John Wesley, the younger brother of Charles the poet and an evangelist extraordinaire, preached, wrote about and financed Christ’s gospel message. He also expounded on its spiritual and social ramifications for the town and field workers, shop keepers and soldiers and sailors in rough eighteenth century England. Merely assenting that Christ was the divine Savior in a ritualistic manner was never enough to confirm a convert’s faith for John. He insisted his followers make conscious commitments to Christ and then methodically practice what Jesus and his older half brother James — and later Wesley himself considered important. John did this so successfully that many historians believe England avoided the ghastly bloodbath of the French Revolution because the Wesleyan spiritual revival reformed the island society without resorting to violence. During his ministry, Wesley taught that any religion that does not offer love and support to everyone equally, regardless of their possessions, prestige and power — or lack thereof — is no Christian faith at all. This so offended some narcissistic Lords of Parliament that they drove John from his Anglican pulpit, forcing him to preach in the streets and fields — which of course, was where all those grubby people were. The lords and bishops couldn’t have planned John’s success better had they spent six months working out the details — but then, God often uses the foolishness of humans to great and wonderful purposes! John didn’t permit his converts to mature haphazardly as Christians. He developed procedures he called methods to be followed when internalizing the means of grace.(Which was why his followers were sarcastically called Methodists!) He trained pastors, evangelists, exhorters and Gospel class leaders who met with the people at least once a week between services. They also held revival sessions and camp meetings with enthusiastic preaching, exhorting and singing as the church had seldom heard since the early days of Christianity. Roberta can remember when the phrase, ‘singing like Methodists’ and ‘shouting Methodists’ were terms of respect. Jard, as a youngster, loved camp meetings deep in the great woods away from the hubbub of life and labor. It was an honor to be chosen to give one’s testimony during Methodist class meetings. These activities were so popular that a person couldn’t even get into the evening sessions or come to camp meeting without an admissions ticket. Roberta’s grandfather, Will Howard, was the last Methodist class leader in Denver before the denomination became too sophisticated for such evangelical training as it dabbled for too many decades in German higher criticism.
John’s reputation (and the political clout of his exploding congregations) spread across England like wildfire until he could spend an afternoon in foggy London Town, soliciting money from wealthy merchants, raising two or three thousand pounds Sterling for charity. Then he would give it all away for the care of orphans before he reached home. John did indeed watch over the poor and needy, both spiritually and physically — and they adored the somewhat austere man. He raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in silver during his lifetime but being mature of mind and spirit, he understood he could take none of it beyond the grave. Therefore, he donated it to the poor to the great disgust of King George III’s tax collectors who spent a fruitless week ramsacking his wife’s hereditary home and stable for John’s hoard — money that had long before been spent for those common folk the aristocracy despised as ignorant and uncouth. But while the British elite didn’t understand men like John and Charles, the emerging world middle class embraced them and their message of redemption, love and social service in one of the greatest Christian awakenings of all time.
John lived to a very old age and died virtually penniless. Some said it was a shame — all the weary old chap left behind was a pair of patched wool suits, a battered and stained Bible, a spavined old mare — and — and — the world wide Methodist Church. Methodism eventually numbered some eighteen or so million middle class members from London to Singapore and Sydney, from Cape Town to Chicago, Hong Kong and San Francisco and almost all points in between. All because the somewhat silly adolescent matured enough spiritually to emerge from the shadows of a narcissistic society and a church which had fallen into the grasp of a ruthless Empire’s aristocracy that used and abused the clergy and worshipers.
The flood of devout methodical believers who systematically worked at improving their faith, hope and love soon had England freeing its slaves, opening free Sunday afternoon classes to teach reading, writing, math and religion to children of all classes, helping the poor escape poverty by teaching them trades and creating a constitutional monarchy with a strong House of Commons elected by the people to counterbalance the hereditary and highly elitist House of Lords.
The Wesleyan conviction that spiritual worship and social responsibilities go together as well as the right and left hands of a fiddler, had a major impact on the English speaking world. For example, across our civilization, there was hardly a city without several Methodist churches, a Methodist hospital, free orphanages, a Wesleyan college and charities of various kinds.
Not too shabby a legacy for a poor country field preacher who couldn’t save a shilling — but who saved a nation from a bloody revolution with his Lord’s message of faith and grace — as he crisscrossed cold and foggy England, covering more than twenty thousand miles on horseback during his deeply fulfilling sixty year ministry.
And two hundred years later when Haim Ginott (clinical psychologist and child therapist) named someone whom he felt had become a self-actualizing leader, he named John Wesley as a person who had given his best to the people among whom he lived, loved and belonged.
Unfortunately, the church has not always been so spiritual as it was under the stewardship of devout leaders such as John and Charles Wesley — along with others like Luther, Whitfield, Arminius, Finny, Moody, Graham, King and more — each with a fire for God and the people in his belly! Of course, it doesn’t take long for narcissistic users and abusers to sniff out opportunities for themselves by moving into and controlling something as loosely organized and as generous with its love, time and money as the church. The story, probably apocryphal, is told that a Renaissance pope was showing one of the powerful European monarchs through his treasure rooms under the Vatican that were stuffed with hoards of silver, gold and precious jewels. He smiled proudly and boasted;
No longer can we say with Jesus — silver and gold have we none. Whereupon, the crusty old Emperor grunted and retorted sourly;
Neither can you say to lame men and women,’In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, we command you to rise, take up your bed and walk!’