Rev. Mark Horton

Most of us are not exempt from having presuppositions about how and when God comes and blesses his people. We hold mental pictures based on our education and experience that sum up what we have seen and know about the ways of God. Yet we are aware that God is too great to be limited to our little realm of experience and droplet of knowledge. We may live at times with a degree of insecurity knowing that God could come in ways we least expect. Recently in my own walk with God I have prayed concerning this issue. I concluded that it really didn’t matter how God chose to come. The current need for him is so desperate, let him come however he chooses. It may upset our apple carts but many of us are feeling very empty with all our apples in a row and no major presence of God in our lives and ministry.

In 1985 Thomas R. Albin first published his research at Cambridge University. Albin did a study of the Wesleyan Revival and put together an amazing array of statistics on the way God worked in the lives of those touched by the Wesleys’ ministry. More recently Albin was interviewed in the August 2003 issue of Christianity Today. Using mostly autobiographical accounts from the Arminian Magazine and other early sources, Albin’s study used the testimony of 555 Methodist converts from the years 1725-1790. His information follows the early Methodist tendency to interpret their spiritual journey around three definite stages: work of prevenient grace leading to awakening and conviction for sin, the experience of justification and the new birth and the experience of entire sanctification.

Most of the converts came from some type of church background with few being saved out “of the rough.” Of those who included information on their childhood home, 6.2% came from “active irreligious” or “unconcerned or inactive homes.” This seems to indicate that the Wesleyan revival was exactly that — a reviving of spiritual life and fervor among those who had some degree of religious training.

The average age of one’s awakening was 21 years of age with a time lapse of more than two years between their awakening and new birth experience. “This fact suggests that the evangelical conversion for early Methodism was a slow process involving significant thought and reflection.” One has to wonder if our American drive to push people on to an experience has not come back to haunt us.

Few of the converts were exposed to either of the Wesley brothers or Whitefield at the time of their three stages of experience. It was the laity that was the “human catalyst” at each of these transitions. Albin observes, “Lay persons are mentioned three times more frequently than clergy in relation to awakening or conviction, twice as often in relation to the new birth, and four times more often in relation to sanctification . . . It appears that the impact of a given clergyperson decreased as an individual progressed in spiritual life.”

Most of the converts were alone when they experienced the new birth. When those who were in a small group are added more than two-thirds are accounted for. Most of those who were alone were in their own room or home when the blessing came.

The time lapse between the experience of the new birth and entire sanctification was nearly six years on average. Of the 131 cases that experienced this, one-half were alone. The “single most frequent event,” for this blessing was: the deathbed (22.1%), while different types of prayer make up the largest general category (33.2%). Sixteen persons received it during preaching, thirteen in spiritual conversation and eight while going about the routines of life. Perhaps it was Wesley’s emphasis to, “expect it every moment,” that contributed to such diverse settings of the experience.

All this together presents an intriguing picture. God has blessed in ways and places we often would not look for today. Our limited outlook of God only coming in church services and altar calls may have restricted our faith. Since we have not expected a move of God beyond our church walls, we have reaped according to our faith. Oh that God would rend the heavens and come down and reeducate us into a larger realm of faith.