In the fifties of the last century the late Mary Alice Tenney, head of the English Department of Greenville College, wrote a little book called, Living in Two Worlds: How a Christian Does It.
It was really made up of elements from her doctoral work on John Wesley and the Methodist Revival in Eighteenth Century England, and was written to appeal to lay readers. In an introductory note she writes, “This book is written first of all to people who want to be really Christian.”
In North America, we readily acknowledge that our culture has been in a moral decline over the last sixty or so years. Yet Dr. Tenney explains that the state of affairs in England was gravely worse at the time of the Methodist Revival.
Life there was almost unimaginably coarse and dehumanized. Here are some of my gleanings from her book:
“As for family life in England, divorce, of course, could not be obtained. But a double standard of morality wrecked full as many homes as divorce would have. Prostitution was an accepted, and even protected, institution among all classes, a subject of humor in the literature and art of the intellectuals and the aristocratic, and a heavy contributor to the beastliness of the lower classes.”
“Hanging was the punishment for 160 different sorts of offenses. Many a day saw ten or fifteen hangings – spectacles attended by mobs of sensation–mad men and women. Grandstand seats were provided; hawkers peddled broadsheets recording Dying Speeches. Gin was sold at stands; pickpockets and prostitutes circulated freely.”
Dr. Tenney’s book subsequently focuses on the lifestyle practices of the early Methodists, so she says little about Wesley’s theology. I dub in here a thought about that: Wesley’s preaching was in line with the English Reformation – Justification by Faith Alone; The Witness of the Spirit; Good Works flowing from faith and as evidence of that faith; Salvation by Grace through Faith; etc.
To Wesley and his converts, the unseen world was real.
Dr. Tenney writes:
“The surest evidence that God is what the Bible claims him to be, the One and only God, the All-Wise, the All-Powerful and the All-Loving, is the moral transformation which he works in a sinner. The revolution that occurs in a human being who believes God so fully as to give Him complete control over his life constitutes a supernatural event. Christianity is the only religion which carries with it any such moral empowerment. It performs the miracles promised by the Bible.”
Dr. Tenney pinpoints the a major aspects of Wesley’s life and teaching that we would be wise to adopt in this present materialistic world of ours:
“Four attainments clearly distinguish the early Methodists from the modern professing Christian. First he seems to have found the secret of soul serenity. Second, he gave convincing witness to his business and social world. Thirdly, he contributed amazing amounts to the work of his church. Fourthly, he lived a life of such appealing simplicity that the concept of ‘plain living and high thinking’ finally penetrated the thought of the whole nation.”
Methodism was a Heaven-sent awakening. It was God’s doing. John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others were only God’s instruments, making themselves available to him. Would anyone question that it is time for another such awakening on this continent to bring both moral sanity and joy back to many lives?
It could start with us who are already Christ followers: more daily attention to the Book; greater time commitment and intensity for that daily prayer time; rebuilt family altars; increased devotion to the ministries of the church; cleared up unfinished business with family or fellow believers; partnership with other believers concerned for renewal.
Of course renewal is God’s work. It always begins with Him. But there is an interesting challenge in the Scriptures which is repeated often and speaks to us of our part: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)