As we get ready to move into 2021, the joyful news to the world is that the abiding presence of God is moving with us preparing us for a New Year in reaching lost souls with abiding joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today’s celebration of Charles Wesley’s 313th birthday inspires us to learn from Wesley’s abiding nature of Christ’s joy even in the face of opposition, violent and lawless culture. Indeed the lives and testimonies of the early Methodists invites us to learn missional opportunities and how to find abiding nature of Christ’s joy in the midst of those times when we have no reason to be happy. Christ’s joy is what God promises and wants for us, not just happiness.

Charles Wesley, the eighteenth of Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s nineteen children (only 10 lived to maturity) was born prematurely in December 18th 1707 in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England. He was the third surviving son. Charles and John Wesley co-founded the Methodist movement within Protestantism. They both became itinerant preachers, traveling the country and speaking wherever there was an audience: in fields, prisons, and coal mines. Charles Wesley wrote more than six thousand hymns including one of my favourites, “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” The 18th century Cornwall context this hymn was written in 1744 ‘was a wild, lawless place. Think the Wild West plus pirates– but not fun Johnny Depp pirates, murderous ones. Smuggling was rampant, drunkenness was “general”, and common pastimes were cockfighting, bullbaiting, wrestling and hurling, and more drinking. There were clergy around, but they were well known for helping the smuggling trade and participating in it themselves, even using church cellars to conceal contraband.’

On July 16th, 1743, Charles arrived in St Ives to join the Cornwall Methodists. Joseph Turner, a Methodist sea captain earlier landed at St Ives in Cornwall and ‘met a dozen members of a struggling religious society. He took the news of them, along with the general debauchery of Cornwall, back to the Methodist Society in Bristol. Two lay preachers were sent in reply, Thomas Williams and William Shepherd, to share the good news with the townspeople there.’ Gospel was unwelcome at St Ives in Cornwall ‘even (especially!) among the present clergy, who were fully partaking of the lawless culture.’ Charles was not deterred but “spoke with some of this loving, simple people, who are as sheep in the midst of wolves. The Priests stir up the people, and make their minds evil affected toward the brethren [the Methodists].” The scripture was used to preach against the Methodists by the local churches calling the people to “Beware of false prophets.” Charles in his response wrote, “His application was downright railing at the new sect, as he calls us, those enemies to the Church, seducers, troublers, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, &c. I had prayed for a quiet heart, and a steady countenance; and my prayer was answered. My calmness was succeeded with strong consolation.” The early Methodist found abiding joy in the midst of oppositions, violent culture, especially mob formed at the market, beating drum and shouting. According to Charles “They had no power to touch me. My soul was calm and fearless. I shook off the dust of my feet and walked leisurely through the thickest of them, who followed like ramping and roaring lions: but their mouth was shut. I met the Mayor, who saluted us, and threatened the rioters. I rejoiced at my lodgings in our Almighty Jesus.” Abiding joy is about rejoicing and lodging in the Almighty Jesus. It was surprising to know that the root of the much of the violence especially the worst attacks on Friday, July 22nd, 1743 ‘was the clergy themselves.’ Charles wrote, ‘The Mayor told us, that the Ministers were the principal authors of all this evil, by continually representing us in their sermons as Popish emissaries, and urging the enraged multitude to take all manner of ways to stop us. Their whole preaching is cursing and lies: yet they modestly say, my fellow-labourer and I are the cause of all the disturbance. It is always the lamb that troubles the water.’

The early Methodist in the midst of violent culture and mob attacks joyfully abides and lodged in the Almighty Jesus. The result of their abiding joy was the hymn that Charles wrote in 1744, “Rejoice, the Lord is King!” It can only be by abiding and lodging in the Almighty Jesus that ‘Charles and these early Methodists face this virulent anger from the community they had come to serve– the betrayal by their fellow clergy– the danger to their lives and the lives of their friends. And they not only came to terms with it, but they found a way to live in joy throughout this time. In fact, they found so much joy in their lives that Charles was led to pen a hymn with the refrain: “Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”

What was the source of this abiding joy for the early Methodist? Charles in his meeting with the Mayor provides us an answer. He said, “I rejoiced at my lodgings in our Almighty Jesus.” In essence, your spiritual lodging determines your spiritual living and abiding. Coupled with the joy of ‘the many conversions that they witnessed,’ the ‘main source of joy, as it is with persecuted Christians of any age, was the security of their knowledge in the saving grace of Christ, their absolute faith in the sovereignty of God, and their knowledge of the presence of the Spirit.’ The hymn by Charles with the missional adaptation of Philippian 4:4 was the expression of his profound experience of joy lifting hearts and voices in praise.

Beloved, the source of abiding joy to the world comes from the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the guidance of the Spirit. Advent calls us to repent and start living with that knowledge in our hearts. Abiding joy just as the early Methodists experienced it always enable us to rest in the security of God’s love and grace even in the midst of pandemic, violent and immoral culture. We can only have Christ’s abiding joy by having and lodging in Christ. Abiding joy is joy of a glad submission through the indwelling and infilling (lodging) of the Holy Spirit (Lk 10:21, Acts 13:52).

Just as Paul and Silas, Charles and the early Methodist experienced violent culture and humiliating trials, ‘yet they were so filled with Christ’s own joy that they could sing praises at midnight.’ Using the words of Charles Wesley, “God buries his workmen, but carries on his work.” You and I can prayerfully rejoice in the midnight of our ministry, marriage and carer as we sing together:

Rejoice, the Lord is King:
Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He has purged our stains,
He took his seat above;
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus giv’n:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope!
Our Lord and judge shall come
And take His servants up
To their eternal home:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!