Every season of spiritual reform encounters resistance.
Every culture-changing spiritual breakthrough is accompanied by resistance. It is naïve of us to imagine, or hope, it might not be so.
As the Christian message had ever increasing impact outside the acceptable confines of the local churches and into the culture of 18th Century England, the leaders and new converts had to deal with opposition.
We’ll come to the inspirational bravery of the converts who continued to live and trade in hostile contexts after the preachers had moved on to new towns in a later post.
For now we will continue with John Wesley’s description of his experience in Staffordshire in October 1743.
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Wesley continues to reason with an angry and violent mob
‘I began asking, “What evil have I done?”…and continued speaking for above a quarter of an hour, till my voice suddenly failed.
Then the floods began to lift up their voice again; many crying out, “Bring him away! Bring his away!”
‘In the mean time my strength returned and I broke out aloud into prayer.
A sudden change of heart after hearing Wesley pray
‘And now the man who just before headed the mob turned, and said, “Sir, I will spend my life for you! Follow me and not one soul here shall touch a hair of your head.”
‘Two or three of his fellows confirmed his words and got close to me immediately.
‘At the same time, the gentleman in the shop cried out, “For shame, for shame! Let him go!”
‘An honest butcher, who was a little further off…pulled back four or five, one after another, who were running on the most fiercely.
The Final escape
‘The people then, as if it had been by common consent, fell back to the right and the left, while those three or four men took me between them…
‘But on the bridge the mob rallied again. We therefore went on one side, over the mill-dam, and thence through the meadows; till…God brought me safe to Wednesbury; having lost only one flap of my waistcoat and a little skin from one of my hands.
A woman punches Wesley’s opponents
‘The poor woman of Darlaston, who had headed that mob, and sworn, that none should touch me, when she saw her followers give way, ran into the thickest of the throng and knocked down three or four men, one after another.
‘But she was soon overpowered and had probably been killed in a few minutes had not a man called to one of them, “Hold, Tom, hold!” So they held their hand and let her get up…’
Wesley recounts the injuries he had received whilst preaching
Wesley genuinely believed he was spared pain and danger, trusting, as he did, in the sovereignty of God.
He recalled his various injuries during his efforts to preach the gospel: ‘By how gentle degrees does God prepare us for his will! Two years ago a piece of brick grazed my shoulders.
‘It was a year after that the stone struck me between the eyes.
‘Last month I received one blow, and this evening two; one before we came into the town, and one after we were gone out; but both were as nothing:
‘For though one man struck me on the breast with all his might, and the other on the mouth with such a force that the blood gushed out immediately, I felt no more pain from either of the blows, than if they touched me with a straw.’
Back to the believers
Wesley found his way back to the four other leaders who had accompanied him through the ordeal, and back to the newly formed ‘society’ who had been praying.
William Sitch had been at Wesley’s side but was dragged away and beaten but afterwards he got up and found his way back to Wesley.
When asked what he thought would happen to them, Sitch replied, ‘To die for Him who had died for us!’
What became of the Two Justices of the Peace?
Following this outrageous violence, the two Justices, who had refused to face the crowd or see Wesley to protect him, wrote a letter to all the Police Constables and Peace Officers within Staffordshire.
It was a letter of warning, informing them of several ‘disorderly persons styling themselves Methodist Preachers’ who ‘go about raising routs and riots to the great damage’ of the people.
The police were instructed to search for these preachers, arrest them and bring them before Justices of the Peace throughout the county!
(All quotes from John Wesley Journal, Vol 1, p.439-441, Baker Edition)
More next time…
© 2010 Lex Loizides