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Wesley might have added, that the framers of the Act of Toleration never had any idea of field preaching when they put forth this statute.
Wesley would not admit that he had broken any law, or that he was in any wise disloyal to the Established Church. To those who believed him disloyal he flung back: “And would to God all who contend for the rites and ceremonies of the Church (perhaps with more zeal than meekness of wisdom) would first show their own regard for her discipline.
Whenever I he could attend Church services he did so; and it was his habit to attend no other service if he could find one in a Church.32 He was very particular to keep the feast days of the Church, observing a set day for thanksgiving when England gave herself over to celebrate the capture of Quebec by Wolfe.33 Another thanksgiving day, because of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, July 29, 1784, was duly celebrated.34 When a Public Fast was proclaimed in 1759, Wesley preached to crowded audiences.35 A national day of prayer because of war was observed by the Methodists in 1778.36 On a day of prayer in 1760, set aside for the enthronement of the new king, the Methodists held three sepa
rate services for the occasion.37 The more special feast days 1 around the time of Christmas and All Saints' Day, a festival Wesley dearly loved, were regularly kept.38
In spite of Wesley's profession of loyalty, the clergy considered that he was breaking Church law, cheapening religion, and hence faithless; so they did what they could to hinder his field preaching. At Upton the clergy had the bells rung; but Wesley's voice prevailed over the noise of the bells.39 Mr. Romley would accept no offers of assistance from Wesley while at Epworth, but in the afternoon attacked the Methodists and preached a stinging sermon against Enthusiasm. It was in the
Jour., vol. ii, p. 291.
Ibid., vol. iii, p. 479.
evening of the same day, June 6, 1742, that Wesley, having been rebuffed by the rector of his father's former parish of Epworth, went out into the parish churchyard of that place and standing upon his father's tombstone, thundered forth a sermon on the text, “The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”; and then, evidently his wrath stirred because of this clerical opposition, he planned to remain at Epworth a few more days to promote the spirit which had been manifested at his father's grave.40 Opposition came from many quarters. The Archbishop of Dublin would permit no preaching out of church, though Wesley talked with him about it two or three hours. Nevertheless, on that same day, Wesley preached on Marlborough Street in Dublin.41 Many of the clergy were opposed to this field preaching because they felt it was without results, for the people did not understand half of it, or else if they did, the noise of the mob and rabble soon made them forget what they had heard.42 But Wesley felt that just as much religion was taken in by the people who stood out of doors to hear his words, as by the people who attended Saint Paul's, where there was the “highest indecency”; for a considerable part of the congregation were accustomed to sleep during the service, or talk, look about, and not hear a word the preacher said.43
The laity, too, did a good deal to hinder field preaching. At first the opposition was mild. At Bath, Richard Merchant would not let Wesley preach on his land.44 At Saint Ives, while preaching to a quiet gathering, the service was interrupted by the mayor, who ordered one to read the proclamation against riots, whereupon the meeting was soon forced to a conclusion.45 Men took to foolish resorts to stop field preaching. They sang
They sang ballads to take the attention away from the preaching, but failed. 46 When mild measures availed little, stronger means were adopted
Jour., vol. iii, p. 19.
Observation of Mr. Seagrave's Conduct, p. 34.
and a press gang broke up one service, leaving Wesley to mourn over English liberty, property rights, and the Magna Charta. 47 While preaching at Newport, “one ancient man cursed and swore and finally tried to heave a great stone at the preacher, but could not do so.48 Others tried to disturb meetings by driving animals in among the people who listened. A herd of cows was driven among the audience at Great Gardens, but without avail.49 One tried unsuccessfully to drive an ox at the crowd in Charles Square, but Wesley was left victor,50 At Pensford,
, there was a little more success for the opposition, when a baited bull was driven into a crowd of hearers, for Wesley was knocked clean off the table from which he was preaching. He went a little ways on, however, and finished his discourse.51 One must not suppose that Wesley always submitted to this bad usage. He tried not to be antagonistic, but whenever opportunity offered took legal steps against those who illegally opposed
In spite of all this opposition, Wesley felt that field preaching paid. At Bath his audiences were always serious. 53 At Newcastle, a huge crowd gathered twice on a hill in the worst part of the place and seemed “to tread me under foot, out of pure love and kindness." Though some hated him; yet with many Wesley and his preachers had an undoubted popularity.54 Men were actually saved through field preaching, and that was what Wesley desired above all else.
Wesley never felt field preaching was a mistake. Neglect of it he always condemned as a hindrance to the work.55 Any decrease in members in any circuit, was immediately laid to the lack of field preaching in that circuit.56 Any Methodists who would not support field preaching were cowardly or lazy. 57
47 Jour., vol. ii, p. 245.
Ibid., vol. iv, p. 468.
Wesley summed up his own attitude when he said, "If ever this is laid aside, I expect the whole work will gradually die away. This being Wesley's own attitude, one will not be surprised to learn that between April 2, 1739, and October 7, 1790, he preached above 42,000 sermons out of doors.59 The result of such effort can never be adequately measured; but one may be assured of this: that “the drowsy, slippered, arm-chair religion of the day became aggressive. It attacked, instead of waiting to be attacked. Open air preaching in these modern days has itself become almost a convention, but in 1739 it was a revolu
Wesley thought himself quite within his rights as a member of the Established Church, when he went into the fields to preach. On one occasion he argued with one who claimed he was an enemy of the Church, not because of doctrine, but because he preached outside of the Church. The argument lasted two hours, but Wesley could not convince his opponent.61 Wesley judged the Established Church to be one of the established order; yet the fact that his ancestors had supported it in the past, was to him no reason that he should support it if it were in the wrong. He plainly said that had Luther used this logic there would have been no Reformation. Hence, when the Church did not give the people the gospel freely enough, Wesley felt free to deviate from it and to go into the fields to preach without becoming an enemy of the Church.62
“At present I apprehend those, and only those, to separate from the Church, who either renounce her fundamental doctrines, or refuse to join in her public worship. And yet we have done neither."83
If this was Wesley's attitude, we must look upon field preaching as the acts of self-denying men "who went forth into the highways and hedges, that they might instruct the ignorant and reclaim the lost.”64 And we must presume that "the ecclesi
Jour., vol. v, p. 79.
Fitchett: : p. 190.
Jour., vol. ii, p. 261.
astical authorities were provoked against Methodism because it violated their rule and rebuked their failure.''65
SECTION II. EARLY IRREGULAR INDOOR PREACHING
When the Methodists broke the conventions of the day to save men, they did not stop at field preaching; but used any and every agency they could to tell men of salvation. Not only in the fields, but indoors as well they toiled.
They used public buildings frequently. Town Halls were frequently packed with hearers.6 The court house at Cardiff, Wales, was a place extensively used. 67 At Castlebay, Ireland, Wesley preached twice in one day in the jury room. 68 The floors caved in and rested upon hogsheads of tobacco in Turner's Hall at Deptford, but Wesley continued to preach.69
Hospitals, theaters, and at Northampton the riding school of the Royal Horse Guards—all these places were used. Of Armagh, we read: “This was the first time I ever preached in a stable, and I believe more good was done by this than by all the other sermons I have preached.”71 Small rooms in houses of all descriptions were constantly used for assemblies.
The earlier Methodists did not scruple to use Dissenting meeting-houses, if they found the churches closed to them. In Ireland a Presbyterian meeting-house was offered both by the ministers and by the elders. It was used. The trustees of an Independent meeting-house in Bolton offered the use of their house, when the opportunity to preach in the Established Church was withdrawn. Wesley preached there.72 Of course, the bishops could not but be antagonized when they knew Wesley and his followers were to preach in places of dissent. Had Archbishop Hutton of York possessed convincing proof of this, Wesley himself said that the archbishop would have undoubtedly suspended him.73
Cadman: Op. cit., p. 295.
Ibid., vol. v, p. 506.
Ibid., vol. vi, p. 272 and vol. vii, p. 288.