: Wesley and his Preachers at Bradford-on-Avon
Author : W. Norman Warren
Type : Churches
Date : 1938
Journal : The Wiltshire
Times, May 1938
DATES OF JOHN WESLEYS VISITS TO BRADFORD-ON-AVON.
to the fact that Wesley sometimes speaks of Bradford and sometimes of Bearfield,
which is a part of Bradford, it is not always easy to trace his visits. Several
visits which are not mentioned in the text of the Journal are referred to either
in the Sermon Register (here indicated by S.R.) or Diary (D) which are incorporated
in the notes to the Standard Edition of John Wesleys Journal.]
July 17, 31; Aug. 14, 28; Oct. 9,23, 28.
1746. Sept. 23.
1747. Jan. 29;
Sept. 10; Dec. 14.
1748. Jan. 28; June (S.R.).
1749. Feb. (S.R.); March
1750. Oct. (S.R.).
1751. June 26; July 22.
1753. March 15; July (S.R.);
Sept. 22. (S.R.).
1754. March (S.R.).
1755. March (S.R.); Oct. 14.
1758. Sept. 16; Oct. 2
1759. Sept. 27.
1760. May 3; Oct. 19
1761. Oct. 27 (S.R.).
1764. Sept. 18; Oct. 1.
1766. Sept. 28.
1768. Oct. 24.
1769. Sept. 19.
1772. Sept. 6.
1775. Sept. 15.
1778. Sept. 24.
1779. Sept. 13.
1781. Sept. 13,
1783. Sept. 17 (D.).
1784. March 12, Sept. 14.
1785. Sept. 9.
Sept. 24 (D.).
1788. Sept. 12.
1789. Sept. 18.
1790. Aug. 26 (D).
OF CHARLES WESLEYS VISITS TO BRADFORD-ON-AVON.
Sept. 11, 25; Oct. 9, 14, 20-21
1745. April 3 (at Wraxall); Oct. 9.
Jan. 22; April 30; May 28.
1750. Feb. 13.
1751. June 12, 25
July morning in 1739 a clergyman approached the door of the Bradford Vicarage.
It is only ten-thirty, but he has ridden over from Bristol and already has found
time to visit Winsley and have prayer and signing at the home of Mr. Cottle. Short
of stature, plainly but neatly dressed, thirty six- years of age, John Wesley
is worthy of more than a passing glance. Here is nothing of the wild fanatic or
popular demagogue. If he had consulted his personal inclinations he would have
spent his days in the peace and calm of Oxford University where he was a Fellow
and tutor of Lincoln College. Precise, orderly, methodical so much so that
the little company to which he belonged at Oxford had earned for themselves the
nickname of Methodists but with a consuming desire to bring to all that
experience of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, of which
he had become conscious fourteen months before. He asks the Vicars permission
to preach in the Parish Church. Mr. Rogers replies that it was not usual to preach
on the week days, but if the would come on a Sunday he would be glad of his assistance.
the Vicarage Wesley went to call on one who at Bath had shown approval of his
work and wished him luck in the name of the Lord. But here again he finds no encouragement
but only arguments, and at last is told plainly that an Oxford acquaintance had
said that they always took him to be a little crack-brained at Oxford.
The M.S. Diary reveals that this was Mr. Reed. At the time he was minister of
The Grove (Presbyterian) Meeting House, but the next year The Grove accepted Unitarian
doctrines, and Mr. Reed and his supporters left and founded an Independent Chapel
in Morgans Hill (1740).
However, Wesley says, some
persons who were not of his mind, having pitched on a convenient place (called
Bearfield or Buryfield) on the top of the hill under which the town lies, I there
offered Christ to about a thousand people, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification
and redemption. Do not miss the significance of that open-air service. It
was not of choice; rather was it in violent antagonism to all his instincts of
orderliness; that very spring he had done it for the first time in Bristol where
Whitefield had exercised a great open-air ministry, and the agony it caused him
is shown by the words in which he records the decision: I submitted to be
more vile. More than thirty years later he has not lost his distaste for
it. To this day, he says, field preaching is a cross to me;
but I know my commission and see no other way of preaching the Gospel to every
The preaching over, he goes to dinner with Mrs. Bailward, preaches
again at Bath on his way back to Bristol, and again in the recently opened New
Room at Bristol at 9 oclock. Notice the name of the lady with whom he dined
at Bradford. Mrs. Ballard or Bailward. Wesley refers to her more than once. The
last time in 1788, when he says I did not find good Mrs. Bailward there.
After long struggling with a deep nervous disorder, which, for a time, depressed
the mind, as well as the body, the cloud removed, her load fell off, and her spirit
joyfully returned to God. She left £80 for the support of the Bradford
preacher. It is, of course, possible that the lady who entertained Wesley forty-nine
years earlier, may have belonged to an earlier generation; but I like to think
that the income still received each half-year from the Bailward legacy is a direct
link with the first Bradford Methodist.
John Wesley repeated his visits to
Bradford every other Tuesday till he went to London, when his place was taken
by this brother Charles, the hymn writer, who paid his first visit on September
11th. On his second visit Charles was misunderstood and misinterpreted, and received
a letter from Holt telling him not to go to Bearfield again. The weavers of Bradford
were to rise against him if he attempted it. Accordingly the next fortnight both
brothers came to Bradford and for an hour and a half Charles strongly called all
sinners to the Saviour of the world, and no one opened his mouth against them.
next Sunday Charles came to take advantage of the Vicars offer of the pulpit
of the Parish Church, but the Vicars heart failed him; he feared the Church
would be pulled down; he feared the Bishop would be displeased; again Charles
Wesley had to preach in the open. The following Saturday he preached in the Town
Hall, and twice on the common on the Sunday; and the Sunday after John Wesley
was again in Bradford preaching in the rain to a mighty congregation at Bearfield.
His estimates of numbers are notoriously difficult to accept, but when
both John Wesley and a correspondent speak of ten thousand we know that it must
have been a great crowd.
At this point we come to one of the strangest silences
in the history of Bradford Methodism. In fifteen weeks the two brothers had paid
eleven visits to Bradford (five of them in the last three weeks). Then for five
and a half years neither brother mentions the town. John went to London on the
Tuesday and Charles to Oxford a day or two later, but they were often in Bristol
and even Bath. What had happened at Bradford that the preachers stayed away? We
do not know. But in 1745 Charles Wesley preached at Wraxall and found the
bread I had cast upon the waters after many days. Several of his old Bradford
hearers were there and a Mrs. Taylor and others declared that they had found salvation
under his preaching at Bradford five years before. He revisited Bradford in the
autumn and the following year John Wesley was again at Bearfield. By this time
John Wesleys parish is so enlarged that it is annual rather
than fortnightly visits that we may expect; but from 1746 to 1790 there are only
thirteen years out of forty-five in which he makes no record of a visit to the
town. No less than fifty-two times visits are recorded in his Journal and Diary.
would be tedious to record all these visits in detail, but some are worthy of
more than a passing note. In 1749 he tells of a Sunday which to any other would
be impossible full, but which to John Wesley was only normal.
Sunday. After preaching at five (at Freshford) I rode to Bearfield, and preached
there between eight and nine and about one at Seend. Mrs Andrews, the wife of
a neighbouring clerygyman, afterwards invited me in her husbands name to
his house; there I found A hoary, reverend, and religious man, the
very sight of whom struck me with awe. He told me his only son, about nine years
ago, came to hear me preach at Bearfield. He was then in the flower of his age,
but remarkable above his years, both for piety, sense, and learning. He was clearly
and deeply convinced of the truth, but returned home with the small-pox. Nevertheless
he praised God for having been there, rejoiced in a full sense of His love, and
triumphed more and more over sickness, pain, and death, till his soul returned
to God. He said he had greatly loved me ever since and greatly desired to see
me; and that he blessed God he had seen me before he followed his son into eternity.
At five I preached at Bearfield again. This day I was wet from morning to
night with the continued rain: but I found no manner of inconvenience.
Seend Parish Church there is a memorial to Rev. Thomas Andrews of Seend, Rew House,
Mary his wife, their son Thomas, and daughter Rachel who married Wadham Locke.]
years later, in 1751, both John and Charles Wesley had to pay several visits to
Bradford in connection with a certain James Wheatley, whom they had to suspend
from his duties as a preacher. In the course of the investigations Wheatley made
grave charges against some others of the preachers whom he refused to name. Realising
the danger to the work if such charges, however baseless they might be, remained
uninvestigated, the brothers at once commenced an enquiry into the character of
every preacher in connection with them. The question which is still asked (and
answered) concerning each Methodist preacher at every Local Preachers Meeting
and Synod in Methodism: Is there any objection to his moral and religious
character? is an echo of that old Bradford trouble; but it has had lasting
benefits in helping to keep the ranks of Methodist preachers free from the breath
About 1756 a Chapel was opened in Pippett Street, or Market Street
(now belonging to the Bradford-on-Avon Club), and on subsequent visits John Wesley
often preached there; but he evidently did not get such large crowds indoors as
in the open air, for in 1764 (September 19) he says he was determined to
be no longer cooped up in the room at Bradfordso preached in the main street
near the bridge, a large part of the crowd followed to a later service in the
room and he comments I know not if we have had such a season
at Bradford for twice seven years before. At five oclock the next
morning he had such a congregation as does not use to meet here at that
A more exciting open-air service was held in September, 1769. His
quiet sense of humour can best be seen if we tell the story in his own words.
On Tuesday evening he had preached at Whites Hill and had designed
to preach there again the next evening, but a gentleman of the town desired me
to preach at his door. The beasts of the people were tolerably quiet till I had
nearly finished my sermon. They then lifted up their voice, especially one, called
a gentleman, who had filled his pockets with rotten eggs, but a young man coming
unawares, clapped his hands on each side, and mashed them all at once. In an instant
he was perfume all over, though it was not so sweet as balsam!
in his eighty-first year, he is still not too old to take an interest in nature
and not too old to learn. Being at Samuel Rayners at Bradford I was
convinced of two vulgar errors: the one, that nightingales will not live in cages;
the other that they only sing a month or two in the year. He has now three nightingales
in cages, and they sing almost all day long, from November to August. One
hopes Bradford people have discontinued the habit of keeping nightingales in cages.
in early life John Wesley had not been robust, he maintained his faculties to
a remarkable old age.. Till he was past eighty-five his vigour abated but little,
but during the last eighteen months of his life even he began to show signs of
old age, but he did not surrender to it. There is humour as well as pathos and
courage in the New Year entry for 1790 (his eighty-seventh year):
31. I preached at the New Chapel, but to avoid the cramp went to bed at ten oclock.
(i.e., he did not stay up for the Watchnight Service). I was well served. I know
not that I ever felt so much of it in one night.
1, 1790. I am now an old man, decayed from head to foot. My eyes are dim; my right
hand shakes much; my mouth is hot and dry every morning. I have a lingering fever
almost every day. My motion is weak and slow. However, blessed be God, I do not
slack my labour. I can preach and write still.
It was that brave old
man who visited Bradford again on the 26th of the following August. He had travelled
from Frome by chaise, preaching at Trowbridge on the way. He arrived at Bradford
at three and preached from 1 Kings, xix, 3, at six oclock, spent the night
with Brother Pearce who for forty years had been one of the pillars of
Bradford Methodism. He retired at 9.30, but was up at 4.30 as usual and by seven
was on the road to Bristol!
He finished his course and his life together on
March 2, 1791.
VISITS OF John Wesley to Bradford, a sketch of which has already been given, do
not exhaust the associations of that historic old town with the early leaders
Dr. Adam Clarke.
Of the scholars and administrators of Methodism
in the years immediately succeeding John Wesleys death, few names hold a
more exalted position than that of Dr. Adam Clarke, who was President of the Conference
in 1806, 1814, and 1822. He was the author of a famous commentary on the Bible,
and was familiar with the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Chaldee, Syriac and Samaritan
versions of the Scriptures and had, in addition, a wide knowledge of many branches
of science and other fields of learning.
Dr. Clarke commenced his ministry
in the Bradford Circuit, which then included Trowbridge, Shaftesbury, Shepton
Mallet, Wells, Frome, Melksham and Devizes. The first night he spent at the home
of Mr. Pearce, of Bradford, but for the most part he appears to have resided at
Trowbridge. He was only twenty years of age when Wesley sent him to Bradford,
but his commanding voice and eloquence attracted crowds wherever the young Irishman
went. In his case at all events no one could complain that scholarship was a hindrance
to the work of an evangelist. He won for himself the love of his people as a good
pastor, and during the year he spent in the circuit preached no less than five
hundred and six sermons! He married Miss Mary Cooke, of Trowbridge.
Thomas Olivers claim to fame rests on the one great hymn he
wrote, The God of Abraham Praise, though there are grounds for believing
that he was also the composer of the well known tune, Helmsley, usually
sung to the hymn Lo He comes with clouds descending. He seems to have
had a somewhat erratic temperament, subject to moods of exaltation and of despondency.
A successful circuit minister, he proved a most unsuitable editor of Wesleys
Arminian Magazine, in which he allowed so many misprints and mistakes
that the exact mind of John Wesley was driven almost to distraction. Wesley declared
that he was a rough stick of wood, but there was good in him.
four years previous to his becoming one of Wesleys preachers Thomas Olivers
resided in Bradford (1749-1743) where he was a mechanic (whatever that might imply
in the Eighteenth Century) and subsequently for a short time in business on his
own account. In the account of his life reprinted in The Lives of the Early
Methodist Preaches (and more recently under the title of Wesleys
Veterans) he has left a most interesting account of his experiences at Bradford.
had been converted under the preaching of George Whitefield, at Bristol, and soon
afterwards moved to Bradford, but had not become a member of the Methodist Society.
From the first Sunday at Bradford he was regular in attendance, both at Church
and at the Methodist preaching services. When the public preaching was over
on a Sunday evening, and I, along with the multitude, was shut out from the Society,
I used to go into the field at the back of the preaching-house, and listen while
they sang the praises of God. I would then weep bitterly at the thought that Gods
people were there, praising His name together, while I, a poor and wretched fugitive,
was not permitted to be among them
.When they came out I have often followed
at a small distance those of them I thought most in earnest, particularly the
preacher and his company, that I might hear something further concerning the ways
of God. I often followed them near two miles, and then returned praising God for
this further instruction I had picked up, as it were by stealth, and meditating
thereon all the way home.
After a while some of the members took notice
of him and he was given a note of admittance and became a member of the society.
He undertook a number of voluntary duties such as running over a great part
of the town to call them up to the morning service at five oclock,
which was one of the distinctive features of early Methodism. After a while he
felt a call to preach the Gospel and became a local preacher. On Saturday nights
he would get all worldly business done and his Sunday clothes ready; this often
took him till midnight. After this I frequently sat up till one or two in
the morning, reading, praying and examining myself: and have often rose at four,
but never later than five oclock and gone two miles into the country, through
all weathers, to meet a few poor people, from six to seven. By eight I returned
to hear the preaching. I have then gone seven miles on foot to preach at one;
then three or four miles further to preach at five; and after all, have had five
or six miles to walk before I got home. And as in everything I did I put forth
al my strength, I have often been so wearied I could scarce get over a stile;
or when I got home, go up into my chamber to ask a blessing on the labours of
the day. We sometimes think of the Eighteenth Century as a more leisurely
age than ours, but the early Methodists lived strenuously.
Before the days
of vaccination small pox was a disease which frequently swept over the country
causing terrible mortality. Olivers tells of one such epidemic at Bradford to
which he very nearly succumbed.
When I had been a local preacher about
twelve months the small pox made terrible havoc in and about Bradford. So universal
was the infection that in all that populous town and the neighbouring villages,
scarce a single person escaped who had not had it before. It was also so mortal
that six or seven were buried in a night in Bradford alone. (Why, one wonders,
were small pox funerals at night?).
About a week after Michaelmas (1752)
I was taken ill, and in the beginning was very comfortable in my soul. It was
soon discovered that I should have a vast quantity, occasioned as was supposed
by the illmanagement of an ignorant old woman, who gave me heating things. I had
not been ill above a day or two before that pattern of practical Christianity,
Mr. Richard Pearce, came to see me. Among other things he asked what money I had,
I said but little. He then encouraged me not to fear, telling me that as I was
far from my own country, he would take care I had all things necessary. Accordingly
he turned away the old woman, and sent me one of the best nurses in the town.
He next sent the chief apothecary the place afforded; and lastly Dr. Clark, the
most experienced physician in all that country. But notwithstanding all these
helps I was soon one of the most deplorable objects ever seen. I was tone blind
for five weeks; my head was swelled to such an enormous size that many thought
it would drop from my shoulders; my whole body was covered with one scab, a great
part of an inch thick; and though the room I lay in was large and airy, the stretch
was so great that, though the town was full of the small pox, neither the doctor
nor apothecary could come near me without stopping their mouths and noses as close
as they were able. Many others who came to see me ran downstairs vomiting, and
declared they never smelt a carrion in a ditch which was so offensive
Clark declared, Though I have been fifty years in practice, I never saw
anyone so ill of this disorder before. The first time I got up, to have
my bed made, was on New Years Day; but I was not near recovered at Lady
Having come into a small inheritance about this time, he bought
a horse and toured the country from his home in Montgomery to Liverpool and Bristol
paying all his old debts, but he was only able to pay the debts at Bradford by
selling his horse and saddle. Mr Pearce refused to accept a single penny for all
his kindness and expense.
The following autumn John Wesley asked him to go
to Cornwall as a travelling preacher and he gladly accepted the call. But
I was not able to buy another horse; and therefore, with my boots on my legs,
my greatcoat on my back, and my saddlebags with my books and linen, across my
shoulder, I set out on foot, October 24, 1753. However at Tiverton a Mr.
Bidgood gave him a horse on which he was still travelling twenty-five years later.
is with regret that we have to admit that a local tradition that his hymn
The God of Abraham Praise was written at Conkwell (about three miles from
Bradford) is not substantiated. It was written at Westminster in 1770 after hearing
Leoni sing a Jewish hymn to an old synagogue melody.
of Wesleys preachers had the distinction of being locked up for the night
in the little prison on Bradford Bridge. This was William Hitchens. He tells of
his experience in a letter to John Wesley:
28th February 1757. Reverend
and Dear Sir, When I was at Freshford on the 30th of January in the morning
I scrupled singing these words Ye now afflicted are and hated for His name, And
in your bodies bear the tokens of the Lamb.
I thought I was not afflicted
nor hated for the name of Christ. But this scruple was soon removed.
at Bradford in the evening I was pressed for a soldier, and carried to an inn
where the gentlemen were. Mr Pearse hearing of it, came and offered bail for my
appearance the next day. They said they would take his word for ten thousand pounds,
but not for me; I must go to the Round House, the little stone room on the side
of the Bridge; so thither I was conveyed by five soldiers. There I found nothing
to sit on but a stone, and nothing to lie on but a little straw, but soon after
a friend sent me a chair on which I sat all night. I had a double guard, 12 soldiers
in all, two without, one in the door and the rest within. I passed the night without
sleep, but not without rest, for, blessed be God, my peace was not broken a moment.
My body was in prison, but I was Christs freeman; my soul was at liberty
and even there I found some work to do for God; I had a fair opportunity of speaking
to them who durst not leave me, and I hope it was not in vain.
morning I had leave to go to a private house with only one soldier to guard me.
About three in the afternoon I was carried before the Commisioners, and part of
the act was read which empowered them to take such able-bodied men as followed
no business and had no lawful or sufficient maintenance.
Then I said
If these are the men you are to take I am not a proper person, for I do
follow a lawful calling in partnership with my brother, and have also an estate.
The Justice said, If you will make oath of that, I think we must let you
go! but the Commisioners said, No man could swear for himself.
I said Gentlemen give me time and your shall have full proof. After
a long debate they took a fifty pound bond for my appearance on that day three
All the time I could bless God that He counted me worthy to suffer
for His names sake. The next day I set out for Cornwall. I tarried at home
four days, and then setting out with my brother James, came to Bradford last Saturday.
On Monday in the afternoon I appeared before the Commissioners, with the writings
of my estate. When the Justice had persued them, and my brother had taken his
oath, I was set at liberty. So the fierceness of man turns to Gods praise,
and all this is for the furtherance of the Gospel. I hope you will return thanks
for my deliverance out of the hands of unreasonable and wicked men. (WILLIAM
Some Bradford Methodists.
The name of Richard Pearce takes an
honoured place among the members of the Methodist Society at Bradford. He was
an innkeeper in the town; and evidently a man of some position and respected both
among his fellow Methodists and in the town at large. We have seen him paying
the expenses of Thomas Olivers illnesses, offering bail for William Hitchens,
entertaining Adam Clarke on his first night at Bradford and John Wesley on his
last visit. We would gladly know more of this kindly man. To Mrs. Ann Bailward,
who was John Wesleys first hostess in the town and who eventually left a
legacy for the support of the preacher, we have also made reference.
of the leading people of the town were Methodists; among them the Cams of Chantry
House the Attwoods of Turleigh, and John Smith, an Attorney and at one time Stewart
to the notorious Duchess of Kingston (who in 1776 was impeached before the House
of Lords and found guilty of bigamy). Johns Smiths daughter married
Dr. Thomas Coke, who was the founder of Methodist Overseas missionary work and
took a leading part in the organisation of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the
Once of the early local preachers was a Mr. Hanny, his son William Hanny
was a class leader, and his grandson, William Peters Hanny (still remembered by
old Bradfordians) was born in 1802 and was a member of the Methodist Society for
76 years (1818-1894). His name appears on the first page of the first register
of scholars of the Wesleyan Sunday School opened in 1815, and three years later
he became a teacher. All his life he was a great temperance worker and leader
of cottage prayer meetings and for a long time superintended a village Sunday
School. His descendants are still connected with the Chapel.
this third generation Hanny was Joseph Rawlings who was one of the first Society
Stewards of the new Wesleyan Chapel built in 1818. He later became minister of
the Countess of Huntingdons Chapel at Bearfield (this chapel apparently
has no connection with the early services at Bearfield, as it was not founded
until 1808) but remained a Trustee of the Wesleyan Chapel. He was a printer by
trade and later added the duties of Postmaster of Bradford. His autobiography,
published by his son at Bradford, soon after his death in 1866, is with Canon
Jones History of Bradford-on-Avon the source of much of the information
contained in this article.
On May 22nd and 24th special services will be held
in Methodist Chapels throughout the world in thanksgiving for the evangelical
conversion of John Wesley, of which Methodism is a direct consequence. But the
Methodist Church (despite its world wide membership of over eleven millions) is
but a part of the consequence of the Evangelical Revival from which it sprang.
Its wider effects are seen in a Church of England roused from the lethargy and
worldliness into which it had sunk in the Eighteenth Century; in the revitalised
Nonconformist Churches; in an awakened national conscience which swept away the
Slave Trade; in a national transformation which effected peaceably what the French
Revolution attempted to achieve forcibly. All these effects are directly attributable
to that experience that transformed the life of John Wesley on May 24, 1738. It
is because the event and its consequences are of such far reaching significance
that a retelling of the story, and an examination of its meaning is here attempted.
Wesley was a devout clergyman, who for thirteen years at least had made it his
one aim in life to live well pleasing to God. The little group to which he belonged
at Oxford had been nicknamed The Holy Club and The Methodists
because of their religious life and methodical planning out of their time in order
that they might do all the good they could. Three quarters of his small income
was given to the poor. He visited the sick and the prisoners. He missed no opportunity
of receiving the Holy Communion. He fasted. He prayed. He studied the Bible. In
1735 he went to the new colony of Georgia in the hope of being able to preach
to the Red Indians. He honestly and sincerely tried to lead a good life and he
succeeded above most.
But in spite of all his efforts he came to see that he
lacked something. On board the Simmonds on the voyage to America he
had as fellow passengers a party of humble Moravians from Germany. From the commencement
of the voyage he was attracted by their lack of pride and anger; but it was in
a violent storm in which the English passengers were terrified and Wesley himself
was in fear that he saw the simple Moravians calmly continuing their service even
when a tremendous wave swept over the ship and tore the mainsail to shreds. They
had a peace with God which banished all fear, a peace to which he was a stranger.
The day after he landed in Georgia he had a conversation with one of their Pastors
named Spangenberg in which the German asked him Do you know Jesus Christ?
Wesley paused and said I know he has saved you? I answered, I
said I do. But I fear they were vain words. To a man of Wesleys
sincerity and devotion such a conversation caused not resentment but heart searching,
and bore fruit after many months.
The mission to Georgia was a dismal failure.
He never got an opportunity of preaching to the heathen. He ministered to the
colonists but only succeeded in rousing their animosity. He returned to England
two years later a disappointed man. It was not merely that he had failed to please
men. (John Wesley knew enough of Christianity to expect that a true Christian
might be hated of all men for the sake of his Lord.) He felt that he had utterly
failed to fulfil his one ambition of pleasing God in all things. He had still
no sense of peace with God.
Soon after arriving in England he met another member
of that little Moravian community from whom he had already learned so much. In
Peter Bohler he found a guide and teacher who shewed him that the one way to peace
with God was by faith. As he studied his Bible and with it the articles and Homilies
of the Church of England, he was amazed to realise that Bohlers doctrine
of Justification by Faith was the express teaching of the New Testament and of
the Church of which for ten years he had been a clergyman. For three months with
increasing clearness he sought the Justification the Acceptance with God-the
Salvation that comes not of works but of faith. On Whit Sunday, May 21, 1738 his
younger brother Charles entered into the experience for which both had been seeking.
Then on the following Wednesday John himself experienced something which changed
the whole basis and course of his life. The record of the events of his life.
The record of the events of that day must be given in his own words.
think it was about five this morning that I opened my Testament on these words
There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that
we should be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1 v. 4) Just as I went
out I opened it again on these words Thou art not far from the kingdom of
God. In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Pauls. The anthem was
Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O
let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou Lord will be extreme
to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with
thee; therefore thou shalt be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: for with the
Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem
Israel from all his sins.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a
society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luthers Preface to the
Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the
change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely
warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance
was given me, that he had taken away MY sins, even MINE, and saved ME from the
law of sin and death.
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in
a more special manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified
to all there what I now first felt in my heart
After my return home,
I was much buffeted with temptation; but cried out and they fled away. They returned
again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and he sent me help from his holy
place. And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly
consisted. I was striving, yea fighting with all my might under the law, as well
as under grace; but then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered: now, I was
It is Charles Wesley who tells us that about ten oclock
that night John and some of his friends came to the house where Charles was staying
and John announced his victory in the simple words I believe! Together
they sang the hymn which Charles Wesley had composed the day before in gratitude
for his own conversion. Where shall my wondering soul begin?
simple is John Wesleys telling of the story that it is hard to realise that
this was indeed an epoch making event; an event that changed a sincere and devout
but futile man into a prophet of God through whom tens of thousands were led into
a like experience of peace and victory; by which multitudes of godless men and
women became saints of God; by which hardened sinners became upright and respected
It is surely worth asking just what DID happen to John Wesley? Let
us look again at his own words. It was a change which God works in the heart
through faith in Christ. It was trusting in Christ for salvation.
It was an assurance that he had taken away MY sins, even MINE, and saved
ME from the law of sin and death. It was a victory over sin. In a word it
was the acceptance of salvation as Gods work through faith in Christ. In
an illuminating foot note added when the Journal was published he states I
had even then the faith of a SERVANT, though not that of a SON.
question calls insistently for an answer. If so vital an experience was
available, how was it that so godly a man as John Wesley did not find it till
he was thirty five years old? The answer surely is that he was seeking it in the
wrong way, that he had a completely mistaken idea of what the essential message
of Christianity really was. In his Georgia Journal he gives a summary of two conversations
he had, one with an Indian chief the other with a negro slave girl. At last the
missionary had his long sought opportunity of preaching Christianity to the heathen.
In both cases he fails to make any reference at all to Jesus Christ. He sums up
his message to the heathen girl in these words God made you to live with
himself above the sky. And so you will, in a little time- if you are good.
If you are good. There lay the very essence of his religion. Salvation is for
the people who are good enough. That was what he preached and that was what he
strove for. He was trying to be good enough to be saved. That this was so is expressly
stated by Charles Wesley when Peter Bohler visited him in February, 1738. He
asked me, Do you hope to be saved? Yes For what
reason do you hope it? Because I have used my best endeavours to serve
God. He shook his head and said no more. I thought him very uncharitable,
saying in my heart. What are not my endeavours a sufficient ground of hope?
Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to.
for those who were good enough. That was Wesleys idea of Christianity, an
idea that is not extinct even yet. But the real name of that religion is not Christianity
but Pharisaism. What then is the essence of Christianity? Just this: that in His
mercy God gave His Son to come and save those who could not save themselves; that
Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. It was that truth that
John Wesley began to grasp in the spring of 1738. On May 24 that salvation which
was made possible by the cross of Jesus Christ became his actual, personal possession.
He trusted in Christ alone for salvation. Immediately he received the assurance
that his sins were forgiven and that he was accepted of God not for his
own goodness but for the sake of Jesus Christ. In that moment God worked a change
in his heart which entirely transformed him.
From that day we may date the
beginning of the Evangelical Revival. This was the message that John Wesley preached
wherever he went- to the degraded and neglected miners of Kingswood and to the
members of Oxford University in St. Marys Church, to the weavers of Bradford
and the aristocracy in Bath, to the labourers of Wiltshire and the tinners and
smugglers of Cornwall- that for all there was in Christ a full and free salvation.
John preached, Charles sang: and the fullest and most enduring record of their
experience and teaching is to be found in Charles Wesleys hymns.
can it be that I should gain An interest in the Saviours blood? Died He
for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How
can it be That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?
Long my imprisoned spirit
lay Fast bound in sin and natures night; Thine eye diffused a quickening
ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus,
and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness
divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown through Christ
(And remember that only a few months before that same mans hope
of salvation was Because I have used my best endeavours to serve Go.
What a transformation!)
What we have felt and seen With confidence we tell.
And publish to the sons of men The signs infallible.
We who in Christ believe
That He for us hath died We all His unknown peace receive And feel His blood applied.
is the message that transformed John Wesley. That is the message that saved England
in the Eighteenth Century. And that is the message that can save England to-day.
John Wesley was a man in a million. The work that he did may not fall to more
than one man in a century. But the experience that came to John Wesley is the
birthright of every man for whom Christ died. All may know, as John Wesley came
to know that He loved ME and gave Himself for ME; that He has
taken away MY sins even MINE and save ME from the law of sin and death.
is the aim of the celebration of the Wesley Bicentenary; that multitudes may enter
into that same experience. What God did for John Wesley in 1738 He can do for
you in 1938.