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Charles H. Goodwin


In the early, heady days of the Methodist revival Charles Wesley had prophesied to his brother John, “Your day of Pentecost is not fully come but I doubt not that it will: and you will then hear of persons sanctified, as frequently as you do now hear persons justified.”[1] The prophecy was dra­matically fulfilled between the years 1758–1763. At the close of the latter year Wesley reflected:


Here I stood and looked back on the late occurrences. Before Thomas Walsh left England [on April 13, 1758[2]] God had begun that great work which He has continued ever since without any considerable intermission. During that whole time many have been convinced of sin, many justified, and many backsliders healed. But the peculiar work of this season has been what St. Paul calls “The perfecting of the saints.” Many persons in London, in Bristol, in York, and in various parts of both of England and Ireland, have experienced so deep and universal a change as it had not before entered into their hearts to conceive. After a deep conviction of inbred sin, of their total fall from God, they have been so filled with faith and love (and generally in a moment), that sin vanished, and they found that from that time no pride, anger, desire, or unbelief. They could rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.[3]


On the basis of what Wesley wrote about the revival of 1758–1763 it is possible to define a Wesleyan Methodist holiness revival as a combina­tion of evangelical revivalism and Wesleyan perfectionism. An evangeli­cal revival emphasizes the sinner’s need for immediate justification by faith. Wesleyan perfectionism emphasizes the saint’s need for immediate entire sanctification by faith. Justification delivers the sinner from guilt, condemnation and damnation. Entire sanctification delivers the saint from the power of inbred sin. The justified Christian seeks to conquer sin while the entirely sanctified Christian is the conqueror of sin.[4]

These two possibilities of the Christian life are offered evangelically as instantaneous transformations rendered by the Spirit of God in response to simple faith. It is the demand for an immediate decision which makes preaching evangelical and creates a revival. “Evangelical­ism is most impressive, perhaps,” it has been said, “for the intensity it bestows on our decision to choose, and from the consequences that flow from this. If we choose to accept Jesus as our savior, then our lives will be in sublime revolution, every molecule a dance, every minute scrutinized.”[5]

During a revival the revolutionary change wrought in a believer’s life was often accompanied by a whole range of excessive emotional behavior—sobs, tears, groans, cries of anguish, shouts of joy, falling into a dead faint, violent convulsions, the pounding of fists on floor, table, chair, pew, and the spontaneous, loud simultaneous praying of several people. The excitement could continue for days or weeks, and spread out from the local religious community to infect the surrounding area.

Some idea of what took place in a holiness revival can be gained from the revival which broke out at Otley, a village near Leeds in York­shire, on February 13, 1760. It was Wesley’s considered opinion that it was the revival at Otley which inaugurated the climactic years of the Methodist Pentecost: “Here began that glorious work of sanctification,” he wrote from the vantage point of 1781, “which had been nearly at a stand for twenty years.”[6]

The revival began in a cottage meeting for prayer, hymn singing, and conversation about the necessity for sanctification. Many of those present were justified Christians who “had no doubt of the favor of God” but who were oppressed by “the burden they felt for the remains of indwelling sin, seeing in a clearer light than ever before, the necessity of deliverance from it.” This sense of oppression and desire for deliverance became so intense that all thirty people present at the meeting began to groan in anguish. One, then another, began to cry out, “Lord deliver me from my sinful nature.” These cries of anguish gave way to shouts of praise from those who experienced the instantaneous deliverance for which they were pray­ing—“Blessed be the Lord God for ever, for he hath cleansed my heart” and “Praise the Lord with me, for he hath cleansed my heart from sin.” The experience of those who had been sanctified influenced those who had not been justified to ask for pardon. Their sense of guilt and condemnation allied to their fear of hell provoked cries of “I am hanging over the pit of hell by a slender thread” and “I am in hell; O save me, save me.” One pro­claimed his deliverance in a markedly different tone of voice—“Blessed be the Lord, for he hath pardoned my sins.” The group met again the next evening when “One received remission of sins and three more believed God had ‘cleansed them from all unrighteousness!’”[7]

The years of revival were also years of many trials for Wesley. The trials consisted of Wesley’s problems in maintaining unity within Methodism and with the Church of England. Wesley always maintained that Methodists were loyal members of the Church of England because they attended the worship of their parish church. The Anglican clergy, however, accused Wesley of being subversive through taking away their congregations and imparting false teaching on subjects like assurance of forgiveness. At the Conference of 1760 some of Wesley’s own preachers pressed him for ordination on the grounds that they were already dis­senters in everything but name. Early in 1760 the three Methodist preach­ers at Norwich had taken it upon themselves, in response to the requests of the local Methodists, to administer the Lord’s Supper to them; and elsewhere Methodists did not attend their local parish church on the grounds they were made to feel unwelcome when they did so. Both Charles Wesley and William Grimshaw were opposed to the ordination of the Methodist lay preachers on the grounds that it would mean separation from the Church of England. Wesley, stiffened by the support of Howell Harris, rejected the demands of the preachers.[8]

The doctrine of Christian Perfection was another source of contro­versy, and ultimately of schism. In his review of the years 1758–1763 Wesley had to confess that of those who had claimed to be entirely sancti­fied: “‘Tis possible some who spoke in this manner were mistaken, and ‘tis certain some have lost what they then received. A few (very few com­pared to the whole number) first gave way to enthusiasm, then to pride, next to prejudice and offence, and at last separated from their brethren. But although this laid a huge stumbling-block in the way, still the work of God went on. Nor has it ceased to this day in any of its branches. God still convinces, justifies, sanctifies. We have lost only the dross, the enthusi­asm, the prejudice and offence. The pure gold remains, faith working by love, and we have ground to believe, increases daily.”[9]

Wesley’s optimism was justified. Abel Stevens, the author of the centennial history of Methodism, called the period between 1760–1770 the “Decade of Revivals,” For Wesley, he says, it was a period of many trials: “But he closed this period, at the Conference of 1770, with results and prospects such had never before cheered him. He could hardly now fail to perceive that Methodism was to be a permanent fact in the religious history of his country. Without design on his part, its disciplinary system had developed into consistency and strength; its chapels dotted the land; its ministerial plans formed a network of religious labors which extended over England, Wales, Ireland, part of Scotland, and reached even to North America and the West India islands. Seven years before, “when the number of circuits was first recorded, they were but thirty-one; they now amounted to fifty. Its corps of lay itinerants included one hun­dred and twenty-one men, besides as many, perhaps more, local preachers who were usually diligent laborers in their sectional spheres. The mem­bership of its societies was nearly 30,000 strong.”[10]

The special interest of the revival of 1758–1763 lies in the fact that it was the first Methodist holiness revival. Methodism from its beginning was a holiness movement. God’s design in raising up the Methodist preachers was “Not to form any new sect; but to reform the nation, partic­ularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”[11] The first Methodist revival of 1738–1743, however, although it did encourage converts to move on to perfection, was primarily an evangelical revival with the emphasis on “remission of sins through the death of Christ, and the nature of faith in his blood.” The necessity for pressing on to perfec­tion was spoken of only occasionally—and in terms open to misunder­standing.[12] In his sermon on Christian Perfection preached in 1741 Wes­ley claimed that only the entirely sanctified were true Christians: “Ye are ‘perfect men’ being grown up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. It is of these chiefly I speak in the latter part of this discourse; these only are properly Christians.”[13] A careful observer of Methodism at Wednesbury in 1744 understood this to mean Methodists were teaching “that every true Christian did arrive at such a degree of perfection as to live entirely free from all sin; and all those who had not made this progress were no Christians at all; That every person must receive the Holy Ghost in a sensible manner, so as to feel and distinguish all its sev­eral motions, which sometimes would be quite violent.”[14]

To prevent such a dire misunderstanding of Methodist teaching the Conference of 1746 found it necessary to draw a distinction between the general use of the term “Sanctification to denote the gradual death to sin and growth in grace begun at justification; and the particular use of the term “Entire Sanctification” to denote that instantaneous total death to sin and entire renewal in the love and image of God achieved through faith which enabled the Christian to rejoice evermore, to pray without ceasing, and in everything to give thanks. In the 1750 version of the sermon on Christian Perfection the closing phrase was altered to read, “these only are perfect Christians.”[15]

The 1758 Bristol Conference addressed itself to the question of the nature of entire sanctification because James Rouquet and Thomas Walsh, two of his most intelligent preachers, had caused great consternation and alarm at Dublin by saying that, “A believer till perfect is under the curse of God and in a state of damnation”, and “If you die before you have attained a state of [perfection] you will surely perish.”[16] Accordingly the question was asked, “Do you say, ‘Everyone who is not saved from all sin is in a state of damnation?’” The answer was, “So far from it, that we will not say any one is in a state of damnation, that fears God and really strives to please Him.” Wesley also took the opportunity to emphasize that Christian Perfection did not exclude “all infirmities, ignorance, and mistakes.” What Christian Perfection did imply was, “The loving God with all the heart, so that every evil temper is destroyed, and every thought, and word, and work springs from and is conducted to the end by the pure love of God and our neighbor.”[17]

In 1760 Wesley wrote his Thoughts on Christian Perfection in which he drew a distinction between committing a sin voluntarily as a deliberate transgression of a known law, and involuntarily as a consequence of “the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from mortality.” The perfected Chris­tian was still liable to these involuntary transgressions, but Wesley did not regard them as sins properly so called. Nevertheless, strictly speaking, there was no such thing as sinless perfection, and he did not use the term.

Some of Wesley’s preachers were not impressed either by his claims or by his definitions. Peter Jaco came away from the 1761 Conference without having been provided with any passages of scripture to support the experience of instantaneous Entire Perfection and saying “there is no state in this world which will absolutely exempt the person in it from sin.”[18] Others continued to preach that entire sanctification meant free­dom from all sin, for in July 1761 William Grimshaw complained to Wes­ley that some of his preachers were teaching that “He is a child of the devil who disbelieves the doctrine of sinless perfection; and he is no true Christian, who has not attained it.”[19]

Thomas Maxfield and George Bell took the doctrine to extremes. They claimed the perfected Christian lived a life of angelic sinlessness on earth. “Their view led to a dangerous combination of assertive infallibility and blatant antinomianism; people began to imagine that they would not die or that they were immune from temptation. Some, like Bell, also began to practice faith-healing and speaking in tongues.”[20]

Despite all the controversy, misunderstanding, and abuse of the doc­trine Wesley never lost confidence in the hope of attaining and enjoying entire sanctification in this life for many years prior to death. Wesley’s last recorded letter of 1763 was to Dorothy Furley of Bristol. He told her, “Salvation from sin is a deeper and higher work than either you or Sarah Ryan can conceive. You had a taste of it when you were justified; you since experienced the thing itself, only in a low degree; and God gave you His Spirit that you might know the things which He had freely given you. Hold fast the beginning of your confidence steadfast unto the end. How­ever, you are right in looking for a farther instantaneous change as well as a gradual one.”[21]

Here is the combination of the evangelical revival with the Wesleyan perfectionism which constitutes the distinctive Wesleyan holiness revival. This study looks at three aspects of the holiness revival of 1758–1763: the course of the revival, the reasons for its success, and the experience of entire sanctification. The conclusion considers the ways in which, if any, the revival prefigured the holiness revival of the nineteenth century.


A Kindled Flame: The Course of the Revival


John Wesley defined a revival as a great impression made upon a considerable number of people. Two factors were at work in creating this impression: human curiosity fostered by word of mouth throughout a community, and the preventing grace of God in drawing people to hear the gospel message of justification by faith. John Wesley described the course of revival thus: “Everywhere the work of God rises higher and higher, till it comes to a point. Here it seems for a short time to be at a stay; and then it gradually sinks again.”[22] A revival, therefore, consists of three stages: an arousal of religious interest and excitement culminating in an intense period of religious excitement marked by numerous sinners being converted, saints sanctified, and backsliders restored, leading to a decline of excitement ending in acrimony and dissension.

The holiness revival of 1758–1763 followed this pattern of the arousal, climax and decline of religious excitement. The years of arousal were 1758 and 1759. The climactic years were 1760–1762. The decline set in during the latter part of 1762 and continued into 1763.

The Journal of John Wesley, the lives of the early Methodist preach­ers, and the local histories of the more important centers of Methodism all bear witness to the revival that took place between 1758–1763.

A. The years of mounting excitement, 1758 and 1759. The last Sunday of January 1758 saw, in London, “an uncommon blessing at West Street and a still greater at Spitalfields,” when Wesley was preaching. “Some could not refrain from crying aloud to God. And he did not cast out their prayers.” Religious excitement had not abated nearly three weeks later when Wesley preached on Friday, February 13 “at West Street in the morning, at Spitalfields in the afternoon, and Bull and Mouth in the evening, everywhere to a crowded audience.”[23] On April 13, 1758 Thomas Walsh left for Ireland. Wesley followed suit on the April 28. The end of August found him at Cork where, on the last Sunday of the month, he “began meeting the children in the afternoon, though with little hope of doing them good. But I had not spoke long on our natural state before many of them were in tears, and five or six so affected that they could not refrain from crying aloud to God. When I began to pray their cries increased, so that my voice was soon lost. I have seen no such work among children for eighteen or nineteen years.”[24]

Thomas Lee’s first appointment as a traveling preacher was to the Lincolnshire Circuit in 1758. He traveled the arduous circuit for sixteen months spending two months in the eastern part and then two months in the western part: “There was a considerable increase in the societies, and many souls were brought to the saving knowledge of God.”[25] There were other signs of revival in the unusually large congregations drawn to hear Wesley preach in Liverpool, Bath, Shepton, Rye, Rolvedon, Northiam, Colchester and Norwich. A large congregation at Swansea enjoyed, “A very uncommon blessing.” At Cardiff “two or three were cut to the heart” during a cottage meeting.

Wesley spent November in the south-east of England. At Colchester he found that 12 persons had joined the Society within the space of three months. Moving to Wrestlingworth he preached in the parish church of the evangelical priest, Mr. Hicks, on the Thursday evening and the Friday morning of November 9 and 10 . In the middle of the Friday morning ser­mon “A woman before me dropped down as dead as one had done the night before, in a short time she came to herself, and remained deeply sensible of her want of Christ.”[26] He then travelled the four miles to Ever­ton in the company of John Berridge, the vicar of Everton. A few months before Berridge had undergone an evangelical conversion: “For many years he was seeking to be justified by his works but a few months ago, he was thoroughly convinced that ‘by grace’ we ‘are saved through faith.’ Immediately he began to proclaim aloud the redemption that is in Jesus; and confirmed his own word exactly as he did at Bristol in the beginning, by working repentance and faith in the hearers and with the same violent outward symptoms. I preached at six in the evening and five in the morn­ing and some were struck just as at Wrestlingworth.”[27]

Alexander Mather was appointed the superintendent minister of the York Circuit in 1759. The circuit “included the whole of the West Riding, the Ainsty, and portions of the North and East Ridings.”[28] York had been made the head of this new circuit in 1758, and on July 15, 1759 Wesley preached in the new chapel capable of accommodating 400 to 500 people. At the society meeting at the close of the sermon he “began reading to the society an account of the late work of God at Everton; but could not get through. At first there were only silent tears on every side; but it was not long before several were unable to refrain from weeping aloud; and quickly a stout young man dropped down and roared as in the agonies of death. I did not attempt to read any further but began wrestling with God in prayer.”[29] In Methodist history the combination of new circuit and new chapel frequently create the conditions for a revival. The outbreak of revival fervour which accompanied Wesley’s meetings in the new chapel was felt throughout the circuit. Mather recorded that “1759 was the year the work at Whitney began, and we had a great outpouring of the spirit in many places.”[30] There was another revival at Morley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. “A flame is suddenly broke out here,” wrote Wesley, “where it is least of all expected. And it spreads wider and wider. When God will work who is able to stay his hand?”[31]

Signs of revival continued to be evident in Wesley’s ability to attract large congregations wherever he went in the course of 1759. His meetings at Grimsby, Morpeth, and Haxey attracted the largest crowds ever seen in those places. The large congregations at Colchester, Mareham, North Ilk­ington, Selby, Acton Bridge, Bradford, Sunderland, Birstall and North Scarle forced him to preach out of doors. He was fortunate that the sum­mer of 1759 was exceptionally hot. At North and South Shields he wit­nessed the change that Methodism could make within a community. “The greatest part,” he says of those who turned out to hear him preach, “seemed to hear as for their lives. So are these lions also become lambs.”[32] There were further deeply attentive congregations at Yarm, Hutton, Rudby, Guisborough and Heptonstall.

B. The high point of the revival, 1760-1762. 1760 got off to a good start. Wesley discovered in January that at Brentford “after a stop of ten or twelve years the work is broke out afresh.” In London the signs of revival exhibited in the preceding two, years came to fruition during the ministry of Joseph Cownley when “an extraordinary work commenced in London: the Kingdom of the Redeemer was enlarged, many were added to the society and renewed in love.”[33] The revival at Otley in February has already been described.

The faithful ministry of Christopher Hopper in Scotland, who preached every morning at five o’clock on Castle Hill in Aberdeen despite the bricks and dead animals that often flew about him, saw the work of the Lord prosper: “Sinners were converted, mourners were com­forted, and saints built up in their most holy faith.”[34]

The progress of Methodism in 1760 was uneven. Wesley preached in the open air at Dudley without interruption. The former den of lions had been tamed by the steady behaviour of the Society which had made “an impression on most of the town.” A similar transformation had taken place at Redruth where “A multitude of people, rich and poor, calmly attended. So is the roughest become one of the quietest towns in Eng­land.” At Stockport “more and more hear the word of God and keep it.”

At Limerick, however, Wesley found “a considerable decrease,” and at Bandon the Society had declined from 290 to 233 members. Launces­ton contained “the small remains of a dead, scattered society.” The soci­ety at Camelford was in a similar condition. The spirit of revival was pre­sent at St. Ives and at St. Just. Practically the whole, town attended Wesley’s open air meetings at St. Ives, and St. Just had the largest congre­gation for fourteen years. In both places the people listened attentively and penitently. Some wept with guilt at St.1ves, and at St.Just others were struck dumb. Wesley “rejoined to the society”, at St.Just, “ten or twelve backsliders.” At Plymouth Dock he found only 34 members left out of an original 70. At four services over the weekend of September 27 and 28 Wesley “strongly exhorted them to return to God” to such good effect that, “Many were convinced afresh, many backsliders cut to the heart.” Wesley left the society “once more between sixty and seventy members.”

1761 was a good year for Thomas Rankin, on the little, newly formed Sussex circuit. Faithful pastoral care and positive preaching brought about a revival in which, “Every day some one or another was brought to the knowledge of God; others filled with his pure love, and several awakened to a sense of their lost and undone state.”[35] It was also another good year for Methodism as a whole. “It seems God was pleased to pour out His spirit this year,” wrote Wesley, on every part of both of England and Ireland—perhaps in a manner we have never seen before, certainly not for twenty years.”[36]

There were some black spots. There was “a poor shattered society” at Evesham, and Alnmouth was “a poor barren place, where there is as yet no fruit.” To offset these disappointments was the success story of Yarmouth where Howell Harris, an officer in the militia, had established a society in “a large and populous town . . . as eminent both for wickedness and ignorance as even any seaport in England.” Overflowing congregations at Birmingham encouraged Wesley to hope “perhaps the time is come for the gospel to take root even in this barren soil.” The ministry of Alexander Mather at Hulton Rudby in 1759 had resulted in a society “about eighty in number” housed in a new building by 1761.

From his preachers in the North of England Wesley learned that the widespread revival under way in Yorkshire was exceeded by the one taking place in Lincolnshire, where there had been no work like it since the time he had preached at Epworth on his father’s tomb. While Wesley was exhorting the society at Manchester to go on to perfection “a flame was kin­dled” which he hoped “neither men nor devils shall ever be able to quench.” Elsewhere love and harmony prevailed in societies formerly riven by disputes. Liverpool was “now entirely united together in judgment as well as in affection.” All disputes were now forgotten at Bolton, “and the Christians do indeed love one another.” God had “breathed a spirit of love and peace,” at Norwich, “into all that remain united together.”

The cause of Methodism was flourishing in the main urban centers of Methodism. Newcastle was on the verge of revival with many feeling “their hearts burn with a fervent desire of being renewed in the whole image of God.” The same spirit of expectation was to be found at Gateshead Fell and Fewston. “The congregations were exceeding large,” at Bristol, “and the people hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” Every day “afforded fresh instances of persons convinced of sin or con­verted to God.” The decline at Kingswood had been arrested: “The soci­ety, which had much decreased, being now increased again to near three hundred members, many of whom are now athirst for full redemption, which for some years they had almost forgot.” The revival begun at Lon­don under Joseph Cownley in 1760 was still in progress, as was the revival at Brentford which had been “for many years . . . the darkest, dri­est spot of all in or near London. But now God has watered the barren wilderness, and it is become a fruitful field.”

In the midst of all the success of 1761 the spectre of secession hung over the society at London—“the enemy was not wanting in his endeav­ours to sow tares among the good soil.” Wesley was aware of the danger but “durst not use violence, lest in plucking up the tares I should root up the wheat also.”

The first eleven days of 1762 were filled with revival fever. There were “near two thousand” at Spitalfields for communion on January 1. The preaching house at Haverhill was crowded, there was “a considerably larger congregation” at Steeple Bumstead, and the “exceeding large preaching place” at Barkway was jampacked with people. “God both wounded and healed” at Harston (where Wesley preached for the first time by moonlight), at Melbourn, and at Stoke (Cambridgeshire). A typi­cal spontaneous praying revival broke out during Wesley’s sermon at Bottesham-Lode. He had no sooner named his text, “when they had noth­ing to pay he frankly forgave them both,” when “a murmur ran through the whole people, and many of them were in tears.” The concern increased as Wesley went on preaching until it seemed everyone in the large congregation was affected. A woman near Wesley “cried with a bit­ter cry. But in a short time she shouted for joy. So did several others, so that it was not easy to tell whether more were wounded or comforted.”[37]

Revival fervor was much in evidence during Wesley’s visit to Ire­land. He “added a few members” to the society at Carrickfergus, “and left them in peace and love.” He found “a poor shattered society reduced from fifty to eighteen members” at Newton[ards]. Wesley spent three days with the society, leaving behind him “between thirty and forty members full of desire, and hope, and earnest resolutions not to be ‘almost but altogether Christians.’” He had no success at Newry where only thirty two members were left “of near one hundred”. Bandon’s decline had continued since his last visit in 1760 so that the society was once again “much lessened and dead enough”. Three days at Waterford, however, saw “several backslid­ers . . . healed; many awoke out of sleep. And some mightily rejoiced in God their Savior.”

Wesley took advantage of his visit to Edenderry to clear up a mis­conception about his teaching on sanctification. Many people within the society had stopped reading his sermons because they thought the ser­mons “were nothing but the law” teaching that the holiness which quali­fied the soul for final salvation consisted of one’s own good works. Wes­ley preached from Romans 10:6–8 to those “toiling to work themselves unto holiness” to such good effect that at the ensuing society meeting at the close of the service two of the “old believers” were constrained to declare, “they believed God had cleansed them from all sin.”

When Wesley had visited Limerick in 1760 he had found a consider­able decrease in the society which he attributed to the lack of a preaching house, and he had said he would not visit them again until they were pre­pared to build one. Because they expressed a desire to comply with his wish the paid them an extended visit beginning on June 30. “A consider­able sum of money” was willingly subscribed. Revival broke out at a Love-feast held on July 3: “Five persons desired to return thanks to God for a clear sense of his pardoning love, several others for an increase of faith and for deliverance from doubts and fears. And two gave a plain, simple account of the manner whereby God had cleansed their hearts, so that they now felt no anger, pride, or self-will, but continual love and prayer and praise.”[38] The revival continued unabated for three weeks. On July 18 there were scenes of intense excitement after the Sunday service: “All were in floods of tears; they trembled, they cried, they prayed, they roared aloud, all of them lying on the ground.” On July 25 Wesley was informed there were ten women and thirteen men who confessed they were entirely sanctified.

Wesley had spent March 2–29 at Dublin. The congregations were uncommonly large, and by the time Wesley left, “several mourners had found peace with God, and some believe he has saved them from all sin. Many more are all on fire for this salvation, and a spirit of love runs through the whole people.” Wesley returned July 24 to find “the flame not only continuing but increasing.” The agent in fanning the flame of revival was John Manners, “a plain man of middling sense, and not eloquent but rather rude in speech.” In the four months Wesley had been away about forty people had been sanctified, and “the same, if not larger number, had found remission of sins.”

Revival was widespread throughout the North and the Midlands. Thomas Rankin moved to the Sheffield Circuit in 1762: “The work of the Lord prospered, but particularly in Sheffield and Rotherham. Many were added to the society, and several brought to know the lifting and sanc­tifying influences of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Derby, Notting­ham, Leicester, with several other places, partook of the revival.” On his journey through Cheshire and Lancashire in the summer of 1762 Wesley was confronted with acts and accounts of revival throughout the region. He found twelve people at Chester who “believed they were saved from sin; and their lives did not contradict their profession.” At Manchester he received news of revivals which had broken out at Congleton in Stafford­shire during a love-feast where “Five persons were assured of their acceptance with God . . . four believed he had not only forgiven their sins, but likewise cleansed them from all unrighteousness”; and at Burslem where a cold and dead society had been rekindled by the fire of God’s love so that “Sometimes we have had two, at other times six or seven, justified in one week; others find the very remains of sin destroyed, and wait to be filled ‘with all the fullness of God.’” At Liverpool Wesley found “such a work of God as had never been known there before,” and spoke to 51 men women, and children “who believed they were sancti­fied.”[39] He also received news of a revival that had broken out at Bolton with “seven (if not more) justified, and six sanctified at one meeting, At Macclesfield he was told of a revival in which forty people had claimed entire sanctification.[40]

In the summer of 1762 Thomas Taylor ventured into Pembrokeshire where he “formed a circuit, including about 250 persons by Christmas.”[41] The flame of revival burned brightly in parts of Cornwall during Wesley’s visit in the autumn. “A flame was kindled,” at Helston, “almost as soon as [Wesley] began to speak, which increased more and more all the time [he] was preaching, as well as during the meeting of the society.”[42] Many of the congregation at St. Hilary Downs “were athirst for God, and he did not deceive their hope.” “God was in the midst,” at Newlyn, “and many hearts broke in pieces.” “The society . . . more than doubled” at Port Isaac.

Wesley finished the year in London visiting the classes. He was con­fronted by many “hot spirits” of whom “some were vehement for, some against, the meetings for prayer which were in several parts of the town.” At Beech Lane he experienced for himself the reasons for the hostility towards the prayer meetings. The one at Beech Lane was “like a beer gar­den; full of noise, brawling, cursing, swearing, blasphemy and confusion.” He moved the meeting to the Foundry but the continued misbehavior of the people convinced Wesley that George Bell “must not continue to pray at the Foundry.” Wesley, however, did give Bell two more opportunities to amend his ways at West Street on December 26, and at the Foundry On December 29, before deciding, reluctantly, that Bell would no longer be welcome at West Street and at the Foundry.

The revival began its decline from the October 1762 as Wesley’s energies were focused increasingly on preserving the London society from the harmful effects of the activities of Thomas Maxfield and George Bell. At the end of 1762 Wesley wrote: “I now stood and looked back on the past year—a year of uncommon trials and uncommon blessings. Abundance have been convinced of sin; very many have found peace with God. And in London only, I believe, full two hundred have been brought into glorious liberty. And yet I have had more care and trouble in six months than in the several years preceding. What the end will be I know not. But it is enough that God knoweth.”

C. The decline of the revival, 1763. The controversy between Wes­ley and Maxfield and Bell came to a head between January 7 and Febru­ary 5, 1763. Bell had prophesied the world would come to an end on Feb­ruary 28. Wesley met with Bell on January 7 in what proved to be an abortive attempt to “convince him of his mistakes.” On January 25 a Mrs. Coventry who was an intimate friend of Maxfield stormed into a meeting at which Wesley was present to throw down her class “her ticket, with those of her husband, daughter and servants” with the words, “Sir, we will have no more to do with you; Mr. Maxfield is our teacher.” On February 4 George Bell returned his class ticket, saying, “Blind John is not capable of teaching us; we will keep to Mr. Maxfield.” The following day Thomas Maxfield ceased to meet in class.

On February 9 Wesley wrote to the editor of the London Chronicle to report that Bell was no longer a member of his society, and that he did not believe “either that the end of the world or any signal calamity will be on the 28th instant.” On the day previous to the predicted catastrophe Bell and some companions waited on a mound near St. Luke’s hospital to view the destruction of London. He was arrested and led away to prison. On the evening of February 28 Wesley preached at Spitalfields on “Prepare to meet thy God”. He showed “the utter absurdity of the supposition that the world was due to end that night.” Nevertheless “many were afraid to go to bed, and some wandered about in the fields, being persuaded that if the world did not end, at least London would be swallowed by an earth­quake.”[43] Far away in the north-east, Darlington was in an uproar. When the fateful hour had passed the fears of the people gave way to resent­ment, and they threatened to pull down the preaching house, and to burn the Methodist preacher—who happened to be George Storey. Undeterred by the threats to his person, Storey held his meeting as advertised and qui­etened down the people by reading to them Wesley’s advertisement dis­claiming his association with Bell’s prophecy as printed in the regional Newcastle paper.[44]

The breach between Wesley and Maxfield was finalised on April 28 when Maxfield declined the opportunity to preach at the Foundery. The controversy over perfection discredited the doctrine within Methodism. Wesley was dismayed to find at Yarm, in June, that “the good doctrine of Christian perfection had not been heard of there for some time. The wild­ness of our poor brethren in London has put it out of countenance above two hundred miles away.” In 1764 Wesley wrote to Charles: “The fright­ful stories wrote from London had made all our preachers in the North afraid even to mutter about perfection; and, of course, the people on all sides were grown good Calvinists in this point.”[45] As late as 1793, John Pawson could write from London, “We have a very blessed work here; but the old people are so afraid of George Bell’s work returning that they can hardly be persuaded it is the work of God.”[46]

There was still much to encourage Wesley during 1763. In Scotland the congregations were large and composed of all classes of the commu­nity. Wesley was moved to declare, “Surely never was there a more open door.” The Methodist societies at Aberdeen and Edinburgh increased to the extent “that the want of chapels was seriously felt.” The foundations of the chapel at Aberdeen were laid in 1764, and those of the chapel at Edinburgh in 1765.[47] Congregations in Wales were large, attentive and well behaved. Thomas Taylor continued the work of revival begun at Cork by his predecessors Manningham and Pennington: “It did not decrease during my stay, but increased more abundantly.”[48]

Congregations were large and well behaved in the West Country at Bristol, Shepton Mallet, and elsewhere. Thomas Rankin inherited the revival inspired by Wesley’s visit to Cornwall in 1762: “Over a thousand joined the societies including some hundreds entirely sanctified.”[49] Methodism continued to flourish in parts of the north. Wesley found the work at Manchester “was greatly increasing.” John Pawson travelled the Howarth Circuit where “the work prospered wonderfully; and I believe there was much more good done in that circuit in that one year, than had been done in seven years before that time. In Keighley, also, and in the neighbourhood there was a glorious revival of the work of God, such as no one then living could remember to have seen.”[50] Although Pawson does not mention the fact, William Grimshaw died on April 7, 1763. The revival may, in part, have been a response to this devastating loss. George Storey was at Wear-Dale one Sunday afternoon when “the Divine power descended upon the assembly; six persons, one after another, dropped down and, as they came to themselves cried out for mercy. The work from that time revived and spread through different parts of the Dale.” The 36 members of the Society were doubled as a result of the revival.

In conclusion it can be said that between 1758–1763, Wesleyan Methodism gained a foothold in Wales, established itself in Scotland, and consolidated its presence in the North, West, and Midlands of England.


A Gospel for the Saved: Reasons for the Success of the Revival


The preaching of entire sanctification been aptly described as “a gospel not merely for sinners, but for the saved.”[51] It was a challenge to the second generation of Methodists “to discover higher levels of personal holiness and new sources of spiritual power in a second personal religious experience as definite and critical as their initial Christian experience.”[52] The possibility of a higher life of grace came as a novelty to the sec­ond generation of Methodists. Wesley’s exhortation to the Manchester society to on to perfection in 1762 seemed to many of them, “a new doc­trine. However they all received it in love, and a flame was kindled,” wrote Wesley, “which I trust neither men nor devils shall ever be able to quench.”[53]

The novelty of holiness preaching created much sharp discord within the Methodist societies. Thus, in the spring of 1763, George Storey, somewhere on his round of the Dale Circuit, was overtaken by his colleague Samuel Meggot who was in great distress. Meggot had been overtaken by events of his own devising. To infuse new life into the Barnard Castle society Meggot had advised them “to observe every Fri­day with fasting and prayer. The very first Friday they met together, God broke in upon them in a wonderful manner. . .” said Wesley in his account of the revival. Six or seven of the members created confusion, uncertainty, and animosity by claiming to have been entirely sanctified. Meggot galloped off to find George Story to sort out the mess for him since it was Storey’s preaching which had created the opportunity for claims to entire sanctification to be made. On his arrival at Barnard Castle Storey was greeted with hostility as “a setter forth of strange doctrines,” and was just about to stop preaching, “when in an instant the power of God descended in a wonderful manner. The assembly were all in tears, some praising God for pardoning mercy, and others for purifying grace. And even those who could not yet understand this new doctrine were con­strained to say, ‘If we do not believe it, we shall never speak against it any more.’ The snare of the enemy was effectually broken; and from that time the work spread not only through the town, but also in the neigh­bouring societies.”[54]

Holiness preaching, as Henry Rack points out, “offered a new incen­tive” to Methodists for whom, “the original strangeness and shock value of conversion had worn off.”[55] Alexander Mather’s “conviction of the need of a further change was abundantly increased by the searching preaching” of Thomas Walsh.[56] Mather, in his turn, influenced Francis Asbury and Richard Whatcoat at Wednesbury in 1761. Asbury was fifteen years of age when he heard Mather preach: “young as I was, the Word of God made a deep impression on my heart which brought me to Jesus Christ, who graciously justified my guilty soul through faith in his precious blood; and soon showed me the excellency and necessity of holiness.”[57] Whatcoat’s sense of need for the blessing of entire sanctification, and his confidence in obtaining it was the result of “frequently hearing Mr. Mather speak upon the subject.”[58]

It was the persistent, searching preaching of John Oldham on the need for entire sanctification at Macclesfield which finally bore fruit dur­ing eight days in March 1762. At the Monday night preaching service Oldham’s preaching, coupled with news of revival at Bolton, Burslem and Congleton, created an expectation for revival which broke out as people were leaving the room at the close of the service. “A man, in whom the spirit of God had been striving mightily, fell down on his knees and cried aloud for mercy.” Others present were affected in the same manner. The meeting continued until six o’clock in the morning, and was resumed every night until the following Monday.[59]

In addition to preaching on the need for entire sanctification, Wesley also emphasized the importance of those who had been sanctified to bear public testimony to their experience. “It requires a great degree of watch­fulness to retain the perfect love of God,” declared Wesley, “and one great means of retaining it is frankly to declare what God has given you, and earnestly to exhort all the believers you meet with to follow after full sal­vation.”[60]

The love-feast provided the ideal opportunity for testimonies to be given as Wesley explained to the crowd assembled at Birstall on July 19, 1761: “The design of a love-feast,” he told them, “is a free and familiar conversation, in which everyman, yea, and woman, has liberty to speak whatever may be to the glory of God.” From 1761 onwards the love-feast became a popular venue for the outbreak of revival. On April 27, 1762 Wesley preached at Clonmain in the largest preaching house in the north of Ireland. After the sermon Wesley held a love-feast: “It was a wonderful time. God poured out His spirit abundantly. Many were filled with conso­lation, particularly two who had come from Lisburn, one a lifeless back-slider, the other a girl of sixteen, who had been some time slightly con­vinced of sin. God gave her a clear evidence of his love—and indeed in so uncommon a manner that it seemed her soul was all love. One of our brethren was constrained openly to declare, he believed God had wrought this change in him.”

Wesley also circulated written accounts of the revivals taking place throughout the British Isles together with testimonies to entire sanctification in order to publicize the experience. These accounts also led to revival taking place. The soldier, Duncan Wright, was stationed at Gal­way during 1761–63. He records that: “Our little society at Galway was wonderfully blessed. As there was at this time a glorious revival in many parts of the three kingdoms, I communicated to them the intelligence I received of the work; and the fire soon kindled among them also.”[61] Thomas Rankin went to hear John Wesley preach at Sunderland in June 1761. “His preaching was attended with a peculiar blessing to my soul, in giving me a more clear conception of purity of heart, and the way to obtain it by faith alone; but when he read some letters in the society, giv­ing an account of the work of God in London, and some other places, I was so deeply affected with a sense of inbred sin, that I was almost over­whelmed by it.”[62]

The Methodist Pentecost was essentially a praying revival. Prayer was the democratic voice of Methodism. In a revival anyone could pray irrespective of age, sex, occupation, education or social status. Prayer was the spontaneous expression of popular fear, aspiration, fulfillment, anguish and joy. When a revival broke out preaching frequently had to give way to prayer. After preaching to a large crowd at Stoke in Cambridgeshire in the open air, Wesley moved into a cottage for a meeting with the local society but “the excitement was so intense that “after speaking a few words” Wesley “went to prayer. A cry began and soon spread through the whole company, so that my voice was lost.”

Prayer also commandeered the traditional, exclusive, society meet­ing held after the preaching service and turned it into a spontaneous, open, prayer meeting. Thomas Maxfield preached at Spitalfields on Sun­day, March 15, 1761: “After the sermon, the power of God was very pre­sent. Many were groaning and weeping, when Sarah Webb, falling down to the ground, cried aloud, declaring that God had set her soul at liberty. At the same time one at the bottom of the chapel declared, The Lord had made him whole. The flame now began to spread, and everyone seemed to feel, God was in that place.”

Alexander Mather noted what was taking place and in 1760 deliber­ately changed the society meeting at the close of the preaching service at Wednesbury into a prayer meeting led by his wife as a technique for working up a revival. It was a success. Some of the converts at Wednes­bury set up their own prayer meeting at Darlaston. There, a young appren­tice, Thomas Day, experienced a dramatic conversion which he proceeded to declare openly. This sparked off a revival so that “even the wicked cried for mercy” when they heard him. Eighty-five new members were added to the existing forty-eight of the society. Ground was purchased and a preaching house built in 1761. The revival spread throughout the circuit: “In one night it was common to see five or six (and sometimes more) praising God for His pardoning mercy. And not a few in Birming­ham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton, as well as in Wednesbury and Darlas­ton, clearly testified that the blood of Jesus Christ had cleansed them from all sin. Meantime the societies increased greatly.” The older members were appalled by the noise and disorder of the prayer meetings. Their objections were upheld by a retired travelling preacher living in the area, and by other preachers passing through on their way to conference. Mather was forced to discontinue the prayer meeting with the result that: “Immediately the work began to decay, both as to its swiftness and exten­siveness . . . for want of seconding by prayer meetings the blow given in the preaching.”[63]

Mather was thirty years ahead of his time. It was William Bramwell who would ultimately make it acceptable to work up a revival, and it was between 1820 and 1850, according to William Dean, that the after service society meeting was supplanted by the prayer meeting.[64]

Another innovation was the setting up of independent cottage meet­ings devoted to praying for holiness revival. John Manners informed Wesley from Dublin in May, 1762: “There are now three places in the city wherein as many as have opportunity assemble day and night to pour out their soul before God for the continuance and enlargement of His work.” In November, 1762 Wesley found the impetus of the London revival was being sustained by “meetings for prayer which were in several parts of the town.”

Elsewhere in 1762 weekly cottage prayer meetings were being held at Dukinfield and surrounding villages by Matthew Mayer and John Mor­ris,[65] At Sheffield by William and Alice Brammah,[66] and at Halifax by James Parker, John Holroyde and Isaac Wade.[67]

The years of the revival were also the years of the global conflict between England and France for commercial supremacy in North Amer­ica, the Caribbean, West Africa and India. It is possible that the noise, dis­order, and irregular hours of Methodist revival meetings provided an emotional outlet for the excitement and tension engendered in national life by the fears and anxieties of being at war. The significant revival at Otley on February 13, 1760 followed soon after the naval victory at Quiberon Bay on November 20, 1759 which put a decisive end to mount­ing fears among all levels of society of a French invasion.

Five reasons for the success of the revival between 1758–1763 have been suggested: the novelty of the call to holiness to the second genera­tion of Methodists accustomed to the call for justification, the preaching of Wesley and his helpers on the need for holiness, the publicity given to the experience by written and verbal testimonies, the use of prayer meet­ings, and the general excitement of the years of warfare with France.


Souls Struggling Into Life: The Experience of Sanctification


The aim of this section is to examine the nature of the experience of entire sanctification, and to see how valid it was in the face of the criti­cism that it was a case of self-deception, merely the work of one’s own imagination.[68] Wesley addressed himself to the problem of how it could be known that “one is saved from all sin.” He came up with what he con­sidered to be three reasonable proofs required of anyone who claimed to be perfected: “(1) If we had clear evidence of his exemplary behavior for some time before this supposed change. This would give us reason to believe he would not ‘lie for God,’ but speak neither more nor less than he felt. (2) If he gave a distinct account of the time and manner wherein the change was wrought, with sound speech that could not be reproved. And (3) if it appeared that all his subsequent words and actions were holy and unblameable.”[69]

It was just as important for the person who claimed to have been perfected to be absolutely sure of the reality of his experience. It was not sufficient “to feel all love and no sin” for several had experienced this for a time before their souls were fully renewed: “None therefore ought to believe that the work was done, till there is added the testimony of the Spirit witnessing his entire sanctification as clearly as his justification.”[70]

A classic description of what was involved in being entirely sancti­fied is found in the testimony of a certain M____ S____ of Wednesbury recorded by Wesley in March 1760.

There was a parallel relationship in Wesley’s thought between justi­fication and sanctification. “The one of these great truths does exceed­ingly illustrate the other,” Wesley wrote. “Exactly as we are justified by faith so are we sanctified by faith.”[71] The first proof required of the sanc­tified person was a genuine experience of justification expressed in a changed life successful in conquering sin. The testimony of M____ S____ begins, therefore with an account of her awakening to her need for par­don, and her experience of justification.

She was born April 8, 1736. Her father died when she was four years of age, and her mother died when she was aged eleven years. She was not a religious person but did turn to God in prayer for comfort in times of severe trouble. Her brother must have been a Methodist because he persuaded her to attend a Methodist cottage meeting when she was seventeen years old. She liked what she heard and began to attend regu­larly. She was eighteen when she was awakened to her spiritual condition as a lost sinner. “For three weeks I was in deep distress,” she told Wesley, “which made me cry to God day and night. I had comfort once or twice, but checked it, being afraid of deceiving myself.” She was justified in December, 1754, “as Mr. Johnson was preaching one morning at five o’clock in Darlaston, my soul was so filled with the love of God that I had much ado to help crying out. I could only say, ‘Why me, Lord, why me?’

“When I came home I was exceeding weak, having also a great pain in my head. But all was sweet; I did not wish it to be otherwise. I was happy in God all the day long. And so I was for several days.”

We now come to the first proof. Inward sanctification began, accord­ing to Wesley, “In the moment we are justified. The seed of every virtue is then sown in the soul. From that time the believer gradually dies to sin and grows in grace.”[72] M____ S____, therefore, goes on to say, From this time I never committed any known sin, nor ever lost the love of God, though I found abundance of temptations and many severe struggles. Yet I was more than conqueror over all and found them easier and easier.”

This account conforms to the statement that “A Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin. This is the glorious privilege every Chris­tian, yea, though he be but a babe in Christ.”[73] And yet, the justified Christian has only been born again in a lower sense because “sin remains in him; yea the seed of all sin, till he is sanctified throughout in in spirit, soul and body.”[74] The justified Christian still has to contend against pride, desire, self-will and anger. And so M____ S____ goes on to describe her awakening to her need for entire sanctification to complete what justifica­tion had begun. About Christmas 1758 I was deeply convinced there was a greater salvation than I had attained. The more I saw of this and the more I prayed for it, the happier I was. And my desires and hopes were continually increasing for above a year.”

Two points can be made about this part of the testimony. The popu­lar, prevalent view was that just as justification should be preceded by “a considerable tract of time” marked by much emotional toil and suffering so should sanctification. Wesley dismissed this concept. “A year or a month is the same with God as a thousand. If He wills, to do is present with Him. Much less is there any necessity for much suffering. It is there­fore our duty to pray and look for full salvation every day, every hour, every moment, without waiting till we have done or suffered more.”[75] Where one woman at Dublin was justified for seven years and seeking sanctification for five, a Mr. Timmins was convinced of sin for only two months before being justified, and sanctified a mere ten days later­ “After a violent struggle he sunk down as dead. He was cold as clay. After about ten minutes he came to himself and cried, ‘A new heart, a new heart.’ He said he felt himself in an instant entirely emptied of sin and filled with God.”[76]

The second point is the manner in which entire sanctification should be sought. Wesley said one should wait for “the fulfilling of the promise in universal obedience; in keeping all the commandments; in denying our­selves, and taking up the cross daily. These are the general means which God hath ordained for our receiving his sanctifying grace. The particulars are prayer, searching the scriptures, communicating, and fasting.[77] In the testimony of M____ S____ it is prayer which is emphasized as the constant expression of the soul’s intimate communion with God. Presumably the other methods are taken for granted.

Wesley then recorded the second proof for entire sanctification—“a distinct account of the time and manner wherein the change was wrought,” “On January 30, 1760 Mr. Fugill talked with one who thought she had received the blessing. As she spoke, my heart burned within me, and my desire was enlarged beyond expression. I said to him, ‘O sir, when shall I be able to say as she says?’ He answered, ‘Perhaps tonight.’ I said, ‘Nay. I am not earnest enough.’ He replied, ‘That thought may keep you from it.’ I felt God was able and willing to give it then, and was unspeakably happy. In the evening as he was preaching, my heart was full, and more and more so, till I could contain no more. I wanted only to be alone, that I might pour out my soul before God; and when I came home I could do nothing but praise and give him thanks.”

In this second proof are echoes of three emphases about perfection made in the preface to the second volume of hymns published in 1741. Firstly that entire sanctification is “receivable by mere faith, and hindered only by unbelief”. In the case of M____ S____ her unbelief was her sense of a lack of earnestness. Secondly that mere faith, “and consequently the sal­vation it brings, is . . . given in an instant.” Thirdly “that instant may be now.”[78] M____ S____ feels that, “God was able and willing to give it then.” There is also the “unspeakable happiness” of M____ S____ paralleled by the experience of a woman at Barnard Castle who said the experience of sanctification was as different from that of justification “as the noonday light from that of daybreak,” and the woman at Dublin who described the difference between the love of God she enjoyed as a justified Christian, and the love of God she now enjoyed as a sanctified Christian, “as if her soul was taken into heaven.”[79]

Wesley ends the testimony of M____ S____ with the third proof. “From that moment I have felt nothing but love in my heart; no sin of any kind. I trust I shall never sin any more, nor any more offend God. I never find any cloud between God and me; I walk in the light continually. I do ‘rejoice evermore, and pray without ceasing.’ I have no desire but to do and suffer the will of God. I aim at nothing but to please him. I am careful for nothing, but in all things make my requests known to Him in thanks­giving and I have a continual witness in my self that whatever I do, I do to His glory.”

There is such a close resemblance between this part of the testimony, and the following extract from “The Character of a Methodist” that heavy editing on the part of Wesley is indicated: “From Him, therefore, he cheerfully receives all, saying, ‘Good is the will of the Lord’; and whether He giveth or taketh away, equally blessing the Name of the Lord. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he giveth thanks from the ground of the heart to Him who orders it for good; into whose hands he hath wholly committed his body and soul, ‘as into the hands of a faithful creator.’ He is therefore ‘careful for noth­ing’, as having cast all his care on Him that, ‘careth for him’; and ‘in all things resting on Him, after ‘making his requests known to Him with thanksgiving.’[80]

Wesley did not succeed in persuading the majority of either his preachers or the Methodist people of the validity or value of the experi­ence of entire sanctification. At the height of the revival in 1762 he com­plained, “The more I converse with the believers in Cornwall, the more I am convinced that they have sustained great loss for want of the hearing the doctrine of Christian perfection clearly and strongly enforced.”[81] In 1768 he was so conscious of fighting a losing battle that he asked his brother Charles, “Shall we go on asserting perfection against all the world, or shall we quietly let it drop?”[82] He came back strongly, however, at the Conference of 1769 to press home the value of insisting on the experience of instantaneous sanctification before the moment of death. All the preachers were agreed, he argued, that “from the moment we are justified, there may be a gradual sanctification, a growing in grace, a daily advance in the knowledge and love of God.” All the preachers were con­vinced that they “must insist on the gradual change; and that earnestly and continually.” Wesley then went on to say that the value of the hope of instantaneous, entire sanctification lay in the incentive it gave to pursue gradual change more earnestly and continuously—“constant experience shows the more earnestly they expect this, the more swiftly and steadily does the gradual work of God go on in their soul; the more watchful they are against all sin, the more careful to grow in grace, the more zealous of good works, and the more punctual in their attendance on all the ordi­nances of God. . . . Destroy this hope, and that salvation stands still or, rather, decreases daily.”[83]

Wesley failed to carry his preachers and his people with him. In 1772 he admitted, “I find almost all our preachers in every circuit have done with Christian perfection. They say they believe it; but they never preach it, or not once in a quarter.”[84]

The main reason for Wesley’s failure may lie in the impression given by the doctrine of Christian perfection that it was a denial of what was popularly understood to be the central tenet of the doctrine of justification by faith—namely, “entry to heaven is not earned as a reward for good works, but is conferred by the unaided grace of God, signified by faith in the Lord Jesus.” In other words, the Christian believer is saved in spite of himself.[85] Wesley’s insistence that faith must express itself in works wor­thy of repentance and rebirth or perish, and that holiness was the only acceptable qualification for heaven, seemed to place an unwelcome, papist emphasis upon good works despite Wesley’s protestations and carefully worded defenses to the contrary.[86]

Michael Watts’ verdict is, “In the eyes of rank and file Methodists there was no necessary connection between their conversion experiences and Wesley’s teaching on Christian perfection, and they preferred the sim­ple Evangelical message of justification by faith to their leader’s constant exhortations to strive towards the goal of High Church ascetics.”[87] Main­stream Methodism chose the way of justification, rebirth and gradual sanctification—to obey imperfectly the perfect will of God.




Wesley lost the battle in Britain but won the war in North America. The three most influential preachers he sent to America, Thomas Rankin, Francis Asbury and Richard Whatcoat were all traditional Wesleyan Holi­ness preachers and staunch exponents of holiness revival. These men engaged in vigorous, pointed, emotive preaching reinforced with noisy, disorderly prayer meetings. Full scope was given for lay witness and par­ticipation leading to uninhibited outbursts of intense religious excitement and dramatic increases in Methodist membership. The “American Pente­cost” took place between 1784–1792 when 60,000 new members and 183 new preachers were added to the Church. “The meetings” conducted by the preachers, “were often scenes of the most intense spiritual energy. Men fell down as dead under their word; others were roused to combat. . . . The cries of the mourners mingled with the shouts of those who had found peace and the assurance of salvation. Often the preachers them­selves were overcome and dissolved in tears. The meetings lasted for hours. Men and women were eager for salvation, and, being saved, longed for the life of entire sanctification. Many were filled with the per­fect love of God and man, and lived and died in a heavenly mind. Multi­tudes came to hear and see; some with good intent, some with ill. But none left as they came. Both were conscious of the power of the Spirit. And both spread the news, and tended to increase the audience of the preachers.”[88]

The enthusiasm and lack of restraint of holiness revival brought the movement into disrepute within Methodism as the church became more respectable, especially in urban centers. When Nathan Bangs was appointed as the superintendent of the New York churches he was offended by “the spirit of pride, presumption, and bigotry, impatience of scriptural restraint and moderation, clapping of the hands, screaming, and even jumping, which marred and disgraced the work of God.”[89]

Traditional holiness revival went into decline in America as in Eng­land but only for a short time in the late 1820s and early 1830s. In 1835, Sarah Lankford and her sister, Phoebe Palmer, began to hold “Tues­day Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness” in their homes. Thus began the great holiness revival of the nineteenth century which brought into being the seventh largest family of Christian churches in Protestantism. American Methodist revivalists like James Caughey and the Palmers rein­troduced classic Wesleyan Holiness preaching into British Methodism where it was championed by people like John Brash, Thomas Champness, and Samuel Chadwick, and institutionalized in the Stockport Convention and Cliff College.[90] History vindicated John Wesley’s confidence in his doctrine of Christian Perfection.

A personal note to close on. The first book I was given to read after my conversion was Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for His Highest.” I didn’t understand the book but it did inspire me to pray for holiness one night in the quiet of my “den.” As I was praying I felt the presence of God’s holiness. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck in terror and I fled out of the room onto the landing of our house. Four years later I found myself on the platform of Wolverhampton Railway station waiting for the train to take me to the Royal Artillery base camp at Oswestry to begin my term of National Service. I opened my Bible at random for a reassuring word of scripture at Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I believed the promise and for the next five months between August 1951 and January 1952 lived a Christian life on the highest plane of love I have ever experienced. It came silently and unannounced, and it left as suddenly and silently as it came. I’m glad I didn’t know what had happened to me, and I’m glad there was no one around to question me and to persuade me that I may have been leading a consciously sinless Christian life. The essence of the experience was a desire to serve God by being of service to my fellow recruits and by keep­ing myself unspotted by the world. There was not the slightest inclination to check my spiritual pulse or to examine my motives and feelings. I was content to lead my life as love led me.

This is the essence of holiness for me, and the finest Methodist exemplar of it for me is William Bramwell. I end this study by quoting what James Everett wrote about his benevolence in “The Wesley Banner and Revival Record” of September, 1850.

Mr. Bramwell’s indifference to mere worldly comfort or enjoyment made it an easy thing for him to practice what is often termed such by mere courtesy, benevolence. Although his means were ever limited, something was regularly abstracted from his scanty income for the relief of the necessi­ties. Money, provisions, and wearing-apparel, were dispensed with a liberality which, in his circumstances, savored of indiscretion. He has often bestowed the last penny he had in hand upon some distressed individual. It was seldom he was master of two coats at a time; the first deserving applicant was sure to become the owner of one. Whilst in the Salford circuit, a friend one morning told him of a local preacher who was in great poverty. On returning home in the evening, this friend found a note from Mr. Bramwell requesting that he would for­ward a coat which accompanied the letter, to the poor brother, without mentioning the matter to anyone. The garment proved to be the very same which the donor had been wearing at the time. There were, of course, many cases brought under his notice in which he could furnish no appropriate relief. In one instance he was fortunate in affording considerable consola­tion to a pious widow in a way which he perhaps little expected. At his request, she handed him a short statement of her debts and resources, exhibiting, alas, a most melancholy deficiency! The minister glanced at the contents of the paper, and saw at once that it was a case for which he could find no remedy, except by application to heaven. Hastily scribbling some Hebrew characters upon the back of the paper, he folded it up and returned it to her without a word. She took it, and probably thinking that the document was a precious memento of some spiritual interference to be exerted on her behalf, carried it about with her for several years, as an Eastern would an amulet. The minister had doubtless consecrated the ceremony by silent prayer, and calculated to some extent upon the effi­cacy of his future supplications. The consequence was, that the anxiety of the poor widow was relieved by this interview, and the calamity she had anticipated was in fact averted. The scrap of paper now lies before us, but the Hebrew characters are scarcely intelligible. Long after the incident had occurred she continued to regard it with peculiar veneration. His charity sometimes displayed itself in a rather curious form; he would give, to save others who might be crippled in their circum­stances the necessity of being benevolent. “One year,” says Dr. Taft, “when the circuit debt at Salford was £200, Mr. Bramwell was solicitous that ten persons might be found, if possible, to contribute £20 each, and he would most gladly have been one of the ten, that an additional and a very oppres­sive collection might not be made upon our people in general. Had his offer been accepted in that case, he must have given his all.” This unrestrained benevolence soon dissipated his pri­vate property, and largely encroached upon his professional stipend. Everything that he had to give he gave without scru­ple. He would have hailed with pleasure any scheme for mak­ing “all things common” again amongst the disciples of Christ. He would deny himself what are deemed indispensable comforts. Thus in Salford he refused to have a fire in his “study,” because the Society was then poor and overburdened. He frequently enjoined the strictest frugality upon Mrs. Bramwell, although her management was so economical that none but a man determined to reduce his household expendi­ture to the very narrowest limits would have thought a caution of the kind necessary. “Ellen,” he would say, “remember that these things are paid for by the pence of the poor, as well as by the pounds of the rich.[91]




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[1] W. R. Ward & R. P. Heitzenrater, The Works of John Wesley, Volume 21, Journal and Diaries, IV (1755–1765), (Abingdon, Nashville, 1992), 392.


[2] T. Jackson, Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 3, (London, 1871), 262.


[3] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 438–439.


[4] I am indebted to Melvyn E. Dieter for this definition of a holiness revival in his book, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century (Scarecrow Press, second edition, 1996), 17 & 27. Dieter, however, claims the holiness revival was an American phenomenon dating from the third decade of the nineteenth century. In my opinion it dates from the third decade of the eighteenth century following upon Wesley’s reading of Jonathan Edwards’ “A Faithful Narrative of the Sur­prising Work of God in Northampton, Massachusetts” which was published in England in 1737 and read by Wesley on October 9, 1738. The insight that would lead to Wesley’s combination of Edwards’ evangelical revivalism with his own perfectionist emphases was present on January 4, 1739 when Wesley recognized that there were two levels of Christian rebirth. A lower one associated with justi­fication by faith and the remission of sins, and a higher one involving “a thor­ough, inward change by the love of God shed abroad in [the] heart.” W. R. Ward & R. P. Heitzenrater, The Works of John Wesley, Volume 19, Journal and Diaries, 11 (1738–1743), (Abingdon, Nashville, 1992), 16 & 32.


[5] James Wood, “The God Child,” Sunday Telegraph Review, October 20, 1996.


[6] Thomas Jackson, editor, Works of John Wesley, Volume XIII (London, 1865), 331.


[7] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 240–241.


[8] A full account of the problems Wesley faced during this period provided by R. P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and The People Called Methodists (Abingdon, Nashville, 1995), 199–214.


[9] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 439.


[10] A. Stevens, The History of the Religious Movement of the Eighteenth Century called Methodism, Volume 1 (London, 1865), 349.


[11] Jackson, Works, Volume VIII, 288.


[12] Jackson, Works, Volume VIII, 273.


[13] W. S. Gunter, The Limits of Love Divine (Kingswood, 1989), 104.


[14] F. W. Hackwood, Religious Wednesbury: Its Creeds, Churches and Chapels. (1900), 69. A Dr. Wilkes reported that on Sunday June 12, 1743 some Methodists, “fell down in church, made unusual noises, and, like the French Prophets in Queen Anne’s time, pretended to receive the Holy Ghost.” Stebbing Shaw, The Antiquities of Staffordshire, Volume 2, (1797).


[15] Gunter, The Limits of Love Divine, 104.


[16] John Telford, editor, The Letters of John Wesley, Volume IV (Epworth, 1931), 10–11. Wesley must be held responsible for the misunderstanding of preachers like Walsh and Rouquet for he did teach that it was “necessary in the nature of things that a soul should be saved from all sin before it enters into glory.” But he also taught that “none that has faith can die before he is made ripe for glory.” And that those who persevered in “the full assurance of hope” right to the moment of death would be entirely sanctified “at the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body.” [Telford, Letters IV, 11, 13, 187]


[17] L. Tyerman, The Life and Times of John Wesley, Volume II (London, 1876), 307.


[18] Gumer, The Limits of Love Divine, 211.


[19] Tyerman, The Life and Times of John Wesley, Volume 11, 306


[20] Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, 209–210.


[21] Telford, Letters, Volume IV, 225.


[22] Jackson, Works, Volume XIII, 352–353.


[23] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 135.


[24] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 159.


[25] Jackson, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 4, 162


[26] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 171.


[27] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 171.


[28] John Lyth, Glimpses of Early Methodism in York (London, 1885), 90.


[29] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 209 & Lyth, Glimpses of Early Methodism in York, 93.


[30] Jackson, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 178.  


[31] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 211.


[32] Ward & Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 203.


[33] Jackson, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 26.


[34] Jackson, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 1, 210.


[35] Jackson, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 174.


[36] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, volume 21, 342.


[37] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 349.


[38] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, volume 21, 372.


[39] Jackson, Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 3, 103.


[40] Jackson, Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 3, 104.


[41] Jackson, Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 83.


[42] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 388.


[43] A concise account of the controversy between Wesley and Maxfield is given by Allan Coppedge, John Wesley in Theological Controversy (Wesley Her­itage Press, 1987), 160–165.


[44] Jackson, Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 238.


[45] Telford, Letters, Volume IV, 245 (quoted Coppedge, John Wesley in Theological Controversy, 165).


[46] Gunter, The Limits of Love Divine, 225–226.


[47] David Wilson, Methodism in Scotland (Aberdeen, 1850), 6.


[48] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 26.


[49] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 177.


[50] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 28.


[51] J. B. Figgis quoted by Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century, 153.


[52] Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century, 6.


[53] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 313.


[54] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 239.


[55] H. D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast. John Wesley and the Rise of Method­ism (Epworth, 1989), 342.


[56] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 189.


[57] J. Lewis, Francis Asbury: Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Epworth, 1927), 45.


[58] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 315.


[59] B. Smith, The History of Methodism in Macclesfield (London, 1875), 64­–66.


[60] Quoted by D. A. Whedon, “John Wesley’s Views of Entire Sanctification,” Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1862, 1093.


[61] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 117.


[62] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 5, 168.


[63] Jackson, Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, 179-181. Billy Brammah tried the same technique at Yarm in 1763 with the same result. Wesley had to warn Brammah that his wife’s prayer meetings were causing offence by their unseemly disorder and enthusiasm: “Either Alice Brammah must take advice or the Society warned to keep away from her.” Telford, Letters, Volume V, 116.


[64] W. W. Dean, “The Methodist Class Meeting: The Significance of its Decline,” Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Volume XLIII, 45.


[65] W. D. Lawson, Wesleyan Methodist Local Preachers (London, 1873), 315.


[66] J. Dunston, “Billy and Alice Brammah, Partners in Ministry,” Proceed­ings of the Wesley Historical Society, Volume XXXVI, 173.


[67] L. F. Church, More About the Early Methodists (Epworth, 1949), 145.


[68] Wesley reflected on the testimony of a woman at Barnard Castle who claimed to have been sanctified and asked himself: “What, however, can be inferred if she ‘should be cold or dead in ten weeks or ten months’ time’—shall I say, ‘She deceived herself; this was merely the work of her own imagination?” (Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 414).


[69] J. Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (Epworth 1979), 48.


[70] Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 52.


[71] Quoted by D. A. Whedon, Wesleyan Methodist Magazine 1862, 1019.


[72] Jackson, Works Volume VIII, 374.


[73] Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 19.


[74] Jackson, Works, Volume VIII, 374.


[75] Quoted I. E. Page & J. Brash, Scriptural Holiness as Taught by John Wesley (London, 1891), 66–67.


[76] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 376.


[77] Jackson, Works, Volume VIII, 374.


[78] Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 27.


[79] Ward and Heitzenrater, Works, Volume 21, 414 & 378.


[80] Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 11–12.


[81] Quoted in M. R. Watts, The Dissenters (Oxford, 1978), 434.


[82] Watts, The Dissenters, 434.


[83] Jackson, Works, Volume VIII, 316.


[84] Watts, The Dissenters, 434.


[85] F. Femandez-Axmesto & D. Wilson, Reformation. Christianity and the World 1500–2000 (Bantam Press, 1996), 82–83.


[86] Thomas Jackson had to devote a paragraph of his centenary history of Methodism to refuting the assertion of a Mr. Conder that the Wesleyan Connect­ion taught a doctrine substantially the same as the Church of Rome to the effect “that men are justified by personal holiness.” T. Jackson, The Centenary of Wes­leyan Methodism (London, 1839), 165.


[87] Watts, The Dissenters, 434. The reference to Wesley’s high Church ascetics is a reminder that Wesley’s views on holiness were a legacy of his pre­conversion days as a High Churchman. It was in 1725 that he saw the necessity for “purity of intention,” the dedication of the whole of life to God. In 1726 he saw the necessity for “the religion of the heart”—“the giving even of all my life to God . . . would profit me nothing, unless I gave all my heart to Him.” In 1729 he accepted the Bible “as the one, the only standard of truth, and the only model of pure religion.” In his sermon on the “Circumcision of the Heart” preached in 1733 he brought these three insights together as the “mind of Christ” which was summed up as the law to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. See Wesley, Plain Account, 5–7.


[88] Lewis, Francis Asbury: Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 46.


[89] R. Carwardine, Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Revivalism in Britain and America 1790–1865 (Greenwood, 1978), 12.


[90] See D. W. Bebbington, “The Holiness Movements in British and Cana­dian Methodism in the late Nineteenth Century” Proceedings of the Wesley His­torical Society, Volume 50, 203–228.


[91] The Wesley Banner and Revival Record, 1850, 342–343.