by Timothy Gatewood
“Christian people are never so happy as when they are busy for Jesus. When you do most for Christ you shall feel most of His love in your hearts.”
According to historian David Bebbington, “activism” continues to be a defining characteristic of Modern Evangelicalism. Citing Jonathan Edwards, Bebbington explained, “Persons, after their own conversion, have commonly expressed an exceeding great desire for the conversion of others.” Historically, this longing for conversions has compelled men and women on to Christian service; to venture out into the world with a passion marked by a post-redemption rise of activity. The early Methodist preachers served as fitting examples as “a typical one attended class and band meetings, visited the sick and preached five or six times a week.” These men rode “a circuit of 300 miles every six weeks, visiting some sixty societies,” and they “frequently managed no more than eight hours a sleep a week.” This was not unusual as, according to Bebbington, “A working week of between 90 and 100 hours was expected of men in the nineteenth-century Wesleyan ministry.”
This activity, however, did not arise from a desire to fill one’s schedule to the brink or a veiled attempt to earn personal salvation, but a passion to fulfill biblical commands and preach the gospel. This corporate vision led R.W. Dale to describe an evangelical saint as “a man who is a zealous Sunday-school teacher, holds mission services among the poor, and attends innumerable committee meetings.” Indeed, Dale went so far as to say, “‘Work’ has taken its place side by side with prayer.” In essence, to be Evangelical required full dedication to one’s Lord as demonstrated through personal action.