How the Methodist Movement Prevented a British Revolution

Submitted by Lucy Anne on Thu, 06/26/2014 - 17:36 case you're 10-page research paper. This is pretty much the final except I didn't put in the sources. When I do, I'll probably put it in. And yes, probably this essay is dull. But if anyone would give their thoughts, I would be elated. Really happy. {I would squeal with joy.} :) - Megan


From 1848 to 1849, a series of revolutions swept across France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the Austrian Empire. Discontentment toward poor governance and economic recession were the main cause of the revolutions. Urban workers, many unskilled, toiled for over twelve to fifteen hours each day, all the while living in disease-ridden conditions. The failed harvest doubled food prices, and they had no choice but to spend half their wages on food. On the other hand, in rural areas, famine forced people to immigrate. Both the middle lower classes desired for reform. Their approaches differed though, and the lower class’ methods often steered toward violence and revolts. Only five major European countries did not, intriguingly enough, erupt into revolution. These countries were Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the Russian Empire (including Poland and Finland), the Ottoman Empire, and Great Britain. Thus, I am convinced that John Wesley and the Methodist Movement saved Great Britain from a potentially bloody revolution.

John Wesley and his Methodists committed themselves to serving the poor, starting a spiritual and social revival. Fundraising for the unfortunate through sermons, the press, and other means, they worked hard to clothe and feed prisoners and bought food, medicine, fuel, tools for the helpless and the aged. The earliest and most practiced aid for the poor was through weekly class meeting. Members would use the collected contributions and distribute them into money, food, clothing, fuel, or medicine. During times of severe winter weather, or other circumstances, Wesley himself would plead for funds. The amounts collected each time often reached more than one hundred pounds. In contrast, Wesley met his own needs with twenty-eight pounds each year. During much of his free time, he went into London to work with the poor, endlessly giving medical assistance wherever needed. To the hearts and minds of his followers, Wesley greatly and repeatedly emphasized the urgent need to provide for the poor. He wrote, “What shall I do? Why, are not those at the door whom God hath appointed to receive what thou canst spare?...Why disperse abroad, and give to the poor. Feed the hungry.” He taught the character of true stewardship – which meant for him, “giving to the poor—period.” He even wrote this powerful and challenging statement, “We give to God not by giving it to the church, but by giving it to the poor.”

In 1746, Wesley introduced London and Bristol an additional assistance: medical aid to the poor. During that time, knowledge about health was inadequate, nutrition was poor, and living spaces were cramped. At Oxford, he studied basic medicine and first aid. In fact, he established the first free medical dispensary for the poor, a rheumatism clinic in London, and with his book, Primitive Physic, offered solutions for proper nourishment and hygiene and treating illnesses. He opened low – and even free expense clinics. He recorded how many came for physic-- first, thirty people. Then three weeks later, about three hundred people came—with numbers still increasing a few years later. He noted, “Though the blessing of God, many of them who had been ill for months or years were restored to perfect health.”

In addition, Wesley and his followers devoted themselves to organize societies for the unemployed. In a period that discriminated the poor and viewed poverty as an indicator of the worth of the individual, Wesley preached God’s love for all mankind and necessitated unrestricted love for one’s neighbor. Supporting fair prices, respectable wage, healthy employment, Wesley created three measures that realistically encouraged the poor that realistically encouraged the poor in their seemingly undefeatable poverty. The first was a loan fund, the second, a system for finding employment, and third, a lending stock which enabled the poor to acquire the necessities to open small businesses. To find employment for the poor, Wesley arranged projects for them. The first was done in a London meetinghouse where during the winter twelve people processed cotton and later, women knitted. Wesley put in his own words the mechanisms of his lending stock: “lending only twenty shillings at once, which is repaid weekly within three months…thirty pounds sixteen shillings were then collected; and of this, no less than two hundred and fifty-five persons have been relieved in eighteen months.” Within one year, more than two hundred fifty persons benefited from the loan fund. Wesley received no profit from the financial dealings. But of all these three measures for the unemployed, it is said that Wesley’s most important contribution was not in these projects, but in his contribution in education.

From the very beginning, Wesley and his followers educated the children of poor families. Through his efforts, some of the poor got out of poverty, creating England’s middle class. While preaching in Georgia, Wesley attended to the education of the children in his congregation. He returned to England in 1739 and undertook building the first school for the Kingswood miners near Bristol. His endeavor prompted other schools for the poor to be built in Bristol, London, Newcaster upon Tyne, and various places. Here Methodist teachers and preachers endeavored to provide not only elementary knowledge, but also the basic Christian truths of a life that honored God. The parents unable to pay for the cost of the schooling were exempt. Furthermore, the school gave the needy children clothes and meals. Marquardt writes, “The historically most influential aspect of the Methodist schools, however, was not in the…secular and religious content, but rather in the depth of the sense of duty that Wesley instilled in his congregation members for the children’s education and training.”

Regularly checking the schools he had founded, Wesley talked with the children, taught hours himself, wrote the curriculum, outlined instructional plans, counseled parents on child-reading, enlisted teachers, and regularly assisted with various conflicts. However his education ministry was not limited to children. Wesley also devoted himself to providing inexpensive literature for schools and especially for reading in his cell groups. By reading the Bible and learning hymns, the poor learned to read. “Because literacy was the admission ticket to the middle class, Methodism provided the means for the upward mobility of hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken people.”

But Wesley did not only focus on educational instruction. He also taught how to live holy lives for God. In a number of his sermons and his teachings, he taught the stewardship of money. He offered the poor a new view on money and wealth. In the Methodist meetings—where the converts gathered together in cell groups, praying and confessing with each other, he taught three standards for using money. The first was “Do all the good you can”. Wesley urged Methodists to gain wealth through honest wisdom and unwearied diligence. “Put your whole strength into the work. Spare no pains,” Wesley exhorted. He encouraged his church members to refrain from having an occupation harmful to themselves or their neighbors. What were some of these occupations? Work involving dangerous chemicals, located in unhealthy environments, enforcing lying or cheating, or distilling liquor. As a result, Wesley’s rule, “Do all the good you can,” led poor out of abject poverty. Wesley described it as “The sluggard beginning to work with his hands, that he might eat his own bread.”

His second rule was “save all you can”. In his own words, “by refusing to gratify the desires of the flesh, despising delicacy and variety and be content with what plain nature requires, refusing expensive or superfluous clothing, and finally, not buying things to envy or gain praise of others.” In his sermon, “On Dress”, he said, “The more you lay out on your own apparel, the less you have left to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to lodge the strangers, to relieve those that are sick and in prison, and to lessen the numberless afflictions to which we are exposed in this vale of tears….every shilling which you save from your own apparel you may expend in clothing the naked, and relieving the various necessities of the poor, whom ye “have always with you.” Therefore, every shilling which you needlessly spend on your apparel is, in effect, stolen from God and the poor!”

“Give all you can” was Wesley’s third rule. While he pointed out that all money comes from God, he also believed that we are not the owners, but only the trustees of God’s money. “In the hands of [God’s] children, [money] is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of a husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless.” He preached that God wanted believers to ensure that they and their families have adequate food, housing, clothing, tools and savings so they would be able accomplish the work God appointed for them. Wesley exhorted to give any money beyond necessities, rebuking against the tendency of wealthy women to “devise new fashions to feed thy pride with, to spend so much upon thy [clothing]”.

As a result of Wesley’s teachings, those who repented shunned drinking, violence, and immorality. Renouncing these three actions greatly changed their lives. “Believers stayed sober and quit doing the crazy and dangerous things intoxicated people do. They stopped fighting and thus avoided the injuries and feuds that destroy productivity. They abandoned promiscuity and started valuing their families and raising their children. As a result, the economic lives of the Methodists were greatly improved.” An estimated one million people in Britain and North America in the Eighteenth century became followers of Jesus Christ through the Methodist movement. Through the process of growth, they not only changed spiritually, but also economically as they passed from poverty to middle-class life.

However, the results of the Methodist Movement did not stop there. Not only did it influence the poor, it also paved the path for increasingly influential people who continued improving society during Wesley’s life and even after his death. Wesley strongly campaigned against bribery and corruption at Election times. Likewise, John Wesley influenced many of the major abolitionists in the fight against slavery in Eighteenth Century Britain and America. Thirteen years before the Abolition Committee was formed, he published his "Thoughts upon Slavery", a graphic, vehement, and penetrating treatise denouncing “this vicious horrid trade" as a national disgrace. In his book, he wrote, “Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle towards men. And see that you invariably do unto every one, as you would he should do unto you.” John Newton, captain of a slave ship, who wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace converted from his wild ways in his youth to becoming a Christian, came to realize the crime of slavery primarily when he read John Wesley’s book.

Wesley’s attack on slavery continued until the end of his life. He penned his last letter of encouragement to persevere amidst immense difficulties to William, an evangelical Anglican abolitionist in Parliament, and best friend to the Prime Minister of England William Pitt. As a child living with his aunt and uncle for two years, he was exposed to much of the Methodist preaching from John Newton. Wesley’s later fruit was the conversion of Wilberforce. Along with Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce worked together to abolish slavery in the British colonies. It took more than twenty years, but three days before Wilberforce’s death, the bill for the abolition of slavery in England was passed.

Yet these two men were not just involved in fighting against slavery. They also formed a group called the “Clapham Sect”, because they lived around Clapham Common, South East of London. Comprised of a group of Evangelical Christian men and women including businessmen, bankers, politicians, colonial governors, members of Parliament, and such, they organized many things to help the poor. Members of the sect included Hannah More, playwright and educator, Thomas Gisbourne, clergyman and author, Charles Grant, business administrator, Sir William Smith, parliamentarian, James Stephan, master of Chancery, Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India , Henry Thornton, banker, and of course, the one who founded the Clapham Sect – William Wilberforce, Parliamentarian. Some joined because of evangelical zeal, others because of friendship with Wilberforce and others, and others to abolish the cruelty of slavery. But all its members shared “common political views concerning the liberation of slaves, the abolition of the slave trade and the reform of the penal system”.

They worked to ban bull fighting and bear baiting, to suspend the lottery, and to improve prisons. Their support for factory workers improved working conditions. They founded a home for refugee slaves named Sierra Leone. One of their members became the first governor, driving himself beyond exhaustion for the good of the colony. It was the Clapham sect which funded Hannah More's schools. Additionally, they had a big part in the “formation of church, Bible, tract and mission societies.” They held soup kitchens, provided for the schools of their day, reform prisons, and devoted themselves for giving aid to the poor. Against the opposition of the East India Company, this band fought to allow missionaries like William Carey and Jonathan Edwards into India. But their primary cause was the abolition of the slave trade. Their endless, sacrificial labors benefitted millions, and it was party because of the influence of John Wesley to William Wilberforce.

Outside of the Clapham sect, even more people reformed the social conditions of England. In 1769, Hannah Bell established the first Sunday School; a place where they welcomed all children to learn reading, writing, catechism, and in some Sunday schools, arithmetic. But the first Methodist Sunday school that was without a doubt belonging to the realm of Methodism’s impact began in 1780 by Wesley, with the help of the clergyman Thomas Stocks, and Robert Raikes, owner and publisher of the Gloucester Journal. He founded in his city a Sunday school for children of poor families, “and saw to it that this undertaking was quickly publicized." By 1785, “The London Society for the Establishment of Sunday Schools” was founded, so the following year, twenty thousand English children could receive regular instruction in Sunday schools. Wesley saw these undertakings as another method to helping the needy. In 1775, Wesley published in his periodical, the Armenian Magazine a report from Robert Raikes about the “Sunday Charity Schools”. The ranges of social work of the Methodists did not stop there. It also ranged in prison reform, paving the way for Elizabeth Fry and John Howard.

John Howard had been taken prisoner on a trip to Portugal on the Hanover, which was captured by French privateers. For six days, he was imprisoned in Brest before being transferred to another prison. Many believe that this personal experience inspired Howard’s interest in prisons. Later in his life, in 1773, he was appointed High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. When he inspected the county prison, he was horrified with its conditions. He took the problem to Parliament, and they assigned him to give evidence on the conditions of prisons. All across England, Scotland, Wales, and Europe, he traveled, visiting over several hundred prisons. In the end, he published his book “The State of the Prisons” in 1777. It included detailed accounts on the conditions of the prisons he observed, and instructions on how to improve them. When his sister died, leaving him a high sum, he used the inheritance to further his work on prisoners.

By 1784, Howard travelled over forty-two thousand miles visiting prisons.
“He drew spiritual strength from Wesley and statues of both men can be seen together in London's St Paul's Cathedral. Howard once told a group of Wesley's preachers about the challenge and lasting inspiration he had derived from a sermon by Wesley on the text, "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Likewise, Wesley, who was also involved to the highest degree in prison ministry, admired Howard. After having an extended conversation with him in 1787, he declared that John Howard was surely "one of the greatest men in Europe."

As a closing note, the Methodist Movement first began as a popular movement in 1738—approximately one hundred years before the series of revolutions in the many places of Europe. Because of the Wesley’s aid to the poor, thousands of people repented of their sinfulness and began to live holy lives, spreading a spiritual and social revival. It touched and changed approximately one million lives. Wesley and his followers sacrificed their own interests and their time in extreme dedication in aiding the poor. By providing medical aid, they advanced the technology of the Eighteenth Century as they established the first pharmacy. Straying from idleness, they actively offered solutions for the unemployed. They educated the poor, and brought them up to England’s middle class. They taught the poor how to be good stewards of their money that really belonged to God. The work of Wesley paved the path for many—a great number who continued on serving and improving society. Abolishing the slave trade, educating the poor, and reforming prisons were the wonderful results of their work.

So how was it that one hundred years later all but England and four other countries broke out into revolutions? At first it began with the American Revolution, then the France, and later all the other European countries erupted; all except England and four other countries. Indeed, it is intriguing how England did not erupt. I am greatly convinced to believe that the work of the Methodist movement—its effort, its influence, and its fruit saved England from a bloody revolution. Through tremendous sacrifice to actively obeying the calling of Jesus Christ to care for the poor, not only did the Methodist Movement transform the people of England, it also--one hundred years later, transformed its future.

Author's age when written


This is good! Reads like a biography, even though you are presenting a persuasive argument. Research papers can be annoying to write since we're not allowed to add in any personal touches, but you handled it very well. Wesley was an incredible figure in the church, and you caught me up on some history that I've been wanting to look into lately. And it's not dull! You made it interesting in the good presentation of the facts. : )

This wasn't dull at all! I didn't have time to read it in a lot of detail, but I did notice in the first paragraph, you jumped from listing countries that avoided the revolutions to concluding that the Methodist movement prevented revolutions in England. That's a jump and I feel it needs a connecting sentence.

I agree. I'm going to edit this again, since I was going over this with my dad today and that was one of the things he pointed out.

Thanks for commenting you two!!

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson