The Contributions of John and Charles Wesley to the Spread of Popular Religion -- By: Samuel J. Rogal

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 04:2 (Fall 1983)
Article: The Contributions of John and Charles Wesley to the Spread of Popular Religion
Author: Samuel J. Rogal

The Contributions of John and Charles Wesley
to the Spread of Popular Religion

Samuel J. Rogal

For nearly sixty years, John and Charles Wesley attempted to loosen the rigidity of Englands state religion by laboring on behalf of primitive Christianity and practical church reform. For John Wesley, the success of Methodism in England and America depended upon organization—a structure built upon power, spirit, doctrine, and discipline. His brother Charles, in turn, furnished the poetic vehicles upon which to explicate the spiritual revival of the middle and late 18th century: the simple diction and imagery, lucid construction, resonant lines, and clear metaphor that could easily be understood by a large number of people representing all ranks and levels of eighteenth-century social and cultural life. Together, the Wesleys prepared their followers and their ideological progeny for the social, economic, political, and theological rejuvenations that would come in the following century.

* * *

One way to understand the contributions of Wesleyan Methodism to the spread of popular religion in England during the 17th and 18th centuries is to recognize the inability of the Church of England to consider the value (to both church and state) of change and reform. Several of the problems leading to the loss of Charles Stuart’s head in 1649 had not been solved to the satisfaction of all persons and parties by the beginning of the American Revolution. Indeed, John Milton complained in 1637 that

The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;

Besides what the grim Wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.1

His remark served to turn the attention of at least one Hanoverian Anglican, John Wesley, to the specific needs of certain among his flock.

In mid-spring 1779, Gilbert White (1720–1793)—the curate of Selborne, Hampshire—saw fit to record a remarkable observation:

A cock flamingo weighs, at an average, about four pounds…and his legs and thighs measure usually about twenty inches. But four pounds are fifteen times and a fraction more than four ounces, and one quarter; and if four ounces and a quarter have eight inches of legs, four pounds must have one hundred and twenty inches and a fraction of legs….2

The example reveals that although White was ordained as an agent of God and as an officer of the Church of England to minister to man, he ch...

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