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A Pentecostal Season: The Methodists in England and America, Part 2

Once when preaching in Yorkshire in 1756, Whitefield stood on a platform erected outside an open window of a church, where he could be heard by those inside as well as the several thousand crowded outside. He read from the text in Hebrews 9:27: “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Suddenly, a ‘wild, terrifying shriek” came from the audience, as someone suddenly dropped dead. One of the ministers pressed through the crowd, and after a moment of confusion, the body was carried away. After a pause, Whitefield began to loudly read again, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Immediately another screech erupted from a different part of the crowd. A second person had dropped dead after hearing Whitefield’s words on death and judgment.[8]

It seems that George Whitefield took to heart Wesley’s advice to not judge the manifestations so harshly and to “suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth him.”

Whitefield was certain that the low state of the church was principally because of clergy who disguised their spiritual deadness with sound doctrine. He declared that ministers can “preach the gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it in our own hearts.” [9]


Francis Asbury

Asbury was a very disciplined man who insisted, like Wesley, that camp meetings even on the remotest frontier, be conducted in a seemly fashion. Yet his revivals, too, were characterized by swooning, shouting, weeping and a kind of wild behavior known as the jerks.[10]

In an episcopal directive issued in December 1802, Asbury bestowed his blessing on the (general) camp meetings in the Carolinas and Georgia (in which “hundreds have fallen and have felt the power of God”)….[11]

Asbury said, “The friends of order may allow a guilty mortal to tremble at God’s word…and the saints to cry and shout, when the Holy One of Israel is in the midst of them. To be hasty in plucking up the tares, is to endanger the wheat.”[12]

Wigger comments: “Asbury recognized that the enthusiasm so endemic to American Methodism was not an unfortunate anomaly, but the very lifeblood of the movement.”[13] He once urged one of his preachers, “Feel for the power; feel for the power, brother.”[14]

Francis MacNutt writes in his book Overcome by the Spirit, “In summary, it seems that the preaching in the Protestant Church that has had the most profound and lasting effect in both England and the United States has also been accompanied by listeners being overcome in the Spirit. The greatest preachers in 19th century England all regularly saw people fall over in their services: among Anglicans, John Wesley; among Methodists, George Whitefield and Francis Asbury; among Congregationalists, Jonathan Edwards; among Presbyterians, Charles Finney and Barton Stone; and of course numerous Quakers and Shakers.”[15]


Thomas Rankin

Sometime after his conversion, Thomas Rankin went to hear Wesley preach for the first time. “When we came within the sound of your voice,” he wrote Wesley, “I was so struck with the power of God, that if I had not held fast by Dr. Watson’s arm, I should have fallen to the ground.”

Thomas Rankin was converted after a series of dreams and visions. He was sent by Wesley as a missionary to America. He was appointed by Wesley as general superintendent or superintendent of the American Societies and led the first Annual conference in Philadelphia, July 14, 1773, which was the first annual conference ever held in America.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2018

About the Author: Frank H. Billman, B.A. (Houghton College), M.Div. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Th.M. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), D.Min. (Eastern Baptist [now Palmer] Theological Seminary), is an educator, pastor, author, and international speaker. He is currently leading the doctor of ministry program in supernatural ministry at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. While on the staff of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries for 12 years, he led workshops, local and regional renewal events, was supervisor for International Ministries, Methodist School of Supernatural Ministries, and Supernatural Ministry Intensives, and was a general session speaker at the national conferences. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Shepherding Renewal (Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, 2011), and The Supernatural Thread in Methodism: Signs and Wonders Among Methodists Then and Now (Creation House, 2013).

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