2nd March 1791. Wesleyism.
Paul, ‘was long preaching’, as recorded in Acts Chapter 20, when Eutychus ‘fell down from the loft and taken up for dead’.
One wonders how many were so affected from the excessive preaching of the Methodist preacher John Wesley who died today in 1791.
It was in 1729 when Wesley an Anglican priest and his brother Charles met with others in Oxford resolving to live and study by ‘rule and method’ according to the teaching of the New Testament.
‘I became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not think much about it, and this lasted until I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered’.
It was whilst there, ‘that I took up Law’s ‘Serious Call’ expecting to find it a dull book… And perhaps to laugh at it…this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest about religion after I became capable of rational inquiry’.
Wesley’s ‘Holy Club’ was marked by attending Holy Communion regularly, meeting for study and visiting prisoners thus becoming the Oxford Methodists, a movement which was influenced by the Bohemian Moravians.
By the mid 1700.s Wesley realised that it was plain that something more radical was needed to improve the lot of Nonconformists by a simple Christianity of Methodism and Evangelicalism, preached by a plain simple creed: the love of God for all men no matter their station in life.
Wesley in his life travelled 225,000 miles on horseback on the bad roads of the time, preaching 40,000 sermons to crowds of 20,000 people, founding the first Methodist chapel in Bristol.
This undoubtedly gave solace to a people which in the next century might have turned to Marxism, but instead looked for improvement through Trade Unionism. The Revivalists had no difficulty in finding such people as they flooded into towns of the Industrial Revolution where they were largely ignored by the Established Church many of whose clergy were beneficiaries of wealth.
A friend of Wesley at Oxford was Benjamin Ingham who accompanied him on the ill-fated expedition to Georgia in America in the 1730.s, where he applied unsuccessfully for admission to the Moravian Church. On his return he went on a travelling ministry in Yorkshire and set up forty religious societies. Peculiarly the American and African Methodists decided later to appoint bishops.
After John Wesley’s death, Methodism became a separate denomination and was itself to divide into sub-sects despite his saying that, ‘I live and die a member of the Church of England’. He left behind 70,000 Methodists in Britain and Ireland and 60,000 in America. Few Methodists remain now in Britain as organised religion has declined.
In Broad Mead in Bristol is A.G.Walker’s bronze statue of John Wesley on horseback given by a Mr Lamplugh in 1932 and occupies the courtyard of England’s oldest Methodist chapel, the New Room built by Wesley 1739 and restored in 1930.
In the City Road London is a bronze statue by John Adams-Acton (1891) in the chapel forecourt to the 5ft 3in John Wesley and is the ‘mother church of World Methodists’ built by Wesley in 1777 to replace the smaller Moorfields HQ in a converted cannon foundry. The statue bears the message, ‘The World is my Parish’.
It was on 24th May in 1738 that John Wesley underwent a conversion experience at a meeting largely of Moravians in Aldersgate Street, London where he heard Luther’s commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, with its doctrine of justification by faith. But while the Evangelicals remained within Anglicanism, the Methodists seceded taking their message to all where the wretched looked for comfort of a faith and a God to care for their wretched souls.