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 (John Cennick, Memorable Passages relating to the Awakening in Wiltshire (unpublished, but referred to in Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press, p.142, and Christian History)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.
You may not agree with all of John Wesley’s theology. Indeed, some of his statements are baffling.
But one thing you can’t deny is that he was a seriously hard worker. His commitment to preaching and teaching and leading was phenomenal. And sometimes he got sick.
Weakness and Fever Here’s an incident from May 1741 which is encouraging. Wesley claims (and I have no reason to doubt the claim) that he was supernaturally healed mid-sermon!!
Friday 8th May, 1741 ‘I found myself much out of order. However, I made shift to preach in the evening: but on Saturday my bodily strength quite failed, so that for several hours I could scarce lift my head.
‘Sunday 10th. I was obliged to lie down most part of the day, being easy only in that posture.
‘Yet in the evening my weakness was suspended while I was calling sinners to repentance.
‘But at our love-feast which followed, beside the pain in my back and head, and the fever which still continued upon me, just as I began to pray, I was seized with such a cough that I could hardly speak.
Believing and Receiving ‘At the same time came strongly into my mind, ‘These signs shall follow them that believe.’ I called on Jesus aloud, to ‘increase my faith’ and to ‘confirm the word of his grace.’
‘While I was speaking, my pain vanished away; the fever left me; my bodily strength returned; and for many weeks I felt neither weakness nor pain. ‘Unto thee, O Lord, do I give thanks.’ (John Wesley Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.310)
The American colonial town of Northampton (now MA), had experienced numerous seasons of spiritual excitement.
A Cycle of Harvests
Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards grandfather, had led the Northampton church from 1672 and had referred to a cycle of harvests which had brought many of its inhabitants to faith in Christ.
When Jonathan Edwards began his pastoral ministry there (beginning in 1727) he was also able to record amazing outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
George Whitefield’s visit to the town in 1740 seemed to fan into flame the longings and passions of a people hungry for the presence of God.
As Whitefield left Northampton for New York the work was continuing with great power.
‘Great attention in the town’
Edwards wrote, ‘there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons who were in a Christless state…in about a month or six weeks, there was a great attention in the town, both as to the revival of professors [those already converted, or ‘professing’ faith] and the awakening of others.’ (Quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.164)
But this was no short lived excitement lasting only briefly after the Evangelists’ visit. In May 1741, Edwards preached in someone’s home and wrote that ‘one or two [believers] were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things’ that the impact was noticeable, ‘having a very visible effect upon their bodies.’
Indeed, he noted that after the regular church services that some of the folk attending were ‘so overcome that they could not go home, but were obliged to stay all night where they were.’ (ibid, p.165)
Iain Murray in his treatment of this period suggests that Edwards is referring to a morning or afternoon service and not an evening service, which can only mean that they were having these encounters with God for many hours!
‘Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.’ declared Edwards and he seemed surprisingly (refreshingly?) open to God’s Spirit moving in power upon the people as an undeniable feature of the revival.
If we look around the world today, at the great ‘harvests’ of South America, China and Africa it is practically impossible not to notice the similarity of phenomena, and the resultant increase of new followers of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is still powerfully active around the world and many thankful Christian leaders can echo Edwards’ words of 1741,
‘There was an appearance of a glorious progress of the work of God upon the hearts of sinners, in conviction and conversion, this summer and autumn, and great numbers, I think we have reason to hope, were brought savingly home to Christ.’ (ibid, p.165)
For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University here
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
Whitefield preaches in Edwards’ home
George Whitefield continues his account of meeting the Edwards family in Northampton in 1740:
‘In the Evening, I gave a Word of Exhortation to several that came to Mr. Edward’s House. My Body was somewhat weak; my Appetite almost gone; But my Lord gave me Meat, which the World knows nothing of.
‘Lord, evermore give me this Bread! Amen and Amen.
Saturday, October 18
‘At Mr Edwards’s Request, I spoke to his little Children, who were much affected.
Preached at Hadfield 5 Miles from Northampton, but found myself not much strengthened.
Conversed profitably on the Way about the Things of God with dear Mr. Edwards and preached about 4 in the Afternoon to his Congregation.’ (George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)
Sarah Edwards – ‘Workers throw down their tools and go to hear him!’
Sarah Edwards, in a letter to her brother, recorded the general feeling that Whitefield’s visit produced on the town:
‘It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upwards of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob.
When he was just 25 years old, the English Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American town of Northampton, the town made famous bya revival in the 1730’s.
An article in the Princeton Theological Review (Vol 2, No.4, 1904), makes reference to the impact of the Great Awakening in both Great Britain and America, noting that ‘The chief personal bond between the two branches of this evangelistic movement was George Whitefield’.
One of the great joys of this visit, and of real interest to us, is the meeting and subsequent friendship of Whitefield and Edwards, the Evangelist and the Theologian.
Whitefield describes their meeting in his journal:
‘Friday, October 17, 1740
When I had taken a little Refreshment, we crossed the Ferry to Northampton, where no less than 300 Souls…were savingly brought Home to the dear Lord Jesus about 5 or 6 Years ago.
‘Their Pastor’s Name is Edwards, Successor and Grandson to the great Stoddard, whose Memory will be always precious to my Soul, and whose Books…I would recommend to all.
‘Mr. Edwards is a solid, excellent Christian, but at present weak in Body.
‘I think, I may say I have not seen his Fellow in all New-England. When I came into his Pulpit, I found my Heart drawn out to talk of scarce any Thing besides the Consolations and Privileges of Saints, and the plentiful Effusion of the Spirit upon the Hearts of Believers.
‘And, when I came to remind them of their former Experiences, and how zealous and lively they were at that Time, both Minister and People wept much; and the Holy Ghost enabled me to speak with a great deal of Power.’ (George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)
And so, these two giants in their fields met and became firm friends.
We’re often told about how fragmented the Christian Church is. But actually, the true, final and eternal basis on which people will be united is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although we live in a fallen world, the reality of this unity can be experienced even now. And even though we are not unrealistic about our differences, every Christian at one time or another has known the joy of this unity in Christ.
On Tuesday 27 November 1739, George Whitefield visited Germantown, Philadelphia. What is inspiring here is that Whitfield’s visit drew together individuals, denominational leaders and people of varying ethnic backgrounds into a united experience of worship.
This kind of evangelistic moment prefigures the coming reality of Rev 7:9-10 (NIV) which says,
‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God!”’
Unity because of the Power of the Holy Spirit
Whitefield records the following:
‘Tuesday Nov 27 – According to appointment, I preached at German Town, seven miles from Philadelphia, from a balcony, to above six thousand people.
God strengthened me to speak nearly two hours, with such demonstration of the Spirit, that great numbers continued weeping for a considerable time.
I have not seen a more gracious melting for a considerable time. After I had done, people came to shake me by the hand, and invited me to their houses, and fresh places…
I had sweet converse, and felt a blessed union and communion with many souls, though of different nations and professions.
I think there are no less than fifteen denominations of Christians in German Town, and yet all agree in one thing, that is, to hold Jesus Christ as their Head, and to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
The gift of the Evangelist, as described in Ephesians 4, is a means of bringing the church to maturity and to unity. Our efforts to produce unity apart from the gifts listed in Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers) will always fall short of our hopes.
The ascended Christ gives these specific gifts to cause the church to grow and to bring her to maturity and unity. Whitfield continues to serve as an inspiration to all who would seek such gospel unity.
(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…
Wesley was miraculously healed while reading Paul on predestination
There are several accounts of physical healings during the Great Awakening.
But one is particularly amazing, seeing as it happened to John Wesley, avowed opponent of the Doctrine of Predestination. Now that statement cries out for explanation, so without any further ado let’s cut to Wesley’s journal entry for the period of 15th to 17th May 1739:
‘Wed 15 – I explained at Greyhound Lane, the latter part of the fourth chapter to the Ephesians. I was so weak in body, that I could hardly stand; but my spirit was much strengthened.
Bed-ridden all day
‘I found myself growing sensibly weaker all Thursday; so that on Friday, 17, I could scarce get out of bed, and almost as soon as I was up, was constrained to lie down again.
‘Nevertheless I made shift to drag myself on, in the evening, to Short’s Gardens.
‘Having, not without difficulty, got up the stairs, I read those words, (though scarce intelligibly, for my voice too was almost gone), ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.’ (Romans 8:29)
Instant healing while reading about God’s predestinating grace
‘In a moment both my voice and strength returned: And from that time, for some weeks, I found such bodily strength as I had never done before, since my landing in America.’ (JW Journals, Baker edition, p. 306-7)
It’s amazing that God would heal Wesley, who had so misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation, while he was reading that particular verse. But it didn’t soften him up or even cause him to pause.
When Wesley decided to preach so vehemently against predestination (and, therefore against Whitefield and Edwards) he asked that God would confirm his position. When the Spirit began to touch people with power, Wesley wrongly interpreted that as a divine confirmation of his rejection of predestination.
Why wasn’t Wesley consistent and view his instant healing as an endorsement of the verse? Because he’d already drawn a lot, to ‘preach and print’ against the Reformed position.
So the healing didn’t turn Wesley from his Arminianism to either a Reformed or a Charismatic position, nor did it cause him to become a forerunner of the modern Reformed Charismatic movement!
Wesley continued in his prejudice against election and probably interpreted the healing as God strengthening him to contradict the doctrine.
Shame that! Because of Wesley’s somewhat flawed (and inconsistent) means of gaining guidance, his continued determination to publicly blast election effectively divided the new converts’ loyalty, created bickering within the new movement, and caused energy to be directed away from the mission and onto this important, though secondary issue.
And that, folks, is why Wesley nearly (coulda, shoulda), but didn’t become a Reformed Charismatic!!
In a future post we’ll look at the experience of someone in the midst of the crowd of thousands listening to Evangelist George Whitefield.
We’ll get an idea of the excitement on hearing that he was to preach, the growing expectation as Whitefield arrives at the venue and then the power of the preaching as lives are changed.
But before we get there it will be instructive for us to hear Whitefield’s inner thoughts and excitement as he enjoyed regular scenes of crowds in excess of 10,000. A nation was being transformed by gospel preaching and Whitefield had the privilege of spearheading the movement.
Londoners Love Whitefield!
Of various London open-air meetings in mid-1739 he writes:
‘Preached this morning at Moorfields, to about twenty thousand, and God manifested Himself still more and more. My discourse was near two hours long.
‘My heart was full of love, and people were so melted down on every side…’
‘Great numbers were in tears…’
‘Preached at Kennington…with much sweetness and power…’
London is a City of Huge Congregations
It is at this point, when the massive crowds were so regular in their attendance that Whitefield calls the gatherings in Kennington, ‘my usual congregation’!
It was not until the 20th century when Christian ministers could rightly refer to normal church gatherings of ten or twenty thousand as their ‘regular congregations’.
Londoners Love Preaching!
London was in the midst of a full-on move of God. Whitefield describes preaching in Mayfair, ‘near Hyde Park Corner’ to a congregation that was estimated at being nearly 80,000 people!
Where you live in the world right now probably determines your response to that number. If you’re reading this in Nigeria, or in South America where much larger crowds have gathered in the open air to hear a visiting Evangelist you’re probably knowingly celebrating. But if you’re in Europe your tendency might be to question the estimate and want to bring it down by at least 50%. OK! Let’s bring it down by 50% – now let’s imagine 40,000 Londoners gathering to hear about Jesus!
Whatever the precise size, Whitefield wrote, ‘It was by far the largest I ever preached to yet. A high and very commodious scaffold was erected for me to stand upon…’
He preached with mighty power and passion, and finishes his description of that meeting by saying, ‘All love, all glory, be to God through Christ.’
Blackheath, Hampstead Heath, Chatham, Shadwell were on the periphery of London (‘Blessed be God!’, said GW, ‘We begin to surround this great city!’) Kennington Common, Moorfields, Mayfair, Bexley, Hackney and many other boroughs and suburbs – Londoners were suddenly craving the gospel. The foremost city of the 18th Century world was waking up and turning to Christ.
‘I have seen the Kingdom of God come with power!’
‘Oh what marvellous great kindness has God shown me in this great city!’ Whitefield wrote in his journal, ‘Indeed, I have seen the kingdom of God come with power!’
Oh London, London! Why don’t you spend a few moments praying for the gospel to have great success once again in that great city.
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?
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)
Evangelistic progress in the West, and its downside
There’s little doubt that gains have been made in the Western church in terms of evangelism. While the work of evangelism has been roaring ahead in the Global South, we have been carefully seeking to engage our communities.
We are, I hope, doing so respectfully and with increasing fruit. We are creating a context in which objections can be raised and hopefully answered.
The appetite for apologetics in the church has increased. And enquirers are given time rather than exhorted to respond without much information. That’s good.
But, in the midst of our modest gains, there’s a downside. The trend towards apologetics has slowed the evangelistic process so comprehensively that some would be sceptical if a guest were to ask to become a Christian after a single sermon.
Alongside the tremendous success of multi-week evangelistic courses and seeker friendly sermon series in the Western church, we may doubt the possibility of God bringing saving power ‘right now’, as it were! We may also have become unnecessarily nervous of any ‘demonstrations of power’ in the evangelistic arena (cf. 1 Cor 2:4).
Do we still believe that someone’s heart can be ‘strangely warmed’ as they hear the gospel? Can we believe that during a single sermon ‘the Lord opens the heart to believe’? Would we, like Paul, baptise someone after such a short exposure to the Christian message? (see Acts 16:11-15)
We acknowledge that everyone goes through a process of discovery. Jesus Himself spoke about sowing and reaping. This is how the influence of the Kingdom of God expands (Matt 13:1-9, Mark 4:26-29).
But we must never forget that what’s being described is not a natural but a supernatural process.
When things were speeding up for John Wesley; when hundreds were hearing the gospel, experiencing the power of the Spirit and being converted, he was criticised for promoting it. Although he is responding primarily to concern about the power aspects of the meetings, his faith in the suddenness of genuine conversion is refreshing.
His defence, copied into his journal in May 1739, is helpful for us so that, while continuing to carefully instruct inquirers, we avoid the danger of lowering our expectation of God’s power in the gospel. (Rom 1:16)
John Wesley defends the work
Wesley writes, ‘The question between us turns chiefly, if not wholly, on matter of fact. You deny that God does now work these effects, at least that he works with them in this manner.
‘I affirm both, because I have heard these things with my own ears, and have seen them with my eyes.
‘I have seen (as far as a thing of this kind can be seen) very many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of fear, horror, despair, to the spirit of love, joy, and peace; and from sinful desire, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.
‘These are matters of fact, whereof I have been, and almost daily am, an eye or an ear witness.
‘…I know several persons in whom this great change was wrought in a dream, or during a strong representation to the eye of their mind, of Christ either on the cross, or in glory.
‘This is the fact,’ Wesley continued, ‘let any judge of it as they please. And that such a change was then wrought, appears (not from their shedding tears only, or falling into fits, or crying out: these are not the fruits, as you seem to suppose, whereby I judge, but) from the whole tenor of their life, till then, many ways wicked; from that time, holy, just and good.
‘I will show you him that was a lion till then, and is now a lamb; him that was a drunkard, and is now exemplarily sober; the whoremonger that was, who now abhors the very ‘garment spotted by the flesh’.
‘These are my living arguments for what I assert, viz. ‘That God does now, as [in the past], give remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, even to us and to our children; yea, and that always suddenly, as far as I have known, and often in dreams or in the visions of God.’ (John Wesley Journals, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.195-6)
For more on the power of the Holy Spirit read here
Whitefield in London
When the Evangelist George Whitefield returned to London after his triumphant open air meetings in Bristol in 1739, he was not warmly received.
He returned to St. Mary’s Church, Islington, but was not allowed to preach there even though he had been invited to. So he immediately went out and preached in the churchyard.
‘God was pleased so to assist me in preaching’ he wrote later, ‘and so wonderfully to affect the hearers, that I believe we could have gone singing hymns to prison.
‘Let not the adversaries say I have thrust myself out. No! They have thrust me out.
‘And since the self-righteous men of this generation count themselves unworthy, I go out to the highways and hedges, and compel harlots, publicans and sinners to come in, that my Master’s house may be filled. They who are sincere will follow after me to hear the word of God.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.259)
19th Century Biographer, John Gillies describes Whitefield’s courage in the face of possible violence. This encounter was merely menacing. The crowd were still restrained, but, as we will see later, this restraint soon gave way to actual violence.
‘Public notice having been given, upon coming out of the coach he found an incredible number of people assembled. Many had told him that he [would] never come again out of that place alive.
‘He went in, however, between two of his friends, who by the pressure of the crowd were soon parted entirely from him and were obliged to leave him to the mercy of the rabble.
‘But these, instead of hurting him, formed a lane for him, and carried him along to the middle of the fields (where a table had been placed [but] which was broken into pieces by the crowd).
‘[then he was taken] back again to the wall that parted the upper and lower Moorfields, from whence he preached without molestation to an exceedingly great multitude.’ (John Gillies, Memoir of the Rev. George Whitefield, 1839, p.42)
Whitefield, in his journal, merely writes, ‘Preached in the morning at Moorfields, to an exceeding great multitude. At ten, went to Christ Church and heard Dr. Trapp preach most virulently against me and my friends’ (GW Journal p.260)
The growing resistance to the success of the gospel was now not only being voiced by churchmen but was being stirred by the far less predictable mob.
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
Persecution was on its way. But it was first experienced as a voice raised in mockery rather than a fist raised in violence.
George Whitefield was far and away the most successful preacher the English-speaking world had ever known. Inevitably, as the populations of London, Bristol and Gloucester became more familiar with him, the jokes began.
He had been born with a slight squint. While this is overlooked by the many descriptions of his appearance on a platform as being ‘full of authority’ or, even, ‘angelic’, those who were less ready to receive his message were more inclined to snigger at his appearance. He was mocked as ‘Dr. Squintum’.
His increasing success did nothing to diminish the laughter. Nothing quite like this had ever been seen before. Who could estimate crowds that were clearly in excess of thirty or forty thousand? ‘Success’ brought scepticism.
In London, May 1739, on the eve of his second trip out to Georgia where he intended to build an orphan house, he writes:
‘Preached this morning to a prodigious number of people in Moorfields, and collected for the orphans £52, 19s.6d, above £20 of which was in halfpence.’ (This was a massive amount and would have needed several to carry it.)
‘Went to public worship twice, and preached in the evening to near sixty thousand people.’ (The editor of the 1756 edition of the Journals adds, ‘to so many thousand that many went away because they could not hear.’)
Whitefield continues, ‘It is very remarkable what a deep silence is preserved while I am speaking…I doubt not but that many self-righteous bigots, when they see me spreading out my hands to offer Jesus Christ freely to all, are ready to cry out, “How glorious did the Rev. Mr. Whitfield look today, when neglecting the dignity of a clergyman, he stood venting his enthusiastic ravings in a gown and cassock upon a common, and collecting mites from poor people.”
‘But if this is to be vile, Lord grant that I may be more vile. I know this foolishness of preaching is made instrumental to the conversion and edification of numbers. Ye Pharisees mock on! I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.264-265)
From 1739 onwards Whitefield, both Wesley brothers, Howell Harris and an increasing army of young men began preaching the gospel outdoors to multitudes.
Wesley, with superior organizational skills than Whitefield, took charge of the societies and formed new ones, drawing Whitefield’s converts into regular fellowship and accountability.
Whitefield also formed many societies but was more passionate about preaching the gospel to the crowds. With his commitment to preach in America he effectively gave complete charge of the English societies to Wesley.
Pretty but Powerless
But from the earliest days of the outpouring of the Spirit to the end of their lives these leaders kept a clear focus on bringing those outside of church life to Christ.
Even as late as 1774 when Wesley was preaching in Glasgow he couldn’t help but be frustrated at the failure of preachers who ignored the unbeliever.
Writing of two church services he attended there he declared that the sermons ‘contained much truth, but were no more likely to awaken one soul than an Italian opera.’ (Quoted by Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, p.106)
The tragedy of evangelistically irrelevant sermons is not that there is nothing there which delights the believer but nothing that can rescue the nonbeliever.
The sooner we recognise this deficiency and follow the example of men like Whitefield and the Wesley’s the closer we shall be to seeing the gospel triumph in our communities.
To read about CH Spurgeon’s view on this subject 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.
Have you ever read John Wesley’s Journals? They are deeply interesting. In a manner similar to Edwards he tries to observe and assess the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who hear the gospel.
‘Signs and Wonders’
Wesley writes that after preaching in one meeting, ‘We then called upon God to confirm his word. Immediately one that stood by (to our no small surprise) cried out aloud, with the utmost vehemence, even as in the agonies of death.
‘But we continued in prayer, till ‘a new song was put in her mouth’…Soon after, two other persons were seized with strong pain, and constrained to ‘roar for the disquietness of their heart.’
‘But it was not long before they likewise burst forth into praise to God their Saviour.’ He adds, ‘signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.’ (JW Journals, Vol. 1, p.187, Baker Edition)
A few days later a similar thing happened: ‘At Weaver’s Hall, a young man was suddenly seized with a violent trembling all over, and in a few minutes, the sorrows of his heart being enlarged, sunk down to the ground.
‘But we ceased not calling upon God, till he raised him up full of ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ (p.187-8)
Again and again as Wesley preached people were overwhelmed by God’s power. At this early stage Wesley and his fellow leaders were alarmed and concerned to help those who are affected. But then it spread…
During the sermon, as he emphasised the generous offer of mercy to all who come to Christ…’Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as thunderstruck.’ (p.188)
He then gives various descriptions of sorrow being turned to joy in those who were affected.
A Doctor’s Story
On April 30th Wesley recorded this incident:
‘We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case.
‘Today, one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out ‘into strong cries and tears.’ He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears.
‘He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud nor yet any natural disorder.
‘But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.’ (p.189)
Wesley, as Edwards had done before him, was careful not to ridicule or harshly judge those who responded to the power of God’s Spirit in these overt ways.
And, as with Edwards, we must remember that these things were happening primarily in the evangelistic context. They were not a ‘draw card’ as such, but seemed to be evidence of God’s presence and of conviction of sin, and conversion.
Perhaps we need to take a step back from the highly ordered nature of much modern evangelism and ask God to reveal His holiness and power once again.
Wesley had heard about Whitefield’s ‘field preaching’, which had been modelled on Howell Harris’ approach in Wales.
There was no guarantee that Wesley would agree with it or participate in it and, being more inclined to formality, he was at first reluctant.
Wesley wrote about his Bristol visit in his journal.
Wesley reluctant at first
‘Saturday, 31. In the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there.
‘I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday;
‘I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.’
‘April 1.—In the evening (Mr. Whitefield being gone) I began expounding our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (one pretty remarkable precedent of field-preaching, though I suppose there were churches at that time also), to a little society which was accustomed to meet once or twice a week in Nicholas Street.
Wesley’s first, uncomfortable attempts at field preaching
‘Monday, 2.—At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. ‘
‘Sunday, 8.—At seven in the morning I preached to about a thousand persons at Bristol, and afterward to about fifteen hundred on the top of Hannam Mount in Kingswood.
‘I called to them, in the words of the evangelical prophet, “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;.…come, and buy wine and milk without money and without price” [Isa. 55:1].
Wesley finds his life’s work
‘About five thousand were in the afternoon at Rose Green (on the other side of Kingswood); among whom I stood and cried in the name of the Lord, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” [John 7:38].’ (John Wesley’s Journals, Vol 1, p.185, Baker Edition, or Christian Classics Library)
So Wesley joined the evangelistic battlefield for the souls of 18th Century England. It has been estimated that by the end of his life he had preached something like 40,000 times, and travelled over 200,000 miles on horseback.
Wesley was not merely picking up Whitefield’s methods for a temporary season; field preaching, founding societies and, later, training leaders, became his life’s work.