Derby Methodist History
Samuel Wesley, the father, came from an aristocratic family. Their coats of arms dated 1324, includes scallop shells in the design, showing that one of the Wesley's was a Crusader.
The Wesley family had known its ups and downs. John Wesley's great-grandfather, Bartholomew, and his grand-father, another John, had both been clergymen, and had both been turned out of their churches in 1662 because they sympathised with the Nonconformists, and were not afraid to say so.
John Wesley owed much to his mother Susanna. Her father, Dr Samuel Annersley, had also been one of those turned out of his church in 1662 as a Nonconformist, and he also had aristocratic connections, being the nephew of the Earl of Anglesey. Susanna was beautiful, clever and virtuous. It sounds an almost impossible combination, but history assures us that it actually happened. She had been a member of what we have no hesitation in calling a very large family, for Dr Annesley had twenty-five children altogether. In her turn Susanna was to have nineteen.
|CHARLES WESLEY||born 18th December 1707|
Quoting an American Bishop:
"What a strange providence it was that at Epworth Rectory, John Wesley, fifteenth child, should have been followed by Charles Wesley the seventeenth - as if God were preparing the preacher and statesman and poet and singer in the one household."
The following extract from 'The Life of John Wesley by Dr Coke and Mr Moore' shows John Wesley's respect for Charles Wesley's talent.
Mr Charles Wesley, the third son, was born at Epworth, in 1707. He received part of his education at Westminster, and was afterwards admitted as a student of the Christ College, Oxford, where he took the degree of Master of Arts.
He was a good scholar; and at a very early age began to display those poetic talents which afterwards shone with such peculiar lustre. It is concerning his compositions that John Wesley writes such strong encomiums in his preface to his large hymn-book:
"In these hymns there are no doggerel, no botches, nothing put in to patch up the rhyme: no feeble expletives. Here is nothing turgid or bombast on the one hand, or low and creeping on the other. Here is no cant expressions, no words without meaning. Here are both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language, and at the same time the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity."
Late on the evening of 9th July 1709 the Epworth Rectory caught fire. No one woke until it was ablaze. Most of the children escaped naked to the street. Susanna Wesley, John's mother, being pregnant could not climb through the lower window with the others. She faced a wall of flame. Remembering Isaiah 43 V2 "When thou walkest through fire, thou shall not be burned" she recalled that she waded naked through the flames with a little scorching to her hands and face.
John, not having woken with the others, climbed on a chest to stand at the window. Two men, one on the other's shoulders, could reach John as the house was low, and took him out just before the roof collapsed.
John was brought up in a household of a dominant mother with six sisters and seemed to need the approval of women. His relationships were equivocal and women must have found him attractive. For instance in March 1725 he became friendly with three sisters Kirkham and their friend Mary Pendarves. This relationship eventually caused his mother to write to him -
"I heartily wish this converse may prove innocent and I have many thoughts of your friendship, and the more I think the less I approve. The tree is known by its fruits, but not always by its blossoms. What blossoms beautifully sometimes bears bitter fruit."
The name Methodists was not new. John Spencer librarian of Sion College wrote in 1657:
"Where are now the plain pack-staff Methodists who esteem all flowers of rhetoric in sermons no better than stinking weeds?"
However, when Charles Wesley was at Oxford he founded a study group of a few friends, which was dubbed a 'Holy Club'. A thoughtful person observed in reference to its ways that a new sect of Methodists had sprung up, alluding to an ancient school of physicians.
John Wesley joined this group later and expanded its membership.
To Methodists the most famous date in John Wesley's life is 24th May 1738. Quoting directly from his journal:
"At about five this morning I opened my Testament on those words 'There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that shall be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4)'. In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. At about a quarter before nine, while he was describing the 'change which God works' on 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."
Preaching out of doors was called 'Field Preaching' and was opposed by John Wesley as being against the precepts of the Church of England. It did not originally appeal to him. However, his friend George Whitefield demonstrated how it was done and at the end of his address announced that Wesley would preach at the same place the next day. Wesley took up the challenge and as he had a clear voice he had no difficulty putting all his energy into preaching to about 3,000 people. He later observed that our Lord's 'Sermon on the Mount' was "One pretty remarkable precedent for field preaching."
From the very beginning there had been strong opposition. The word Methodists was used as a form of ridicule. On one of John Wesley's visits to Bath, in 1739, he was interrupted by Beau Nash, that dandified adventurer known as 'the King of Bath' who claimed "Your preaching frightens people out of their wits."
Said Wesley "Sir, did you ever hear me preach?" To which Nash could only answer "No". "How then," continued Wesley, "can you judge of what you have never heard?" The lame answer, "Sir, by common report", offered Wesley the chance of a crushing retort, whose biting sarcasm earned a laugh from the crowd and the retreat of the profligate Nash -
"I dare not judge of you by common report!"
It was not long before Methodists were brutally persecuted. In 1740 William Seward was first blinded, and then killed by a Welsh mob, the first but, not the last, Methodist martyr. Methodist homes and property were destroyed in terrible riots across the country and they continued spasmodically throughout the eighteenth century.
John Wesley had associations with the Moravians from 1735 and at first was of similar mind. By 1739 he was in dispute with them and in July 1740 he left the Moravian Meeting House in Fetter Lane taking 18 of the congregation with him. Some four months before he had been to a foundry for cannon in the Civil War. This location was then called Windmill Hill near Finsbury Square and it became the Headquarters of Methodism for the next 38 years.
Quoting extracts from John Wesley's journal - Friday 23rd July 1742 - At about three in the afternoon I went to my mother and found her change was near, her look was calm and serene. Whilst we commended her soul to God without any struggle or sigh or groan the soul was set at liberty. We stood round the bed and fulfilled her last request "Children as soon as I am released sing a psalm of praise to God."
She had been a preacher of righteousness. This I learned from her letter to my father in 1711.
"It has come to my mind though I am not a minister, yet if my heart were sincerely devoted to God, I might do somewhat more than I do. I resolved to begin with my own children. I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. With those of neighbours that then come to me I discourse more freely. Last Sunday I believe we had above two hundred - many went away for want of room. I would feign have dismissed them before (family) prayers, but they begged so earnestly to stay, I durst not deny them."
The Cavanistic Methodists were first on the field in 1743 with their Annual Association when George Whitefield was chosen as General Moderator.
The first Methodist Conference was held at the Foundry 25th June 1744. The second met here in Bristol on 1st August 1745. John and Charles Wesley, John Hodges, Rector of Wenvoe, who had been at the first conference, and eight others, including Marmaduke Gwynne, whose daughter Charles Wesley afterwards married, were present. The names of the fourteen assistants were read and a new rule added to the twelve rules adopted for guidance in 1744:
"You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those who need you, but to those who need you most."
This started in the year 1742 as a means of raising money. Members were formed into small groups called classes, and a leader appointed to each group to collect one penny a week from each one in their class. To facilitate this each class was to meet once a week for devotions. John Wesley had been concerned for some time that he and his brother could not give individual pastoral care, and saw the class as a remedy. If there were difficulties in this pastoral oversight he took steps to train class leaders in this task, and for them to inquire into the Christian consistency of each member. This style of care exists to this day, and membership cards still give the description of class leader.
George Whitefield began a school at Kingswood for the colliers' children of which John Wesley took sole charge when Whitefield went to America. On 24th June 1748 Wesley opened another school at Kingswood which gradually became a school for preachers' sons.
Wesley wrote in 1753:
"I have spent more money and time and care on this than almost any design I ever had, and still it exercises all the patience I have. But it is worth all the labour."
The Sunday school movement naturally found a keen ally in Wesley, started as it was to give the rudiments of education and culture to the children of the gutter, as well as to see that they were adequately clothed and cleansed. There had been sporadic attempts at this type of work centuries before and there were Methodist forerunners to Robert Raikes' experiment in 1780, notably the Sunday school run by Hannah Ball at High Wycombe from 1769 till her death in 1792. Raikes was the movement's great publicist, however, and Wesley recognized him as such, inserting his appeal for more Sunday schools in the Arminian Magazine.
In January 1740 he made three collections for the poor outside Lawford's gate and fed a hundred, sometimes a hundred and fifty a day, who were out of work through the severe frost and were reduced to the last extremity. The same spirit is seen in his famous letter:
To His Majesty's Office of Excise,
September 9 1776
"SIR, I have two silver spoons, at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate which I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many around me want bread."
Although John Wesley's mission to Georgia had been described as a failure, it is good to know that his successor there, George Whitefield, did not so regard it, saying -
"The good John Westley has done in America is inexpressible. His name is very precious among the people, and he has laid a foundation that I hope neither men nor devils will ever be able to shake."
He was an early member of the 'Holy Club' whilst at Oxford and became a powerful influence. During John Wesley's time in America he was virtually leader and eventually became a close friend of both Wesley brothers. Whitefield was an excellent orator and preached to large crowds. In 1741 it became clear there was a sharp difference of doctrine between Whitefield, who was with the Calvanists believing in predestination, and the Wesley's who preached that salvation was open to all who believed.
In August 1743 John Wesley asked both Whitefield and the Moravians if they would come to some compromise to avoid division. Both refused. However Wesley and Whitefield remained good friends. The Countess of Huntingdon, a wealthy widow, supporter of nonconformist causes and Calvanist by inclination, took Whitefield as a pastor.
Whitefield was enthusiastic about his work in America, and died there on the 30th September 1770. His death was commemorated in England and on the 2nd January 1771 John Wesley was asked to preach and declared "I wish to show all possible respect to the memory of this great and good man."
Perhaps the Bristol Conference charged with the deepest significance was that held in 1771.
The previous year George Whitefield had died and the uneasy truce between Wesley's followers and the Calvanists under Lady Huntingdon's influence came to an end. It had been maintained so long only because Whitefield and Wesley, despite their theological differences, had so great a mutual respect and regard. The Countess arranged a conference of her own in Bristol at the same time as that in the New Room.
However, the Conference was even more remarkable because it was attended by Francis Asbury, a young man of twenty-six, who offered himself for work in America. In the minutes of this conference question 5 asked 'Our brethren in America call aloud for help. Who are willing to go and help them? Answer: Five were willing.' Of these, the two appointed were Francis Asbury and Richard Wright. This simple entry records the greatest common event in British and American Methodist history. When Asbury sailed from Pill on the Bristol Avon in 1771 he was set to become the great apostle of American Methodism.
In 1984 a plaque was placed at Pill commemorating also the departure of Coke, Whatfield and Vasey in 1784.
Seen as an annexe to London. The Bishop of London was expected to look after the spiritual needs of the colonies. Most Methodist preachers had returned at the outbreak of war. When Wesley approached the Bishop - pleading the need for ministers in that vast continent of America, the Bishop replied that they had three already. Three! That settled it for Wesley - on 1st Sept 1784 he appointed Mr Whatcoat and Mr Vasey to go and serve the desolate sheep of America. On the next day three more. Sending 27 in total. He went further by ordaining them so that they would feel they had the God given right to administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper.