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sented their sentiments : “All day long, have I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.”35 They might be wrong, but this was their conviction. Individuals with such convictions act. The Methodists were no exception. Life in their view must be completely changed, the Church purified, religion must again come to its own. One outcome of this conviction and action was to arouse in some a desire to go out from the Church as established.

36 Life of J. Fletcher, Works, vol. vi, p. 483.




The Methodists took no flattering view of the Church, and many churchmen were equally ready with their criticisms. The reason for this antipathy is to be found in the prevalent dread of what was then known as "enthusiasm."


"Enthusiasm," as used in the eighteenth century, meant not zeal for a cause, but possession by a spirit resembling insanity. When the Methodists first began to preach, certain extraordinary manifestations accompanied their efforts. Thus Wesley recorded that while he was preaching a woman in his audience was affected; "her teeth gnashed together, her knees smote each other, her body trembled exceedingly."1 At another time he told of how he was preaching and “one sunk down, and another, and another; some cried aloud in an agony of prayer.” One young man and one young woman were brought into a house nearby where they continued in violent physical agony.? At another time twenty-six were affected, and they all seemed worse than as if they had been afflicted with hysteria or epileptic fits.3 At Kingswood, during the communion service, one woman dropped down as dead while she was taking the sacrament. 4 When preaching took place at Newgate prison, the entire prison “rang with cries.”5 A Mrs. Means was disputing with Wesley. On the way home she felt the “piercing of a sword,” and before she could get to her home, she could not avoid crying out aloud, even in the street.6



* Jour., vol. ii, p. 152.
Overton: Life of Wesley, p. 112.
* Jour., vol. ii, p. 222.
Ibid., vol. ii, p. 232.
Ibid., p. 185.

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These occurred not only among the immediate followers of Wesley, but even among those who were actually hostile to the movement. John Wilde, who said that none but hypocrites had these spells, had one himself. Another woman at Long Lane always became angry at those who pretended to be in fits. She also had a spell of great agony. At Baldwin Street Church, a Quaker came to see the fraud and to expose it. “He dropped down thunderstruck,” and “his agony was terrible to behold.”8 A prominent churchman, who also wished to see the fraud, came thither and in turn was overcome.9

Not only under the preaching of John Wesley did these events happen. Other men, including Whitefield and sometimes Charles Wesley, found their hearers thus affected. Even Ralph Erskine, a minister of Scotland, who was in no way connected with the Wesleys, had wonderful effects attend his preaching 10

This peculiar type of religious excitement was not limited to the early days of the Methodist movement. In 1785, John Mance, an old man, sank down at a service at Saint Ives. He was carried out of the church and died immediately.11 It would seem that "enthusiasm" in this case had caused heart failure. In 1786, a service was described in which all pray aloud at the same time, some scream, some use indecent expressions in prayer, some drop down dead and then stand up again and shout “glory!"12

The attitude of Wesley toward all of these doings appears to have varied. He preached occasionally the terrors of the Lord in the strongest manner he was able.18 Beau Nash, the famous Master of the Ceremonies at Bath, told Wesley to his face that his preaching frightened people out of their wits.1 George Whitefield, who doubted the reality of this enthusiasm, was convinced when he came to Wesley. Thereupon Wesley





Jour., pp. 376-377.
Ibid., p. 187.
Ibid., p. 190ff.
10 Moore: Life of Wesley, vol. I, p. 364.

Jour., vol. iii, p. 109.
12 Ibid., vol. vii, p. 153.
18 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 344.


remarked: "From this time I trust we shall all suffer God to carry on his own work in the way that pleaseth him."15 It would thus seem that Wesley encouraged this enthusiasm.

Yet in the realm of dreams and visions he was more cautious. At the Fishponds, Wesley cautioned his hearers against dreams, revelations, visions, tears, or any involuntary effects upon their bodies. Yet even while he was doing this people dropped down.16 Wesley admitted that he had seen dreams change people; but he would not judge them to be Christians on the basis of dreams, but on the whole subsequent tenor of their lives. 17 Agitations, visions, or dreams were not certain evidence of true conversion to God. They might accompany such conversion, but they were not the sole evidence of its reality.18 Yet the conference of 1745, under the influence of Wesley, went on record saying that it did not intend to discourage these visions and dreams, and declaring "we cannot deny that saving faith is often given in dreams or visions of the night."19 Thus although dreams and visions were admitted, they were not considered necessary for vital religion.

On the other hand, Wesley was outspoken against the more extravagant forms of enthusiasm. Some said they felt the blood of Christ running upon their arms, or going down their throats, or poured like warm water upon their breasts or hearts. Wesley briefly dismissed all this as the result of a heated imagination.20 Mary Watson took part in a Methodist meeting by reciting the following verse:

“Why do these cares my soul divide,

If thou indeed hast set me free?
Why am I thus, if God hath died,

If God hath died to purchase me?
Around me clouds of darkness roll;

In deepest night I still walk on:
Heavily moves my damned soul,

My comfort and my God are gone.”
This religious melancholia Wesley would not tolerate. Mary



Ibid., vol. ii, p. 240.
18 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 226.

Ibid., vol. ii, p. 203.
18 Moore: op cit., vol. I, p. 363.
19 Min. of 1745. Works, vol. v, p. 200.

Watson was rebuked and made to keep quiet.21 At Bristol five persons raged in a room where Wesley was trying to preach. He would not have his voice interrupted, or the attention of his congregation diverted; so he ordered these persons to be removed while he preached. Wesley would not permit enthusiasm to interfere with his services.22 Later on he took the steps to give his preachers formal directions to assist them in overcoming enthusiasm.

The problem that faced Wesley was the one ever recurring problem that had come before the Church fathers whenever a belief in a new and final outpouring of the Spirit arose. As early as the second century the same phenomenon occurred among some zealots who hailed the appearance of the Paraclete in Phrygia, and surrendered themselves to his guidance. These were known as Montanists, and their enthusiasm and prophesyings were attributed to the devil by the bishops, who after vainly attempting to exorcise the spirit by which they were possessed put them out of the Church.23

In Luther's day a claim to direct inspiration, which was quite similar to that made by the Montanists, was made by the so-called Zwickau Prophets, and was stoutly opposed by Luther, who endeavored to silence them by his ridicule.24 The Quaker movement, resting on a similar claim to miracles, prophecies, and the direct inspiration of its adherents, was opposed by the organized churches both in England and America on the ground of blasphemy.25 As a member of the Church, Wesley was disposed to assume the same attitude toward these claims of direct inspiration and this enthusiasm.

Wesley not only acted, but he also wrote and preached ^ against enthusiasm. In a letter to Miss Ritchie, he makes his

personal position quite clear. “I am rarely led by impressions, but generally by reason and the Scripture. I see abundantly more than I feel.”26 When it came to a definition of enthusiasm,





Jour., vol. ii, p. 303.
Ibid., vol. ii, p. 324.
Eusebius: Church History, Book v, chap. xviff.

New Schaff-Herzog Ency., 1908, vol. i, p. 162.
25 F. S. Turner: The Quakers. London, 1889, pp. 120 and 168.

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