Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Early Methodists

The Failure of George Whitefield

In reality, George Whitefield was not a failure.  Many souls were saved under his preaching of the gospel.  I don’t doubt one minute that God didn’t use Whitefield to honor His name and to make known His name among the English-speaking peoples.  God raised up George Whitefield and used him mightily for His own divine purposes.  I am not then writing that Whitefield was a failure in the sense that he was not used by God nor that souls were not saved under his preaching.  That is not what I am meaning by the use of “failure” in this post.

I’m actually borrowing from Whitefield’s own testimony at the end of his life.  Both he and John Wesley had preached all over England.  It was Whitefield who had encouraged Wesley to preach in the open air (field preaching they called it).  Whitefield was perhaps the better preacher (so I am told) and that his voice was a powerful preaching voice.  Wesley was the leader.  Wesley would preach but he was quick to organize and Wesley never left the Church of England.  Wesley was seeking to bring reformation to the Anglicans.  Wesley would preach but he would create societies and bands wherever he went.

It was here, Wesley’s societies and bands, that Whitefield looked back on his life and admitted his failure.  Whitefield stated:

“My brother Wesley acted wisely.  The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined to societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor.  This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”

Thousands upon thousands were no doubt awakened by the Spirit of God under both George Whitefield and John Wesley.  Wesley, however, would take the newly awakened souls and place them in societies.  In fact, Wesley did not give altar calls for salvation nor did he lead people in “the sinner’s prayer” as we know today in many evangelical churches.  Instead, souls hungry to be saved were placed under the care of a true Christian and they would pray with the sinner and read the Bible with the sinner until the sinner came to know Christ and have the assurance of their salvation.  While I would prefer baptizing such sinners into Christ (Acts 2:41), this would be the time when the Church would recognize the awakened sinner to be a saved saint of God.  The new Christian would be placed then in a society meeting where they would meet with other saints to confess sin, to be encouraged, to pray, to read the Bible, and to grow in holiness.

This act of sanctification kept the saints.  It was this that Whitefield failed at.  Whitefield preached and many souls were saved.  However, Whitefield did not organize them into societies.  He left the church to do that and few did.  Many fell away because of a lack of accountability and discipleship.  Even John Piper admits that sanctification is a work in the church and not just in the individual.  Sanctification is not just the work of the Lord in the heart of the saint but it is the work of the Church as well (Hebrews 10:23-25; James 5:16).  As we gather with other saints, we are encouraged to continue in the faith and to keep our eyes on Jesus at all times.  We are able to confess our sins to each other and find help to overcoming sin.  Sanctification then is not just my work but it is a team work, a work of the church as well (Ephesians 4:11-16).

In terms of application, let me warn my fellow saints who enjoy sharing the gospel with the lost (which should be us all), we must preach Christ to the lost but we must encourage those who are seeking salvation to be discipled after being set free from sin.  It is not enough to preach that Jesus saves from sin and then leave the new Christian alone to just wander.  Matthew 13:18-23 warns what will happen to the seed that we plant apart from being rooted in Christ.  I am aware that some Calvinists will preach that Christ saves and expect God to keep the new saints but read Whitefield’s words again and again.  Let them sink deep into your soul.  Jesus told us to go and make disciples and not just to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20).  Even the Apostles in Acts 2 obeyed the words of Jesus and did just what He said in Acts 2:42.  I pray that we would as well.  Preach the gospel as Whitefield and Wesley did but place people in societies for the purpose of sanctification as Wesley did.  This will bear fruit.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/05/2014 at 2:42 PM

Why the Early Methodists Grew?

John Wesley brought with him the rise of evangelical Arminianism and he helped found the Methodist Church (though Wesley never left the Anglican Church).  Wesley was a scholar but even more he was passionate to preach the gospel.  He would preach anywhere and everywhere.  Wesley was encouraged by his Calvinist friend George Whitefield to preach in the open air and so he did on April 2, 1739 for the first time.  Wesley described it this way:

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. The Scripture on which I spoke was this (is it possible anyone should be ignorant that it is fulfilled in every true minister of Christ?): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”

Wesley called it “vile” because he had been raised and trained to preach only in the church buildings and not in the open air.  From here on, Wesley would write in his journal about preaching to thousands upon thousands of people in the open air.  This led to the founding of the Methodist Church as Wesley and his companions were often kicked out of churches and even physically assaulted by the crowds for their preaching.

One Methodist historian describes the early Methodists like this:

During its early years in England and in America, Methodism was a despised sect.

Methodists were enthusiasts (too excitable); their camp meetings were out of control; their preachers were uneducated. They sang “ditties” instead of stately hymns. They offended people by talking to them about their souls. They opposed “worldliness,” which included Sabbath breaking, dancing, card playing, gambling, alcohol, and fancy dress.

For the first 75 years of their presence in America, Methodists would never have won any popularity polls. But Methodism grew. From 1784 to 1850, a period known generally as the Second Great Awakening, Methodism grew from 3 percent of America’s religious population, to 33 percent. It was in part because Methodism during this period thought it better to be despised for the gospel than to be respectable in the world.

Notice that the early Methodists loved the gospel and loved souls and desired to preach the truth of the gospel above being popular with the world.  This led to their growth.  They were “other” minded people, focused on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Philippians 3:17-20).  They did not care about being friends with this world (James 4:4) and they lived and died with a focus on the glory of God (Philippians 1:20-21).  Amazing, faithful people!

But along with a zeal for the gospel, they had great men of God who were both solid theologians and solid evangelists at the same time.  Consider men such as Adam Clarke or Richard Watson or John Fletcher.  All three men were men of God who were known for their zeal, for their prayer lives, for their personal holiness but they also loved the Word of God and expounded the Word of God.  All three men were to be found teaching the early Methodists sound doctrine in their Bible classes but they were turn around and open air preach or lead their students back to their studies to pray.  They could on the one hand study the Greek New Testament and on the other they could spend all night in prayer.  John Wesley himself was a student of the Word.  He would often ride his horse and read a book as he traveled.  I own his Works and they are full of Greek, French, and Latin references.  Yet Wesley would rise up at 4 AM each day to pray and read his Bible.  He loved knowledge but he feared God as well.

Where is that today?  Where are the theologians who are known not just for their knowledge of the Word of God (such as Adam Clarke) but also their preaching, their zeal, their open air preaching, their hunger for souls.  Oh God give us men such as Paul the Apostle who could expound on the riches of justification in Romans 5 and pray to the Lord with much passion in Romans 10:1-2 for his own race to be saved!  We need both the scholar and the evangelist.  We need men of God who both love the Word, study theology, etc. but also love souls, love to pray, love to worship, and love to apply theology.  We often are educated beyond our level of obedience (James 2:14-26) and I fear that we have much knowledge about God but we know little of this God in a real and personal way (John 17:3; Philippians 3:8-11).  I want to know much about God but oh to have a zeal for Him where I take His Word and go out into the highways as Wesley did proclaiming the truth of His Word (Acts 5:20).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/16/2012 at 2:02 PM

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