It was Wesley and Whitefield ministry together with of other Spirit–filled preachers that ushered in a period of great spiritual revival and strength. Historians have spoken of it as “the great work of grace which transformed England in one of the darkest periods of its history” but the question is how did this great national transformation come about?
First of all Wesley and Whitefield did not believe, as some religious and government leaders today, that it is a man’s environment, surroundings and social circumstances which largely determine his character and the way he conducts himself. Rather they saw that the teaching of the Bible and their own personal experience of the new birth proved this assertion.
It was not a question of changing society in order to change the behavior and character of men, but rather a matter of changing men’s hearts so that they would change their society. They both saw what the Lord Jesus Christ had clearly taught before them, that the real problem is the human heart.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man. (Mark 7: 21-23 NKJV)
All these evil purposes and desires come from within the innermost being of a man which is the heart. So the eighteenth-century revival centred Christianity in the individual human heart, not in the state, or the environment, or even the church. We need this today if we are to experience another Great Awakening. These two men saw clearly that men’s hearts, because of sin, were estranged and cut off from vital union with God, so both of them constantly preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit. They preached and called the sinners to repentance through the power of the cross which brings individual souls into an abiding, personal communion with God.
The only remedy for the sin is to be found at the Cross. Wesley said. No evangelism will succeed which does not set the Cross in the centre. With the apostle Paul, he was prepared to strip his message of all that as peripheral, and to know nothing among his hearers except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). “The gospel (that is, good tidings, good news for guilty, helpless sinners), in the largest sense of the word, means the whole revelation made to men by Jesus Christ; and sometimes the whole account of what our Lord did and suffered while He tabernacled among men.” The substance of all is:
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; or “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that we might not perish but have everlasting life; or “He was bruised for our transgressions, He was wounded for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” Believe this, and the Kingdom of God is thine.”And again: “It is the blood of Christ alone, whereby any sinner can be reconciled to God; there being no other propitiation for our sins, no other fountain for sin and uncleanness.
Both of these men’s greatest concern was to see the hearts of men changed as a result of individual conversions. They saw that true Christianity was literally the life of God Himself dwelling in the innermost soul of man by the Holy Spirit. This could then bring forth fruit in terms of new life and Christ-like character. It is Jesus Christ who settles in men’s hearts through the Holy Spirit and lives out His life from within the heart of a Christian. Personal conversion and experience was the primary motive of Wesley and Whitefield preaching not social revolution, or mere knowledge without personal experience with Jesus Christ.
There were so many evils and injustices in society which deeply concerned John Wesley. But he clearly understood that if the gospel could change men’s hearts, and they had been brought into a personal experience with Christ in great numbers, as a result of their conversion, their consciences would be awakened to all the evils and social injustices of society which were all around them, therefore they would automatically begin to something about changing the fabric of society and evils of that day. That is probably why John Wesley said that:
“Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but God and Hell and we will change the world”.
And indeed God honored his request and gave him thousands of souls and changed lives resulted from his labors. The moral and spiritual decline that the nation had become was now revived. Many people came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and that new faith gradually created a new conscience in all parts of the country that the revival of Christianity changed the hearts and gave a new sense of direction and purpose to the lives of a great number of people.
What really made him effective in day when the rest of the church was not as effective? Again “the only remedy for “the leprosy of sin” is to be found at the Cross.” Here was the heart of Wesley’s gospel and the final clue to his effectiveness.
No evangelism will succeed which does not set the cross in the centre. And the message of what happened there must be proclaimed in all the fullness with which Scripture itself has invested it.
In the New Testament, as someone observes us, the Cross is set forth as the climax of revelation. In consequence, thus to present it must always be the primary concern of the gospel preacher.
That was Wesley’s consuming preoccupation. No historian can easily miss the immense raising of the nation’s spiritual temper by Wesley in his own movement and through the effects in the Church of England.
The recovery of the national mind and character of Britain started with Wesley. The souls of many people were awakened and they became aware of the moral bankruptcy and social injustices which was so common in every sphere of society.
This led to a desire and determination to put things right and therefore positive change was achieved and the whole fabric of society was changed. Many reforms were ushered in by men whose hearts had been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This changed every facet of British society, set the tone of public life, the legal system, education system, healthcare (where Florence Nightingale invented modern nursing).
It was the eighteenth century revival that changed the hospital system- the only major hospital system at that time which was supported almost exclusively by the free will gifts of an appreciative public.
As a matter of fact John Wesley started the first free medical dispensary in England, and it was he who established the first centers offering free electrical treatment to the poor. He always emphasized the sanctity of the human body as the temple of the living Spirit of God by urging the Christian to keep it healthy and pure.