The preacher on horseback

"Wesley reasoning"

I’m currently reading and enjoying John Wesley’s journal… and I am absolutely astonished by how much he accomplished, the opposition that he endured, and the unwavering zeal with which he lived and worked.

Take, for example, the turbulent events of Friday Feb 12, 1748 [online here]. He rode to Shepton near Bristol, and found great anxiety amongst the people there: “A mob, they said, was hired, prepared, and made suffficiently drunk, in order to do all manner of mischief”. Unperturbed, Wesley preached in the afternoon without hindrance, “and the hearts of many were exceedingly comforted”.

He was curious about the whereabouts of the mob – but it turned out that they had mistaken the place where he would preach. They caught up with him afterwards, following him to where he stayed, “throwing dirt, stones, and clods, in abundance: but they could not hurt us”.

Wesley and his host (a Mr. Swindells) escaped inside, but the mob were determined to break in, firstly by trying to batter down the solid front door, then by breaking the tiles above. Wesley and Mr. Swindells went upstairs and started to pray. After a while Wesley was prompted to leave immediately, to which his host objected strenously, pointing out how many stones were flying around. Nevertheless they departed, and went downstairs. At this point:

The mob had just broke open the door when we came into the lower room; and exactly while they burst in at one door, we walked out at the other. Nor did one man take any notice of us, though we were within five yards of each other.

The mob were about to set fire to the house, but as one of them lived next door they refrained. Another cried out “they are gone over the grounds”, which Wesley thought was good advice, so he and his host slipped off across town. He was met there by Abraham Jenkins, who guided him to Oakhill. But this was not an end of their troubles. Jenkins advised him to go down a bank,

…but the bank being high, and the side very near perpendicular, I came down all at once, my horse and I tumbling over one another. But we both rose unhurt.

He adds drily that he arrived at Oakhill within an hour, and in Bristol the next morning.

At no stage does Wesley appear to have made life easy for himself, always being focussed on the ultimate aim of his work. Thus, throughout his ministry he was eager that those who joined the Methodist societies maintained high standards of holiness. For example, in Sunderland in 1757 he writes,

I then met the society, and told them plain, none could stay with us, unless he would part with all sin; particularly, robbing the King, selling, or buying run goods; which I could no more suffer than robbing on the highway… A few would not promise to refrain; so these I was forced to cut off. About two hundred and fifty were of a better mind.

Nevertheless he was under no illusions about what was required to enable a society to be successful. Two years later, while in Colchester, he was reflecting on what enabled a society to be successful and grow.

I found the society had decreased since L.C. went away; and yet they had had full as good preachers. But that is not sufficient: by repeated experiments we learn, that though a man preach like an angel, he will neither collect, nor preserve a society which is collected, without visiting them from house to house.

In evangelical churches in the 21st century we frequently pray for revival in this country – but are we prepared to work as hard and to endure the opposition and the difficulties to the extent that John Wesley did?

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