January 19, 2018

A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ (1)

Mark Minnick

CWesleyWe have a full thirty of them in our church’s hymnbook: songs by Charles Wesley. But it would take nearly eight hymnbooks of equal size to hold all the church songs Charles wrote. They amount to over six thousand, ten times those of Isaac Watts.

So it’s understandable that we might envision that this saint lived a contemplative, idyllic existence, surrounded by the silence poets love. Oh, we could think to ourselves, what I wouldn’t give for one-tenth of his solitude.

It’s amazing how far from the truth our uninformed perceptions can be. Take Wesley’s case. There are few of his hymns that express both his philosophy and his excruciating experience of the Christian life any more truly than the one that begins, Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armor on, and continues, Take to arm you for the fight. … From strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray.

It would be hard to find any preachers of the last two centuries any more acquainted with outright warfare for Christ than Charles and his brother John. Their earliest journals are not only almost monotonously replete with references to it, but often the entries nearly spurt blood. Here are samples from Charles’s journal for just one week in 1743.

A stream of ruffians was suffered to bear me from the steps. I rose, and, having given the blessing was beaten down again (May 21).

The stones flew thick, hitting the desk and the people. … The stones often struck me in the face (May 25).

They pressed hard to break open the door. They laboured all night … and by morning had pulled down one end of the house (May 25)

We passed by the spot where the house stood. They had not left one stone upon another (May 26).

The mob attended me to my lodgings [a different house later that same day]. … The windows were smashed in an instant. The ambush rose, and assaulted us with stones, eggs, and dirt. … David Taylor they wounded in his forehead, which bled much. … My arm pained me a little by a blow I received (May 27).

Do you ever wonder how you’d perform under fire? Occasionally after some minor discouragement that my brooding flesh has worried into a major internal crisis, I find the Lord’s challenge to Jeremiah chiding my conscience: If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?

One surefire way to combat these kinds of fears is to take seriously an admonition written to suffering first-century Jewish Christians (Heb. 13:7). It concerns the example of those who have gone before us. Follow their faith, the writer urges, considering the end of their conversation (the consequence or result of the way in which they lived).

So we’ll let Charles Wesley himself tell us what the consequences were of their suffering hardship like good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Here are five instances for our meditation and encouragement.

“I Think He Is a Man of God”

Wednesbury (October, 1743): My brother came, delivered out of the mouth of the lions! He looked like a soldier of Christ. His clothes were torn to tatters. The mob of Wednesbury, Darlaston, and Walsal, were permitted to take him by night out of the society house, and carry him about several hours, with the full purpose of murdering him.

My brother had been dragged about for three hours by the mob of three towns. Three of the brethren and one young woman kept near him all the time, striving to intercept the blows. Some cried, “Drown him! Throw him into a pit!” some, “Hang him up upon the next tree!” others, “Away with him! Away with him!” and some did him the infinite honour to cry, in express terms, “Crucify him!” One and all said, “Kill him!” but they were not agreed what death to put him to. In Walsal several said, “Carry him out of the town. Don’t kill him here! Don’t bring his blood upon us!”

He did not wonder (as he himself told me) that the martyrs should feel no pain in the flames; for none of their blows hurt him, although one was so violent as to make his nose and mouth gush out with blood.

At the first justice’s, whither they carried him, one of his poor accusers mentioned the only crime alleged against him, “Sir, it is a downright shame. He makes people rise at five in the morning to sing psalms.” Another said, “To be plain, sir, I must speak the truth. All the fault I find with him is, that he preaches better than our parsons.”

Mr. Justice did not care to meddle with him, or with those who were murdering an innocent man at his worship’s door. A second justice, in like manner, remanded him to the mob. The mayor of Walsal refused him protection, when entering his house, for fear the mob should pull it down. Just as he was within another door, one fastened his hand in his hair, and drew him backward, almost to the ground. A brother, at the peril of his life, fell on the man’s hand, and bit it, which forced him to loose his hold.

The instrument of his deliverance, at last, was the ringleader of the mob, the greatest profligate in the country. He carried him through the river on his shoulders. A sister they threw into it. Another’s arm they broke.

I took several new members into the society, and among them the young man whose arm was broken; and (upon trial) Munchin, the late captain of the mob. He has been constantly under the Word since he rescued my brother. I asked him what he thought of him. “Think of him!” said he: “that he is a man of God; and God was on his side, when so many of us could not kill one man.”

Our Bitterest Enemies Were Brought Over

St. Ives (July 22, 1743): I had just named my text, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God,” when an army of rebels broke in upon us. They began in a most outrageous manner, threatening to murder the people if they did not go out that moment. They broke the sconces, dashed the windows in pieces, bore away the shutters, benches, poor-box, and all but the stone walls. They swore bitterly I should not preach there again; which I immediately disproved by telling them Christ died for them all. Several times they lifted up their hands and clubs to strike me; but a stronger arm restrained them.

They beat and dragged the women about, particularly one of great age, and trampled on them without mercy. The longer they stayed, and the more they raged, the more power I found from above. I bade the people stand still, and see the salvation of God, resolving to continue with them, and see the end. In about an hour the word came, “Hitherto shalt thou come; and no farther.”

The ruffians fell to quarreling among themselves, broke the town-clerk’s (their captain’s) head, and drove one another out of the room. Having kept the field, we gave thanks for the victory; and in prayer the Spirit of glory rested upon us.

[The next morning]: It was next to a miracle that no more mischief was done last night. The gentlemen had resolved to destroy all within doors. They came upon us like roaring lions, headed by the mayor’s son. He struck out the candles with his cane, and began courageously beating the women. I laid my hand upon him, and said, “Sir, you appear like a gentleman. I desire you would show it by restraining these of the baser sort. Let them strike the men, or me, if they please; but not hurt poor helpless women and children.”

He was turned into a friend immediately, and laboured the whole time to quiet his associates. Some, not of the society, were likewise provoked to stand up for us, and put themselves between. Others held the ruffians, and made use of an arm of flesh. Some of our bitterest enemies were brought over by the meekness of the sufferers, and malice of the persecutors.

To be continued tomorrow…

Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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