Important Lessons from the Old-Time Methodists

The 18th century Methodist revival changed the course of history and the present generation could learn a thing or two from those old-time Methodists. One thing we can learn from those early Methodists is about their pursuit of sanctification or holiness through consecration. Consecration is the act of giving some thing or one’s self completely over to God with no strings attached. Sanctification, from the Greek word hagios, is the state of the thing or person that has been consecrated and means “to be marked off and set apart for a special purpose.” When we consecrate ourselves to God, He marks us and sets us apart for His special purpose. We, then, must walk and live out that consecration.

The Joy of the Lord & Holiness are Inseparable

The early Methodists were committed to living consecrated lives and they held one another to a high standard. In his Journal dated March 12, 1743, John Wesley tells of visiting a Methodist society and “examining” the members. He then proceeded to expel 64 individuals from the society. They were expelled for various reasons including two for cursing and swearing, three for quarreling and brawling, and one for idleness and laziness. Of special interest is the fact that Wesley expelled twenty-nine for what he called “lightness and carelessness.” In other words, there was no sign of consecration in their lives but, instead, a glaring lack of seriousness about their walk with Christ.

In our day when it is all about love, grace, and being nice and nonjudgmental, we might tend to think that Wesley was being too harsh. But before we become “judgmental” about his actions, let us consider the fruit of the Methodist revival and compare it with the fruit of our own “politically correct, nonjudgmental” approach today.

One might also think that such strictness would produce a dour and stern people, but it was actually the very opposite. The early Methodists were known for their vivacious joy and outsiders often cracked jokes about the “shouting Methodists.” In his Journal, Wesley refers to the joy of the Lord breaking forth in their meetings and he considered holiness and happiness to be inseparable. He believed that when one’s heart was fully fixed on Christ setting aside all other affections, that God’s love would fill the heart, purifying the motives, and bringing forth the fruit of love and joy.

This was what Wesley called sanctification and he believed that God had raised up the Methodists “to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” He often quoted Hebrews 12:14, which reads, Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which on one will see the Lord. Sanctification and holiness, by the way, are both from the same Greek word—hagios.

Consecration Brings the Fire of God

As a result of their consecration, the fire of God fell on the early Methodists in a similar way that it fell on Elijah when he repaired the altar of the Lord in his contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I kings 18:16-39). In the Old Testament, the “altar” is the place of sacrifice, i.e., the place of consecration. It is the place where the thing being consecrated is given over to God.
The people of Israel had, at this time, strayed from their consecration to Jehovah. Ahab the king, through foreign influences, had allowed the worship of foreign gods to mingle with the worship of Jehovah. Our God, however, is a jealous God (Exodus 20:2-5) which means that He is unwilling to share the honor and affection that is due Him with any false gods, including those of the heart --for He and He alone is worthy of our devotion and consecration.

After allowing the 450 prophets of Baal to pray and prophesy for hours without any results, Elijah’s turn came to call on his God. They had agreed that the god that answered by fire would be the God of Israel. Before he prayed, Elijah first repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down (I Kings 18:30). In other words, there was a renewal of consecration to God. No more divided loyalties. No more vacillating between Jehovah and Baal. Jehovah alone would be their God and the sole object of their worship and adoration.

After repairing the altar, Elijah prayed a prayer that took approximately 20 seconds. When there is true consecration, long prayers are not always necessary. When Elijah finished his brief prayer, the fire of God fell and consumed the sacrifice on the altar and licked up the water that was in the trench around the altar. The people fell on their faces crying out, The LORD He is God! The LORD He is God!

The Early Methodists Repaired the Altar of the Lord

One could say that the early Methodists repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down in their generation. The Methodist revival began with about seventy individuals, who had consecrated themselves to God, meeting together for an all-night prayer meeting to usher in the New Year of 1739. In his Journal dated January 1, 1739, Wesley described the fire of God that fell in that meeting. He wrote,

At about three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”

These Methodist leaders began to call the people to a complete consecration to Christ. They taught the people that they must not love the world (I John 2:15) and when Wesley was asked to define the world, he replied, “Anything that cools my relationship with Christ is the world.” They discouraged their followers from attending frivolous entertainments and to give themselves, instead, to prayer, to the study of the word and other good literature, to encouraging and admonishing fellow believers, and to social outreaches to prisoners and the poor. God confirmed their message and a mighty revival burned like an inferno through the British Isles.

Because of the high standard of their walk the early Methodists became salt in their generation as Jesus had said in Matthew 5:13, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again. It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Salt seasons and impacts everything it touches and will even stop the spoilage of fresh foods and meats. Although they were a small minority in British society, the Methodists seasoned their society. Many historians insist that it was the moral influence of the Methodist revival on British society that saved England from societal chaos and a bloody revolution such as took place in neighboring France. They were truly salt in their generation.

What About Our Generation?

Is it possible that the present generation could benefit by a recovery of truths about consecration and sanctification? Is it possible that the altar of the Lord is in need of repair in our day? Is it possible that idols of the heart have captured our affections and cooled our relationship with Christ? My answer to each question is “yes.” And I pray that God will raise up a generation of believers that will repair the altar of the Lord that we may see the fire of God fall once again and a generation impacted for God.