We often walk through moments and seasons of disappointment in life. Even though we have a tendency to glamorize the lives of our spiritual mothers and fathers, they experienced the same. John Wesley responded to God’s call to inspire and challenge the Church of England. Eventually, the Methodist Church grew out of his passion for seeking a deep relationship with the Lord and ushering in revival. Over the years, Wesley preached all over England and kept a meticulous journal of his activities which we still have today. Some of the entries might surprise you.
For instance, here are a few entries from his journal that were written in the early years of the Methodist movement:
Sunday, May 7th: I preached at St. Lawrence’s in the morning, and afterward at St. Katherine Cree’s Church. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed that I was not to preach any more in either of those churches.
Sunday, May 14th: I preached in the morning at St. Ann’s, Aldersgate; and in the afternoon at the Savoy Chapel, free salvation by faith in the blood of Christ. I was quickly apprised that at St. Ann’s, likewise, I am to preach no more.
Friday, May 19th: I preached at St. John’s, Wapping at three and at St. Bennett’s, Paul’s Wharf, in the evening. At these churches, likewise, I am to preach no more.
Sunday, 5, in the morning, at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate; in the afternoon, at Islington; and in the evening, to such a congregation as I never saw before, at St. Clement’s, in the Strand. As this was the first time of my preaching here, I suppose it is to be the last.
Many people would have likely quit after they were kicked out of the second or third church, if not sooner! John Wesley faced overwhelming challenges, and I have no doubt that it would have been easy for him to give up and quit.
The earliest Christians were in the same boat. They faced threats on every side because of their newfound commitment to Jesus. On one hand, they faced threats from the Imperial Government in Rome. When fires swept across Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for setting the blaze and ordered their mass arrest and execution across the city. On the other hand, they faced persecution from local authorities and peers that shared their religious traditions.
Throughout the first three hundred years of the Church, many people felt that Christians were pagans because they only worshiped one God. In fact, early Christians were often called atheists because they refused to worship the numerous gods worshiped in surrounding cultures. Many people even believed having Christians in their towns would upset their gods! Tertullian, one of early Christians who observed these persecutions wrote, “if the Tiber rises to the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields; if the sky stands still, if the earth moves, if there is famine, if there is pestilence, the cry goes up, ‘Christians to the lion.’” There are countless stories of Christians appearing before their accusers, who asked them to deny and renounce their faith in Jesus Christ!
That’s the kind of environment in which the letter of Hebrews was written. The early Christians who first read Hebrews were sorely tempted to turn their back on the faith to escape the torture, imprisonment, and execution they could easily be facing. They needed encouragement to persevere, and they needed resources that would allow them to be faithful even in the face of incredible odds. The book of Hebrews gives one of the clearest descriptions of the kind of perseverance and endurance we’re called to have as Christians, even in the face of insurmountable challenges.
In Hebrews 11:1, we read, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things not seen.” Abraham is then offered as a living embodiment of this incredible definition of faith. God called Abraham and his family to leave their home to cross the desert to a land they had never seen. Even though he’d never seen this land, he trusted God in faith. It was Abraham’s faith that convinced him to move his family somewhere he couldn’t even picture in his mind. Later on, God promised he would create a great nation of people out of Abraham’s descendants, even though he and Sarah were too old for children. It was Abraham’s faith that convinced him of what seemed impossible. It was his faith that continually assured him of things he couldn’t see. Over and over again, Abraham’s faith gave him confidence and assurance to press on in faithful obedience. Even though he couldn’t see the outcome, Abraham knew that God’s promises are more real than anything else in this world. His faith in God was what gave him the strength to press on, to keep the faith, and to persevere.
When I was little, there were times that I would get sick and tired of something I started. I remember one summer I got tired of Little League Baseball and I was ready to quit. My dad wouldn’t have it! He wouldn’t let me quit, and he let me know in no uncertain terms that our family simply didn’t quit. This was a man who worked for over forty years at the same job with only one or two promotions, so I knew better than to argue!
Little did I know that dad was trying to instill in me a lesson that can be one of the greatest resources we have in our faith. Often times things don’t go the way we expect in our lives, and we think it would be easier to give up. Sometimes, we’re tossed by storms in our lives and we think it might just be easier to quit. The message of Hebrews reminds us that faith means never giving up. Faith is what allows us to hold tightly to the goodness of God even when our circumstances whisper lies that nothing will ever be OK again. Faith is trusting God who enables us to keep pressing on in faith even when things feel overwhelming! Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
John Wesley was kicked out of almost as many churches as those where he was invited back to preach. Yet, he had faith in an invisible God. He trusted in God’s promises because he trusted in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the things that happened at the beginning of his life did not end up being the final word. As he neared his 85th birthday, on Saturday, August 22nd, Wesley wrote in his journal as he had continued doing throughout his life:
I crossed over to Redruth and at six preached to a huge multitude, as usual, from the steps of the market house. The Word seemed to sink deep into every heart. I know not that ever I spent such a week in Cornwall before.
Sunday, August 23. I preached there again in the morning and in the evening at the amphitheater, I suppose, for the last time. My voice cannot now command the still increasing multitude. It was supposed they were now more than [five and?] twenty thousand.
Because of the power of the Holy Spirit, the promises of God in Jesus Christ, and the reality of the resurrection (the ultimate promise of faith), Wesley was able to press on in his faith, preaching a bold message about the reality of God and God’s power to transform lives. He persevered like the great saints of old. He pressed on in faith like Abraham and Sarah. Because of his faith, Wesley never allowed opposition to keep him from proclaiming the good news. And so we find him, in the 85th year of his life, sharing the message of faith with more than 20,000 people.
That is what faith is all about – it’s the reminder that God’s promises and God’s power are more real than anything else in this world. When we feel like we can’t go on, when life seems so rough, we need to persevere and continue trusting in the one whose promises never fail and never end – no matter what.