Violence Seems to Triumph – The First Methodist Martyr

(Methodism and the Mob Part 6)

The Mob Reacts – The Death of William Seward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘A Fire was Kindled in my Soul’ – Howell Harris and Revival

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

We’ve seen that Howell Harris, the man who pioneered outdoor preaching in the 1700’s, was spurred on to a preaching ministry by a direct infilling of the Holy Spirit.

He saw the Spirit’s anointing as the source of his authority to preach and bring multitudes to Christ – even though he was angrily opposed by clergymen and violent mobs.

But he writes, ‘A fire was kindled in my soul and I was clothed with power…I could have spoken to the King were he within my reach – such power and authority did I feel in my soul…I lifted up my voice with authority…’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth, Vol 1. P.240)

Waiting for the Spirit’s Power

He began by simply going from house to house and reading from a book. When he felt the power of the Spirit filling him he would preach, but still as though he were reading.

Eventually, as the Spirit fell upon him with such power he began to preach freely, often without any particular preparation and often with a sweeping power that affected all who listened. He referred to this as ‘the gale descending’. Houses became too small to contain the hearers. And so he began preaching in fields, and at town fairs.

Dallimore writes, ‘Because he was unordained, Harris refused to practice any kind of formal sermonisation, and stood before his congregations without a prepared message.

He looked to God for wisdom and power and as he began to speak his soul took fire and his speech became like a mighty torrent and rushed forth with tremendous conviction.’

Scorching hot from the Preacher’s heart

‘It was said, ‘The words flowed scorching hot from the preacher’s heart’, and ‘He would go on thus, pouring out old things and new for two, three or even four hours. Indeed, we have instances of his services continuing without a break for six hours.’

This work was mightily used of God. Harris ranged over a wide area of South Wales, and held meetings anywhere and at any time till the whole countryside became conscious of his condemnation of sin.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit hearts were broken, and it was not uncommon for people to come under such conviction that they would cry aloud to God for mercy while he preached.

Hundreds were converted – among them some of the most notorious sinners – and Harris made plans for their upbuilding by organizing them into societies.’ (ibid, p.241-242)

2500 miles on foot!

Harris himself kept detailed accounts of his meetings and his experiences of the Spirit in his diaries and was able to record that he had walked more than 2500 miles between meetings in Wales in just two years!

His passion for evangelism and his breathtaking success in bringing thousands to Christ became a stimulus to Whitefield and others. He was so popular in Wales that at his funeral the Countess of Huntingdon recorded that no fewer than 20,000 people gathered at his funeral.

A Voice in the Wilderness

But, back in the late 1730’s, as multitudes in Wales were gathering to hear him, as the ‘ordained’ clergy opposed him, Howell Harris, almost a voice in the wilderness, wondered ‘There must be some worthy men in the world of the same mind as myself!’  (ibid p.234)

Indeed, God had not only saved this pioneer preacher in Wales. In the year of Harris’s conversion Daniel Rowland had also come to Christ, so had George Whitefield and John Cennick. Thus God had sovereignly saved four of the men who were to be used mightily in the Great Awakening. 1735 was a vintage year!

The Wesleys’ conversions soon followed and a prayer meeting took place on January 1st 1739 that was to be the launch of a revival movement that would shake Britain and America.

These men had experienced individual outpourings of the Spirit, now the Spirit was to come upon them as they gathered together!

More next time…

To read Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides