusing the peoples’ attention to him.
In the evening, we are told, the whole town came to Jesus, bringing their sick and troubled loved-ones to be healed.
A whole town hears Wesley
John Wesley tells us in his journal, that in the amazing year of 1739 he had a similar experience. He may not have fully realised the impact of the Welsh preachers like Howell Harris who had been diligently preaching across Wales for several years before Wesley’s visit, but nevertheless, Wesley’s time there was impressive.
In October he preached in Cardiff and writes,
‘At six almost the whole town (I was informed) came together, to whom I explained the six last Beatitudes;
‘but my heart was so enlarged, I knew not how to give over, so that we continued three hours.
‘O may the seed they have received, have its fruit unto holiness, and in the end, everlasting life!’ (John Wesley Journals, Baker edition, p. 233-4)
Whole towns today
There are parts of the world today where whole towns are being impacted with the gospel. We’ll come to that in due time. What about your town? If you cannot preach you can pray.
If you are not sure what your contribution should be you can at least know that you should join a local church and help build it for the benefit of the community where God has placed you. Click here for help.
If whole towns gathered 2000 years ago, and 270 years ago, whole towns can gather now, surely?
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.
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.
Or, how to deal with a pompous toff!
An incident recorded by John Wesley in his journals became widely known both for its humour and for the quick-witted way Wesley dealt with his objector, Beau Nash.
Nash was the unrivalled leader of fashion in Bath, a popular figure at parties, an A-list celebrity. He knew how to put on the kind of ball that Jane Austen’s characters would die for. But he had a run-in with John Wesley (not known for his fashion sense or party-going!). So the story was of great interest to Wesley’s readers.
Wesley writes, ‘Tues 5th June 1739 – There was great expectation at Bath of what a noted man was to do to me there, and I was much entreated not to preach because no-one knew what might happen.
By this report I also gained a much larger audience, among whom were many of the rich and great.
I told them plainly, the Scripture had concluded them all under sin; high and low, rich and poor, one with another.
The ‘Champion’, Beau Nash, takes Wesley on
Many of them seemed to be a little surprised and were sinking into seriousness when their champion appeared, and coming close to me, asked by what authority I did these things.
I replied, ‘By the authority of Jesus Christ, conveyed to me by the (now) Archbishop of Canterbury, when he laid hands upon me and said, ‘Take thou authority to preach the Gospel.’’
He said, ‘This is contrary to Act of Parliament: this is a conventicle.’
I answered, ‘Sir, the conventicles mentioned in that Act (as the preamble shows) are seditious meetings. But this is not such. He is no shadow of sedition, therefore it is not contrary to that Act.’
He replied, ‘I say it is. And beside, your preaching frightens people out of their wits.’
‘Sir, did you ever hear me preach?’
‘How then can you judge of what you never heard?’
‘Sir, by common report!’
‘Common report is not enough. Give me leave, Sir, to ask, is not your name Nash?’
‘My name is Nash.’
‘Sir, I dare not judge of you by common report, I think it is not enough to judge by.’
Here he paused awhile, and, having recovered himself, said, ‘I desire to know what this people comes here for.’ On which one replied, ‘Sir, leave him to me. Let an old woman answer him. You, Mr. Nash, take care of your body. We take care of our souls, and for the food of our souls we come here!’
He replied not a word, but walked away.’ (John Wesley Journals, vol. 1, Baker edition, p.198-9)
In 1739, George Whitefield was himself new to open air preaching, and had probably not imagined speaking to such multitudes as he now regularly addressed.
Speaking of those early days of revival power he wrote,
‘As the scene was new and I had just begun to be an extempore preacher [ie, preaching without notes], it often occasioned many inward conflicts.
‘Sometimes when twenty thousand people were before me, I had not, in my own apprehension, a word to say either to God or them.
‘But I never was totally deserted, and frequently so assisted, that I knew by happy experience what our Lord meant by saying, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’.’
And now, here is one of my all time favourite quotes of any preacher and certainly of Whitefield himself. This statement is full of feeling, beautifully worded and straight from the experience of seeing the impact of the cross of Christ. What a description of gospel preaching! He writes,
Thousands and thousands drenched in tears
‘The open firmament above me, the prospect of the adjacent fields, with the sight of thousands and thousands, some in coaches, some on horseback, and some in the trees, and at times all affected and drenched in tears together, to which sometimes was added the solemnity of the approaching evening, was almost too much for, and quite overcame me.’
It is surely a delight to know that such sights are not confined to the past but are happening today.
Such multitudes, and even larger, are being regularly seen in Africa, India, South America and many other parts of the world. But let’s not only rejoice in what God has done in the past or in what God is doing in other places – let’s cry out to God for our cities, towns and rural regions, that He would ‘rend the heavens and come down’ (Isaiah 64:1), revealing the truth of the cross of Christ in our world.
(All quotes from Gillies Memoirs of George Whitefield, p.38, quoted by in A Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.268)
For more on the amazing life of George Whitefield click here
During times of revival one of the greatest challenges is surely the effects upon those who are directly impacted by the Spirit’s power.
Paul talked about the importance of ‘demonstrations of the Spirit and of power’. (1 Cor 2:4)
It seems in 1739, as such things were taking place, Whitefield and Wesley were initially passive about the effects, the outcries, the falling down that was taking place amongst certain people who heard them.
Those who were overwhelmed physically in the meetings were not necessarily believers, but even sometimes those who were opposing the work.
‘The groanings of some, the cries of others’
Wesley notes the different reactions of those who witnessed such things. His comments assume impartiality. He was careful not to hinder what was happening in the meetings. In fact, it’s likely that he would have not been able to stop what was happening.
In his Journal entry of May 1st 1739 he writes, ‘Many were offended again, and indeed much more than before.
‘For at Baldwin Street, my voice could scarce be heard amidst the groanings of some, and the cries of others, calling aloud to Him that is ‘mighty to save’.
‘I desired all that were sincere of heart to beseech with me the Prince exalted for us, that he would ‘proclaim his deliverance to the captives’.
‘And he soon showed that he heard our voice. Many of those who had been long in darkness saw the dawn of a great light; and ten persons, I afterwards found, then began to say in faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’
A frustrated and then thunderstruck Quaker
‘A Quaker, who stood by, was not a little displeased at the dissimulation of those creatures, and was biting his lip and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.
‘The agony he was in was even terrible to behold. We besought God not to lay folly to his charge. And he soon lifted up his head and cried aloud, ‘Now I now thou art a prophet of the Lord.’ (All quotes from John Wesley Journals, Vol 1, p.189-190, Baker edition)
I don’t think Wesley is trying to puff himself up by recording the man’s words. But whereas the Quaker had been sceptical of the whole event, he now realised that God was working.
Some thoughts for us as we seek Revival
The question for us is, would we invite our non-Christian friends to this? My own answer is simply this, that in a time of outpouring, or revival, clearly God is working in a concentrated way. The posture of the leaders is critical.
But Wesley could hardly be heard because so much was happening in the congregation. We ought to desire God’s spirit to sweep through a town, congregation, meeting and accomplish His purposes.
That is very different to a situation where in a church meeting one or two individuals appear to be behaving strangely in a very public way, and where this behaviour is, by implication, presented as authoritative confirmation of God’s presence or favour. God’s Spirit may indeed be working there, and, it’s true, maybe only in one or two people. But in terms of handling that situation, I would refer us to 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul argues for the kind of leadership that brings security (peace and order) even in the context of seeking to release the powerful charismatic gifts in the congregation.
Where there is a delight in disorder we have gone beyond the bounds of the New Testament and we must regain our missional perspective. But when God breaks in with real power, especially in the context of mission, we should not to try and tie everything down and become guilty of quenching the Spirit.
These things can be difficult to discern and to lead, as we’ll see when we come on to the Welsh Revival of 1904, but our hope and prayer is surely that God would break in. That’s where our need is right now.