Saturday, October 06, 2007

Iain Murray on what Presbyterians can learn from John Wesley

A while ago I read some of Iain Murray's book called Old Evangelicalism - Old Truths for a New Awakening. Below are some excerpts I found challenging, particularly in regard to having a too convenient view of ministry...

"The system Wesley inaugurated, instead of reviving debate on whether churches should be Episcopal, Independent, Presbyterian or whatever, aimed first at spreading the gospel by every available means. And the Methodist structure was flexible enough to operate effectively across the world - whether in England, or among the black slaves of the American South, or in Fiji, Tonga and other islands of the Pacific. What is beyond dispute is that in gospel effectiveness Wesleyan Methodism often outstripped other bodies; it reached slaves, soldiers, convicts and cannibals; it gave birth to vibrant churches which multiplied themselves as missionary agencies. This should at least make us cautious about dismissing the structure in terms of mere expediency... I am not about to suggest that we should all exchange our church structure for the one-time Methodist pattern. But I think Wesley prompts us to re-examine the relationship between zeal for the salvation of souls and church practices and procedures. We are prone to think that variations and changes in church order means laxity, but could it be that we need to re-examine what is most suited for the advance of the gospel in our generation? Is it not possible we could be in danger of allowing theory to prevent the introduction of changes that could be of blessing to people who are presently lost and far from God?" [pages 148-149]

"Wesley was accused of lowering the position of the minister. It is true that men were sometimes admitted as Assistants and itinerants who were unworthy, but taking the early Methodist history as a whole, failures were not the norm. The men who constituted the norm were often men of a standard which puts us to shame. The life of the itinerant preacher was a far harder one than the life of a man settled quietly to minister just to the needs of a local congregation. The itinerant had to find a pulpit wherever he could, whatever the weather, whatever the hostility. He was far more on horseback than ever he was at a fireside. Self-denial and sacrifice were a regular part of his existence, and, being married, he could not continue unless he had a wife of equal spiritual determination. We might think that they sometimes carried self-discipline too far, but there is no denying that they came closer than most to Paul's description of the gospel ministry in 2 Corinthians 6:4-9: 'In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distress, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in distresses ... By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live.'" [pages 149-150]


  1. clap, clap clap.

    Well said. I read an interview today where Tim Keller said something about how his type of Church was not going to reach every one in New York, and therefore every type of Christian church was needed, no matter what the denomination.

    What do you think was the source of Wesley's inspiration?

  2. Hi Craig (kind of feels like I"m talking to myself!)

    I don't really know enough about Wesley to speculate as to the source of his inspiration. I can only presume that he had such a burning appreciation of what God had done for him, that he was driven to make sure as many as possible heard about Jesus. What do you think was the source of Wesley's inspiration?

  3. I did a bit of research on Wesley a few years ago and the Anabaptists / Moravians had a huge influence on his ministry. On 3 separate occasions he had significant encounters with them, where they challenged his intellectual faith to being really born again and be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

    They told him, preach faith until you have it, then preach it again and again until they have it also.

  4. Yes. I guess the thing is though, what was different about Wesley, and others like him? Afterall, many people had contact with the Moravians, but most of them weren't Wesleys...

  5. With the Moravian issue I suppose Wesley listened to them and took them seriously while the established church did not.

    Personally I think Wesley had an Apostolic calling / gifting empowered by the Holy Spirit on his life which drove him to be who he was.

    I think he was influenced in a way by the Moravians in that he saw they had something he did not when he traveled with them on a ill fated missionary trip to America and during a storm when the boat was close to sinking he saw the calm demeanor and faith in God which he did not.

    The Moravians were very missionary / evangelistly orientated as many sold themselves into slavery to take the gospel into the world and they influence Wesley into the experience and doctrine of a 2nd work of the Holy Spirit after conversion (Baptism of the Holy Spirit) - Incidentally so did George Whitfield who was a peer and friend of Wesley though later on apparently parted ways over their personal doctrinal beliefs, Wesley was Arminian - Whitfield Calvinist.

    Also Wesley did have a huge influence on the missionary movement, Hudson Taylors grandfather was one of Wesleys itinerant preachers and his father a chemist was also a preacher - Taylors influence had a terrific impact on other missions such as Carrey etc.

    Also Wesley was not the only evangelist; there was his brother Charles who wrote many of the great songs we sing today. And the many itinerant ministers / evangelists he stirred up who lived, preached and planted churches, empowering other laypeople to pastor them like he did himself.

    The biggest breakthrough for Wesley who was a C of E minister, was when he preached the Gospel calling people to repent and be saved and the rector of the church told him he was no longer welcome to preach in that church - so Wesley gathered people under a local tree and started to preach there to those who would not or could not come into the church for what ever reason.