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Full text of "John Wesley's place in history, by Woodrow Wilson.."

EX 



JOHN WESLEY'S 





THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 

IN MEMORY OF 
MRS. VIRGINIA B. SPORER 



John Wesley's Place 
in History 



By 

WOODROW WILSON 

President of the United States 




THE ABINGDON PRESS 
NEW YORK CINCINNATI 



AN ADDRESS 

DELIVERED AT WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY 

ON THE OCCASION OF THE 

WESLEY BICENTENNIAL 



JOHN WESLEY'S PLACE 
IN HISTORY 

JOHN WESLEY lived and wrought 
while the Georges reigned. He 
was born but a year after Anne be- 
came queen, a year before the battle 
of Blenheim was fought; while England 
was still caught in the toils of the 
wars into which her great constitu- 
tional revolution had drawn her; when 
Marlborough was in the field, and the 
armies afoot which were to make the 
ancient realm free to go her own way 
without dictation from any prince in 
Europe. But when he came to man- 
hood, and to the days in which his 
work was to begin, all things had 
fallen quiet again. Wars were over 



2047007 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

and the pipes of peace breathed sooth- 
ing strains. The day of change had 
passed and gone, and bluff Sir Robert 
Walpole ruled the land, holding it 
quiet, aloof from excitement, to the 
steady humdrum course of business, in 
which questions of the treasury and 
of the routine of administration were 
talked about, not questions of con- 
stitutional right or any matter of 
deep conviction. The first of the 
dull Georges had come suitably into 
the play at the center of the slow 
plot, bringing with him the vulgar 
airs of the provincial court of obscure 
Hanover, and views that put states- 
manship out of the question. 

The real eighteenth century had set 
in, whose annals even its own his- 
torians have pronounced to be tedious, 
unheroic, without noble or moving 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

plot, though they would fain make 
what they can of the story. They 
have found it dull because it lacked 
dramatic unity. Its wars were fought 
for mere political advantage because 
politicians had intrigued and thrones 
fallen vacant; for the adjustment of 
the balance of power or the aggran- 
dizement of dynasties; and represented 
neither the growth of empires nor the 
progress of political ideals. All re- 
ligion, they say, had cooled and 
philanthropy had not been born. The 
thinkers of the day had as little 
elevation of thought as the statesmen, 
the preachers as little ardor as the 
atheistical wits, whose unbelief they 
scarcely troubled themselves to chal- 
lenge. The poor were unspeakably 
degraded and the rich had flung morals 

to the winds. There was no ad- 
5 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

venture of mind or conscience that 
seemed worth risking a fall for. 

But the historians who paint this 
somber picture look too little upon 
individuals, upon details, upon the 
life that plays outside the field of 
politics and of philosophical thinking. 
They are in search of policies, move- 
ments, great and serious combinations 
of men, events that alter the course 
of history, or letters that cry a chal- 
lenge to the spirits. Forget statecraft, 
forego seeking the materials for sys- 
tematic narrative, and look upon the 
eighteenth century as you would look 
upon your own day, as a period of 
human life whose details are its real 
substance, and you will find enough 
and to spare of human interest. The 
literary annals of a time, when Swift 
and Addison and Berkeley and Butler 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

and Pope and Gray and Defoe and 
Richardson and Fielding and Smollett 
and Sterne and Samuel Johnson and 
Goldsmith and Burke and Hume and 
Gibbon and Cowper and Burns wrote, 
and in which Wordsworth, Coleridge, 
Byron, Shelley, and Keats were born, 
cannot be called barren or without 
spiritual significance. 

No doubt the wits of Queen Anne's 
time courted a muse too prim, too 
precise, too much without passion to 
seem to us worthy to stand with the 
great spirit of letters that speaks in 
the noble poetry with which the next 
century was ushered in; but there was 
here a very sweet relief from the 
ungoverned passions of the Restora- 
tion, the licentious force of men who 
knew the restraints neither of purity 

nor of taste; and he must need strong 

7 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

spices in his food who finds Swift 
insipid. No doubt Fielding is coarse, 
and Richardson prolix and sentimental, 
Sterne prurient and without true tonic 
for the mind, but the world which 
these men uncovered will always stand 
real and vivid before our eyes. It 
is a crowded and lively stage with 
living persons upon it; the eighteenth 
century can never seem a time vague 
and distant after we have read those 
pages of intimate revelation. No doubt 
Dr. Johnson failed to speak any vital 
philosophy of life and uttered only 
common sense, and the talk at the 
Turk's Head Tavern ran upon pre- 
serving the English Constitution rather 
than upon improving it; but it is 
noteworthy that Mr. Goldsmith, who 
was of that company, was born of 

the same century that produced Lau- 

8 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

rence Sterne, and that "She Stoops 
to Conquer" and the "Vicar of Wake- 
field," with their sweet savor of purity 
and modesty and grace, no less than 
"Tristram Shandy" and "Tom Jones," 
with their pungent odor, blossomed in 
the unweeded garden of that careless 
age. Burns sang with clear throat 
and an unschooled rapture at the 
North, and the bards were born who 
were to bring the next age in with 
strains that rule our spirits still. 

A deep pulse beat in that unevent- 
ful century. All things were making 
ready for a great change. When the 
century began it was the morrow of 
a great struggle, from whose passionate 
endeavors men rested with a certain 
lassitude, with a great weariness and 
longing for peace. The travail of the 

civil wars had not ended with the 
9 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

mastery of Cromwell, the Restoration 
of Charles, and the ousting of James; 
it had ended only with the constitu- 
tional revolution which followed 1688, 
and with the triumphs of the Prince 
of Orange. It had been compounded 
of every element that can excite or 
subdue the spirits of men. Questions 
of politics had sprung out of ques- 
tions of religion, and men had found 
their souls staked upon the issue. 
The wits of the Restoration tried to 
laugh the ardor off, but it burned 
persistent until its work was done 
and the liberties of England spread 
to every field of thought or action. 

No wonder the days of Queen Anne 
seemed dull and thoughtless after 
such an age; and yet no wonder there 
was a sharp reaction. No wonder 

questions of religion were avoided, 
10 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

minor questions of reform postponed. 
No wonder Sir Robert sought to cool 
the body politic and calm men's minds 
for business. But other forces were 
gathering head as hot as those which 
had but just subsided. This long age 
of apparent reaction was in fact an 
age of preparation also; was not merely 
the morrow of one revolution, but 
was also the eve of another, more 
tremendous still, which was to shake 
the whole fabric of society. England 
had no direct part in bringing the 
French Revolution on, but she drank 
with the rest of the wine of the age 
which produced it, and before it came 
had had her own rude awakening in 
the revolt of her American colonies. 

Great industrial changes were in 
progress, too. This century, so dull 

to the political historian, was the cen- 
11 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

tury in which the world of our own 
day was born, the century of that 
industrial revolution which made po- 
litical ambition thenceforth an instru- 
ment of material achievement, of 
commerce and manufacture. These 
were the days in which canals began 
to be built in England, to open her 
inland markets to the world and 
shorten and multiply her routes of 
trade; when the spinning jenny was 
invented and the steam engine and 
the spinning machine and the weaver's 
mule; when cities which had slept 
since the middle ages waked of a 
sudden to new life and new cities 
sprang up where only hamlets had 
been. Peasants crowded into the towns 
for work; the countrysides saw their 
life upset, unsettled; idlers thronged 

the highways and the marts, their old 
12 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

life at the plow or in the village given 
up, no settled new life found; there 
were not police enough to check or 
hinder vagrancy, and sturdy beggars 
were all too ready to turn their hands 
to crime and riot. The old order was 
breaking up, and men did not readily 
find their places in the new. 

The new age found its philosophy 
in Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," 
the philosophy of self-interest, and 
men thought too constantly upon these 
things to think deeply on any others. 
An industrial age, an age of indus- 
trial beginnings, offers new adventures 
to the mind, and men turn their 
energies into the channels of material 
power. It is no time for speculations 
concerning another world; the imme- 
diate task is to fill this world with 

wealth and fortune and all the enginery 
13 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

of material success. It is no time 
to regard men as living souls; they 
must be thought of rather as tools, 
as workmen, as producers of wealth, 
the builders of industry, and the cap- 
tains of soldiers of fortune. Men must 
talk of fiscal problems, of the laws 
of commerce, of the raw materials 
and the processes of manufacture, of 
the facilitation of exchange. Politics 
centers in the budget, and the freedom 
men think of is rather the freedom of 
the market than the freedom of the 
hustings or of the voting booth. 

And yet there are here great energies 
let loose which have not wrought their 
full effect upon the minds of men in 
the mere doing of their daily tasks 
or the mere planning of their fortunes. 
Men must think and long as well as 

toil; the wider the world upon which 
14 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

they spend themselves the wider the 
sweep of their thoughts, the restless, 
unceasing excursions of their hope. 
The mind of England did not lie 
quiet through those unquiet days. All 
things were making and to be made, 
new thoughts of life as well as new 
ways of living. Masters and laborers 
alike were sharing in the new birth 
of society. And in the midst of these 
scenes, this shifting of the forces of 
the world, this passing of old things 
and birth of new, stood John Wesley, 
the child, the contemporary, the spir- 
itual protagonist of the eighteenth 
century. Born before Blenheim had 
been fought, he lived until the fires 
of the French Revolution were ablaze. 
He was as much the child of his age 
as Bolingbroke was, or Robert Burns. 

We ought long ago to have perceived 
15 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

that no century yields a single type. 
There are countrysides the land over 
which know nothing of London town. 
The Vicar of Wakefield rules his parish 
as no rollicking, free-thinking fellow 
can who sups with Laurence Sterne. 
Sir Roger de Coverley is as truly a 
gentleman of his age as Squire Western. 
Quiet homes breed their own sons. 
The Scots country at the North has 
its own free race of poets and think- 
ers, men, some of them, as stern as 
puritans in the midst of the loose 
age. Many a quiet village church in 
England hears preaching which has no 
likeness at all to the cool rationalistic 
discourse of vicars and curates whom 
the spiritual blight of the age has 
touched, and witnesses in its vicarage 
a life as simple, as grave, as elevated 

above the vain pursuits of the world 
16 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

as any household of puritan days had 
seen. England was steadied in that 
day, as always, by her great pervasive 
middle class, whose affections did not 
veer amidst the heady gusts even of 
that time of change, when the world 
was in transformation; whose life held 
to the same standards, whose thoughts 
traveled old accustomed ways. The 
indifference of the church did not 
destroy their religion. They did not 
lose their prepossessions for the orderly 
manners and morals that kept life pure. 
It was no anomaly, therefore, that 
the son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley 
should come from the Epworth rectory 
to preach forth righteousness and judg- 
ment to come to the men of the eigh- 
teenth century. Epworth, in quiet 
Lincolnshire, was typical English land 

and lay remote from the follies and 
17 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

fashions of the age. There was sober 
thinking and plain living there where 
low monotonous levels ran flat to the 
spreading Humber and the coasts of 
the sea. The children of that vicarage, 
swarming a little host about its hearth, 
were bred in love and fear, love of 
rectitude and fear of sin, their imagina- 
tion filled with the ancient sanctions of 
the religion of the prophets and the 
martyrs, their lives drilled to right 
action and the studious service of God. 
Some things in the intercourse and 
discipline of that household strike us 
with a sort of awe, some with repul- 
sion. Those children lived too much 
in the presence of things unseen; the 
inflexible consciences of the parents 
who ruled them brought them under 
a rigid discipline which disturbed their 

spirits as much as it enlightened them. 
18 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

But, though gaiety and lightness of 
heart were there shut out, love was 
not, nor sweetness. No one can read 
Susanna Wesley's rules for the instruc- 
tion and development of her children 
without seeing the tender heart of 
the true woman, whose children were 
the light of her eyes. This mother 
was a true counsellor and her children 
resorted to her as to a sort of prov- 
idence, feeling safe when she approved. 
For the stronger spirits among them 
the regime of that household was a 
keen and wholesome tonic. 

And John Wesley was certainly one 
of the stronger spirits. He came out 
of the hands of his mother with the 
temper of a piece of fine steel. All 
that was executive and fit for mastery 
in the discipline of belief seemed to 

come to perfection in him. He dealt 
19 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

with the spirits of other men with 
the unerring capacity of a man of 
affairs a sort of spiritual statesman, 
a politician of God, speaking the policy 
of a kingdom unseen, but real and 
destined to prevail over all king- 
doms else. 

He did not deem himself a re- 
former; he deemed himself merely a 
minister and servant of the church 
and the faith in which he had been 
bred, and meant that no man should 
avoid him upon his errand though it 
were necessary to search the by-ways 
and beat the hedges to find those 
whom he sought. He did not spring 
to his mission like a man who had 
seen a vision and conceived the plan 
of his life beforehand, whole, and with 
its goal marked upon it as upon a 

map. He learned what it was to be 
20 



from day to day, as other men do. 
He did not halt or hesitate, not be- 
cause his vision went forward to the 
end, but because his will was sound, 
unfailing, sure of its immediate pur- 
pose. His "Journal" is as notable a 
record of common sense and sound 
practical judgment as Benjamin Frank- 
lin's "Autobiography" or the letters of 
Washington. It is his clear knowledge 
of his duty and mission from day to 
day that is remarkable, and the effi- 
ciency with which he moved from 
purpose to purpose. It was a very 
simple thing that he did, taking it 
in its main outlines and conceptions. 
Conceiving religion vitally, as it had 
been conceived in his own home, 
he preached it with a vigor, an 
explicitness, a directness of phrase 

and particularity of application which 
21 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

shocked the sober decorum of his 
fellow ministers of the church so much 
that he was more and more shut out 
from their pulpits. He got no church 
of his own; probably no single parish 
would have satisfied his ardor had a 
living been found for him. He would 
not sit still. The conviction of the 
truth was upon him; he was a messen- 
ger of God, and if he could not preach 
in the churches, where it seemed to 
him the duty of every man who loved 
the order and dignity of divine service 
to stand if he would deliver the word 
of God, he must, as God's man of 
affairs, stand in the fields as Mr. 
Whitefield did and proclaim it to all 
who could come within the sound of 
his voice. 

And so he made the whole kingdom 

his parish, took horse like a courier 
22 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOEY 

and carried his news along every high- 
way. Slowly, with no premeditated 
plan, going now here, now there, as 
some call of counsel or opportunity 
directed him, he moved as if from stage 
to stage of a journey; and as he went 
did his errand as if instinctively. No 
stranger at an inn, no traveler met 
upon the road left him without hear- 
ing of his business. Those he could 
not come to a natural parley with he 
waylaid. The language of his "Jour- 
nal" is sometimes almost that of the 
highwayman. "At Gerard's Cross," he 
says, "I plainly declared to those whom 
God gave into my hands the faith as 
it is in Jesus: as I did the next day 
to a young man I overtook on the 
road." The sober passion of the task 
grew upon him as it unfolded itself 

under his hand from month to month, 
23 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

from year to year. He was more and 
more upon the highways; his journeys 
lengthened, carried him into regions 
where preachers had never gone be- 
fore, to the collieries, to the tin mines, 
to the fishing villages of the coast, 
and made him familiar with every 
countryside of the kingdom, his slight 
and sturdy figure and shrewd, kind 
face known everywhere. It was not 
long before he was in the saddle from 
year's end to year's end, always going 
forward as if upon an enterprise, but 
never hurried, always ready to stop 
and talk upon the one thing that 
absorbed him, making conversation and 
discourse his business, seizing upon a 
handful of listeners no less eagerly 
than upon a multitude. 

The news got carried abroad as he 

traveled that he was coming, and he 
24 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

was expected with a sort of excite- 
ment. Some feared him. His kind 
had never been known in England 
since the wandering friars of the mid- 
dle ages fell quiet and were gone. 
And no friar had ever spoken as this 
man spoke. He was not like Mr. 
Whitefield; his errand seemed hardly 
the same. Mr. Whitefield swayed men 
with a power known time out of 
mind, the power of the consummate 
orator whose words possess the mind 
and rule the spirit while he speaks. 
There was no magic of oratory in 
Mr. Wesley's tone or presence. There 
was something more singular, more in- 
timate, more searching. He com- 
manded so quietly, wore so subtle 
an air of gentle majesty, attached 
men to himself so like a party leader, 

whose coming draws together a com- 
25 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

pany of partisans, and whose going 
leaves an organized band of adherents, 
that cautious men were uneasy and 
suspicious concerning him. He seemed 
a sort of revolutionist, left no com- 
munity as he found it, set men by 
the ears. It was hard to believe that 
he had no covert errand, that he 
meant nothing more than to preach 
the peaceable riches of Christ. "The 
Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because 
he hath anointed me to preach the 
gospel to the poor; he hath sent me 
to heal the broken-hearted; to preach 
deliverance to the captives, and re- 
covery of sight to the blind; to set at 
liberty them that are bruised, to pro- 
claim the acceptable year of the Lord" 
this had been the text from which 
he preached his first sermon by the 

highway, standing upon a little emi- 
26 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

nence just outside the town of Bristol. 
It described his mission but not to 
his enemies. The churches had been 
shut against him, not because he 
preached, but because he preached with 
so disturbing a force and directness, 
as if he had come to take the peace 
of the church away and stir men to a 
great spiritual revolution; and uneasy 
questionings arose about him. Why 
was he so busy? Why did he confer 
so often with an intimate group of 
friends, as if upon some deep plan, 
appoint rendezvous with them, and 
seem to know always which way he 
must turn next, and when? Why was 
he so restless, so indomitably eager 
to make the next move in his mysteri- 
ous journey? Why did he push on 
through any weather and look to his 

mount like a trooper on campaign? 

27 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

Did he mean to upset the country? 
Men had seen the government of 
England disturbed before that by fa- 
natics who talked only of religion and 
of judgment to come. The Puritan and 
the Roundhead had been men of this 
kind, and the Scottish Covenanters. 
Was it not possible that John Wesley 
was the emissary of a party or of 
some pretender, or even of the sinister 
Church of Rome? 

He lived such calumnies down. No 
mobs dogged his steps after men had 
once come to know him and perceived 
the real quality he was of. Indeed, 
from the very first men had surrendered 
their suspicions upon sight of him. 
It was impossible, it would seem, not 
to trust him when once you had looked 
into his calm gray eyes. He was so 

friendly, so simple, so open, so ready 

28 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

to meet your challenge with temperate 
and reasonable reply, that it was im- 
possible to deem him subtle, politic, 
covert, a man to preach one thing and 
plan another. There was something, 
too, in his speech and in the way he 
bore himself which discovered the heart 
of every man he dealt with. Men 
would raise their hands to strike him 
in the mob and, having caught the 
look in his still eye, bring them down 
to stroke his hair. Something issued 
forth from him which penetrated and 
subdued them some suggestion of pur- 
ity, some intimation of love, some sign 
of innocence and nobility some power 
at once of rebuke and attraction which 
he must have caught from his Master. 
And so there came a day Vhen prej- 
udice stood abashed before him, and 

men everywhere hailed his coming as 
29 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

the coming of a friend and pastor. 
He became not only the best known 
man in the kingdom that of course, 
because he went everywhere but also 
the best loved and the most wel- 
come. 

And yet the first judgment of him 
had not been wholly wrong. A sort 
of revolution followed him, after all. 
It was not merely that he came and 
went so constantly and moved every 
countryside with his preaching. Some- 
thing remained after he was gone: the 
touch of the statesman men had at 
first taken him to be. He was a min- 
ister of the Church of England. He 
loved her practices and had not will- 
ingly broken with them. It had been 
with the keenest reluctance that he 
consented to preach in the fields, out- 
side the sacred precincts of a church, 
30 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

"having been all my life," as he said, 
"so tenacious of every point relating 
to decency and order that I should 
have thought the saving of souls al- 
most a sin if it had not been done in 
a church." He never broke with the 
communion he loved. But his work in 
the wide parish of a whole kingdom 
could not be done alone, and not 
many men bred to the orders of the 
church could be found to assist him; 
he was forced by sheer drift of cir- 
cumstances to establish a sort of lay 
society, a sort of salvation army, to 
till the fields he had plowed. He was 
a born leader of men. The conferences 
he held with the friends he loved and 
trusted were councils of campaign, and 
did hold long plans in view, as his 
enemies suspected. They have a high 

and honorable place in the history of 
31 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

the statesmanship of salvation. It was 
a chief part of Wesley's singular power 
that everything he touched took shape 
as if with a sort of institutional life. 
He was not so great a preacher as 
Whitefield or so moving a poet as his 
brother Charles; men counseled him 
who were more expert and profound 
theologians than he and more subtle 
reasoners upon the processes of salva- 
tion. But in him all things seemed 
combined; no one power seemed more 
excellent than another, and every power 
expressed itself in action under the 
certain operation of his planning will. 
He almost unwittingly left a church 
behind him. 

It is this statesmanship in the 
man that gives him precedence in 
the annals of his day. Men's spirits 

were not dead; they are never dead; 
32 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

but they sometimes stand confused, 
daunted, or amazed as they did amidst 
the shifting scenes of the eighteenth 
century, and wait to be commanded. 
This man commanded them, and kept 
his command over them, not only by 
the way he held the eye of the whole 
nation in his incessant tireless jour- 
neys, his presence everywhere, his 
winning power of address, but also by 
setting up deputies, classes, societies, 
where he himself could not be, with 
their places of meeting, their organ- 
izations and efficient way of action. 
He was as practical and attentive to 
details as a master of industry, and 
as keen to keep hold of the business 
he had set afoot. It was a happy 
gibe that dubbed the men of his way 
Methodists. It was the method of his 

evangelization that gave it permanence 
33 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

and historical significance. He would 
in any case have been a notable figure, 
a moving force in the history of his 
age. His mere preaching, his striking 
personality, his mere presence every- 
where in the story of the time, his mere 
vagrancy and indomitable charm,would 
have drawn every historian to speak 
of him and make much of his pic- 
turesque part in the motley drama of 
the century; but as it is they have 
been constrained to put him among 
statesmen as well as in their catalogues 
of saints and missionaries. 

History is inexorable with men who 
isolate themselves. They are suffered 
oftentimes to find a place in literature, 
but never in the story of events or 
in any serious reckoning of cause and 
effect. They may be interesting, but 

they are not important. The mere 
34 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

revolutionist looks small enough when 
his day is passed; the mere agitator 
struts but a little while and without 
applause amidst the scenes and events 
which men remember. It is the men 
who make as well as destroy who 
really serve their race, and it is note- 
worthy how action predominated in 
Wesley from the first. The little 
coterie at Oxford, to which we look 
back as to the first associates in the 
movement which John Wesley dom- 
inated, were as fervent in their prayers, 
in their musings upon the Scripture, 
in their visits to the poor and outcast, 
before John Wesley joined them as 
afterward. Their zeal had its roots in 
the divine pity which must lie at the 
heart of every evangelistic movement 
pity for those to whom the gospel 

is not preached, whom no light of 
35 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

Christian guidance had reached, the 
men in the jails and in the purlieus 
of the towns whom the church does 
not seek or touch; but he gave them 
leadership and the spirit of achieve- 
ment. His genius for action touched 
everything he was associated with; 
every enterprise took from him an 
impulse of efficiency. 

Unquestionably this man altered and 
in his day governed the spiritual his- 
tory of England and the English- 
speaking race on both sides of the sea; 
and we ask what was ready at his 
hand, what did he bring into being 
of the things he seemed to create? 
The originative power of the indi- 
vidual in affairs must always remain 
a mystery, a theme more full of ques- 
tions than of answers. What would 

the eighteenth century in England have 
36 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

produced of spiritual betterment with- 
out John Wesley? What did he give 
it which it could not have got without 
him? These are questions which no 
man can answer. But one thing is 
plain: Wesley did not create life, he 
only summoned it to consciousness. 
The eighteenth century was not dead; 
it was not even asleep; it was only 
confused, unorganized, without author- 
itative leadership in matters of faith 
and doctrine, uncertain of its direc- 
tion. 

Wesley's own Journal affords us an 
authentic picture of the time, mixed, 
as always, of good and bad. He 
fared well or ill upon his journeys as 
England was itself made up. The 
self-government of England in that 
day was a thing uncentered and un- 
systematic in a degree it is nowadays 
37 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

difficult for us to imagine. The coun- 
try gentlemen, who were magistrates, 
ruled as they pleased in the country- 
sides, whether in matters of justice 
or administration, without dictation or 
suggestion from London; and yet ruled 
rather as representatives than as mas- 
ters. They were neighbors the year 
around to the people they ruled; their 
interests were not divorced from the 
interests of the rest. Local pride and 
a public spirit traditional amongst them 
held them generally to a just and up- 
right course. But the process of justice 
with them was a process of opinion as 
much as of law. It was an inquest 
of the neighborhood, and each neighbor- 
hood dealt with visitors and vagrants 
as it would. There was everywhere the 
free touch of individuality. The roads 

were not policed; the towns were not 

38 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

patrolled good men and bad had al- 
most equal leave to live as they 
pleased. If things went wrong the 
nearest magistrate must be looked up 
at his home or stopped in his carriage 
as he passed along the highway and 
asked to pass judgment as chief neigh- 
bor and arbiter of the place. And 
so Mr. Wesley dealt with individuals 
it was the English way. His safety 
lay in the love and admiration he won 
or in the sense of fair play to which 
his frank and open methods appealed; 
his peril, in the passions of the crowds 
or of the individuals who pressed 
about him full of hatred and evil 
thoughts. 

The noteworthy thing was how many 
good men he found along these high- 
ways where Tom Jones had traveled, 

how many were glad to listen to him 
39 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

and rejoiced at the message he brought, 
how many were just and thoughtful 
and compassionate, and waited for 
the gospel with an open heart. This 
man, as I have said, was no engaging 
orator, whom it would have been a 
pleasure to hear upon any theme. 
He spoke very searching words, 
sharper than any two-edged sword, 
cutting the conscience to the quick. 
It was no pastime to hear him. It 
was the more singular, therefore, the 
more significant, the more pitiful, how 
eagerly he was sought out, as if by 
men who knew their sore need and 
would fain hear some word of help, 
though it were a word also of stern 
rebuke and of fearful portent to those 
who went astray. The spiritual hun- 
ger of men was manifest, their need 

of the church, their instinct to be 
40 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

saved. The time was ready and cried 
out for a spiritual revival. 

The church was dead and Wesley 
awakened it; the poor were neglected 
and Wesley sought them out; the 
gospel was shrunken into formulas and 
Wesley flung it fresh upon the air 
once more in the speech of common 
men; the air was stagnant and fetid; 
he cleared and purified it by speaking 
always and everywhere the word of 
God; and men's spirits responded, 
leaped at the message, and were made 
wholesome as they comprehended it. 
It was a voice for which they had 
waited, though they knew it not. It 
would not have been heard had it 
come untimely. It was the voice of 
the century's longing heard in the 
mouth of this one man more per- 
fectly, more potently, than in the 
41 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

mouth of any other and this man a 
master of other men, a leader who 
left his hearers wiser than he found 
them in the practical means of salva- 
tion. 

And so everything that made for 
the regeneration of the times seemed 
to link itself with Methodism. The 
great impulse of humane feeling which 
marked the closing years of the cen- 
tury seemed in no small measure to 
spring from it: the reform of prisons, 
the agitation for the abolition of slav- 
ery, the establishment of missionary 
societies and Bible societies, the intro- 
duction into life, and even into law, 
of pity for the poor, compassion for 
those who must suffer. The noble 
philanthropies and reforms which 
brighten the annals of the nineteenth 

century had their spiritual birth in 

42 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

the eighteenth. Wesley had carried 
Christianity to the masses of the 
people, had renewed the mission of 
Christ himself, and all things began 
to take color from what he had done. 
Men to whom Methodism meant noth- 
ing, yet, in fact, followed this man 
to whom Methodism owed its estab- 
lishment. 

No doubt he played no small part 
in saving England from the madness 
which fell upon France ere the cen- 
tury ended. The English poor bore 
no such intolerable burdens as the 
poor of France had to endure. There 
was no such insensate preservation of 
old abuses in England as maddened 
the unhappy country across the Chan- 
nel. But society was in sharp transi- 
tion in England; one industrial age 

was giving place to another, and the 
43 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

poor particularly were sadly at a loss 
to find their places in the new. Work 
was hard to get, and the new work 
of pent-up towns was harder to under- 
stand and to do than the old familiar 
work in the field or in the village 
shops. There were sharper contrasts 
now than before between rich and 
poor, and the rich were no longer 
always settled neighbors in some coun- 
tryside, but often upstart merchants 
in the towns, innovating manufacturers 
who seemed bent upon making society 
over to suit their own interests. It 
might have gone hard with order and 
government in a nation so upset, 
transformed, distracted, had not the 
hopeful lessons of religion been taught 
broadcast and the people made to 
feel that once more pity and salva- 
tion had sought them out. 
44 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 
There is a deep fascination in this 
mystery of what one man may do 
to change the face of his age. John 
Wesley, we have had reason to say, 
planned no reform, premeditated no 
revivification of society; his was simply 
the work of an efficient conviction. 
How far he was himself a product of 
the century which he revived it were 
a futile piece of metaphysic to inquire. 
That even his convictions were born 
of his age may go without saying: 
they are born in us also by a study 
of his age, and no century listens to 
a voice out of another least of all 
out of a century yet to come. What 
is important for us is the method and 
cause of John Wesley's success. His 
method was as simple as the object 
he had in view. He wanted to get 

at men, and he went directly to them, 
45 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

not so much like a priest as like a 
fellow man standing in a like need 
with themselves. And the cause of 
his success? Genius, no doubt, and 
the gifts of a leader of men, but also 
something less singular, though per- 
haps not less individual a clear con- 
viction of revealed truth and of its 
power to save. Neither men nor 
society can be saved by opinions; 
nothing has power to prevail but the 
conviction which commands, not the 
mind merely, but the will and the 
whole spirit as well. It is this, and 
this only, that makes one spirit the 
master of others, and no man need 
fear to use his conviction in any age. 
It will not fail of its power. Its magic 
has no sorcery of words, no trick of 
personal magnetism. It concentrates 

personality as if into a single element 
46 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTORY 

of sheer force, and transforms con- 
duct into a life. 

John Wesley's place in history is 
the place of the evangelist who is 
also a master of affairs. The evan- 
gelization of the world will always 
be the road to fame and power, but 
only to those who take it seeking, 
not these things, but the kingdom of 
God; and if the evangelist be what 
John Wesley was, a man poised in 
spirit, deeply conversant with the na- 
tures of his fellow-men, studious of 
the truth, sober to think, prompt and 
yet not rash to act, apt to speak 
without excitement and yet with a 
keen power of conviction, he can do 
for another age what John Wesley 
did for the eighteenth century. His 
age was singular in its need, as he 
was singular in his gifts and power. 
47 



WESLEY'S PLACE IN HISTOKY 

The eighteenth century cried out for 
deliverance and light, and God had 
prepared this man to show again the 
might and the blessing of his salvation. 



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