FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 16, number 4, January 26, 2017
“Yes, the Lord will give what is good and our land will yield its produce.” -Psalm 85:12
George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685 and was a devoted Christian in the Lutheran Church. While living in Italy as a composer of Italian operas, when this form of musical entertainment began to wane in popularity, Handel moved to London and began composing oratorios in English. He had a number of failures and by 1741 was depressed, facing bankruptcy and debtors prison. In August of 1741 Charles Jennens gave Handel the words for an oratorio on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, comprised only of Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible. The portion from the Psalms was taken from the Book of Common Prayer. Handel was immediately and greatly moved by the text from Jennens, and on August 22 at his house on Brook Street in London, began composing the music for Messiah. He was so moved by the glory of his project that for the next twenty-two days he rarely left his room and rarely ate or slept. Within six days Handel had completed Part One on the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. He completed Part Two, on the birth, life, and ministry of Christ in nine days. Part Three on the resurrection and eternal life was finished in six days. Handel took another two days to complete the orchestration. The text took 260 pages of manuscript. By September 13, Handel’s masterpiece was completed. Handel was overwhelmed with the glory and power of what God had wrought through him. He said that he felt like the Apostle Paul who said that whether he was in the body or out of the body when he wrote it, he knew not. When completing the “Hallelujah Chorus” he said, “I did think that I did see all heaven before me and the great God Himself.”
The summer and fall of 1741 was a powerful time of revival and awakening in England, Scotland, Wales, and Colonial America. Upon hearing of what God was doing in England and America, Scottish Presbyterian pastor William McCulloch was jealous for a similar mighty work of God in his own parish of Cambuslang near Glasgow. He began a prayer meeting in 1741 and commenced preaching regularly on the theme of revival. God poured out His Spirit the next year through his preaching, about the time Handel debuted Messiah in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742. The preaching of George Whitefield, who visited Cambuslang twice in the summer of 1742, was the final catalyst, resulting in hundreds of conversions. Meanwhile, Jonathan Edwards of Northampton, Massachusetts was asked by the pastors in and around Enfield, Connecticut to preach to the people of that town who seemed to be careless about their eternal destinies and strangely unaffected by the work of the Spirit in the surrounding area. On July 8,1741 Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” He had preached this sermon a few weeks earlier at his own church with little effect. On this occasion, however, the Spirit of God came powerfully on the people. Many were weeping, pierced in the heart, asking what they must do to be saved. The people were so overwhelmed that Edwards was unable to finish the sermon. At the same time George Whitefield was making his way up the eastern seaboard to Philadelphia and other towns. Whitefield preached at Yale in early September with dramatic effect. On the day after Handel completed Messiah, George Whitefield landed at Newport, Rhode Island and preached there for a few days to large crowds. William Tennent came up from Philadelphia for four months to solidify the gains for the kingdom which had been made through Whitefield’s preaching. Whitefield then traveled to Boston with the same amazing impact. Jonathan Edwards had written Whitefield six months earlier, asking him to visit Northampton and preach there. On Friday, October 17, 1741 Whitefield preached that evening at Edwards’ church, reminding the people of the mighty work God had wrought six years earlier when as many as fifteen people each week were being converted. Edwards wept through the entire service and most of the service on Sunday morning. Whitefield preached Saturday morning at Hatfield and again Saturday afternoon at Northampton and twice on Sunday at Edwards’ church. On Monday morning Edwards and Whitefield made their way down the Connecticut River and preached the next few days at Suffield, Hartford, and Middletown.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean Evan Williams, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, and Griffith Jones were preaching with great power all over Wales. Jones, who in 1735, was the catalyst used of God to convert Daniel Rowland, was a powerful, very animated preacher. He was known to preach in the open air for as long as three hours at a time. Howell Harris, at this time, emphasized hellfire in his preaching which wrought terror in the people. He was later urged to bring in the mercy and grace of God to balance out his preaching and the Son of Thunder became a Son of Consolation. England, Scotland, and Wales were aflame with the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is rightly said that the Great Awakening so changed these nations that it saved them from the ravages of the godless French Revolution which was gaining the hearts and minds of many in France and the rest of Europe.
Okay, so what, you may be asking? What is the point? The year 1741 was the height of the Great Awakening, this amazing movement of God. Note how pervasive and far reaching the work was. Note also the remarkable interest by so many people. However you must also know that this mighty work of God faced tremendous opposition by many people. William Seward, who traveled widely with Whitefield, but also worked with Harris and Rowland, was hit in the head by a stone thrown at him while he was standing with Howell Harris. He died a few days later. Whitefield and the other open air preachers were regularly pummeled with dead cats, tomatoes, stones, and dung. While in his hometown of Bristol, England Whitefield was shouted down and frustrated by an actor paid to harass him while he preached. Harris stepped in with great boldness and preached on “The great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” To which the actor replied, “I am able.” The man fell down in awe with a tremor from which he is said to have never recovered.
As the revival Psalm 85 notes, in a revival time the Lord will give what is good and the land will yield its produce. The land is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who brings forth a great harvest. “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven,” (Psalm 85:10,11). We have several times experienced a revival culture in America. The last time was from around 1966 to 1976 where thousands of hippies and Viet Nam War veterans were coming to Christ. The work of the gospel just flowed. Conversions and growth in grace were normal. That’s what was happening in 1741. May God graciously pour out His Spirit again. When He does, there will be many simultaneous mighty works of God upon which we can later gaze in wonder and awe.
1. The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, Volume One, page 143.