Champions of The Faith

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John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, the fifteenth child of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna Wesley. His father was a graduate of the University of Oxford and a Church of England rector, in 1689 Samuel had married Susanna, twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister. Wesley’s parents had both become members of the established Church of England early in adulthood. Susanna bore Samuel Wesley nineteen children, but only ten lived. In 1696 Wesley’s father was appointed the rector of Epworth.

At the age of five, Wesley was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a “brand plucked from the burning” quoting Zechariah 3:2. As in many families at the time, Wesley’s parents gave their children their early education. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk and talk. In 1714, at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London (under the mastership of John King from 1715), where he lived the studious, methodical and, for a while religious life, in which he had been trained at home.

Oxford and Savannah, Georgia

In June 1720, Wesley entered Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1725 and elected fellow of Lincoln College in the following year. He received his Master of Arts in 1727. He was his father’s curate for two years, and then returned to Oxford to fulfil his functions as a fellow.

In the year of his ordination he read Thomas a Kempis and Jeremy Taylor, and began to seek the religious truths which underlay the great revival of the 18th century. The reading of Law’s Christian Perfection and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life gave him, he said, a sublimer view of the law of God; and he resolved to keep it, inwardly and outwardly, as sacredly as possible, believing that in obedience he would find salvation. He pursued a rigidly methodical and abstemious life, studied the Scriptures, and performed his religious duties diligently, depriving himself so that he would have alms to give. He began to seek after holiness of heart and life.

The year of his return to Oxford (1729) marks the beginning of the rise of Methodism. The Holy Club was formed by John’s younger brother, Charles Wesley, and some fellow students, including George Whitefield. The holy club met weekly and they systematically set about living a holy life. They were branded as “Methodist” by students at Oxford who derided the methodical way they ordered their lives.

On 14 October 1735, Wesley and his brother Charles sailed on The Simmonds from Gravesend, Kent for Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American colonies at the request of James Oglethorpe, who had founded the colony in 1733 on behalf of the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. Oglethorpe wanted Wesley to be the minister of the newly formed Savannah parish, a new town laid out in accordance with the famous Oglethorpe Plan.

It was on the voyage to the colonies that the Wesleys first came into contact with Moravian settlers. Wesley was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality rooted in pietism. At one point in the voyage a storm came up and broke the mast off the ship. While the English panicked, the Moravians calmly sang hymns and prayed. This experience led Wesley to believe that the Moravians possessed an inner strength which he lacked. The deeply personal religion that the Moravian pietists practised heavily influenced Wesley’s theology of Methodism.

They reached Savannah on 8 February 1736, where Wesley saw Oglethorpe’s offer as an opportunity to spread Christianity to the Native Americans in the colony. Wesley’s mission, however, was unsuccessful, and he and his brother Charles were constantly beset by troubles in the colonies.

On top of his struggles with teaching, Wesley found disaster in his relations with Sophia Hopkey, a woman who had journeyed across the Atlantic on the same ship as Wesley. Wesley and Hopkey became romantically involved, but Wesley abruptly broke off the relationship on the advice of a Moravian minister in whom he confided. Hopkey contended that Wesley had promised to marry her and therefore had gone back on his word in breaking off the relationship. Wesley’s problems came to a head when he refused Hopkey communion. She and her new husband, William Williamson, filed suit against Wesley. Wesley stood trial and faced the accusations made by Hopkey. The proceedings ended in a mistrial, but Wesley’s reputation had already been tarnished too greatly and he made it known that he intended to return to England. Williamson again tried to raise charges against Wesley to prevent him from leaving the colony, but he managed to escape back to England. He was left exhausted by the whole experience. His mission to Georgia contributed to a lifelong struggle with self-doubt.

Conversion & Open-air Preaching

Wesley returned to England depressed and beaten. It was at this point that he turned to the Moravians. Both he and Charles received counsel from the young Moravian missionary Peter Boehler, who was temporarily in England awaiting permission to depart for Georgia himself. John’s famous “Aldersgate experience” of 24 May 1738, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, in which he heard a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and penned the now famous lines “I felt my heart strangely warmed”, revolutionised the character and method of his ministry. The previous week he had been highly impressed by the sermon of Dr. John Heylyn, whom he was assisting in the service at St Mary-le-Strand, an occasion followed immediately by news of the death of his brother Samuel. A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.”

Though his understanding of both justification and the assurance varied throughout his life, Wesley never stopped preaching the importance of faith for salvation and the witness of God’s Spirit with the belief that one was, indeed, a child of God.

Wesley allied himself with the Moravian society in Fetter Lane. In 1738 he went to Herrnhut, the Moravian headquarters in Germany, to study. On his return to England, Wesley drew up rules for the “bands” into which the Fetter Lane Society was divided and published a collection of hymns for them. He met frequently with this and other religious societies in London but did not preach often in 1738, because most of the parish churches were closed to him.

Wesley’s Oxford friend, the evangelist George Whitefield, was also excluded from the churches of Bristol upon his return from America. Going to the neighbouring village of Kingswood, in February 1739, Whitefield preached in the open air to a company of miners. Later he preached in Whitefield’s Tabernacle. Wesley hesitated to accept Whitefield’s call to copy this bold step. Overcoming his scruples, he preached the first time at Whitefield’s invitation sermon in the open air, near Bristol, in April 1739.

Wesley was unhappy about the idea of field preaching as he believed the Anglican Church had much to offer in its practice. Earlier in his life he would have thought that such a method of saving souls was “almost a sin.”[11] Wesley recognised the open-air services were successful in reaching men and women who would not enter most churches. From then on he took the opportunities to preach wherever an assembly could be brought together, more than once using his father’s tombstone at

Epworth as a pulpit. Wesley continued for fifty years – entering churches when he was invited, and taking his stand in the fields, in halls, cottages, and chapels, when the churches would not receive him.

Late in 1739 Wesley broke with the Moravians in London. Wesley had helped them organise the Fetter Lane Society, and those converted by his preaching and that of his brother and Whitefield had become members of their bands. But he believed they fell into heresy by supporting quietism, so he decided to form his own followers into a separate society. “Thus,” he wrote, “without any previous plan, began the Methodist Society in England.” He soon formed similar societies in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his friends made converts.

From 1739 onward, Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by clergy and magistrates for various reasons. Though Wesley had been ordained an Anglican priest, many other Methodist leaders had not received ordination. And for his own part, Wesley flouted many regulations of the Church of England concerning parish boundaries and who had authority to preach. This was seen as a social threat that disregarded institutions. Clergy attacked them in sermons and in print, and at times mobs attacked them. Wesley and his followers continued to work among the neglected and needy. They were denounced as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances; as blind fanatics, leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, attacking the clergy of the Church of England, and trying to re-establish Catholicism.

Wesley felt that the church failed to call sinners to repentance, that many of the clergy were corrupt, and that people were perishing in their sins. He believed he was commissioned by God to bring about revival in the church, and no opposition, persecution, or obstacles could prevail against the divine urgency and authority of this commission. The prejudices of his high-church training, his strict notions of the methods and proprieties of public worship, his views of the apostolic succession and the prerogatives of the priest, even his most cherished convictions, were not allowed to stand in the way. Unwilling that people should perish in their sins and unable to reach them from church pulpits, following the example set by George Whitefield, Wesley began field preaching. Seeing that he and the few clergy co-operating with him could not do the work that needed to be done, he was led, as early as 1739, to approve local preachers. He evaluated and approved men who were not ordained by the Anglican Church to preach and do pastoral work. This expansion of lay preachers was one of the keys of the growth of Methodism.

As his societies needed houses to worship in, Wesley began to provide chapels, first in Bristol at the New Room, then in London and elsewhere. The Bristol chapel (1739) was at first in the hands of trustees. A large debt was contracted, and Wesley’s friends urged him to keep it under his own control, so the deed was cancelled and he became sole trustee. Following this precedent, all Methodist chapels were committed in trust to him until by a “deed of declaration”, all his interests in them were transferred to a body of preachers called the “Legal Hundred”.

When disorder arose among some members of the societies, Wesley adopted giving tickets to members, with their names written by his own hand. These were renewed every three months. Those deemed unworthy did not receive new tickets and dropped out of the society without disturbance. The tickets were regarded as commendatory letters. When the debt on a chapel became a burden, it was proposed that one in twelve members should collect offerings regularly from the eleven allotted to him. Out of this grew the Methodist class-meeting system in 1742. In order to keep the disorderly out of the societies, Wesley established a probationary system. He undertook to visit each society regularly in what became the quarterly visitation, or conference. As the number of societies increased, Wesley could not keep personal contact, so in 1743 he drew up a set of “General Rules” for the “United Societies”. These were the nucleus of the Methodist Discipline, still the basis.

General Rules: It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind . . . ; Second: By . . . doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all . . . ; Third: By attending upon all the ordinances of God

As the number of preachers and preaching-places increased, doctrinal and administrative matters needed to be discussed; so John and Charles Wesley, along with four other clergy and four lay preachers, met for consultation in London in 1744. This was the first Methodist conference; subsequently, the conference (with Wesley as its president) became the ruling body of the Methodist movement. Two years later, to help preachers work more systematically and societies receive services more regularly, Wesley appointed “helpers” to definitive circuits. Each circuit included at least thirty appointments a month. Believing that the preacher’s efficiency was promoted by his being changed from one circuit to another every year or two, Wesley established the “itinerancy” and insisted that his preachers submit to its rules. When, in 1788, some objected to the frequent changes, Wesley wrote, “For fifty years God has been pleased to bless the itinerant plan, the last year most of all. It must not be altered til I am removed, and I hope it will remain til our Lord comes to reign on earth.”

Ordination of ministers

As the societies multiplied, they adopted the elements of an ecclesiastical system. The divide between Wesley and the Church of England widened. The question of division from the Church of England was urged by some of his preachers and societies, but most strenuously opposed by his brother Charles. Wesley refused to leave the Church of England, believing that Anglicanism was “with all her blemishes, nearer the Scriptural plans than any other in Europe”. In 1745 Wesley wrote that he would make any concession which his conscience permitted, in order to live in peace with the clergy. He could not give up the doctrine of an inward and present salvation by faith itself. He would not stop preaching, nor dissolve the societies, nor end preaching by lay members. As a cleric of the established church he had no plans to go further. “We dare not”, he said, “administer baptism or the Lord’s Supper without a commission from a bishop in the apostolic succession.”

When in 1746 Wesley read Lord King on the primitive church, he became convinced that the concept of apostolic succession in Anglicanism was a “fable”. He wrote that he was “a scriptural episkopos as much as many men in England.”

Many years later Edward Stillingfleet’s Irenicon led him to decide that ordination could be valid when performed by a presbyter rather than a bishop. Nevertheless, many believe that Wesley was consecrated a bishop in 1763 by Erasmus of Arcadia, and that Wesley could not openly announce his episcopal consecration without incurring the penalty of the Præmunire Act.

In 1784, he believed he could not longer wait for the Bishop of London to ordain someone for the American Methodists, who were without the sacraments after the American War of Independence. The Church of England had been disestablished in the United States, where it had been the state church in most of the southern colonies. The Church of England had not yet appointed a United States bishop to what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. Wesley ordained Thomas Coke by the laying on of hands although Coke was already a priest in the Church of England. Wesley appointed him to be superintendent of Methodists in the United States. He also ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as presbyters. Whatcoat and Vasey sailed to America with Coke. Wesley intended that Coke and Asbury (whom Coke ordained) should ordain others in the newly founded Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.

His brother Charles grew alarmed and begged Wesley to stop before he had “quite broken down the bridge” and not embitter his [Charles’] last moments on earth, nor “leave an indelible blot on our memory.”[citation needed] Wesley replied that he had not separated from the church, nor did he intend to, but he must and would save as many souls as he could while alive, “without being careful about what may possibly be when I die.” Although Wesley rejoiced that the Methodists in America were free, he advised his English followers to remain in the established church, and he himself died within it.

Doctrines and theology

The 20th century Wesley scholar Albert Outler argued in his introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley that Wesley developed his theology by using a method that Outler termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In this method, Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture; and the Bible was the sole foundational source of theological or doctrinal development. The centrality of Scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”—meaning the Bible— although he was well-read for his day. However, he believed that doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox tradition. So, tradition was considered the second aspect of the Quadrilateral.

Wesley contended that a part of the theological method would involve experiential faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended rationally. He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience and reason, however, were subject always to Scripture, Wesley argued, because only there is the Word of God revealed “so far as it is necessary for our salvation.”

The doctrines which Wesley emphasised in his sermons and writings are prevenient grace, present personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and sanctification. Prevenient grace was the theological underpinning of his belief that all persons were capable of being saved by faith in Christ. Unlike the Calvinists of his day, Wesley did not believe in predestination, that is, that some persons had been elected by God for salvation and others for damnation. He understood that Christian orthodoxy insisted that salvation was only possible by the sovereign grace of God. He expressed his understanding of humanity’s relationship to God as utter dependence upon God’s grace. God was at work to enable all people to be capable of coming to faith by empowering humans to have actual existential freedom of response to God.

Wesley defined the witness of the Spirit as: “an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God.” He based this doctrine upon certain Biblical passages (see Romans 8:15–16 as an example). This doctrine was closely related to his belief that salvation had to be “personal.” In his view, a person must ultimately believe the Good News for himself or herself; no one could be in relation to God for another.

Sanctification he described in 1790 as the “grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called `Methodists’.” Wesley taught that sanctification was obtainable after justification by faith, between justification and death. He did not contend for “sinless perfection”; rather, he contended that a Christian could be made “perfect in love”. (Wesley studied Eastern Orthodoxy and particularly the doctrine of Theosis). This love would mean, first of all, that a believer’s motives, rather than being self-centred, would be guided by the deep desire to please God. One would be able to keep from committing what Wesley called, “sin rightly so-called.” By this he meant a conscious or intentional breach of God’s will or laws. A person could still be able to sin, but intentional or wilful sin could be avoided. Secondly, to be made perfect in love meant, for Wesley, that a Christian could live with a primary guiding regard for others and their welfare. He based this on Christ’s quote that the second great command is “to love your neighbour as you love yourself.” In his view, this orientation would cause a person to avoid any number of sins against his neighbour. This love, plus the love for God that could be the central focus of a person’s faith, would be what Wesley referred to as “a fulfilment of the law of Christ.”

Wesley believed that this doctrine should be constantly preached, especially among the people called Methodists. In fact, he contended that the purpose of the Methodist movement was to “spread scriptural holiness across England.”

Advocacy of Arminianism

Wesley entered controversies as he tried to enlarge church practice. The most notable of his controversies was that on Calvinism. His father was of the Arminian school in the church. Wesley came to his own conclusions while in college and expressed himself strongly against the doctrines of Calvinistic election and reprobation.

Whitefield inclined to Calvinism. In his first tour in America, he embraced the views of the New England School of Calvinism. When in 1739 Wesley preached a sermon on Freedom of Grace, attacking the Calvinistic understanding of predestination as blasphemous, as it represented “God as worse than the devil,” Whitefield asked him not to repeat or publish the discourse, as he did not want a dispute. Wesley published his sermon anyway. Whitefield was one of many who responded. The two men separated their practice in 1741. Wesley wrote that those who held to unlimited atonement did not desire separation, but “those who held ‘particular redemption’ would not hear of any accommodation.”[19] Whitefield, Harris, Cennick, and others, became the founders of Calvinistic Methodism. Whitefield and Wesley, however, were soon back on friendly terms, and their friendship remained unbroken although they travelled different paths. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”

In 1770 the controversy broke out anew with violence and bitterness, as people’s view of God related to their views of men and their possibilities. Augustus Montague Toplady, Rowland, Richard Hill, and others were engaged on the one side, and Wesley and Fletcher on the other. Toplady was editor of The Gospel Magazine, which had articles covering the controversy.

In 1778 Wesley began the publication of The Arminian Magazine, not, he said, to convince Calvinists, but to preserve Methodists. He wanted to teach the truth that “God willeth all men to be saved.” A “lasting peace” could be secured in no other way. His system of thought has become known as Wesleyan Arminianism, the foundations of which were laid by Wesley and Fletcher.

Support for abolitionism

Later in his ministry Wesley was a keen abolitionist. He spoke out and wrote against the slave trade. He published a pamphlet on slavery titled Thoughts Upon Slavery, (1774). To quote from one of his tracts against the slave trade: “Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right which he derives from the law of nature”. Wesley was a friend of John Newton and William Wilberforce who were also influential in the abolition of slavery in Britain.

Personality and activities

John Wesley travelled generally on horseback, preaching two or three times each day. Stephen Tomkins writes that he “rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds, … and preached more than 40,000 sermons” He formed societies, opened chapels, examined and commissioned preachers, administered aid charities, prescribed for the sick, helped to pioneer the use of electric shock for the treatment of illness, superintended schools and orphanages, and received at least £20,000 for his publications but used little of it for himself. After attending a performance in Bristol Cathedral in 1758, Wesley said: “I went to the cathedral to hear Mr. Handel’s Messiah. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many places, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.”

He is described as below medium height, well proportioned, strong, with a bright eye, a clear complexion, and a saintly, intellectual face. Wesley married very unhappily at the age of forty-eight to a widow, Mary Vazeille, and had no children. Vazeille left him fifteen years later, to which Wesley wryly reported in his journal, “I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.”

In 1770, at the death of George Whitefield, Wesley wrote a memorial sermon which praised Whitefield’s admirable qualities and acknowledged the two men’s differences: “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature … In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…” Wesley was the first to put the phrase ‘agree to disagree’ in print.

Wesley died on March 2nd 1791, in his eighty-seventh year. As he lay dying, his friends gathered around him, Wesley grasped their hands and said repeatedly, “Farewell, farewell.” At the end, he said “The best of all is, God is with us”, lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.”

Wesley was entombed at Wesley’s Chapel, which he built in Greater London, in England. The site also is now both a place of worship and a visitor attraction, incorporating the Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s House.

Because of his charitable nature he died poor, leaving as the result of his life’s work 135,000 members and 541 itinerant preachers under the name “Methodist”. It has been said that “when John Wesley was carried to his grave, he left behind him a good library of books, a well-worn clergyman’s gown” and the Methodist Church.

Literary work

Wesley was a logical thinker and expressed himself clearly, concisely and forcefully in writing. His written sermons are characterised by spiritual earnestness and simplicity. They are doctrinal but not dogmatic. His Notes on the New Testament (1755) are enlightening. Both the Sermons (about 140) and the Notes are doctrinal standards. Wesley was a fluent, powerful and effective preacher. He usually preached spontaneously and briefly, though occasionally at great length.

As an organiser, a religious leader and a statesman, he was eminent. He knew how to lead and control men to achieve his purposes. He used his power, not to provoke rebellion, but to inspire love. His mission was to spread “Scriptural holiness”; his means and plans were such as Providence indicated. The course thus mapped out for him he pursued with a determination from which nothing could distract him.

Wesley’s prose Works were first collected by himself (32 vols., Bristol, 1771–74, frequently reprinted in editions varying greatly in the number of volumes). His chief prose works are a standard publication in seven octavo volumes of the Methodist Book Concern, New York. The Poetical Works of John and Charles, ed. G. Osborn, appeared in 13 vols., London, 1868–72.

In addition to his Sermons and Notes are his Journals (originally published in 20 parts, London, 1740–89; new ed. by N. Curnock containing notes from unpublished diaries, 6 vols., vols. i.-ii., London and New York, 1909–11); The Doctrine of Original Sin (Bristol, 1757; in reply to Dr. John Taylor of Norwich); “An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (originally published in three parts; 2d ed., Bristol, 1743), an elaborate defence of Methodism, describing the evils of the times in society and the church; a Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766).

Wesley adapted the Book of Common Prayer for use by American Methodists. In his Watch Night service, he made use of a pietist prayer now generally known as the Wesley Covenant Prayer, perhaps his most famous contribution to Christian liturgy. He also was a noted hymn-writer, translator and compiler of a hymnal.

 

c wesley

Charles Wesley (18 December 1707 – 29 March 1788) was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley (the Younger), and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Despite their closeness, Charles and his brother John did not always agree on questions relating to their beliefs. In particular, Charles was strongly opposed to the idea of a breach with the Church of England into which they had been ordained.

Charles Wesley is chiefly remembered for the many hymns he wrote. He ministered for part of his life in The New Room Chapel in Bristol. His house, located nearby, can still be visited today.

Biographical details

Charles Wesley was the son of Susanna Wesley and Samuel Wesley. He was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, and formed the “Oxford Methodist” group among his fellow students in 1727 which his elder brother, John joined in 1729 soon becoming its leader and moulding it to his own notions. George Whitefield also joined this group. After graduating with a Masters’ in classical languages and literature, Charles followed his father and brother into the church in 1735. On 14 October 1735, Charles and his brother John sailed on The Simmonds from Gravesend, Kent for Savannah in the Georgia Colony in British America at the request of the governor, James Oglethorpe. Charles was appointed Secretary of Indian Affairs and while John remained in Savannah, Charles went as chaplain to the garrison and colony at near-by Fort Frederica, St. Simon’s Island, arriving there Tuesday, 9 March 1736 according to his journal entry. However, matters did not turn out well, and he was largely rejected by the settlers. In July 1736, Charles was commissioned to England as the bearer of dispatches to the trustees of the colony. On 16 August 1736, he sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, never to return to the Georgia colony again.

Charles lived and worked in the area around St Marylebone Parish Church and so, just before his death, he sent for its rector John Harley and told him “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” On his death, his body was carried to the church by six clergymen of the Church of England, and a memorial stone to him stands in the gardens in Marylebone High Street, close to his burial spot. One of his sons, Samuel, became organist of the church.

A City of London blue plaque at 13, Little Britain, near the church of St Botolph’s-without- Alders, off St. Martin’s Le Grand, marks the site of the former house of John Bray, reputed to be the scene of Wesley’s evangelical conversion on 21 May 1738.

Marriage and children

In April 1749, he married the much younger Sarah Gwynne (1726–1822), also known as Sally. She was the daughter of Marmaduke Gwynne, a wealthy Welsh magistrate who had been converted to Methodism by Howell Harris. They moved into a house in Bristol in September 1749. Sarah accompanied the brothers on their evangelistic journeys throughout Britain, until at least 1753. After 1756 Charles made no more journeys to distant parts of the country, mainly just moving between Bristol and London.

In 1771 Charles obtained another house, in London, and moved into it that year with his elder son. By 1778 the whole family had transferred from Bristol to the London house, at 1 Chesterfield Street, Marylebone, where they remained until Charles’ death and on into the 19th century. The house in Bristol still stands and has been restored, however the London house was demolished in the mid 19th century.

Only three of the couple’s children survived infancy: Charles Wesley junior (1757–1834), Sarah Wesley (1759–1828), who like her mother was also known as Sally and Samuel Wesley (1766–1837) [10] Their other children, John, Martha Maria, Susannah, Selina and John James are all buried in Bristol having died between 1753 and 1768.{See monument in garden on north side of junction of Lewis Mead and The Haymarket, Bristol} Both Samuel and Charles junior were musical child prodigies and, like their father, became organists and composers. Charles junior spent most of his career as the personal organist of the English Royal family, and Samuel became one of the most accomplished musicians in the world and often called “the English Mozart.” Furthermore, Samuel Wesley’s son, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, was one of the foremost British composers of the 19th century.

In the course of his career, Charles Wesley published the words of over six thousand hymns, writing the words for a further two thousand, many of which are still popular. These include:

“Arise my soul arise”

“And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (Lyrics)

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (Lyrics)

“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” (Lyrics)

“Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (Lyrics)

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” (Lyrics)

“Depth of Mercy, Can it Be” (Lyrics)

“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee” (Lyrics)

“Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise” (Lyrics)

“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, The Name High Over All” (Lyrics)

“Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (Lyrics)

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Lyrics)

“O for a Heart to Praise My God” (Lyrics)

“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (Lyrics)

“Rejoice, the Lord is King” (Lyrics)

“Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (Lyrics)

“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” (Lyrics)

“Ye Servants of God” (Lyrics)

The lyrics to many more of Charles Wesley’s hymns can be found on Wikisource and “Hymns and Sacred Poems.”

Some 150 of his hymns are in the Methodist hymn book Hymns and Psalms, including “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, and “The Church Hymn Book” (In New York and Chicago, USA, 1872) where “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is published. Many of his hymns are translated into other languages, and form the foundation for Methodist hymnals, as the Swedish Metodist-Episkopal-Kyrkans Psalmbok printed in Stockholm in 1892.

Doctrine in Hymns

Wesley’s conversion had a clear impact on his doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The change in doctrine can be seen in his sermons after 1738, but is most notable in his hymns written after 1738. From Charles published work “Hymns and Prayers to the Trinity” and in Hymn number 62 he writes “The Holy Ghost in part we know, For with us He resides, Our whole of good to Him we owe, Whom by His grace he guides, He doth our virtuous thoughts inspire, The evil he averts, And every seed of good desire, He planted in our hearts.” Here in this one short verse we have several doctrinal truths taught to us. We have the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the depravity of mankind, and our personal accountability to God. This was a vital contribution not only to Methodism, but to modern theology as a whole.

Legacy

Wesley is still remembered for his ministry while in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, by the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church; in 1950, the conference opened a Christian retreat centre on the island by the banks of the Frederica River, designating it Epworth by the Sea in honour of his and John’s birthplace. He is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on 2 March with his brother John. The Wesley brothers are also commemorated on 3 March in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church and on 24 May in the Anglican calendar. Charles is commemorated on 29 March in the Calendar of Commemorations by The Order of Saint Luke; John is commemorated on 2 March; their parents are also commemorated.

As a result of his enduring hymnody, the Gospel Music Association recognised his musical contributions to the art of gospel music in 1995 by listing his name in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Wesley wrote two of the so-called Great Four Anglican Hymns.

G Whitefield

George Whitefield (December 27 [O.S. December 16] 1714 – September 30, 1770), was an English Anglican preacher who helped spread the Great Awakening in Britain, and especially in the British North American colonies. He was one of the founders of Methodism and of the evangelical movement generally. He became perhaps the best-known preacher in Britain and America in the 18th century, and because he traveled through all of the American colonies and drew great crowds and media coverage, he was one of the most widely recognised public figures in colonial America.

Early life

The Old Bell Inn, Southgate Street, Gloucester. Whitefield was born at the Bell Inn, Southgate Street, Gloucester in England. Whitefield was the 5th son (7th child) of Thomas Whitefield and

Elizabeth Edwards who kept an inn at Gloucester. At an early age, he found that he had a passion and talent for acting in the theatre, a passion that he would carry on through the very theatrical re-enactments of Bible stories that he told during his sermons. He was educated at the Crypt School, Gloucester, and Pembroke College, Oxford.

Because Whitefield came from a poor background, he did not have the means to pay for his tuition. He therefore entered Oxford as a servitor, the lowest rank of students at Oxford. In return for free tuition, he was assigned as a servant to a number of higher ranked students. His duties included waking them in the morning, helping them bathe, taking out their garbage, carrying their books and even assisting with required written assignments. He was a part of the ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford University with the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. An illness, as well as Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man influenced him to cry out to the Lord for salvation. Following a religious conversion, he became very passionate for preaching his new-found faith. The Bishop of Gloucester ordained him before the canonical age.

Evangelism

Whitefield preached his first sermon in St Mary de Crypt Church in his home town of Gloucester a week after his ordination. He had earlier become the leader of the Holy Club at Oxford when the Wesley brothers departed for Georgia. He adopted the practice of Howell Harris of preaching in the open-air at Hanham Mount, near Kingswood, Bristol. In 1738 he went to Savannah, Georgia in the American colonies, as parish priest. While there he decided that one of the great

needs of the area was an orphan house. He decided this would be his life’s work. He returned to England to raise

funds, as well as to receive priest’s orders. While preparing for his return he preached to large congregations. At the suggestion of friends he preached to the miners of Kingswood, outside Bristol, in the open air. Because he was returning to Georgia he invited John Wesley to take over his Bristol congregations, and to preach in the open-air for the first time at Kingswood and then Blackheath, London.

Whitefield had cross-eyed (Strabismus) vision. Whitefield accepted the Church of England’s doctrine of predestination but disagreed with the Wesley brothers’ views on the doctrine of the Atonement Arminianism. As a result Whitefield did what his friends hoped he would not do—hand over the entire ministry to John Wesley. Whitefield formed and was the president of the first Methodist conference. But he soon relinquished the position to concentrate on evangelical work.

Three churches were established in England in his name: Bristol, and two churches in London: “Moorfields Tabernacle”; and “Tottenham Court Road Chapel”. The society meeting at the second Kingswood School at Kingswood, a town on the eastern edge of Bristol, was eventually also named Whitefield’s Tabernacle. Whitefield acted as chaplain to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and some of his followers joined the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, whose chapels were built by Selina, where a form of Calvinistic Methodism similar to Whitefield’s was taught. Many of Selina’s chapels were built in the English and Welsh counties, and one was erected in London—Spa Fields Chapel.

In 1739, Whitefield returned to England to raise funds to establish the Bethesda Orphanage, which is the oldest extant charity in North America. On returning to North America in 1740, he preached a series of revivals that came to be known as the Great Awakening of 1740. He preached nearly every day for months to large crowds of sometimes several thousand people as he traveled throughout the colonies, especially New England. His journey on horseback from New York City to Charleston was the longest then undertaken in North America by a white man.

Like his contemporary and acquaintance, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield preached staunchly Calvinist theology that was in line with the “moderate Calvinism” of the Thirty- nine Articles.[6] While explicitly affirming God’s sole agency in salvation, Whitefield freely offered the Gospel, saying at the end of his sermons: “Come poor, lost, undone sinner, come just as you are to Christ.”

The Anglican Church did not assign him a pulpit, so he began preaching in parks and fields in England on his own, reaching out to people who normally did not attend church. Like Jonathan Edwards, he developed a style of preaching that elicited emotional responses from his audiences. But Whitefield had charisma, and his voice (which according to many accounts, could be heard over five miles), his small stature, and even his cross-eyed appearance (which some people took as a mark of divine favor) all served to help make him one of the first celebrities in the American colonies.

Thanks to widespread dissemination of print media, perhaps half of all colonists eventually heard about, read about, or read something written by Whitefield. He employed print systematically, sending advance men to put up broadsides and distribute handbills announcing his sermons. He also arranged to have his sermons published. He first took to preaching in the open air on Hanham Mount, Kingswood, in southeast Bristol where a crowd of 20,000 people gathered to hear him. Even larger crowds—Whitefield estimated 30,000—met him in Cambuslang in 1742.

Whitefield preaching.

Benjamin Franklin attended a revival meeting in Philadelphia and was greatly impressed with Whitefield’s ability to deliver a message to such a large group. Franklin had previously dismissed, as an exaggeration, reports of Whitefield preaching to crowds of the order of tens of thousands in England. When listening to Whitefield preaching from the Philadelphia court house, Franklin walked away towards his shop in Market Street until he could no longer hear Whitefield distinctly. He then estimated his distance from Whitefield and calculated the area of a semicircle centred on Whitefield. Allowing two square feet per person he computed that Whitefield could be heard by over thirty thousand people in the open air.

Franklin admired Whitefield as a fellow intellectual but thought Whitefield’s plan to run an orphanage in Georgia would lose money. He published several of Whitefield’s tracts and was impressed by Whitefield’s ability to preach and speak with clarity and enthusiasm to crowds. Franklin was an ecumenist and approved of Whitefield’s appeal to members of many denominations, but he was not himself converted. After one of Whitefield’s sermons, Franklin noted the: “wonderful…change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants.

From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

A lifelong close friendship developed between the revivalist preacher and the worldly Franklin. Looking beyond their public images, one finds a common charity, humility, and ethical sense embedded in the character of each man. True loyalty based on genuine affection, coupled with a high value placed on friendship, helped their association grow stronger over time.

Travels

Whitefield is remembered as one of the first to preach to the enslaved. Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem in his memory after he died. In an age when crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a long and hazardous adventure, he visited America seven times, making thirteen Atlantic crossings in total. It is estimated that throughout his life, he preached more than 18,000 formal sermons, of which seventy-eight have been published. In addition to his work in America and England, he made fifteen journeys to Scotland—most famously to the “Preaching Braes” of Cambuslang in 1742—two to Ireland, and one each to Bermuda, Gibraltar, and the Netherlands. He also came to America in 1738 following John Wesley’s departure to serve as chaplain to the Georgia colony at Savannah.

Death

Whitefield died in the parsonage of Old South Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, and was buried, according to his wishes, in a crypt under the pulpit of this church. It was John Wesley who preached his funeral sermon in London, at Whitefield’s request. (Wesley’s Journal entry for Nov. 10, 1770)

Relation to other Methodist leaders

In terms of theology, Whitefield, unlike John Wesley, was a supporter of Calvinism. The two differed on eternal election, final perseverance, and sanctification, but were reconciled as friends and co-workers, each going his own way. It is a prevailing misconception that Whitefield was not primarily an organizer like Wesley. However, as “Rev. Luke Tyerman (a strong-Wesleyan historian) states, ‘It is a notable that that the first Calvinistic Methodist Association was held eighteen months before Wesley held his first Methodist Conference.” He was a man of profound experience, which he communicated to audiences with clarity and passion. His patronization by the Countess of Huntingdon reflected this emphasis on practice.

 

spurgeon

Charles Haddon (C.H.) Spurgeon (19 June 1834 – 31 January 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher. Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is known as the “Prince of Preachers”. He was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the Church in agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith understanding, and opposing the liberal and pragmatic theological tendencies in the Church of his day.

In his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, often up to 10 times each week at different places. Spurgeon was the pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later had to leave the denomination. In 1857, he started a charity organization which is now called Spurgeon’s and works globally. He also founded Spurgeon’s College, which was named after him posthumously.

Spurgeon was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry, hymns and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Spurgeon produced powerful sermons of penetrating thought and precise exposition. His oratory skills held throngs of listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle and many Christians have discovered Spurgeon’s messages to be among the best in Christian literature.

Born in Kelvedon, Essex, Spurgeon’s conversion to Christianity came on 6 January 1850, at age 16. On his way to a scheduled appointment, a snow storm forced him to cut short his intended journey and to turn into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester where “God opened his heart to the salvation message.” The text that moved him was Isaiah 45:22 – “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” Later that year on 4 April 1850, he was admitted to the church at Newmarket.

His baptism followed on 3 May in the river Lark, at Isleham. Later that same year he moved to Cambridge, where he later became a Sunday school teacher. He preached his first sermon in the winter of 1850–51 in a cottage at Teversham while filling in for a friend. From the beginning of his ministry his style and ability were considered to be far above average. In the same year, he was installed as pastor of the small Baptist church at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where he published his first literary work, a Gospel tract written in 1853.

New Park Street Chapel

In April 1854, after preaching three months on probation and just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, was called to the pastorate of London’s famed New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (formerly pastored by the Particular Baptists Benjamin Keach, theologian John Gill and John Rippon). This was the largest Baptist congregation in London at the time, although it had dwindled in numbers for several years. Spurgeon found friends in London among his fellow pastors, such as William Garrett Lewis of Westbourne Grove Church, an older man who along with Spurgeon went on to found the London Baptist Association.

Within a few months of Spurgeon’s arrival at Park Street, his ability as a preacher made him famous. The following year the first of his sermons in the “New Park Street Pulpit” was published. Spurgeon’s sermons were published in printed form every week and had a high circulation. By the time of his death in 1892, he had preached nearly 3,600 sermons and published 49 volumes of commentaries, sayings, anecdotes, illustrations and devotions. Immediately following his fame was criticism. The first attack in the press appeared in the Earthen Vessel in January 1855. His preaching, although not revolutionary in substance, was a plain-spoken and direct appeal to the people, using the Bible to provoke them to consider the teachings of Jesus Christ. Critical attacks from the media persisted throughout his life. The congregation quickly outgrew their building, and moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. At 22, Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.

On 8 January 1856, Spurgeon married Susannah, daughter of Robert Thompson of Falcon Square, London, by whom he had twin sons, Charles and Thomas born on 20 September 1856. At the end of that year, tragedy struck on 19 October 1856, as Spurgeon was preaching at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall for the first time. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Fire!” The ensuing panic and stampede left several dead. Spurgeon was emotionally devastated by the event and it had a sobering influence on his life. He struggled against depression for many years and spoke of being moved to tears for no reason known to himself.

Walter Thornbury later wrote in “Old and New London” (1897) describing a subsequent meeting at Surrey: “a congregation consisting of 10,000 souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming – a mighty hive of bees – eager to secure at first the best places, and, at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half an hour – for if you wish to have a seat you must be there at least that space of time in advance… Mr. Spurgeon ascended his tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of everyone present, and by this magnetic chain the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours. It is not my purpose to give a summary of his discourse. It is enough to say of his voice, that its power and volume are sufficient to reach every one in that vast assembly; of his language that it is neither high- flown nor homely; of his style, that it is at times familiar, at times declamatory, but always happy, and often eloquent; of his doctrine, that neither the ‘Calvinist’ nor the ‘Baptist’ appears in the forefront of the battle which is waged by Mr. Spurgeon with relentless animosity, and with Gospel weapons, against irreligion, cant, hypocrisy, pride, and those secret bosom-sins which so easily beset a man in daily life; and to sum up all in a word, it is enough to say, of the man himself, that he impresses you with a perfect conviction of his sincerity.”

Spurgeon’s work went on. A Pastors’ College was founded in 1857 by Spurgeon and was renamed Spurgeon’s College in 1923, when it moved to its present building in South Norwood Hill, London. At the Fast Day, 7 October 1857, he preached to the largest crowd ever – 23,654 people – at The Crystal Palace in London. Spurgeon noted: “In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed.”

Metropolitan Tabernacle

Spurgeon preaching at the Surrey Music Hall circa 1858. On 18 March 1861, the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed purpose-built Metropolitan Tabernacle at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, seating 5000 people with standing room for another 1000. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was the largest church edifice of its day and can be considered a precursor to the modern “megachurch”. Spurgeon continued to preach there several times per week until his death 31 years later. He never gave altar calls at the conclusion of his sermons, but he

always extended the invitation that if anyone was moved to seek an interest in Christ by his preaching on a Sunday, they could meet with him at his vestry on Monday morning.

Without fail, there was always someone at his door the next day. He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a note card with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered and Spurgeon would then have opportunity to make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His weekly sermons, which sold for a penny each, were widely circulated and still remain one of the all-time best selling series of writings published in history.

Missionary preaching in China using The Wordless Book

Besides sermons, Spurgeon also wrote several hymns and published a new collection of worship songs in 1866 called “Our Own Hymn Book”. It was mostly a compilation of Isaac Watts’s Psalms and Hymns that had been originally selected by John Rippon, a Baptist predecessor to Spurgeon. Singing in the congregation was exclusively a cappella under his pastorate. Thousands heard the preaching and were led in the singing without any amplification of sound that exists today. Hymns were a subject that he took seriously. While Spurgeon was still preaching at New Park Street, a hymn book called “The Rivulet” was published. Spurgeon aroused controversy because of his critique of its theology, which was largely deistic. At the end of his review, Spurgeon warned: “We shall soon have to handle truth, not with kid gloves, but with gauntlets, – the gauntlets of holy courage and integrity. Go on, ye warriors of the cross, for the King is at the head of you.”

On 5 June 1862, Spurgeon challenged the Church of England when he preached against baptismal regeneration.[8] However, Spurgeon taught across denominational lines as well. It was during this period at the new Tabernacle that Spurgeon found a friend in James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the inter-denominational China Inland Mission. Spurgeon supported the work of the mission financially and directed many missionary candidates to apply for service with Taylor. He also aided in the work of cross-cultural evangelism by promoting “The Wordless Book”, a teaching tool that he described in a message given on 11 January 1866, regarding Psalm 51:7: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” The book has been and is still used to teach illiterate people and people of other cultures and languages – young and old – around the globe about the Gospel message.

Following the example of George Müller, Spurgeon founded the Stockwell Orphanage, which opened for boys in 1867 and for girls in 1879, and which continued in London until it was bombed in the Second World War. The orphanage became Spurgeon’s Child Care which still exists today. On the death of missionary David Livingstone in 1873, a discolored and much-used copy of one of Spurgeon’s printed sermons, “Accidents, Not Punishments,” was found among his few possessions much later, along with the handwritten comment at the top of the first page: “Very good, D.L.” He had carried it with him throughout his travels in Africa. It was returned to Spurgeon and treasured by him.

Downgrade Controversy

A controversy among the Baptists flared in 1887 with Spurgeon’s first “Down-grade” article, published in The Sword & the Trowel. In the ensuing “Downgrade Controversy,” the Metropolitan Tabernacle became disaffiliated from the Baptist Union, effectuating Spurgeon’s congregation as the world’s largest self- standing church. Contextually the Downgrade Controversy was British Baptists’ equivalent of hermeneutic tensions which were starting to divide Protestant fellowships in general. The Controversy took its name from Spurgeon’s use of the term “Downgrade” to describe certain other Baptists’ outlook toward the Bible (i.e., they had “downgraded” the Bible and the principle of sola scriptura). Spurgeon alleged that an incremental creeping of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis[citation needed], Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and other concepts was weakening the Baptist Union and reciprocally explaining the success of his own evangelistic efforts. The standoff even split his pupils trained at the College, each side accusing the other of raising issues which did not need to be raised.

Final years and death

Spurgeon’s wife was often too ill to leave home to hear him preach. Spurgeon also suffered ill health toward the end of his life, afflicted by a combination of rheumatism, gout and Bright’s disease. He often recuperated at Menton, near Nice, France, where he died on 31 January 1892. Spurgeon was survived by his wife and sons. His remains were buried at West Norwood Cemetery in London, where the tomb is still visited by admirers. His son Tom became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle after his father died.

 

john b

John Bunyan (28 November 1628 – 31 August 1688) was an English Christian writer and preacher, who is well known for his book The Pilgrim’s Progress. Though he became a non- conformist and member of an Independent church, and although he has been described both as a Baptist and as a Congregationalist, he himself preferred to be described simply as a Christian. He is remembered in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on August 30, and on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church

(US) on August 29. Some other Churches of the Anglican Communion, such as the Anglican Church of Australia, honour him on the day of his death (August 31) together with St Aidan of Lindisfarne.

Life

John Bunyan was born in 1628 to Thomas and Margaret Bunyan in Bunyan’s End in the parish of Elstow, Bedfordshire, England. Bunyan’s End was located approximately half way between the hamlet of Harrowden (one mile southeast of Bedford) and Elstow’s High Street. The Bunyan family (the name spelt in various ways) had lived on their land for centuries, originally a larger area, much of it gradually sold over the years. John Brown’s biography gives details of his ancestry. The family’s name was originally the Old French Buignon, and is first noted in 1199 at neaby Wilsamsted (Wilstead), the first member or members coming to England as Norman feudal retainers. The name has also been found in Calais. He is recorded in the Elstow parish register as having been baptised John Bunyan, on 30 November 1628.

On 23 May 1627, Thomas married his second wife, Margaret Bentley. Like Thomas, she was from Elstow and was also born in 1603. In 1628, Margaret’s sister, Rose Bentley, married Thomas’ half-brother Edward Bunyan. They were ordinary villagers, with Thomas earning a living as a chapman, but he may also have been a brazier – one who made and/ or mended kettles and pots. Bunyan wrote with some exaggeration of his modest origins, “My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father’s house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land”.

In his writings, John refers to his days in school – this may have been schooling at his father’s house, possibly with other poor country boys, but it is possible that he meant that he attended a formal school, possibly the one in Houghton Conquest. Some think that Bunyan may have attended Bedford Grammar School, but some records show that only pupils living in the Borough of Bedford were eligible for a place there. Either way, his later writings demonstrate a high degree of English literacy.

Like his father, John chose a job ‘on the road’ by adopting the trade of tinker, which was a semi-skilled occupation. Few people could afford to purchase new pots when old ones became holed, so they were mended time and time again. The arrival of a tinker was therefore often a welcome sight although the semi-nomadic nature of their life led to tinkers being regarded by some in the same poor light as gypsies.

1644 was an eventful year for the Bunyan family: in June, John lost his mother and, in July, his sister Margaret died. Following this, his father married (for the third time) to Anne Pinney (or Purney) and a half-brother, Charles, was born. It may have been the arrival of his stepmother that, following his 16th birthday, led John to leave the family home and enlist in the Parliamentary army.

From 1644 to 1647 John served at Newport Pagnell garrison. The English Civil War was then nearing the end of the first stage. John was probably saved from death one day when a fellow soldier volunteered to go into battle in his place and was killed while walking sentry duty. After the civil war was won by the Parliamentarians, Bunyan returned to his former trade.

In his autobiography, Grace Abounding, Bunyan wrote that he had led an abandoned life in his youth and was morally reprehensible as a result. However, there appears to be no outward evidence that he was any worse than his neighbours. Examples of sins to which he confessed to are profanity, dancing, and bell-ringing. The increasing awareness of his (in his view) un-Biblical life led him to contemplate acts of impiety and profanity; in particular, he was harassed by a curiosity in regard to the “unpardonable sin” and a prepossession that he had already committed it. He was known as an adept linguist as far as profanity was concerned; even the most proficient swearers were known to remark that Bunyan was “the ungodliest fellow for swearing they ever heard”.

He continually heard voices urging him to “sell Christ” and was tortured by fearful visions. While playing a game of Tip-cat on Elstow village green, Bunyan claimed to have heard a voice that asked: “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven or have thy sins and go to hell?” Because Puritans held the Sabbath day sacred and permitted no sport, John believed that this had been the voice of God, chastising his indulgent ways. John’s spirituality was born from this experience and he began to struggle with guilt, self-doubt and his belief in the Bible’s promise of damnation and salvation.

In 1649, when he was about 21, he moved from ‘Bunyan’s End’ into a cottage on the western side of the northern end of Elstow’s High Street (the cottage shown above). In 1650 he married a young woman, an orphan whose father had left her only two books as her inheritance. The two books were Arthur Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety, and the content of these two books appears to have strongly influenced John towards a religious life. John’s wife’s name is not recorded, but the Bunyan’s first, blind, daughter (born in 1650), was called Mary, and it is possible that she was named after her mother. The Bunyan’s life was modest, to say the least. Bunyan wrote that they were “as poor as poor might be”, not even “a dish or spoon between them”. As John struggled with his new-found Christian faith, he became increasingly despondent and fell into mental turmoil. During this time of conflict, Bunyan began a four year long discussion and spiritual journey with a few poor women of Bedford who belonged to a nonconformist sect that worshipped in St. John’s Church. He also increasingly identified himself with St. Paul, who had characterised himself as “the chief of sinners.” As a result of these experiences, John Bunyan was received into the Independent church and he began to follow the teachings of its pastor, John Gifford. A second daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1654, and in 1655 Bunyan moved his family to St Cuthberts Street, Bedford. That same year John Gifford died and John started preaching.

John’s son Thomas was born in 1656, his first book “Some Gospel Truths” was published and John Bunyan became a member of the church; in 1657 he became a deacon. His son John was born and his second book “Vindication” was published.

Imprisonments

As his popularity and notoriety grew, Bunyan increasingly became a target for slander and libel; he was described as “a witch, a Jesuit, a highwayman” and was said to have mistresses and multiple wives. In 1658, aged 30, he was arrested for preaching at Eaton Socon and indicted for preaching without a licence. That same year his wife died leaving him with 4 children, one of which was blind. He continued preaching, however, and did not suffer imprisonment until November 1660, when he was taken to the County gaol in Silver Street, Bedford. In that same year, Bunyan married again, Elizabeth, by whom he had two more children, Sarah and Joseph. The Restoration of the monarchy by Charles II of England began Bunyan’s persecution as England returned to Anglicanism. Meeting- houses were quickly closed and all citizens were required to attend their Anglican parish church. It became punishable by law to “conduct divine service except in accordance with the ritual of the church, or for one not in Episcopal orders to address a congregation.” Thus, John Bunyan no longer had that freedom to preach which he had enjoyed under the Puritan Commonwealth. He was arrested on 12 November 1660, whilst preaching privately in Lower Samsell In Westoning Westoning, Bedfordshire, 10 miles south of Bedford.

John was brought before the magistrate John Wingate at Harlington House and refused to desist from preaching. Wingate sent him to Bedford County Gaol, to consider his situation. After a month, Bunyan reports (in his own account of his imprisonment) that Wingate’s clerk visited him, seeking to get him to change his mind. The clerk said that all the authorities wanted was for Bunyan to undertake not to preach at private gatherings, as it was suspected that these non-conformist meetings were in fact being used by people plotting against the king. In answer to the clerk, John argued that God’s law obliged him to preach at any and every opportunity, and refused to consider the suggested compromise. In January 1661, Bunyan was brought before the quarter sessions in the Chapel of Herne, Bedford. His prosecutor, Mr. Justice Wingate, despite Bunyan’s clear breaches of the Religion Act of 1592, was not inclined to incarcerate Bunyan. But John’s stark statement “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow” left the magistrates – Sir John Kelynge of Southill, Sir Henry Chester of Lidlington, Sir George Blundell of Cardington, Sir Wllm Beecher of Howbury and Thomas Snagg of Milbrook – with no choice but to imprison him. So Bunyan was incarcerated for 3 months for the crimes of “pertinaciously abstaining” from attending mandatory Anglican church services and preaching at “unlawful meetings”. Strenuous efforts were made by Bunyan’s wife to get his case re-heard at the spring assizes but Bunyan’s continued assertions that he would, if freed, preach to his awaiting congregation meant that the magistrates would not consider any new hearing. Similar efforts were made in the following year but, again, to no avail. In early 1664, an Act of Parliament the Conventicles Act made it illegal to hold religious meetings of five or more people outside of the auspices of the Church of England.

It was during his time in Bedford County Gaol that John Bunyan conceived his allegorical novel: The Pilgrim’s Progress. (Many scholars however believe that he commenced this work during the second and shorter imprisonment of 1675, referred to below.) Bunyan’s incarceration was punctuated with periods of relative freedom – lax gaolers allowing him out to attend church meetings and to minister to his congregation.

In 1666, John was briefly released for a few weeks before being re-arrested for preaching and sent back to Bedford’s County gaol, where he remained for a further six years. During that time, he wove shoelaces to support his family and preached to his fellow prisoners – a congregation of about sixty. In his possession were two books, John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the Bible, a violin he had made out of tin, a flute he’d made from a chair leg and a supply of pen and paper. Both music and writing were integral to John’s Puritan faith. John Bunyan was released in January 1672, when Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence.

1672 to 1688

In the same month as his release, John Bunyan became pastor of the Independent church. On 9 May, Bunyan was the recipient of one of the first licenses to preach under the new law. He was licensed as an Independent. A barn in Mill Street, Bedford was purchased by the church and set up as a Meeting House for the church on the site that is the present-day location of the Bunyan Meeting House that is affiliated with both the Congregational and Baptist Churches.

By his preaching, Bunyan became popular in Bedfordshire and several surrounding counties, including Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire. His own congregation at the independent church in Bedford grew strongly at this time, and many village chapels for miles around Bedford owed their roots to John Bunyan’s influence. He would even speak to large crowds and congregations as far away as London and, as his fame and popularity as a preacher increased, he became affectionately known as ‘Bishop Bunyan’.

In March 1675, following Charles II’s withdrawal of the Declaration of Religious Indulgence, John was again imprisoned for preaching. This was not, as formerly thought, in the Bedford town jail on the stone river bridge, but once again in the county gaol. (The original warrant, discovered in 1887, is published in facsimile by Rush and Warwick, London).

It was the Quakers who most probably helped secure Bunyan’s release. When the King asked for a list of names to pardon, the Society gave Bunyan’s name along with those of their own members. Within six months, John was free and, as a result of his popularity, was never arrested again. He was, however, said to have dressed for a time like a waggoner, whip in hand, when he visited his various congregations, so as to avoid another arrest.

When, in 1687, the King James II of England asked Bunyan to oversee the royal interest in Bedford, John declined this influential post because James refused to lift the tests and laws which served to persecute nonconformists.

In 1688, John served as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Shorter. As John Bunyan was riding from Reading, Berkshire to London, to resolve a disagreement between a father and son, he caught a cold and developed a fever. He died at the house of his friend John Strudwick, a grocer and chandler on Snow Hill in Holborn, on 31 August 1688.

John Bunyan’s grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London. In 1862 a recumbent statue was created to adorn his grave. He lies among other historic nonconformists, George Fox, William Blake and Daniel Defoe.

In 1874, a bronze statue of John Bunyan, sculpted by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, was erected in Bedford. This stands at the south-western corner of St Peter’s Green, facing down Bedford’s High Street. The site was chosen by Boehm for its significance as a crossroads. Bunyan is depicted expounding the Bible, to an invisible congregation, with a broken fetter representing his imprisonment by his left foot. There are three scenes from “The Pilgrim’s Progress” on the stone plinth: Christian at the wicket gate; his fight with Apollyon; and losing his burden at the foot of the cross of Jesus. The statue was unveiled by Lady Augusta Stanley, wife of the Dean of Westminster, on Wednesday 10 June 1874. There is another statue of him in Kingsway in London, and there are memorial windows in various churches including Elstow Abbey and Bunyan Meeting in Bedford.

The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan in prison

Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts, the first of which was published in London in 1678 and the second in 1684. He began the work in his first period of imprisonment, and probably finished it during the second. The earliest edition in which the two parts combined in one volume came in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693, and was reprinted as late as 1852. Its full title is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. The Pilgrim’s Progress is arguably one of the most widely known allegories ever written, and has been extensively translated. Protestant missionaries commonly translated it as the first thing after the Bible.

Two other successful works of Bunyan’s are less well- known: The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), an imaginary biography, and The Holy War (1682), an allegory. A third book which reveals Bunyan’s inner life and his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). It is a classic example of a spiritual autobiography, and thus is focused on his own spiritual journey; his motive in writing it was plainly to exalt the Christian concept of grace and to comfort those passing through experiences like his own.

The above works have appeared in numerous editions. There are several noteworthy collections of editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress, e.g., in the British Museum and in the New York Public Library, collected by the late James Lenox.

Bunyan became a popular preacher as well as a prolific author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. Though a Baptist preacher, in theology he was a Puritan. The portrait his friend Robert White drew, which has often been reproduced, shows the attractiveness of his true character. He was tall, had reddish hair, prominent nose, a rather large mouth, and sparkling eyes.

He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but he knew scripture thoroughly. He was also influenced by Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, in the translation of 1575.

Some time before his final release from prison Bunyan became involved in a controversy with Kiffin, Danvers, Deune, Paul, and others. In 1673 he published his Differences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion, in which he took the ground that “the Church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh according to his own light with God.” While he owned “water baptism to be God’s ordinance,” he refused to make “an idol of it,” as he thought those did who made the lack of it a ground for disfellowshipping those recognised as genuine Christians.

Kiffin and Paul published a response in Serious Reflections (London, 1673), in which they argued in favour of the restriction of the Lord’s Supper to baptised believers, and received the approval of Henry Danvers in his Treatise of Baptism (London, 1673 or 1674). The controversy resulted in the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists leaving the question of communion with the unbaptised open. Bunyan’s church admitted paedobaptists to fellowship and finally became paedobaptist (Congregationalist).

At one time, The Pilgrim’s Progress was considered the most widely read and translated book in the English language apart from the Bible.[4] The charm of the work, which gives it wide appeal among old and young, learned and ignorant, readers of all possible schools of thought and theology, lies in the interest of a story in which the intense imagination of the writer makes characters, incidents, and scenes alike live in the imagination of his readers as things actually known and remembered by themselves, in its touches of tenderness and quaint humour, its bursts of heart-moving eloquence, and its pure, nervous, idiomatic English. Macaulay has said, “Every reader knows the straight and narrow path as well as he knows a road on which he has been backwards and forwards a hundred times,” and he adds that “In England during the latter half of the seventeenth century there were only two minds which possessed the imaginative faculty in a very eminent degree. One of these minds produced the Paradise Lost, the other The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

The images Bunyan uses in Pilgrim’s Progress are but reflections of images from his own world; the strait gate is a version of the wicket gate at Elstow church, the Slough of Despond is a reflection of Squitch Fen, a wet and mossy area near his cottage in Harrowden, the Delectable Mountains are an image of the Chiltern Hills surrounding Bedfordshire. Even his characters, like the Evangelist as influenced by John Gifford, are reflections of real people. This pilgrimage was not only real for Bunyan as he lived it, but his portrait evoked this reality for his readers. Rudyard Kipling once referred to Bunyan as “the father of the novel, salvation’s first Defoe.”

Bunyan wrote about 60 books and tracts, of which The Holy War ranks next to The Pilgrim’s Progress in popularity. A passage from Part Two of The Pilgrim’s Progress beginning “Who would true Valour see” has been used in the hymn “To be a Pilgrim”. The Scottish philosopher David Hume used Bunyan to illustrate the idea of a “standard of taste” in aesthetic matters: ‘Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between Ogilby and Milton, or Bunyan and Addison, would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained a mole-hill to be as high as Teneriffe, or a pond as extensive as the ocean.’ (Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste”, originally published in his Four Dissertations (1757).

Works

A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of a Damned Soul, 1658

A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and the Publican, 1685

A Holy Life Christ a Complete Saviour (The Intercession of Christ And Who Are Privileged in It), 1692

Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, 1678

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666

Light for Them that Sit in Darkness

Praying with the Spirit and with Understanding too, 1663

Of Antichrist and His Ruin, 1692

Reprobation Asserted, 1674

Saved by Grace, 1675

Seasonal Counsel or Suffering Saints in the Furnace – Advice to Persecuted Christians in Their Trials & Tribulations, 1684

Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized Some Gospel Truths Opened, 1656

The Acceptable Sacrifice The Desire of the Righteous Granted The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, 1659

The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor (Or The Barren Fig Tree), 1682

The End of the World, The Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Judgment, 1665

The Fear of God – What it is, and what is it is not, 1679

The Greatness of the Soul and Unspeakableness of its Loss Thereof, 1683

The Heavenly Footman, 1698 The Holy City or the New Jerusalem, 1665

The Holy War – The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Man-soul (The Holy War Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining of the World), 1682

The Life and Death of Mr Badman, 1680

The Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678

The Strait Gate, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven, 1676

The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 1692

The Water of Life or The Richness and Glory of the Gospel, 1688

The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, 1688