I have to give a closing story for the sermon at church tomorrow on someone who brought revival to the church, and now that I have been freed from my self-inflicted chains of Calvinism I spent alot of time studying John Wesley - whom even Spurgeon respected. He was truly a great man, here is his story:
“Oh what joy - joy unspeakable - joy full and big with glory was my soul filled with when the weight of sin came off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God and a full assurance of faith broke in on my soul."
These are the words of John Wesley an English preacher in the 18th century. He wrote them after having the full experience of being born again and finding new life in Jesus. Wesley was one of the greatest preachers who ever lived and was acknowledged as a Man with an unbelievable passion for God, even by pastors who disagreed with most of his ideas. He is acknowledged as the founder of the Methodist church a group with over 1 million Christians in it today, and Wesley wanted it to be based in the truth of a transformed life in Christ, as he experienced himself.
He grew up the son of a minister in the Anglican church – the established church of the country and at the age of 5 he was in a tragic event where he was rescued from a burning church. He knew for the rest of his life that God had saved him and that he would serve the Lord.
John Wesley went into ministry in the Church of England but found that it was stale and dead. Many in the church had never even heard the good news of Forgiveness and new life offered in the gospel and it was then he decided to live a radical life. He began to preach anywhere he could. The Methodists worked with the poor and the outcast in England and constantly preached the good news to anyone they could find. The Church of England and many others criticized them calling them ‘enthusiasts’ as an insult and saying that if they wanted to work in the church they should work in the established Anglican church and calm down.
Wesley and his friends had quite a different view of Christianity. They would preach fiery sermons about the great love of God and his saving work free to all. They would help the homeless and try to motivate Christians out of apathy and show them that they needed to pick up their crosses and follow Jesus. John Wesley described his preaching as ‘lighting himself on fire for God and then seeing the crowds gather to watch him burn’.
These views were at the time persecuted and horrible things were said about Wesley and his following, including malicious baseless rumors. He would be forbidden from speaking in churches and sometimes even mobs would form to drive him out of town.
In fact Wesley is recorded as saying that he was worried if when he had finished preaching the gospel and they didn’t throw him out, if he had got it right. He encouraged people to move forward boldly in love and to give money to the poor and those who needed it, and said that if anyone found him with more than 10 pounds in his wallet when he died that they should call him a hypocrite and a liar. It is said that although he earned at least 20 000 pounds in payment for his publications he died poor and followed his own standard. He preached 2 or 3 times a day and helped out with numerous charities and his giving was limited only by his means. There is also one apocryphal story that while leading a choir practice a person ran in and interrupted the song to tell Wesley his house had been burned to the ground and that all his possessions were gone, and that when the messenger had finished Wesley breathed a sigh of relief and replied ‘I thought you said you had news of something important’ and then continued to direct the hymns.
The movement and revival of the church that Wesley and others partook in, in the United States was described as the great awakening, and in England the change was phenomenal. Today the Methodist church still has strong support, and many famous people such as William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army, came from it.
When asked by a fellow pastor whether he was worried they Methodist church would fail he said: ““I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
He understood the reality that a church birthed from revival could die quickly and the true singular passion of the story of the life of this man of God is that Christianity is a passionate faith. It is not a story about being a Wesleyan or a Methodist but a story about a man who was tired of seeing dead Christians, tired of seeing a dead church, and longed for the abundant life offered by Jesus to any who would receive him.
As he lay dieing in sickness at the end of his life it is said that his friends gathered around them and that as he looked up to all of them and held their hands he smiled. And his last words were “"The best of all is, God is with us.” … God is with us.