Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: George Whitfield

December 22, 2016 — The Newborn King

Today’s Bible reading

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” — Luke 2:8-14

More thoughts for meditation

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Words: Charles Wesley (1707-1788), George Whitfield (1714-1770)
Music: from a chorus by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), adapted by William Hayman Cummings

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The text to this popular carol is based on Luke 2:8-14, the portion of the familiar Christmas story that includes the angels and shepherds. It first appeared in the Wesley hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1739. It was originally composed as ten verses with the title, “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  The song has undergone many changes. Whitfield’s most obvious change is in the first line.  In Wesley’s original it was, “Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.” “Welkin” is an obsolete word that means “the vault of heaven.”  Whitfield gave us singing angels (praising) with a focus on Jesus (the newborn King), rather than on God (the King of kings) with his revision to “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!”  

There were many other changes along the way as hymns tend to evolve over the years, but this change to a focus on Jesus was a theological point that Whitfield wanted to underline.  Christmas is about the coming of a new order with a new King given by God.  The whole emphasis centers on the great work that Jesus’ accomplishes for believers by mildly laying aside his glory to come and dwell with us and then within us, freeing us from death, drawing us into new life, and stamping his image within us.  

Suggestions for Action

When I was a new Christian I began to pay more careful attention to Christmas carols.  When I read beyond the first verse of this one (and Joy to the World), I was shocked to find the whole gospel message there.  How had I missed it?  As you listen to the voices on the link below singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, listen for the Spirit of God to whisper through them the fullness of His love for you and how his care covers everything about you:

  •  Are you lonely? – He wants to live with in and in you.
  • Are you angry over the world’s cruelty? – He seeks to remedy that with love and redemption that goes to the very heart of our need for newness.
  • Are you hopeless? – He wants to give you a new start.
  • Are you confused and doubting God? – He wants to reveal the fullness of God to you.  

Listen. Hark.

Don’t miss the last verse. Read it again above.  Nobody sings all the verses.  Listen to the whole story.

January 15, 2016 — A people called Methodists

Today’s Bible reading

Bind up this testimony of warning
and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
I will wait for the Lord,
who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.

When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. —  Isaiah 8:16-22


Pulpit of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, site of “Scriptural Christianity”

More thoughts for meditation

John Wesley eventually parted ways with the Moravians and with his friend, George Whitfield, because they did not follow his vision. “By the late 1740s Methodism had set its course. ’The People called Methodists’ were popping up everywhere. Wesley saw them as a renewing force within the Church of England, committed to proving in experience what the church professed in doctrine. They preached costly religion on the one hand, but also the universal offer of salvation on the other…

These years were the making of John Wesley as a radical Christian. The direction had been set, the momentum established. With remarkably little variation Wesley worked tirelessly over the next fifty years to bring a radical reformation to the church. At every point of conflict he determined to be as radical as the Bible, to be faithful ‘to the law and to the testimony’ (Isa. 8:20 KJV) as he understood them.”

To keep his fellowship at Oxford, Wesley had to teach at least once in three years (and they had to listen). “Wesley preached his last Oxford sermon, ‘Scriptural Christianity,’ on August 24, 1744. Tracing ‘scriptural Christianity’ from the days after Pentecost and down through history, Wesley asked:

‘Where does this Christianity now exist? Where, I pray, do the Christians live? Which is the country, the inhabitants whereof are “all (thus) filled with the Holy Ghost”? Are all of one heart and of one soul? Cannot suffer one among them to “lack anything,” but continually give “to every man as he hath need”? Who one and all have the love of God filling their hearts, and constraining them to love their neighbor as themselves?…Who offend not in any kind, either by word or deed, against justice, mercy, or truth, but in every point do unto all men, as they would these should do unto them?’

Wesley made it plain that he didn’t believe such Christian faith was to be found at Oxford, and he called for repentance.”

Suggestions for action

Wesley did not start a movement or maintain a radical lifestyle by being tolerant or soft spoken. He knew the rules of Oxford (and England) as well as anyone, and chose to break them. He did not keep his place or hold his tongue, choosing to follow Isaiah and his own conscience rather than the ways that might have gained him a more sympathetic hearing among the powers that be. Do you think he was right? Should Jesus have called people a “brood of vipers?”

Do you ever get into trouble? Is the trouble more about what you have processed with Jesus and his people or more about what you have yet to process about yourself with Jesus and his people?

Wesley is confident enough in Jesus, in his own integrity and in the fruit of his ministry to say what needs to be said and try what needs to be tried. Meditate on confidence. Is there anything that needs to be let go that is holding back the full expression of your faith?

January 14, 2016 — Preaching to the Poor

Today’s Bible reading

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:14-21

More thoughts for meditation

John Wesley’s comrade, George Whitfield, indecorously preached in the fields after the coal miner riots in Bristol. The years 1738-40 were full of unrest “sparked by high corn prices, low wages, and the oppressive poverty of the new class of urban workers.” Whitfield called for help from Wesley. His brother Charles did not think he should go, since it was beneath his station. John submitted the decision to the Fetter Lane Society who cast lots and sent him off.

“Wesley spoke to a little society on the Sermon on the Mount – ‘one pretty remarkable precedent of field preaching,’ he observed…The next day, Monday, Wesley reports:

‘At four in the afternoon I submitted to “be more vile” [I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes – 2 Sam. 6:22] 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…:”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.”’…

The Wesleyan Revival had begun. From the beginning it was a movement largely for and among the poor, those whom ‘gentlemen’ and ‘ladies’ looked on as part of the machinery of the new industrial system. The Wesleys preached, the crowds responded, and Methodism as a mass movement was born….

Within a few months of beginning field preaching in 1739, Wesley had set up the basic structure that was to mark Methodism for more than a century. The patterns he established formed the infrastructure of the movement and were crucial to its development and growth“ (pp 40-41).

Suggestions for action

We are surrounded by the “machinery” of the latest economic system. Some among the 1% make a show of generosity. However, they do not allow the system they control to change. Jesus placed himself among the poor; so did Wesley — even when his books were best sellers he still lived at his Holy Club level. How are you organizing your life?

One point of walking with a notable example of the past is to learn from their example. We will never be them or have their circumstance again, but we can share the Spirit that animated their creativity in Christ. What are you learning from John Wesley, so far? Boldness? Trust? The necessity of being organized? Submitting to community? What should you apply to your schedule, your cell, the church? Resolve to keep resolving.