Revival: Awake Thou That Sleepest”
We’ve been using the term “revival” to describe what the Wesleys were leading—a revival of Christianity in the 18th and 19th century. They themselves often used a different term: they were seeking to awaken people from their spiritual sleep. Wesley frequently used the term “awakened” for those who had responded to his preaching and had put their trust in Christ, had accepted God’s grace and love, and whose hearts, desires and actions were now turned towards pleasing God. In our natural state we are asleep to the things of God. Even within the church there were many who were asleep in the light—sleep-walking, going through the motions of being Christians yet lacking either the conviction or the serious pursuit of a life lived for Christ.
Charles Wesley, John’s brother, preached a sermon on this topic that John considered so important he included it in his own collection of sermons. It was called, “Awake Thou That Sleepest.” The text was from Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” In our passage today, Paul uses this same metaphor where he says: “It is now the moment for you to wake up from sleep! Let us lay aside the works of darkness!” The Wesleys saw their task as awakening people, helping them see the light, and walk in the light.
Are you spiritually awake today?
Is worshipping God more than a Sunday morning proposition?
Times When Wesley was Persecuted
Priests and laity offended by his preaching were often the same folks who hired thugs and rabble rousers to disturb the preaching. Wesley kept a journal and you can read about hundreds of these occurrences. For 19 years this was Wesley’s weekly, sometimes daily experience. He was dragged before the magistrates, beaten with fists, pummeled with rocks, the homes he was staying in were set afire. How discouraging this must have been. How easily he could have given up. But he refused to do so and this perseverance in the face of opposition made all the difference. The great revival of Christianity that happened under Wesley’s leadership happened because despite 19 years of sometimes violent opposition he refused to give up. He remembered the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad!”
Wesley Never Gave Up!
Beginning in his late 60’s Wesley began to speak against the slave trade. Many of the slave traders were British. The ships often sailed from Bristol, one of the hubs of Methodism. Wesley published a much-read pamphlet on the evil of slavery and the slave trade. Once more there were those who were angered by Wesley’s preaching. In 1788, when Wesley was 85, he preached a sermon against slavery in the New Room at Bristol. He describes in his journal what happened in the midst of his sermon: “The people rushed upon each other with the utmost violence; the benches were broke in pieces, and nine-tenths of the congregation appeared to be struck with the same panic.”
As an 85-year-old man he was still not afraid of offending others in proclaiming the gospel. Here’s the point I want you to hear: if you are going to challenge the status quo, to call people to change, to be a true leader, you’ll have opposition. Most people quit at the first sign of opposition. Wesley refused to give up!
Wesley’s Concern for Wealth
As Wesley grew older and the Methodist movement grew larger, Wesley became increasingly concerned about Methodists’ prosperity. Many early Methodists were from the lower ranks in society. But often, as God changed people’s lives, their work reflected this. Their integrity and trustworthiness led to their being promoted. Wesley feared that this prosperity might lead some to fall away. He increasingly warned against this. One of the texts he often preached from was I Timothy 6:9: “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
In his sermon, “The Use of Money,” Wesley offered three rules for a Christian use of money: Gain all you can. He clarified that we are to earn all that we can provided we are not hurting others or hurting ourselves. Second, we are to: Save all you can. This meant saving before spending frivolously and saving before spending on non-essentials. In this he said to spend nothing simply to gain the admiration of others. He also noted that the more we indulge our desires, the more they increase—how true. Finally, Wesley noted that, after providing for the essential needs for your family, you should: Give all that you can.
Wesley and Dying
Wesley had routinely taught about holy dying, and what constituted a good death. He had seen many saints die and told of how those who trusted in Christ faced death with hope. He encouraged people to think about their own death, and how, even in their dying, they might bear witness to their faith. At 87 he breathed his last. More than 10,000 people filed past his casket in the City Road Chapel, and then he was carried to the graveyard behind the church where he was laid to rest.
I want to ask you, as Wesley asked hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions who heard him preach: Are you asleep, or awake? Are you aware of your brokenness and sin and your need for a Savior? Is Christianity merely believing in God and trying to be not as bad as others? Or do you know the depth of love God has for you and are you seeking to live in love with him, to glorify him, and to love your neighbor? Revival begins when we recognize we need it, and not before. It begins with our faith and yearning to be wholly God’s. It continues as we open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit, and as we seek to live our lives in grateful response to his love, following the commands of Jesus. Christianity is about restoring the image of God in us, and then the Spirit using us to restore this broken world. Don’t settle for less than this!
How will you bring revival to your life? Are you ready for it?