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pastor of the village, and united with the Episcopal principles which he had adopted much of the Puritan zeal in which he had been educated. His wife was of the same mind and religious lineage. She had so far departed from the usual etiquette of the Establishment as to conduct religious conferences in her parlour during her husband's absence, much to the horror of Mr. Inman, the starched-up curate. Such had been the good pastor's opposition to prevalent vices, that in 1709, when his house was burned to the ground, and his son John, then six years old, was saved from the flames almost by a miracle, the incendiaries were supposed to be persons who had been goaded to revenge by the closeness of the preaching.
At the time selected for the commencement of our sketch, the family appears to have consisted of eight members, the parents and six children. The eldest son, Samuel, a High-Churchman in orders, aged twenty-three, was a graduate of Oxford, and then connected with the charge of Westminster school. The second son, John, had been absent about a year at the Charter-House school, London, and was twelve years old. The youngest surviving son, Charles, aged seven, was at home, preparing to go to Westminster under the protection of his eldest brother. Of the three sisters, although interesting and gifted persons, we cannot speak.
The people of England little thought that from the family of this humble minister of Epworth the greatest religious movement of the age was to originate. If, at the time spoken of, any remarkable attention was directed towards Epworth parsonage, it was not on account of any anticipation of the renown of the family, but from the strange sounds and shocks which towards the end of the year began to alarm the household, and which have never been satisfactorily accounted for. They were believed to be supernatural ; but soon the servants gave up their fright, and from the frequency of his visitations learned to joke about the ghost, whom they called “Old Jeffrey."
If the career of the sons had been matter of interest sufficient to engage attention, it would have seemed no very difficult matter to predict their destiny. The eldest had already found his sphere, and the younger sons, John and Charles, intended, as they were, for that stronghold of priestly conservatism, Oxford, might have been expected to walk in the same path as their brother, - passing their lives in some quiet academic office, or comfortable parsonage. A measure of distinction might perhaps have been anticipated from talents such as theirs, but not the distinction of great innovators or reformers. If of the two younger boys peculiar hope was entertained at home, it was probably of the elder of them, John, rather than of the more restless Charles. John had been saved from fire as by especial providence, and on earth, as among the angels, there is joy over the lost lamb that is found. Mothers are sometimes very shrewd as well as affectionate, and from passages in Mrs. Wesley's papers we infer that she had made him the object of peculiar mention in her prayers, speaking before God is of the soul of this child, whom thou hast so mercifully provided for.” How her prayers were granted we shall soon see.
Leave Epworth in the year 1715. Return to it twentyseven years afterwards. The first week in June, 1742, a traveller covered with dust entered the town, and, “not knowing whether there were any left in it now who would not be ashamed of his acquaintance,” went to an inn in the middle of the place. Every feature of the village is familiar to him, yet he is among strangers. Only an old servant of his father, and two or three poor women, recognize him, for he had been absent many years. Yet his name needed only to be mentioned to set the people in commotion. It was John Wesley, son of the former and now deceased minister of the village. It was the famous man who had for about three years been putting vast assemblies into a blaze of enthusiasm by his itinerant preaching. Himself a minister of the Church of England, he called on the curate of the parish, Mr. Romley, and offered to assist him either by preaching or reading prayers. Romley was one of those strong Churchmen of the period, whose respect for orthodoxy in its old routine was only equalled by their relish for a good dinner with abundant potations. The curate's wine-bibbing propensity Mr. Southey is willing to affirm. Romley rejected the traveller's offer with scorn. In the afternoon, although the people crowded to church to hear their old minister's son, the curate conducted the services himself, and preached against religious enthusiasm, in that peculiar style of eloquence which is most congenial with the after-dinner hours of men of his stamp. After sermon, John Taylor, a companion of Wesley, stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, that “ Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o'clock.”
“ Accordingly,” says our traveller in his Journal, “at six I came, and found such a congregation as Epworth never saw before. I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father's tomb-stone, and cried, “The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” ” During the week, and on the next Sunday, he preached from that singular pulpit, which he undoubtedly selected from true filial feeling, however well fitted for dramatic effect. Southey well compares him to the Greek tragedian, who, when he performed Electra, brought into the theatre the urn containing the ashes of his own child.
Who can wonder at the effect of such an appeal ? “ Lamentation,” he says, “and great groanings were heard, God bowing down their hearts, so as with one accord they lifted up their voices and wept aloud.” Some dropped down as if dead, and others, having passed through the crisis, broke out into thanksgiving.
We feel, of course, interested in knowing what impression the preacher left upon the intelligent portion of his hearers. A gentleman present, of a somewhat skeptical turn of mind, Mr. Whitelamb, a clergyman of the English Church, thus describes the scene in a letter to Wesley himself, whose brother-in-law he was :
“Dear brother, I saw you at Epworth on Tuesday evening. Fain would I have spoken to you, but that I am quite at a loss how to address you or behave. Your
way of thinking is so extraordinary that your presence creates an awe, as if you were an inhabitant of another world. God grant that you and your followers may have entire liberty of conscience : will you not allow others the same ? I cannot refrain from tears when I think that this is the man who at Oxford was more than a father to me! This is he whom I have heard expound and dispute publicly or preach at St. Mary's with such applause!”
John Wesley is now fully before us. We are in a good condition to judge of his character and history, aided by so many advisers. To say nothing of the obsolete works of Colet and Hampson, we have before us biographies by Henry Moore, who sides with the regular Methodist organization, Whitehead, * who is rather severe upon the Wesleyan hierarchy, Southey, who looks through the spectacles of the English Church, and Watson, who appears to aim at a medium which shall unite brevity with comprehensiveness, and honor Methodism with least disparagement to other parties. The notes of Coleridge are of essential service in modifying the one-sidedness of Southey, and doing justice to the enthusiasm which the High-Churchman could little appreciate. Using these aids, let us now look upon Wesley as presented to us at this interesting period of his life. He is now in the meridian of his years, although little beyond the entrance of his famous career. In him, the fervid field-preacher, and in Mr. Romley, the tippling, easy curate, who declared him unfit to receive Christian communion, we see specimens of the two extremes of the Christianity of the times. We ask, What were the causes of Wesley's singular course ? How came he by his peculiar views and marvellous power ?
* The work of Whitehead came near dying out, we might infer, from the statement of the American editor, that he knew of only two copies, – his own and one other. There is one in the library of Brown University, however. From catalogues of foreign collections, we judge the work to be no great rarity in England.
The son of the Epworth minister, after completing his preparatory studies at the Charter-House, at sixteen went to Oxford. In six years he received deacon's orders, at the age of twenty-two. He now added to the former Christian sobriety of his life a careful and systematic attention to sacred studies and devout meditations. His favorite books were Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Dying, Thomas à Kempis's Imitation of Christ, and Law's Serious Call. He divided his hours by a most rigid method, and soon made himself obnoxious by his excessive strictness. From the time that he found companions in his ascetic course, Methodism dates its nominal rise. This was in the year 1729, his twenty-sixth year, when he, with his brother Charles and two others, united at Oxford in a society for mutual edification and Christian action. They lived, studied, visited, preached, and gave alms by a rigid rule or method. Hence the name Methodists, although it was not until years afterwards that the denomination with its distinctive principles arose. Before he appears as the founder of a great religious order, the ascetic priest of Oxford must pass through a second and third crisis. He must spend three years in absence from his country, and on his return meet with the change which he regarded as his conversion.
Omen of events afterwards to transpire, he turned his face 1847.]
Connection with Moravians.
towards our Western hemisphere. At the age of thirty-two he sailed for Georgia as an Episcopal missionary, and high hopes were entertained of his labors in that new settlement. Those hopes were miserably disappointed, for he made as complete a failure as any green divinity student could possibly do, by sheer folly. Devoted and conscientious as he was, he so overstepped the due bounds in his requirements, and held on so stoutly to every letter of his ascetic code, that he provoked the worldly, and sometimes scandalized the really religious. Among other foolish entanglements, he got into a vexing controversy with the friends of Mrs. Williamson, to whom before her marriage he had been thought engaged. He made himself the town-talk, by his pertinacity in refusing her the communion. His success was pretty much the same as would attend one of the Oxford Tractarians, who should leave his academic halls and venerable cloisters for a mission to some new settlement in Missouri or lowa, and attempt to bring the motley population of the place into conformity to his numberless fasts and saints' days. Wesley, indeed, came very near anticipating Puseyism by a century. In many things he reminds us of Newman and his party. * His experience at Savannah probably did much to cure him of his formalism, and after a three years'absence he returned to England, a wiser but no less devoted man.
Now the great crisis, as he deemed it to be, came. During his passage to America, and his residence there, he had become acquainted with many Moravians, spent much time in their company, and been much impressed with the deep and serene faith which they exhibited alike in their words and deeds, a faith that seemed to give them a strange peace in their daily lives, and to lift them above fear in the most terrific dangers. No melody ever moved him like the hymn chanted by them during the storm at sea.
He was led to think much of their favorite doctrine of the witness of the spirit, or of that interior assurance which convinces the Christian that he is forgiven and accepted, and which of course substitutes peaceful reliance for anxious waiting. He was to be indebted for a still more decided influence to these good Moravians. A few months after his return to England he fell in with Peter Boehler, and had earnest
* It is worthy of note, that Rev. Charles Wesley, grandson of the noted Charles, is now chaplain to the queen, and one of the prominent friends of the Oxford school.