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"On the Stretch"

 

By Terry Dashner - Guest Author

 

On The StretchHave you ever been travel weary?  You know.  The way you feel when you’ve been cooped up in a vehicle for six or seven hours.  Your legs cramp.  All that water you drank for breakfast alerts you that you need a rest stop and, with none in view, you become restless.  Your eyes burn.  These things happen.

 

Travel weariness from too much traveling can fatigue your entire body.  Detroit can build the best luxury sedans ever built soft carpet, temperature control, stereo sound, comfortable seating, and roominess but these special features can’t prevent fatigue and weariness in travelers.  Why not?  Its simple.  No matter how nice the vehicle, the human body can grow weary from too much travel.

 

Consider this.  Imagine what it would be like to travel on horseback for six or seven hours, in an open frontier, among wild natives and wild beasts, through rain or snow, over hills and dale, in sickness and in health, for an entire lifetime?  It happened.   The remarkable George Whitefield called this activity, "on the stretch for God." 

 

It started in Merry Ole England.

 

"I went to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me?"  These words were recorded in the personal diary of John Wesley about himself around the mid-seventeen hundreds.  I find it amazing that he had a burning zeal for missions even before he, himself, was born again.  How could that happen?  Let me tell you a little about this fireball. 

 

He was not American but English; however, in 1735 he sailed for the American colony of Georgia to be a missionary to the Indians and serve as pastor in the town of Savannah.  While there, he came in contact with the Moravians.  The Moravians was one of the groups formed from the influence of John Huss.  They were the first to advance the gospel to foreign lands in the Reformed age.  Wesley records in his journal that soon after he arrived in Georgia, the head of the Moravian settlement there spoke to him: "‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’  I paused, and said, ‘I know He is Savior of the world.’  ‘True,’ replied he; ‘but do you know He Has saved you?’  I answered, ‘I hope He has died to save me.’  He only added, ‘Do you know yourself?’  I said, ‘I do.’  But I fear they were vain words."

 

Wesley’s ministry soon failed, and he went back to England.  Soon after arriving in London, Wesley made contact with some London Moravians.  History tells us that on May 24, 1738, he went very unwillingly to one of their meetings on Aldersgate Street in London.  While there, someone read the introductory comments of Martin Luther on the Epistle of Romans.  Wesley later wrote, "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ."

 

John WesleyAfter John Wesley was converted he traveled throughout the British Isles on horseback, preaching as often as four times a day.  When the established church in England, the Anglican Church, shut him out of their sanctuaries, he preached outdoors.  He faced stone-throwing mobs, hostile clergymen, and unsympathetic civil officials.  Yet his ministry never faltered.  Each day he arose at four-o-clock in the morning and usually had preached his first sermon for the day by five-o-clock.  At the age of 70, he spoke on one occasion to thirty thousand people, and all heard him clearly.  At the age of 80, he still traveled four to five thousand miles a year on horseback in order to meet his preaching responsibilities.  And what is his legacy in the Kingdom of God?  There isn't enough room in this report to list it all.  Let me conclude John Wesley's horseback days by saying that he is the founder of the Methodist church in England.  At the time of his death the Methodist had 630 lay preachers and about 175,000 members.  Many historians think that England was spared from a revolution like France endured because of the awakening England experienced because of the preaching of John Wesley.  Wesley changed the course of his nation, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

What was Happening in America?

 

Great Awakening number one broke out in America in 1734.  Before that time Jonathan Edwards, describing the moral decay of Northhampton wrote, "Licentiousness for some years greatly prevailed among the youth of the town; there were many of them very much addicted to night walking and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices wherein some by their example exceedingly corrupted others.  It was their manner to get together in assemblies of both sexes, for mirth and jollity, which they called frolics; and they would often spend the greater part of the night in them, without regard to order in the families they belonged to; indeed family government did too much fail in the town."

 

Then revival began.  While Edwards was preaching a series of sermons on justification by faith alone, conversions began happening.  It started with the rowdy teens first and moved up to the elderly.  By 1735 the town of Northhampton where Jonathan Edwards pastored was changing for the better.  He said that the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.  He had never experienced a community so full of love and joy.  By 1736 Edwards church had 300 new converts and news of the revival had spread throughout New England.

 

Whereas God used Edwards to expound the theology of the first Great Awakening God used an Englishman by the name of George Whitefield to take the revival power further than New England to the American frontier.  What was his mode of transportation?  A good horse.

 

George Whitefield had arrived from England in 1740 for two years of evangelism in America.  He had already risen to prominence as a key figure in the Wesleyan revivals underway in England.  Benjamin Franklin was so impressed by his preaching that he built an auditorium for him to preach in.

 

Whitefield (as well as other circuit riders) spent his adult life in the back lands of America, checking up on the spiritual well being of new converts who were coming out of the Great Awakening revivals.  Between 1736 and 1770 he preached over 18,000 sermons.  His story is legendary but true-and this revival was the precursor to the Revolutionary War.  Historians say that he did more to unite the young colonies as one than any other person or institution.  People in the colonies needed not only a faith to bond them as Americans, but a faith to sustain them through an approaching American Revolution.

Sources: Robert Flood, "America God Shed His Grace on Thee," Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois pp. 87-89;   Peter Marshall, "From Sea to Shining Sea," Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 72 ff.;  David Fisher, "World History for Christian Schools," Bob Jones University Press, Greenville, South Carolina, pp.388-392.

Terry Dashner, is Pastor of Faith Fellowship Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  He tells us, "I write as a discipline and hobby. I usually read something for content and then write something about it to help me remember it.  I have had several article published in law enforcement magazines. My background is law enforcement."  Pastor Dashner took an early retirement from the Tulsa Police Department in September 2003 to pastor full time


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