William Seward: The First Methodist Martyr

SEWARD1Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  A man named William Seward lived from 1702-1740.  He died at the age of 38 from unnatural causes in October of 1740.  Here is a brief account of Seward’s life and death:

Born at Badsey [England] in 1702, William went to London as a young man and there he acquired considerable wealth as a successful business man; he also enjoyed a reputation as a generous benefactor of the poor… [He bestowed Badsey Church with many expensive tangible gifts].

In 1738, William met the Reverend Charles Wesley and soon became closely involved with the evangelistic campaigns of the early Methodists.  One of the group, George Whitefield, wrote in his diary in April 1739, “went to Badsey and preached in Mr. Seward’s brother’s yard.”  In all, Whitefield preached at Badsey on three consecutive days, on the third occasion to “a weeping audience.”

In 1740, following his return from a trip to America, William Seward commenced open-air preaching on his own account. He encountered hostile crowds in South Wales and then at Hay-on-Wye [which is on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English border] in October he was heavily stoned by a particularly aggressive mob and a few days later died from his wounds, thus becoming the first Methodist martyr. He is buried near Hay, in the village churchyard at Cusop. The church there has a memorial tablet, which was dedicated in August 1978, 238 years after Seward’s death.
(Terry Sparrow, A Brief History of Badsey and Aldington).

Seward is known as the first Methodist martyr.  Every indication is that Seward was a man who was faithful up to and including death for the sake of Christ.  In light of the persecution that the early Methodist revival encountered, Charles Wesley devoted his time to writing a series of hymns for “times of trouble and persecution.”  In the section “Hymns in Times of Persecution,” hymn #15 is titled, “A Prayer for the First Martyr,” likely written with William Seward in mind (Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution, 40, n. 20).  Wesley wanted to contribute hymns to prepare Christians for the persecution they would likely face in his time.  Wesley writes,

While in affliction’s furnace,
And passing through the fire,
Thy love we praise, which knows our days,
And ever brings us nigher.
We clap our hands exulting
In Thine almighty favor;
The love divine which made us Thine
Shall keep us Thine forever.
(Charles Wesley, “Head of Thy Church Triumphant,” 1745)

We need Wesley’s eloquent reminder.  Wesley’s poetic expression echoes the exhortations of the Risen Christ to the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).  The risk-filled gospel requires much of us if we give ourselves to the task of being witnesses for Christ.  Even so we must press on with the words of Christ: “Do not fear” and “be faithful unto death.”

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The Gospel in Song

I plan to begin a “So Great a Salvation” (Hebrews 2:3) sermon series on Sunday, May 8, Lord willing.  I will preach five sermons from five great salvation texts in the Bible: Matthew 1:21; John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9.  I am so excited to proclaim the gospel from these texts!

I love gospel-centered hymns and songs, both old and new.  Charles Wesley’s “Arise, My Soul Arise” and “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” rank among my favorites.  There are some new ones that I appreciate too.  For instance, “His Robes for Mine” is one that I really enjoy.  The text contains rich theology.  The tune has a pleasant, thankful, and majestic mood.  Here’s the text:

His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.

Chorus:
I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
My praise-my all-shall be for Christ alone.

His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.

His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!”
Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.

His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!

Another modern song that expresses the gospel in its simplicity is “The Gospel Song” put out by Sovereign Grace Music, originally written for teaching the gospel simply but accurately to a child, which you’ll catch in the tune.  Here’s the uncomplicated but marvelous gospel text:

Holy God, in love, became
Perfect man to bear my blame
On the cross he took my sin
By his death I live again

I hope your meditations on the glorious evangel will be sweet and motivating as you seek to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” by the gospel (1 Peter 2:9).  May it never cease to be “of first importance” in our lives, in our preaching, and in our churches (1 Corinthians 15:3).

A Resurrection Text, Hymn, and Image

Every Lord’s Day is a day to worship the risen Christ.  Yet Easter/Resurrection Sunday gives us a special opportunity to highlight this glorious event!  I will be preaching from John 20:1-18 tomorrow.  So the resurrection text I’ll share with you is John’s account of the resurrection, the hymn is Charles Wesley’s, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” which undoubtedly will be sung widely and joyously by Christians all around the world tomorrow, and the image is a depiction of the empty tomb. 

Rejoice my brothers and sisters!  He is Risen! 

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. [2] So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” [3] So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. [4] Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. [5] And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. [6] Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, [7] and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. [8] Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; [9] for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. [10] Then the disciples went back to their homes. [11] But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. [12] And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. [13] They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” [14] Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. [15] Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” [16] Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). [17] Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” [18] Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!