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JOHN WESLEY - A BRAND PLUCKED FROM THE FIRE!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, February 26, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2).


The first time I learned about John Wesley was in 1961. I had enrolled in Biola College the semester after it was moved from Hope Street, at the Church of the Open Door, to La Mirada. Early each morning I caught a bus at Fifth and Hope, in downtown L.A. and rode out to the new campus. I only attended Biola for one semester, but two important things happened to me there that changed the course of my life and ministry. First, I was converted, after a long struggle, during a sermon by Charles J. Woodbridge in one of the chapel services. Second, after school one day, I wandered into the Biola Book Room next to the Church of the Open Door at Fifth and Hope. I had very little money, but a little yellow book caught my eye and I bought it. It was called “The Journal of John Wesley,” an abbreviated version of Wesley’s diary during the years of his ministry. The cover showed Wesley riding a horse with a Bible in his hand. In the background, behind the horse and its rider, was a green-colored map of England. On the bottom of the cover were these words, “No single figure influenced so many minds, no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life’s work for England.” Those words were written by Augustine Birrell, Counsel to the King.

My great-grandfather and grandfather, John and William Hymers, were born in England, and migrated to Canada and, later, to Los Angeles. They had passed down many stories from England which I heard often as a small boy. My grandfather was born in Alston, in Cumbria, in the north of England. They were Methodists. When I read those words on the jacket of the book, I knew I wanted to read it. “No man did such a life’s work for England.” I paid, I think, seventy-five cents for it (it was 1961!) and hurried home to read it. The words of that book set my heart on fire. I read it over and over. And I knew that God was speaking to me in a special way through the life of this remarkable man. Other than the Bible itself, The Journal of John Wesley made a greater impression on my life than any other book I have ever read.

The book was published by Moody Press, so I knew it was trustworthy. I opened its pages and was plunged into “a book full of plots and plays and novels, which quivers with a life full of character,” as the back jacket said. As I read, I discovered that this statement was no exaggeration. John Wesley was, to my thinking, one of the most remarkable Christians of all time. And though I am a Baptist, and not a Methodist as he was, I learned from him, as I did from reading about the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts.

Born in 1703, John Wesley was the fifteenth child, and second surviving son of Susanna and Samuel Wesley. His father was the pastor of Epworth. He raised his children in an atmosphere of Puritan discipline.

At the age of five the Wesleys’ home caught on fire in the night. All the children were removed safely from the house, but when they were counted, John was missing. A farmer from nearby spotted little John looking out of an upstairs window amid the leaping flames. Several neighbors climbed on each other’s shoulders, ‘till the man on top was able to put his arms around the boy and pull him out of the flames to safety. Only moments after he was rescued, the entire house exploded in flames. Ever after, for the rest of his life, John Wesley referred to himself “as a brand plucked from the burning,” quoting Zechariah 3:2, which says, 

“Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2).

As a young man, John and his brother Charles went to Oxford University. Influenced by the home schooling he received from his mother Susanna Wesley, John was a very serious young man. At Oxford he became the leader of a small group of serious Christian young men called the “Holy Club.” George Whitefield was also a member.  

But it was not until several years later that he came under the influence of Luther’s writings and experienced a true conversion.

John and his brother Charles were sent by the Church of England as missionaries to Georgia, in the American colony. On board ship, while sailing to America, he saw a group of German Moravians who were unafraid of a great storm that nearly destroyed the ship. John himself was terrified by the storm. But those German Christians sang songs and had no fear. This impressed him greatly.

John failed as a missionary in Georgia. During this time he realized that he had never been truly converted. As he left Georgia for a return trip to England he knew he had failed. He wrote in his Journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? Who shall deliver me from this heart of unbelief? O, who will deliver me from the fear of death?”

When he got back to London John Wesley met Peter Bohler, a member of the group of German Moravians who had impressed him with their braveness during that storm at sea. Peter Bohler instructed him in how to experience conversion. The counselling of Bohler and his readings from Luther’s commentary on Galatians, which emphasized justification by faith in Christ alone, prepared him for true conversion.

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society [Bible study group] in Aldersgate, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while [Luther] was describing the change which God works in the heart though faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and had saved me from the law of sin and death.”

His brother Charles Wesley had been converted a few days earlier. Now they were ready to join together to lead the First Great Awakening in England, along with the great preacher George Whitefield, a friend of theirs from school days at Oxford.

John Wesley began preaching the new birth in various Anglican [Episcopal] churches around the London area. Again and again, he was shut out of those churches for his strong preaching on the need of the new birth. The ministers were afraid of strong preaching on this subject, as most are today. At last there was no church that would let him preach. It was then that his long-time friend George Whitefield persuaded him to speak outdoors in the open fields. He began preaching in the fields near Bristol in 1739. The First Great Awakening in England had begun. The fire of revival would sweep across the world during his long lifetime, due to the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Howell Harris and other Methodists.

During the following fifty years John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on the roads of England, Scotland and Ireland. He gave over 42,000 sermons, always preaching twice each day, and often three or four times daily, for fifty years. His tireless work changed British society and made evangelistic Christianity a life-giving force throughout the English-speaking world.

While riding from one preaching engagement to another, he was constantly reading and writing - on horseback! He published 233 books.

His desire to give poor people cheaper and plainer books led Wesley to become a prolific author of educational works, translations from Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, histories of Rome and England, Bible commentaries, and books of sermons. He compiled an English dictionary, published twenty-three collections of hymns, and recorded his preaching experiences in a daily Journal from 1735 to 1790. His journals make up 4 volumes, each about 500 pages long. His medical handbook went through 23 editions in his life time, and 9 after his death. He became a very rich man through the sale of his books - but he gave every cent that he made away to help spread the Gospel of Christ.

John Wesley was instrumental in the abolition of slavery, which he condemned often and wrote against. He also worked diligently for civil rights, and popular education.

At the age of 86 he was still preaching to huge gatherings of people two and three times a day, seven days a week. On October 7, 1790 he preached his last outdoor sermon in a churchyard in Kent. His last sermon was given in a house in the country village of Leatherhead on February 23, 1791. His last sermon text was,

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

A few days later, at 10:00 in the morning, on March 2, 1791 John Wesley spoke his final words, “Farewell.” Thousands of people walked by his open coffin in the City Road Chapel in London. John Whitehead preached from II Samuel 3:38 at his funeral,

“Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”

John Wesley and his brother Charles worked tirelessly among the poor, the miners, and the colliers, though many of the “great” people of that day heard them preach as well. His brother Charles wrote over 5,000 hymns, many of which are still sung today. We sang four of them tonight in this service! Yet John Wesley never thought of himself as anything but

“a brand plucked out of the fire” (Zechariah 3:2).

He knew he had been plucked from the fire of Hell by the grace of God in Christ. Here are a few lessons you can learn from this great and godly man, John Wesley:


1. Make sure you are converted. The text of his last sermon was, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

2. Study hard, as he did at Oxford University. Make good grades and excel in your education, as he did. Do your studies to glorify Christ, not just to make money.

3. Don’t waste time. Use your hours and days, as he did. Do all you can for Jesus Christ.

4. Practice winning souls by getting people into the church constantly, as he did for fifty years.

5. Spend part of each day reading the Bible and praying.


And may God help you follow the example of this great “father” of the Christian faith. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Prayer Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan. 

Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“O For a Heart to Praise My God” (by Charles Wesley, M.A., 1707-1788;
sung to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).


THE OUTLINE OF

JOHN WESLEY - A BRAND PLUCKED FROM THE FIRE!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


“Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2).

(Isaiah 55:6; II Samuel 3:38)