Monday, November 12, 2012

Sinners for sale, gifts to share

I have often watched auctions taking place on TV, but I have never attended one in the flesh until now*. I cannot think about auctions without being reminded of an incident in the life of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher, John Elias (1774-1841).

Surprising at it may seem, the 1824 Holyhead Association of the Calvinistic Methodists was disturbed by bouts of drunkenness. John Elias took it upon himself to urge the people to behave soberly and decently. He began with general words of exhortation and then he started to preach....

'I feel within myself this minute,' he cried, 'to offer them [the drunkards] for sale, by auction, to whomsoever will take them, that they might not disturb us any more,' Then at the top of his voice, with his arm outstretched, as if he held them in the palm of his hand, he shouted, 'Who will take them? Who will take them? Churchmen will you take them?' 'We? We in our baptism have professed to renounce the devil and all his works. No; we cannot take them.' Then, after a moments silence, 'Independents, will you take them?' 'What? We? We, ages ago left the Church of England because of her corruption. No; we cannot take them.' Another inerval of silence. 'Baptists, will you take them?' 'We? Certainly not! We dip all our people in water as a sign that we take those who have been cleansed. No; we will not have them.' Silence again. 'Wesleyans, will you take them?' 'What? we? Good works is a matter of life for with us. We do not want them.'

Then he stretched forth his arm once again, as if holding the poor drunkards in his hand; and once again at the top of his voice he shouted. 'Who will take them? Who will take them?' Then suddenly, his whole nature became agitated, His eyes flashed as he turned his head aside, and in a low tone which could be heard by all, he said, 'Methinks I can hear the devil at my elbow saying, "Knock them down to me! I will take them."'

Then, after thirty seconds of dead silence, he cried, 'I was going to say, Satan, that you could have them, but' - looking upwards, he said in a loud, clear, yet gentle voice, 'I can hear Jesus saying, "I will take them! I will take them! Unclean to be washed; drunkards to be sobered; in all their filth and degradation, I will take them, and cleanse them in mine own blood."' The effect of this can be better imagined than described. The ministers, preachers and elders were stunned; and the huge congregation was stirred with a spirit of tumultuous joy and exultation.

John Elias saw clearly that it is not moralising, but the gospel that changes lives: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The gospel also motivates us to give, 2 Corinthians 8:9. The fact that Christ has “auctioned us” by his own blood liberates us from selfishness and greed and makes us the kind of cheerful givers that God loves. Good giving is grace-enabled giving. As children of the giving God we give not grudgingly, but gladly. We give for the good of his people and the glory of his name,
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Cor 9:12-13).
*From a talk given at Leonora Home's 'Gift Day' and 'Auction of Promises'. 

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