Demonstrations of the Spirit’s Power – Charles Finney

Antwerp, Jefferson County, NY in the 1800s

The result of Charles Finney’s encounters with the Holy Spirit are well documented: when he preached multitudes came to Christ.

The Apostle Paul talked about preaching with the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2:4). While we may be convinced that such demonstrations may differ from culture to culture, the following can certainly be understood as an example of a 19th Century American revivalism.

These events took place three years after Finney received his ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in 1824 in a packed school hall in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, and are recounted by him.

An ‘ungodly people’
‘While I was [preaching] I observed the people looked as if they were angry.  Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves and they looked at each other and at me, as if they were ready to pitch into me and chastise me for something on the spot…their anger arose higher and higher.

As soon as I had finished the narrative I turned upon them and said, that I understood that they had never had a religious meeting in that place; and that therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were an ungodly people.  I pressed that home upon them with more and more energy, with my heart full to bursting.’

‘The congregation began to fall from their seats’
‘I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application, I should think more than a quarter of an hour, when all at once and awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them; and a some thing flashed over the congregation – a kind of shimmering – as if there was some agitation in the atmosphere itself.

The congregation began to fall from their seats; and they fell in every direction, and cried for mercy.  If I had had a sword in each hand I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell.  Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell upon them.  Every one prayed for himself who was able to speak at all.  I, of course was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention.

I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach sitting about in the middle of the house, and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear, and pointing to him said, ‘Can’t you pray?’…

‘You are not in Hell yet!’
I then spake as loud as I could, and tried to make them attend to me.  I said to them, “You are not in hell yet; and now let me direct you to Christ.”  For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them; but scarcely any of them paid any attention.

My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself.  A little way from where I stood was an open fire-place. I recollect very well that my joy was so great, that I could not help laughing in a most spasmodic manner.

I knelt down and stuck my head into that fire-place and hung my pocket handkerchief over my head, lest they should see me laugh; for I was aware that they would not understand that it was irrepressible, holy joy that made me laugh. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting, and giving glory to God.’

One by one Finney spoke to individuals, leading them to Christ. Years later he had the joy of receiving funding for his ministry from some of those converted in that very meeting.

More next time…

For the first part of the Finney story click here

From The Memoirs of Charles Finney—The Complete Restored Text Edited by G.M. Rosell and R.A.G. Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989) p.101-102

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

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Charles Finney’s False Starts

Lake Ontario, NY

Charles Finney grew up south of Lake Ontario in New York State. ‘My parents were neither of them professors of religion. I seldom heard a sermon unless it was an occasional one from some travelling minister.’[i]

He was a quick learner and was entrusted with some teaching responsibilities in the local school in Henderson from the age of 16 until he was 20.[ii]

Preaching that would make you laugh
Finney writes, ‘Almost the only preaching that I heard was that of an Elder Osgood, who was a man of considerable religion but of very little education. His ignorance of language was so great as to divert the attention of the people from his thoughts to the very comical form of expressing them.

For example, instead of saying, ‘I am’, he would say, ‘I are’ and in the use of the pronouns thee and thou etc, he would mix them up in such a strange and incongruous manner, as to render it very difficult indeed to keep from laughing while he was either preaching or praying. Of course, I received no religious instruction from such teaching.’[iii]

Preaching that would make you cry
In 1812, aged 20, Finney moved to Connecticut and lodged with an uncle and attend an Academy there. He began attending his uncle’s Congregationalist Church, led by the much-loved but aging, Peter Starr. This was the first time he began regularly attending church services.

Finney decided that he would hear Christianity consistently presented. Biographer Keith Hardman writes,

‘Having developed some abilities in speaking and leading himself, he naturally expected to find theology preached with a certain amount of vigour and dynamic. It was not to be.

To observe Starr’s methods, Finney sat in the balcony where he could look down on the pastor’s performance and note his techniques.

To his chagrin, he found that the pastor ‘read his sermons in a manner that left no impression on my mind. He had a monotonous, humdrum way of reading what he had probably written many years before…It seemed to be always a matter of curiosity to know what he was aiming at.’[iv]

Finney’s later criticism of local pastors and preachers was, in large measure, based on these experiences.

No further formal education
Already in his twenties, Finney asked his teacher about the possibility of attending Yale University. The teacher dissuaded him however, both in light of his evident intellectual ability as well as his age.

Finney later regretted that his formal education progressed no further than high school. But in his twenties he was extremely self-confident.

If, however, Finney’s spiritual advancement was also faltering there was at least one ray of light: his brother was suddenly converted. He wrote to Charles. He was the first of the Finney family to be converted and something about his letter to the twenty-six year old hit home: ‘I actually wept for joy!’ he said.

The seeds of grace were being sown.

For the next post in this series click here

For the first part of the Charles Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer, (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987), p.30

[ii] ibid p.31

[iii] The Memoirs of Charles Finney, Ed. Rosell and Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989), p.22-24

[iv] Hardman p.33

Influencing Culture – the Dignity of Women (Part 2)

Sati - a practice that turned Carey into a campaigner for Indian women's rights

For part one click here

In 1799 William Carey, missionary to India, witnessed the funeral of a Hindu man. The dead body was prepared and ready. The funeral pyre on which the man’s body was to be burned was ready. Nearby, the man’s living wife awaited the moment that she was expected to throw herself into the fire…

A ‘great act of holiness’
Carey pleaded with the family members of the deceased, until he blurted out that what they were doing, ‘was a shocking murder!’

‘They told me it was a great act of holiness, and added in a very surly manner, that if I did not like to see it I might go farther off, and desired me to go.

‘I told them that I would not go, that I was determined to stay and see the murder, and I should certainly bear witness of it at the tribunal of God.

‘I exhorted the woman not to throw away her life; to fear nothing, for no evil would follow her refusal to burn…

‘No sooner was the fire kindled than all the people set up a great shout – ‘Hurree-Bol, Hurree- Bol’…

‘It was impossible to have heard the woman had she groaned or even cried aloud, on account of the mad noise of the people, and it was impossible for her to stir or struggle on account of the bamboos which were held down on her like the levers of a press.

‘We made much objection to their using these bamboos, and insisted that it was using force to prevent the woman from getting up when the fire burned her.

‘But they declared that it was only done to keep the pile from falling down.

‘We could not bear to see more, but left them, exclaiming loudly against the murder, and full of horror at what we had seen.’ (From a letter to John Ryland, quoted by Timothy George, Faithful Witness, p.151, IVP)

Research, Raising Public Awareness and Legislation
Carey vigourously investigated incidents of Sati, widow-burning, and publicised them both in India and England.

Indian scholar, Vishal Mangalwadi writes, ‘Carey began to conduct systematic sociological and scriptural research…He influenced a whole generation of civil servants, his students at Fort William College, to resist these evils…

‘When widows converted to Christianity, he arranged marriages for them. It was Carey’s persistent battle against sati for twenty-five years which finally led to Lord Bentinck’s famous Edict in 1829, banning one of the most abominable of all religious practices in the world: widow burning.’ (Vishal Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Good Books, Mussouri, India)

Carey’s wasn’t the only voice raised against the injustices against women in India at the time but both Indian historians and Indian religious leaders acknowledge his central role and influence.

More next time…

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Come see a Christian triumphing over death!

Newgate Prison, London

We saw earlier how John Lancaster, a prisoner condemned to death in Newgate prison, had come to faith in Christ.

Now we see him at his last moment and at his most triumphant. The year was 1748 and John Wesley recorded the events for future generations in his journals.

As Lancaster was led out of his cell, his confession was “Blessed be the day I came into this place! O what a glorious work hath the Lord carried on in my soul since I came hither!”

“O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
Wesley adds, ‘Then he said to those near him, “O my dear friends, join in praise with me a sinner! O for a tongue to praise Him as I ought! My heart is like fire…I am ready to burst…O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”

‘One saying, “I am sorry to see you in that condition.” He answered, “I would not change it for ten thousands worlds.”

‘From the press-yard he was removed into a large room where he exhorted all the officers to repentance.

Thomas Atkins was brought in, whom he immediately asked, “How is it between God and your soul?” He answered, “Blessed be God, I am ready.”

Newgate Prison, London by George Shepherd

“By one o’clock I will be in Paradise!”
An officer asked what time it was and Lancaster happily replied, “By one I shall be in Paradise, safely resting in Abraham’s bosom…I see [Jesus] by faith, standing at the right hand of God, with open arms to receive our souls.”

Another asked, “Which is Lancaster?” and he answered, “Here I am. Come see a Christian triumphing over death.”

‘A bystander said, “Be steadfast to the end.” He answered, “I am, by the grace of God, as steadfast as the rock I am built upon, and that rock is Christ.”

Why no-one should despair
‘Then he said to the people, “Cry to the Lord for mercy, and you will surely find it. I have found it; therefore none should despair. When I came first to this place, my heart was as hard as my cell walls, and as black as hell. But now I am washed, now I am made clean by the blood of Christ.”’

Speaking of the prayer time he had with other prisoners the night before he said, “I was as it were in heaven. O, if a foretaste be so sweet, what must the full enjoyment be?”

Wesley continues, ‘The people round, the mean time, were in tears; and the officers stood like men affrighted.’

Praying for the Nations and the Local Church
‘Then Lancaster exhorted one in doubt, never to rest till he had found rest in Christ. After this he broke out into strong prayer…that the true Gospel of Christ might spread to every corner of the habitable earth; that the [Methodist] congregation at the Foundery might abound more and more in the knowledge and love of God…’

‘When the officers told them it was time to go, [the converted prisoners] rose with inexpressible joy, and embraced each other…’

“I am going to Paradise today!”
‘Coming into the press yard, he saw Sarah Peters. He stepped to her, kissed her, and earnestly said, “I am going to Paradise today; and you will follow me soon.”

‘The crowd being great, they could not readily get through. So he had another opportunity of declaring the goodness of God [saying] “Rely on Him for mercy and you will surely find it.”

‘Turning to the spectators he said, “It is but a short time and we shall be where all sorrow and sighing flee away. Turn from the evil of your ways; and you also shall stand with the innumerable company on Mount Zion…See that you love Christ; and then you will come there too!”

‘All the people who saw them seemed to be amazed; but much more when they came to the place of execution. A solemn awe overwhelmed the whole multitude.

‘As soon as the executioner had done his part with Lancaster, and the two that were with him, he called for a hymn book, and gave out a hymn with a clear, strong voice.

‘Even,’ John Wesley adds, ‘a little circumstance that followed seems worth observing. His body was carried away by a company hired by the surgeons. But a crew of sailors pursued them, took it from them by force, and delivered it to his mother…

‘He died on Friday October 28 and was buried on Sunday the 30th.’
(All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.123-125, Baker Edition)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

‘Nothing to Trust in Except the Blood of Christ’

We continue the amazing accounts of grace given to those condemned to death in the 1700’s.

John Wesley recorded these testimonies of men facing execution, in his own journals, giving them a wider audience than they might have otherwise had.

They had been faithfully visited by Sarah Peters. She shared the gospel with them and many were genuinely converted.

Thomas Atkins
‘The next who was spoken to was Thomas Atkins, nineteen years of age.

‘When he was asked (after many other questions, in answering which he expressed the clearest and deepest conviction of all his sins, as well as that for which he was condemned) if he was afraid to die; he fixed his eyes upward, and said, in the most earnest and solemn manner, ‘I bless God, I am not afraid to die; for I have laid my soul at the feet of Jesus.’

And to the last moment of his life, he gave all reason to believe that these were not vain words.’

William Gardiner
‘William Gardiner, from the time that he was condemned, was very ill… [Sarah Peters] visited him in his own cell, till he was able to [move about].

He was a man of exceeding few words, but of a broken and contrite spirit.

Some time after, he expressed great readiness to die, yet with the utmost diffidence of himself.

One of his expressions, to a person accompanying him to the place of execution was:

“O Sir! I have nothing to trust to but the blood of Christ! If that won’t do, I am undone forever!”‘

More next time…
(From John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.121-122, Baker Edition)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Eternal Life on Death Row – Astonishing Testimonies of Grace

The Notorious Newgate Prison, London

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
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…

John Lancaster
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)

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Angry Wife Leads to Evangelists’ Acquittal (because she’s no longer angry)

Ever met someone who could give such a tongue lashing that you were nervous of even saying hello?

Well, one poor husband who endured such rebukes for many years found himself in a tight spot – in court. His wife had suddenly stopped her verbal attacks and became considerate and mild – but the husband still wasn’t happy. What was the cause and what would the Judge say?

John Wesley, writing in his journal in 1742 tells the story:

Wednesday, 9 June: ‘I rode over to a neighbouring town, to wait upon a Justice of Peace, a man of candour and understanding; before whom (I was informed) their angry neighbours had carried a whole wagon-load of these new heretics.’ [ie, new Christian converts along with some of those who had been sharing the gospel with them]

‘But when asked what they had done, there was a deep silence; for that was a point their conductors had forgot.

‘At length one said, “Why, they pretend to be better than other people…and besides, they prayed from morning to night.”

‘Mr. S asked, “But have they done nothing besides?”

“Yes Sir!”, said an old man, “An’t please your worship, they have convarted my wife. Till she went among them she had such a tongue! And now she is as quiet as a lamb!”

“Carry them back, carry them back,” replied the Justice, “and let them convert all the scolds in the town!”
(From John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.378)

Gal 5:22-23 says, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

God’s Abiding Presence

Jonathan Edwards

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
‘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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield visits Jonathan Edwards (part 3)

George Whitefield twenties
George Whitefield, probably in his twenties

Part Three (see Part One and Part Two)

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.

‘In about a month or six weeks, there was a great alteration in the town, both as to the revivals of professors and awakenings of others.’ (Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) at the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University)

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Struggling for Life: Multitudes Race to Hear the Gospel Being Preached

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)

To be continued…

Read Part Three here

© Lex Loizides

A Whole Town Gathers to Hear John Wesley

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?

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Changed in a Moment – Demonstrations of Power in the Evangelistic Arena

John Wesley Preaching
John Wesley Preaching

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.

Genuine conversion
‘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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds
John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds

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)

Increased Power
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.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Exit Whitefield Enter Wesley

Whitefield's Mobile - no, not a phone, a pulpit!
Whitefield's Mobile - no, not a phone, a pulpit!

‘I hope God will bless the Ministry of my friend, John Wesley’

At the beginning of April Whitefield was ready, as planned, to move on from Bristol. It had been an incredible few weeks which had seen multiplied thousands gather in the fields to hear him preach the gospel.

It was an amazing mark of Whitefield’s trust and humility that he was eager for his friend and companion John Wesley to come and take up the work after him, seeking to establish the new believers in the faith.

He writes in his journal (Mar 29), ‘I hope God will bless the ministry of my honoured friend Mr. John Wesley.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 240)

Tears for Whitefield as he announces his departure

The believers gathered in the society that now existed in Castle Street ‘wept aloud’ when Whitefield announced his departure. ‘Blessed be God, there is one coming after me who, I hope, will cherish the spark of divine love now kindled in their hearts, till it grows into a flame.’ (ibid p.241)

A couple of days later he was able to say, ‘I was much refreshed with the sight of my honoured friend, Mr. John Wesley, whom God’s providence has sent to Bristol.’ (p.242)

On the morning of April 2nd Whitefield spent time with friends and followers who crowded to his lodgings to say goodbye. ‘Floods of tears flowed plentifully, and my heart was so melted, that I prayed for them with strong cryings – and many tears…Crowds were waiting at the door to give me a last farewell, and near twenty friends accompanied me on horseback.’ (p.242)

Many good works accomplished

Summarising his few weeks there he notes that thousands of books had been distributed, great numbers had been converted, about £200 (a huge sum then) had been collected as a donation to build an Orphan House in America on his return there.

Finally he went back to Kingswood to lay the stone for a school for the children of the coal workers there.

Heroic humility to advance the work

Whitefield’s willingness to leave was not irresponsible. He trusted Wesley completely.

He wrote with characteristic humility, ‘My heart is so knit to Bristol people, that I could not with so much submission leave them, did I not know dear Mr. John Wesley was left behind to teach them the way of God more perfectly. Prosper, O Lord, the works of his hands upon him.’ (p.242)

This statement is not a concession to Wesley’s later Arminian emphases, nor was it somehow an expression of submission to Welsey’s ministerial oversight; after all, as Ministers, they were equals. This was pure, beautiful humility between brothers.

Although this, and other self-effacing statements of Whitefield’s have been misunderstood by those who prefer Wesley’s Arminianism rather than Whitefield’s Calvinism, the fact is Whitefield was simply being a godly, humble man.

Remember, nothing quite like this had been seen in England before. If Whitefield had not been humble he certainly could not have entrusted such an incredibly fruitful work to another leader.

Next time we’ll see what happened as Wesley stepped onto the evangelistic battlefield!

You can purchase Whitefield Resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Preparing to be Filled with the Spirit – Letters to Wesley

John Wesley
John Wesley

Gathering Information on the health of the new believers

In John Wesley’s Journal entry for December 5th 1738 he writes,

‘About this time, being desirous to know how the work of God went on among our brethren in London, I wrote to many of them concerning the state of their souls.’ He then quotes from some of the replies he received.

The experiences described, and which he includes in his journal may well have been the perfect preparation for him to be positive about the outpouring of the Spirit that took place on January 1st 1739. This outpouring, during an all night prayer meeting, has arguably been portrayed as the beginning, the spark, of the Great Awakening in the British Isles.

[N.B. In sharing these quotes I am encouraging us to learn about the processes of church history. I am noting openness to the Holy Spirit exhibited by the early Methodist leadership –  just on the eve of a mighty breakthrough that  radically affected their generation. I am not endorsing Wesley’s later teaching on sinless perfection.]

Sealed with the Spirit

One of the letters Wesley quotes from includes the following remarkable statements:

‘Now St. Paul says, ‘After ye believed, ye were sealed with the Spirit of promise.’ So it was with me.

After I had believed on Him that ‘justifieth the ungodly,’ I received that seal of the Spirit, which is the ‘earnest of our inheritance.’…

‘then I began to feel the ‘Spirit of God bearing witness with my spirit, that I was born of God.’

‘Because I was a child of God, He ‘sent forth the Spirit of his Son into me, crying, Abba, Father.’ For that is the cry of every new born soul.

The love of God undeniably experienced

‘O mighty, powerful, happy change!…

‘The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, so that my body was almost torn asunder.

‘I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart.

‘I trembled: I sung: I joined my voice with those ‘that excel in strength’

Hungering after God!

‘My soul was got up into the holy mount. I had no thoughts of coming down again into the body. I who not long before had called to ‘the rocks to fall on me, and the mountains to cover me,’ could now call for nothing else but, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’

‘Then I could cry out with great boldness, There, O God, is my Surety! There, O death, is thy plague! There, O grave, is thy destruction! There, O serpent, is the Seed that shall for ever bruise thy head!

The Lover and the Beloved

‘O, I thought my head was a fountain of water. I was dissolved in love. ‘My Beloved is mine, and I am his.’ He has all charms.

‘He has ravished my heart. He is my comforter, my friend, my all. He is now in his garden, feeding among the lilies.

‘O, ‘I am sick of love.’ He is altogether lovely, ‘the chiefest among ten thousand.’”

(From John Wesley Journals Vol 1, p.168-169, Baker edition)

Wesley makes no comment on the letters he quotes but leaves judgement to the reader.

Next time we’ll look at the historic gathering on January 1st 1739…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris part 1

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors

‘Harris is one of the great heroic figures in the Christian Church, and his story is truly an astonishing one.’ Lloyd-Jones (1973)

Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest evangelical teachers of the 20th Century. Few would argue with that. His powerful and faithful teaching ministry both in Wales (1927-1938) and later in London (1939-1968) has continued to inspire leaders and movements around the world.

Leading evangelical preachers such as J.I. Packer and Terry Virgo were powerfully impacted by his passionate expository style of preaching. His was a voice of authority and certainty in an increasingly wishy-washy church context.

In 1950 Packer and others urged Lloyd-Jones to begin a regular teaching conference on the importance of the Puritans and the Puritan movement. Papers were delivered followed by robust discussion chaired (and adjudicated?) by Lloyd-Jones himself.

Lloyd-Jones lectured on many subjects during the conferences (called first, The Puritan and, later, The Westminster Conference).

In 1959 he preached on ‘Revival: An historical and Theological Survey’, in 1964 on ‘John Calvin and George Whitefield’, in 1972 on ‘John Knox – The Founder of Puritanism’ and in 1973 on ‘Howell Harris and Revival’.

It is to this particular lecture that we now turn our attention. We’ve seen something of Harris’ amazing influence in Wales and we shall go on to see his continuing influence in England through the preaching methods of George Whitefield (Harris also pastored Whitefield’s London church in his absence). But what does ‘The Doctor’, as Lloyd-Jones was affectionately called, say of Harris?

Lloyd-Jones’ excellent lectures have been published by the Banner of Truth Trust (the publishing company he helped form) under the title ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’. Page numbers refer to that edition.

On Harris’ conversion

Lloyd-Jones mentions the phrase that was to have such an impact on Harris. He had been in church when, during an announcement for communion, the Minister had said, ‘If you are not fit to take Communion you are not fit to pray, and if you are not fit to pray you are not fit to live, and if you are not fit to live you are not fit to die.’

Lloyd-Jones remarks, ‘These words hit this thoughtless schoolmaster with great force…I emphasise this incident because it reminds us of one of the amazing things about being a servant of God. You can bring people to conviction of sin even through an announcement! You never know what God is going to use; your asides are sometimes more important than your prepared statements.’ (p.285)

On the descending of the Spirit as a definition of Revival

Of particular interest is that Lloyd-Jones emphasises Harris’ encounter with the Holy Spirit as the key experience of his ministry.

This is typical of Lloyd-Jones who was frankly fed up of what he saw as a misunderstanding of the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit which was then prevalent amongst Reformed teachers and preachers. Happily, things have normalised in our day but it was different then and a post conversion experience of the Spirit needed to be constantly emphasised.

Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘What is revival?  Revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God. It is a kind of repetition of Pentecost. It is the Spirit descending upon people.

This needs to be emphasised in this present age. For we have been told so much recently by some that every man at regeneration receives the baptism of the Spirit, and all he has to do after that is to surrender to what he has already.

But revival does not come as a result of a man surrendering to what he already has; it is the Spirit being poured upon him, descending upon him, as happened on the day of Pentecost.’ (p.289)

To read the Part Two click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Fire in the Fields – Howell Harris cuts the Gospel Loose!

 

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

 

After the rediscovery of Justification by Faith and the key doctrine of the New Birth the genius of the 18th Century Awakening was outdoor evangelistic preaching!

That may not sound very radical to us but in those days church was confined to…well, church! Church buildings were the legitimate context for church services and the few that gathered did so without making any noise or disturbing the culture outside.

There was, however, one Welshman who arose to shake up the status quo. Born in 1714 and born again in 1735 (the same year as Whitefield), Howell Harris could not stay silent!

In fact, Harris would not shut up! He had a job as a schoolmaster, but had not yet gone on to University or to ordination in the Church of England in Wales. Later on, he was rejected for both.

The failure of legalism and the triumph of faith

His youth was filled with rebellion and he lamented, ‘no one told me that I was on the way to hell.’ (Richard Bennett, Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival, Evangelical Press of Wales, p.16)

Bennett tells us that ‘the majority of the clergy were content to leave their parishioners to live just as they pleased.’ (ibid p.19)

But in 1735 Harris became powerfully convicted of his sinfulness and then, like George Whitefield, launched into a highly legalistic and superstitious set of ritual and religion that brought no relief whatsoever. He later described it as ‘being in hell for five weeks’ (ibid p.25)

Finally, as he was taking communion one Sunday, he was enabled to ‘believe that I was receiving pardon on account of that blood.’ He describes the freedom that followed: ‘I lost my burden. I went home leaping for joy, and I said to my neighbour…I know my sins have been forgiven!’ (ibid p.26)

Baptism in the Spirit

He was truly set free and yet his soul yearned for more. About three weeks later he experienced what many would describe as a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and this truly marked him out and empowered him for service.

While not quoting Harris verbatim (which is disappointing) Bennett conveys Harris’ experience: ‘when he was at…the sacred spot where he had given himself to God, God now gave Himself to him…The richest biblical terms are heaped one on another in an attempt to give expression to his experience at that time. He was cleansed from all his idols, and the love of God was shed abroad in his heart. Christ had come in previously, but now He began to sup with him; now he received the Spirit of adoption…’ (ibid p.27)

Harris himself tells us the result: ‘I devoted myself to exhorting everyone I met to flee from the wrath to come!’ (ibid p.36)

Rejected by men

In 1736 he offered himself as a candidate for ordination within the Church of England but it had become known that Harris was already preaching evangelistically (Harris preferred to call his preaching ‘exhorting’ or ‘reading’ out of deference to the fact that only ordained clergy were really authorised to ‘preach’).

This unofficial preaching was considered inappropriate. Preaching to the people in streets, and at fairs and in homes was irregular and unrefined. Not the dignified behaviour for a potential vicar, or priest of the Church of England. His application was rejected.

His brother was keen to try and get him to Oxford so that he might be ordained after having obtained a degree. But things were moving way too fast for the hero of the Welsh awakening: ‘I could not rest, but must go to the utmost of my ability to exhort. I could not meet or travel with anybody, rich or poor, young or old, without speaking to them of religion and concerning their souls.’ (ibid p. 41)

What is the source of your authority?

The question for Harris, and one that troubled him for much of his life, was this: ‘What is the source of your authority?’ – not ordained by the establishment church, not having obtained a degree, therefore unrecognised by both English religion and English academia, was the power of the Holy Spirit really enough to authorise this young man to preach?

And could that young man really awaken a nation and bring his people to Christ? And could that young man really begin a preaching phenomena that released the gospel from the confines of religious walls to actually impact and shape the surrounding culture?

Oh yes! The answer is yes!

The source of authority was the word of God and the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God calling him to the work, but I must refrain.

Read more about Howell Harris here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Conversion of the Wesley Brothers

John (left) and Charles Wesley
John (left) and Charles Wesley

The disappointing ‘missionary’ attempt by the Wesley brothers to serve God in America made them realise they themselves were in real need of salvation (see, John Wesley: the non-Christian).

Charles, the First!
Charles was the first to experience the new birth, the main topic about which Whitefield was now preaching. He heard Whitefield in London and records at the time, ‘Mr Whitefield [preaches] not with persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. The churches will not contain the multitudes that throng to hear him,’ (Charles Wesley Journals, Vol 1. P.79 Baker)

The brothers had been impressed with the faith of the Moravians on board ship during a storm, and John had received a surprise grilling by the Moravian leader, Augustus Spangenberg, in America. Following these encounters they began seeking them out once they had returned to England.

The Moravian Peter Bohler was leading a regular meeting in London’s Fetter Lane. Dallimore writes, ‘Charles and John were in almost daily contact with Bohler.’
He asked Charles ‘Do you hope to be saved? He replied, ‘I do!’
‘For what reason do you hope it?’ ‘Because I  have used my best endeavours to serve God.’

Charles reports, ‘He shook his head, and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable, saying in my heart, ‘What, are not my endeavours sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to.’ (Arnold Dallimore, Charles Wesley, Crossway, p.58-59)

Power on Pentecost Sunday
Charles had discovered the vital doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone as he read Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians.

‘21 May was Pentecost Sunday…[and] the day of Charles Wesley’s conversion.’ Charles said he felt the Spirit of God striving with his spirit ‘till by degrees He chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced…I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.’

John, in his Journal records on that day, ‘I received the surprising news that my brother had found rest to his soul.’

Indeed, Charles wrote: ‘I was in a new heaven and a new earth!’ (See Dallimore, p.61-62)

John Wesley’s ‘heart strangely warmed’
Finally, three days later, at one of the Moravian meetings in Aldersgate Street, John Wesley got his breakthrough.  He had already discussed Justification by faith with Peter Bohler, but this was different.

At 34 years of age (more than ten years older than Whitefield) he was finally born again.

He wrote in his journal:
‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ (John Wesley Journal, May 24th 1738, Vol. 1. p.103)

After this Wesley followed Whitefield’s example and began preaching both justification by faith and the new birth in the churches. And one by one, the Anglican church leaders resisted him. (see here for further examples of Wesley following Whitefield’s example)

It wasn’t long before these newly converted ‘Methodists’, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, began to gather others together to seek God for greater blessings.

1739 was approaching, and little did these men know what a significant year it was to be!

To read something of the amazing influence of the Wesleys click here

To purhcase books click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley the Non-Christian

John Wesley
John Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Lex Loizides

First Shoots of the Great Awakening in England Come Through

The Young George Whitefield Preaching
The Young George Whitefield Preaching

A shift was taking place: Whitefield had personally experienced the new birth, and now he was boldly declaring it to others.

In 1736 George Whitefield was officially ordained as an Anglican Minister and set about preaching. Outwardly unimpressive, yet inwardly fervent in his love for God and people, Whitefield began preaching.

‘I preached’, he tells us in his Journals, ‘as usual about five times a week…it was wonderful to see how the people hung upon the rails of the organ loft, climbed upon the leads of the church, and made the church itself so hot with their breath that the steam would fall from the pillars like drops of rain.’

‘Sometimes almost as many would go away from want of room as came in, and it was with great difficulty that I got into the [pulpit].’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.84-85)

As Whitefield’s popularity grew and more and more were experiencing the new birth, it became evident that something bigger than the stir caused by a young preacher was taking place.  Scenes of religious excitement that had never been witnessed before now began to take place daily.

Increasing conversions, increasing interest
A little later, and still a year before the Wesleys brothers’ conversion, George was able to write:
‘The sight of the congregations was [awesome].  One might as it were, walk upon the people’s heads…They were all attention, and heard like people hearing for eternity.’

‘I now preached generally nine times a week.  The early sacraments were exceeding [awesome]…how often have we seen Jesus Christ, evidently set forth before us, crucified!’

‘On Sunday mornings, long before day, you might see streets filled with people going to church, with their lanterns in their hands, and hear them conversing about the things of God…[the people] were so deeply affected that they were like persons mourning for a first born child.’  (Arnold Dallimore, Life of George Whitefield, Vol 1, p.30-31)

Whitefield senses his destiny and prays courageously
Whitefield sensed he was on the edge of a powerful breakthrough and on December 30 1737 prayed, ‘God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst!’

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

How God Prepared a newly-converted 20yr old to Awaken a Nation

18th Century Gloucester
18th Century Gloucester

From Whitefield’s personal experience of salvation to his first efforts in sharing his faith
The first sign of a breakthrough came when George Whitefield, after months of legalism and misguided fervency, was finally born again at Oxford University in 1735.

He immediately returned to his home town of Gloucester where he joyfully preached the gospel.  Several young people were converted and he organised them into a small group (or, ‘society’ as they were called) based on Wesley’s ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford.

A season of growing and learning in Gloucester
Whitefield was overjoyed in his new found faith, much to the surprise of his friends who were expecting a glum, religious depressive. He began to diligently study the Scriptures.

He became clearer in his responsibility to preach justification by faith alone, rather than some of the more mystical teachings he had been exposed to by the Oxford group.

He read Joseph Alleine’s ‘Alarm Call to the Unconverted’ as well as other puritan titles. He devoured the commentaries of Matthew Henry.

He writes, ‘Oh what sweet communion had I daily…with God in prayer..! How often have I been carried beyond myself when sweetly meditating in the fields! How assuredly have I felt that Christ dwelt in me and I in Him! And how did I daily walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost and was refreshed in a multitude of peace!’ (GW Journals, BOT edition, p.61)

His personal relationship with God was the foundation of His own desire to serve God. He had many wonderful experiences of the Spirit at this time which began to govern his early view of ministry.

Promptings from God?
He had a dream of a prisoner in Gloucester coming to him for help and instruction. He went to the prison but could not gain access. A little while later, a letter arrived from Oxford saying that there was a prisoner who had escaped the Oxford prison but had been recaptured and was now held in Gloucester. Would Whitefield visit him? He did so and began preaching to a group of prisoners in the prison, providing for them and helping secure the release of some of them. (GW Journals, p.63)

He tended to respond to what he felt were definite promptings of the Holy Spirit and the immediate fruit was remarkable. Although cautioned on this point by Edwards a few years later, Whitefield instinctively knew that being ‘led by the Spirit’ was certainly preferable to John Wesley’s practice of casting lots for guidance.

After 6 months in Gloucester, he was ready to return to Oxford, ready to face the daunting possibility of being ordained as a Minister, and ready to face the challenge of bringing the teaching of the New Birth, of Justification by Faith in Christ alone, to 18th Century England.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Law Cannot Produce Life – Only the Gospel Can

So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.

But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.

The young Charles Wesley
The young Charles Wesley

Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.

Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.

His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.

Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).

John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.

Locked in the second half of Romans 7

George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.

There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.

But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)

In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’

From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.

‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’

‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.

Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)

Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Born Again – The Conversion Experience

Evangelist George Whitefield
Evangelist George Whitefield

While George Whitefield was doing menial tasks for the richer students at Oxford University, his own interests became intensely focussed.

He discovered that his experience in the ‘public house was now of service to me’, in that he was able to serve others diligently and humbly. Yet he could not throw in his lot with the other servitors, whom he felt would become a bad influence on him.

He was aiming for higher things.

Religion vs. Being Born Again
He began to read the books that Charles Wesley, his new friend, lent him. One small volume had a real impact on him, Henry Scougal’s ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man.’ (see Piper on Scougal)

Whitefield realised that, to get right with God, he needed to be born again, not merely to increase his religious efforts.

‘At my first reading it, I wondered what the author meant by saying, ‘That some falsely placed religion in going to church, doing hurt to no one, being constant in the duties of the closet [ie. private prayer], and now and then reaching out their hands to give alms to their poor neighbours.’

‘Alas!’ though I, ‘if this be not true religion, what is?’

An inward change of heart was needed. What Scougal called, the ‘union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us.’ Whitefield writes, ‘a ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in upon my soul, and from that moment…did I know that I must be a new creature.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.47)

A pre-evangelistic flurry!
At last he’d seen it! Not religious duty, but the life of God coming and changing us! And he immediately began communicating it to others even though he had not yet experienced it himself!

Whitefield realised that the New Birth was absolutely central for an individual’s relationship to God and for any hope of getting to heaven. It was a clear-as-day revelation to him – and it was to become the pivotal emphasis in his preaching.

The New Birth not a New Teaching

This doctrine of the New Birth didn’t begin with Whitefield, of course, nor with Henry Scougal.

In John’s Gospel we’re told that a highly religious man, Nicodemus visited Jesus one evening to ask him questions. Nicodemus was a well known teacher, and was a respected authority on Scripture.

Yet Jesus cuts across Nicodemus’ expectations by telling him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Faith Comes to Life
The new birth is, as Whitefield discovered, an inner work of God. As you learn more about Jesus Christ, on hearing about His perfect life, His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead – faith is aroused! Faith that perhaps wasn’t there before!

As it begins to dawn on you that Jesus truly and specifically died on the cross for your sins, to forgive you of every one, and present you before God as holy – faith is aroused, and springs up!

This faith, as it comes alive causes a desire for Christ and for His forgiveness. We find ourselves being drawn to God! We long for His forgiveness and for His purposes in our lives. We are willing to turn from sin and live for Him.

My friend, you can discover right now what George Whitefield discovered hundreds of years ago: that God loves you deeply, that He is willing to forgive your sins, and bring you home to Himself. You can have a brand new start and come into a right relationship with God today.

Why don’t you ask God to turn you around and make you into a follower of Jesus Christ?

You’ll need to find a church. You can begin by looking here.

To read more about Whitefield click here

To read the first part of the life of Whitefield click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Cultivating Humility

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

One of Winston Churchill’s most famous and funny quips concerned his political opponent Clement Attlee. Apparently interrupting a Churchill rant, a friend said, ‘But surely, Mr. Churchill, you admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man?’ To which Churchill replied, ‘He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!’

Churchill himself was, of course, criticised many times for his over confidence!

To dwell on the quality of humility is good for the soul.

Jonathan Edwards, in his careful style, does just that in his sermons on 1 Corinthians 13. The sermons were collected together and published as ‘Charity and its Fruits’. Here are a few quotes that go right to the heart of the matter.

On Self-Centredness
‘As you have not made yourself, so you were not made for yourself.’ (Charity and its Fruits, Banner of Truth, p.181)

On Self-importance
‘Humility tends also to prevent an arrogant and assuming behaviour. He that is under the influence of an humble spirit…when he is amongst others…does not carry it toward them as if he expected and insisted that a great deal of regard should be shown to himself.

His behaviour does not carry with it the idea that he is the best amongst those about him, and that he is the one to whom the chief regard should be shown, and whose judgment is most to be sought and followed.’ (p.139-140)

Mocking Others
[Those who are humble] ‘are not found treating with scorn and contempt what others say, or speaking of what they do with ridicule and sneering reflections, or sitting and relating what others may have spoken or done, only to make sport of it.’ (p. 141)

Self-Interest
‘If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow-beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are.’ (p.184)

More next time…

You can purchase ‘Charity and its Fruits’ by Jonathan Edwards here
You can read more about Jonathan Edwards’ ministry here
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Sarah Edwards, the Presence of God and the Dignity of the Priesthood

Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards
Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards

Was Sarah Edwards an over-emotional person? Was she a kind of ‘balance’ for her supposedly unemotional, strict husband Jonathan Edwards?

Or was she an intelligent and articulate woman, highly respected in the community, who had the privilege of personal encounters with God?

Jonathan encouraged her to record her various experiences (covering two and a half weeks in 1742) for the edification of others.

Iain Murray calls her words ‘an amazing testimony to how much of heaven can be enjoyed upon earth.’ (Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.193)

So without more ado, these are a few excerpts of her story…

The Presence of God
‘Under a delightful sense of the immediate presence and love of God, these words seemed to come over and over in my mind, ‘My God, my all;
my God, my all.’

The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of any things else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness, and mildness, and gentleness, and their great and immutable love to me.

I seemed to be taken under the care and charge of my God and Saviour, in an inexpressibly endearing manner; and Christ appeared to me as a mighty Saviour.’

The Dignity of a Royal Priesthood
‘The next day, which was the Sabbath, I enjoyed a sweet, and lively and assured sense of God’s infinite grace, and favour and love to me, in taking me out of the depths of hell, and exalting me to the heavenly glory, and the dignity of a royal priesthood.’

Intense admiration of God’s Grace
‘To my mind there was the clearest evidence, that God was present in the congregation, on the work of redeeming love; and in the clear view of this, I was all at once filled with such intense admiration of the wonderful condescension and grace of God, in returning again to Northampton, as overwhelmed my soul, and immediately took away my bodily strength.’

Back at the house…trying not to leap for joy
‘While I was uttering the words [of one of Isaac Watts’ hymns], my mind was so deeply impressed with the love of Christ, and a sense of his immediate presence, that I could with difficulty refrain from rising from my seat, and leaping for joy.’

(From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41)

More from Mrs. Edwards next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides