The price of revival
2007 is a year rich in Christian heritage. It is 300 years since the birth of Selina Countess of Huntingdon and Charles Wesley; and 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade and death of John Newton.
It is 150 years since the beginning of the Great Awakening in North America, and 200 years since the beginning of Primitive Methodism.
As, by these recollections, our prayers are kindled and hopes increased for fresh advances of the kingdom of God, we must not forget that the normal context for all these things was suffering for Christ.
Driven to and fro
When the Primitive Methodists were formed 20 years after John Wesley’s death, they took their name from his tear-filled exhortation at Chester in 1790:
‘Wherever there is an open door, enter in and preach the gospel. If it be to two or three under a hedge or a tree, preach the gospel. Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind … And this was the way the primitive [i.e. early] Methodists did’.
These men suffered deeply for the gospel’s sake – as shown by the following account of one Thomas Russell, taken from a History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion by J. Petty.
‘At nine o’clock [in April 1832] he stood up in the market place [of Wantage] and began to sing a hymn.
‘He next knelt down and prayed, and concluded without molestation. But ere he commenced preaching a number of ruffians surrounded him, and he had not spoken long when a more violent company arrived and pushed him from his standing-place, driving him before them like a beast …
‘After being driven to and fro an hour or more … the chief constable came to him and said, “If you will leave, all will then be quiet”.
‘Mr R replied, “If I have broken the law, punish me according to the law, and not in this manner”. The constable then withdrew without ever attempting to quell the lawless mob, who again assailed the solitary missionary with ruthless violence.
‘At length the beadle came and seized Mr Russell by the collar, and led him to the end of the town, and there left him.
‘Mr Russell’s strength was almost exhausted … but determining if possible to address those who had followed him thither, he stood upon the side of a hedge and preached as well as he was able. But his persecutors were not yet satisfied; they pelted him with stones, eggs, mud, and everything they could render available for the purpose.
‘Even women, unmindful of the tenderness of their sex, joined in this cruel treatment … When Mr Russell concluded the service he was covered from head to foot with slime, mud, rotten eggs, and other kinds of filth; and his clothes were torn, and his flesh bruised. As soon as he got alone by the side of a canal, he took off his clothes and washed them.
‘Then putting them on wet … he proceeded to Farringdon, where similar treatment befell him. When he came to a pool of water outside the town, he washed his clothes a second time, and then went five miles further to Shrivenham, where he was met with another violent reception.
‘At a brook he cleaned himself a third time, and then proceeded to another village, where he preached in peace, except that a person threw a stone or other hard material at him, which cut his lip. After this he walked six miles to Lambourn to rest for the night.
‘He had been on foot eighteen hours, had walked thirty-five miles, had preached four times, and had gone through an amount of suffering such as none but a strong, healthy man could have endured. Next day, however, he walked twenty miles to the other side of his mission, and during the week preached at several fresh places’.
We may never have to face all that Thomas Russell did – but are we really prepared to pay the price of revival today?