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Wesley and French Prisoners.


We must now come back to Wesley. On his return to 1759 London from Norwich, on September 14, he gave orders for Age 56 the immediate repairing of West Street chapel, the main timbers of which were actually rotten. He rode to Canterbury, where his congregation included “two hundred soldiers, and a whole row of officers.” At Dover, he found a new chapel just finished, and opened it.

Returning to London, he preached, on September 23, to a vast congregation in Moorfields, and wrote: “Who can say the time for field preaching is over, while-(1) greater numbers than ever attend; (2) the converting, as well as convincing, power of God is eminently present with them?"

He then set out for Bristol. At Basingstoke, he preached "to a people slow of heart and dull of understanding." He opened a new chapel at Whitchurch ; and pronounced another at Salisbury “the most complete in England.” Here large numbers of the Hampshire militia attended preaching ; but, he says, “it was as music to a horse ; such brutish behaviour have I seldom seen.” At Bristol, he employed his leisure time in finishing the fourth volume of his sermons, “probably," says he, “the last which I shall publish.” He walked to Knowle, a mile from Bristol, to see the French prisoners, eleven hundred of whom were lying on beds of straw, covered with thin rags, and in danger of dying. He went back, and the same night preached on, “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger; for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”; he made a collection of £24; and, out of this, bought some dozens of stockings, shirts, waistcoats, and breeches for the poor captives. Wesley was not content with this; but wrote the following letter, which was published in Lloyd's Evening Post, of October 26.

“BRISTOL, October 20, 1759. “SIR,-Since I came to Bristol, I heard many terrible accounts concerning the French prisoners at Knowle : as, ‘That they were so wedged together, that they had no room to breathe ; that the stench of the rooms where they lodged was intolerable; that their food was only fit for dogs ; that their meat was carrion, their bread rotten and unwholesome; and that, in consequence of this inhuman treatment, they died in shoals.'

“Desiring to know the truth, I went to Knowle, and was showed all the apartments there. But how was I disappointed ? 1. I found they had large and convenient space to walk in, if they chose it, all the day. 2.


Age 56

There was no stench in any apartment I was in, either below or above. They were all sweeter and cleaner than any prison I have seen either in England or elsewhere. 3. Being permitted to go into the larder, I observed the meat hanging up, two large quarters of beef. It was fresh and fat, and I verily think as good as ever I desire to eat. 4. A large quantity of bread lay on one side. A gentleman took up and cut one of the loaves. It was made of good flour, was well baked, and perfectly well tasted. 5. Going thence to the hospital, I found that, even in this sickly season, there are not thirty persons dangerously ill, out of twelve or thirteen hundred. 6. This hospital was sweeter and cleaner throughout, than any hospital I ever saw in London. I think it my duty to declare these things, for clearing the innocent, and the honour of the English nation.

“Yet one thing I observed with concern. A great part of these poor men are almost naked : and winter is now coming upon them in a cold prison, and a colder climate than most of them have been accustomed to. But will not the humanity and generosity of the gentlemen of Bristol prevent or relieve this distress ? Did they not make a noble precedent during the late war? And surely they are not weary of well doing. Tuesday night, we did a little according to our power ; but I shall rejoice, if this be forgotten through the abundance administered by their liberality, in a manner which they judge most proper. Will it not be, both for the honour of the city and country, for the credit of our religion, and for the glory of God, who knows how to return it sevenfold into their bosom ?

“I am your humble servant,


Wesley's effort was not without results : “Presently after, the corporation of Bristol sent a large quantity of mattresses and blankets; and it was not long before contributions were set on foot in London, and in various parts of the kingdom,” for the selfsame object as that for which Wesley preached his impromptu sermon, and wrote his letter.

On October 26, he returned to London, where he remained until November 22, when he again set out for Everton, at which place he had to officiate for Berridge, who had gone to preach before the university at Cambridge.

On his way, Wesley stopped at Bedford, and writes : “We had a pretty large congregation ; but the stench from the swine under the room was scarce supportable. Was ever a preaching place over a hogstye before ? Surely they love the gospel, who come to hear it in such a place.” This garret to a pigstye was an upper room, used for spinning, in a yard leading from the High Street. The room was bad enough, the stye was worse, and Alderman Parker's nephew was worst

Wesley, on the work at Everton.


of all; for the young fellow always took care to arrange that. 1759 the feeding of the pigs and the din consequent thereon, Age 56 should be contemporaneous with his uncle's preaching. At length, however, the spinning room and the swinish residence underneath were taken down ; a small chapel was erected on the site ; and an adjoining workhouse was converted into the home of itinerant Methodist preachers.

At Everton, Wesley observed a remarkable difference, in the manner of the work, since his previous visit. “None now were in trances, none cried out, none fell down or were convulsed; only some trembled exceedingly, a low murmur was heard, and many were refreshed.” He continues : “the danger was, to regard such extraordinary circumstances too much, as if they were essential to the inward work. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little ; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them, and were an hindrance to His work. Whereas the truth is: (1) God suddenly and strongly convinced many, that they were lost sinners; the natural consequences whereof were sudden outcries and strong bodily convulsions. (2) To strengthen and encourage them that believed, and to make His work more apparent, He favoured several of them with Divine dreams, others with trances and visions. (3) In some of these instances, after a time, nature mixed with grace. (4) Satan likewise mimicked this work of God, in order to discredit the whole work; and yet, it is not wise to give up this part, any more than to give up the whole. At first, it was, doubtless, wholly from God. It is partly so at this day; and He will enable us to discern how far, in every case, the work is pure, and where it mixes or degenerates. The shadow is no disparagement of the substance, nor the counterfeit of the real diamond."

Wesley returned to London on November 28; and on December 9, " for the first time, held a lovefeast for the whole society." Hitherto, none had been admitted to Methodist lovefeasts except the members of the bands, that is, persons who were justified; now the members of the classes, that is, persons who were penitent, were allowed to

· Methodist Magazine, 1780, p. 104; and 1833, p. 52.

1759 join in the same privilege of Christian fellowship, and to Age 56

evince brotherly affection by taking together “a little plain cake and water."

December 12, he spent part of the afternoon in the British Museum, recently instituted. On the 14th, he was at, what he calls, “a Christian wedding, two or three relatives and five clergymen" forming the company. On the 19th, he read over a chancery bill, in a suit to recover £10, which filled a hundred and ten sheets of paper. He desired the plaintiff and defendant to meet him, and settled the matter by arbitration. On the 23rd, he opened the new chapel at Colchester, which he describes as “twelve square," and as “the best building, of the size, for the voice, that he knew in England." The end of the year he spent at Norwich, where he found the society "fewer in number, but of a teachable spirit, willing to be advised, and even reproved."

We have tracked the steps of Wesley during the year 1759. Before closing the chapter, two or three other matters must be noticed.

One was a savage onslaught, made upon Methodism, by the Rev. John Downes, rector of St. Michael, Wood Street, and lecturer of St. Mary-le-bow, London. This was a large pamphlet entitled, “Methodism Examined : being the substance of four discourses from Acts xx. 28–30." The reader must be troubled with a few selections from this malignant morceau, especially as Wesley condescended to notice it.

The founders of Methodism, in 1734, were “two bold, though beardless divines, so young, that they might rather be called wolflings than wolves, novices in divinity, and lifted up with spiritual pride. They were ambitious of being accounted ministers of greater eminence and authority than either bishops or archbishops; missionaries immediately delegated by heaven, to correct the clergy in the true nature of Christianity, and to caution the laity not to venture their souls in any such unhallowed hands as refused to be initiated into all the mysteries of Methodism. Their Journals were ostentatious trash, filled with jargon, that passed for inspiration. Their followers seem to look upon every place upon which they tread, as holy ground ; they are comforted and refreshed with their very shadows passing over them; and they follow in crowds, wherever it is noised about, that they are to vociferate.”

“The Methodists deny the necessity of good works; they make their boast, that they are the only persons who know the truth as it is in Jesus

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Christ, and that all others are unenlightened, and uninformed, inter- 1759 preting the Scriptures according to the letter which killeth, but ignorant Age 56 of the Spirit which giveth life. They endeavour to support their weak and wild notions by the abuse and perversion of Scripture, and talk as proudly as the Donatists of their being the only true preachers of gospel truth. They insult the Established Church, despise dominions, speak evil of dignities, and trample all rule and authority beneath their feet. Their doctrines or notions coincide with many of the oldest and rankest heresies, that ever defiled the purity and disturbed the peace of the Christian church; particularly those of the Simonians, the Gnostics, the Valentinians, the Donatists, the predestinarians, the Montanists, and the antinomians. They treat Christianity as a wild, enthusiastical scheme, which will bear no examination ; they will have it, that we may be saved by faith in Christ, without any other requisite on our part; they consider man as a mere machine, unable to do anything towards his own salvation; they represent faith as a supernatural principle, altogether precluding the judgment and understanding, and discerned by internal signs and operations; and they build all their notions upon Scripture authority, putting sacred texts to the torture, and racking them till they speak to their purpose. The whole strength of their cause lies in the perversion of the Scriptures, and the abuse of the clergy. By the most peevish and spiteful invectives, the most rude and rancorous revilings, the most invidious calumnies, they strive to poison the minds of the people against their true and rightful pastors.”

Such are extracts from what Mr. Downes designates "the full portrait of that frightful monster called Methodism.” The following is a sort of summing up.

“ These new gospel preachers are close friends to the Church of Rome, by harmonizing or agreeing with her in almost everything except the doctrine of merit ; they are no less kind to the cause of infidelity, by making the Christian religion a light and airy phantom, which one single breath of the most illiterate freethinker can easily demolish; they cut up Christianity by the roots, by insinuating that a good life is not necessary to justification; they are enemies, not only to the Christian, but to every religion whatsoever, in which reason or common sense hath any share, by labouring to subvert the whole system of morality, and by erecting a proud and enthusiastic faith upon the ruins of practical holiness and virtue."

Poor Mr. Downes—fiery, furious, and false, but not foolishdied soon after this; and his widow published, by subscription, in 1761, two volumes of his sermons, to illustrate and confirm his anti-Methodistic principles, the list of subscribers including the Archbishop of Canterbury, several bishops, and, marvellously enough, two of Wesley's old friends at Manchester,

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