Dr. Steve Stanley
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2014. Volume 32.
Jim Collins is a popular business and leadership author whose books typically achieve "best seller" status. In his Great by Choice (2011), Collins tells the story of the race to the South Pole. A Brit (Robert Scott) and a Norwegian (Roald Amundsen) both had every intention of being the first human to set foot on the frigid ice crusts covering the southernmost point on the globe. For the sake of brevity, let us say that Scott made the biggest "splash" in the news. He was first to use snowmobile technology in Antarctica, he had the biggest team, he sought out the limelight, the newspapers, the newsreels, and radio reporters. Scott was careful to preen his image as a rugged and knowledgeable explorer, although it was an image with little justification. By comparison, Amundsen almost fell from sight. He went to remote places in the far north, living and working among the Inuit until he knew how to survive like a native.
Students of history know that Amundsen won the race. With far fewer men, he carried far more supplies than his rival, Scott and his much larger party. Amundsen rejected the unproven snowmobiles (which quickly failed in the extreme temperatures of Antarctica) choosing to retain the Inuit method of dogsled. Amundsen made supply depots, dropping off supplies at regular intervals for use on their return trip. It was a brutal expedition for both men. Both had equal amounts of good weather days to poor. In the end, both men succeeded in reaching the South Pole. Scott reached it 30 days after Amundsen.
Amundsen returned home to parades and honors. Scott died on the ice, as had all who embarked with him - a victim of the deceitfulness of appearances, poor planning, and neglected duty. Perhaps, saddest of all, is that Scott perished within 10 miles of his supply depot, which he missed due to losing his way. Collins makes the point that the differences between the two came down to preparation, planning, prosecution, and persistence.
George Whitefield was a mighty preacher. It is a well-rehearsed saying that the leading actor of the day, David Garrick, said he would give all he owned if he could but utter the single word "oh!" with the same feeling and expression as Whitefield. Benjamin Franklin, too, (no practitioner of religion) is said to have been a "fan" of the charismatic Whitefield and even makes mention of him in his autobiography. It was Whitefield who urged the Wesleys to take up "field preaching" where they would reach the largest number of the unevangelized. Yet, nearing the end of his life, Whitefield drew a sharp contrast between Wesley and himself in a way reminiscent of the Amundsen-Scott story. Speaking to a Mr. John Pool, Whitefield said, "My brother Wesley acted wisely. The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand."
As we have seen in the previous keys, Wesley was as mortal as any man, but he worked as one building for eternity. With a passionate confidence in the Word of God, with innovative methodology, with a discipline designed to conserve and multiply the fruit of evangelism, John Wesley sought to make even the uttermost ends of the earth his parish. In light of the spiritual and social darkness of his generation, with England at low ebb in nearly every morally relevant category, what was the secret of his buoyant faith and exuberant labor? It is simply this: Wesley's confidence in the Word of God inspired him to live as though the things it claimed are true. For example, Wesley was convinced that the proclamation of the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Church, would be the means of God's kingdom advancing and the reformation of the nations. In his sermon on Isaiah 11:9, entitled The General Spread of the Gospel, Wesley said "in general, it seems, the kingdom of God will not 'come with observation;' but will silently increase, wherever it is set up, and spread from heart to heart, from house to house, from town to town, from one kingdom to another." As Thomas Oden has said in his second volume on Wesley's teachings, "Wesley's simple syllogism is gently pressed: If God can redeem a cavalier, unprofitable, class-conscious English gentleman at Oxford, God can work wonders with any sinner; and, if so, there is no intrinsic reason why the whole of the human condition cannot be changed. Though there will be impediments along the long road, the purpose of the triune God will not be finally thwarted by human recalcitrance."
Dr. Vic Reasoner in his book, The Hope of the Gospel, summed up Wesley's attitude regarding the efficacy of the Grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ and the effectiveness of the Spirit's work through His Church:
Zechariah 14 describes the siege of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. As the Christians fled, they carried the gospel with them and the water of salvation flowed out of Jerusalem so that the Lord becomes the King of all the earth (v 9). John Wesley described the day of the Lord as one continued day, with no setting of the sun, in which ignorance and idolatry shall end. The living water, "the quickening, saving truths of the gospel with all its ordinances in purity," shall flow from Jerusalem, "the church of Christ," perpetually. "These waters shall never dry away or lose their healing virtue."