Archive for Methodists

This is the last in a blog post series about Anne Evans’ article, “John Wesley and the Methodists”, written in 1909 for the Theosophical Quarterly. The article, which surfaced after the publication of my biography of Anne Evans, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John Evans and his wife, Margaret.

“John Wesley and the Methodists: The Unity at the Heart of All Religions.”

“John Wesley and the Methodists: Earning the Nickname ‘Methodist’ and His Transformation – Part 2.”

Wesley and the Moravians
In her article about John Wesley and the Methodists, Anne Evans noted how impressed John Wesley was by the behavior of a small group of Moravian Church members during the voyage to America. He kept in touch with them after landing. Attending the consecration of their bishop, he found it so simple, “so lacking in all usual pomp that he forgot the seventeen centuries intervening and imagined a time when pomp and state were not – when Paul the tent-maker or Peter the fisherman presided, yet with the demonstration of the Spirit of Power.

When he returned from America, fully conscious of his miserable performance as a missionary, John Wesley became the disciple of a young Moravian pastor. “The teaching seems to have been simple enough; merely the primal fact which, differently described, has inspired the teachers of the world – that God speaks directly to the heart of man.” Anne Evans noted that Wesley described this, in Methodist terms, as “Justification by Faith.” In broader, theosophical, terms, she translated this into “The Voice of the Silence.”

Intellectual conviction was not enough: “he still had to undergo a season of humble seeking…a gradual widening of his sympathies and of his nature is apparent until…he tells of his moment of the great silence.” Anne Evans then quoted directly from Wesley’s writings, “My heart was strangely warmed; assurance was given me that my sins were taken away, even mine, and that I was saved from the law of sin and death.”

Anne Evans described how Wesley “drew a gracious margin of peace…around this pivotal centre of his life by a grateful pilgrimage to the Moravian colonies at Marienbad and Herrhut.” After spending a month in their community guest-houses, attending religious services and talking with bishops and laymen, he came away with a deeper insight into spiritual life – but also questioning whether the Moravians were not too insistent on the glorification of their own church, too spiritually exclusive? These questions were soon to prove “the rock that turned aside the little rill of Methodism from the Moravian stream, to run its own independent course…

No Welcome Home from the Church of England
Although Wesley returned to London eager to engage in the work of teaching, organizing and preaching, he soon found that the pulpits of the church were promptly and universally closed against him. This in spite of the fact that he “never considered himself as other than a devout churchman, or the Methodists as aught save a society for the purpose of spiritual culture and philanthropic work, strictly within the church’s fold.”

Trying to discover why Wesley’s efforts aroused so much antagonism from church leaders, Anne Evans concluded that it was because the moving spirit of the times, both in society and within the Church of England, “was a tepid rationalism; the mildest enthusiasm was enough to bring the word into disrepute…

John Wesley preaches in the meeting house of Mathew Bagshaw in Nottingham, England, in 1747. UMNS1329. From

The “Wonder-Story” of Wesley, Preacher and Organizer
The closing of church pulpits forced Wesley to “turn commons and bowling greens into churches.” And so unfolded, in Anne Evans’ words, “The wonder-story of the next fifty years…Up and down the length and breadth of England, preaching, teaching, exhorting, never resting, rode the indomitable little man, blessing providence for the hatred against him which brought the lowest and most profligate within the circle of his listeners. Such preaching had not been heard in phlegmatic England for a hundred years and more...”

In addition to his unparalleled gifts as a preacher (“The rabble and mobs who came full of hatred to scoff and jeer and do him bodily harm were held, subdued, and won, departing with a new light by which to live“) Wesley’s concern for the well-being of those who came to hear him preach, developed him into a brilliant organizer. Whenever he preached, he organized a Methodist group, “and as soon as he organized a group he studied the cause of their misery and spared no effort to remove it.”

He organized charity after charity; “hospitals, schools, orphanages, free medical dispensaries, provident loan associations, each to meet some crying want of his people.” Similarly, as the movement spread throughout Great Britain and Ireland, “he worked out bit by bit the organization of his society, still one of the most highly centralized, most flexible bodies in existence.”

Principles of John Wesley’s Methodism
According to Anne Evans, the conditions on which individuals could be admitted to membership in the Methodist society were testaments to “the liberality, the toleration, the open-mindedness of the great founder.” There was no limitation of opinions imposed on would-be members, according to Wesley’s own writings. “Let them be Churchmen or Dissenters, Presbyterians or Independants, it is no obstacle. The Quaker may be a Quaker still and none will contend with him about it…Is there any other society in the habitable world so free from bigotry?

The major Wesleyan principles that Anne Evans describes in her essay are:

  • The only test of fitness to join the Methodist enterprise was “Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough; I give thee the right hand of fellowship.”
  • Wesley “always affirmed that he would abandon any teaching that could not safely make appeal to his reason, but he did not limit his reason to the narrow realm of past-proven facts and skeptical logic. An eager explorer, he haunted the borderland of science…
  • When he was a student at Oxford, John Wesley found that he could live on less than his yearly allowance of thirty-five pounds, and so have seven pounds left for charily. As his earnings grew with his fame, his expenses for living remained the same. “In a world of want, he could not permit himself wealth.”

One historian, according to Anne Evans, believed that the most notable accomplishment of the Wesleyan movement was its continuing effort “to remedy the guilt, the ignorance, the social degradation of the profligate and the poor.” Another historian designated Wesley as “the power which prevented the French Revolution from spreading through England.” But Anne Evans believed that it was important to remember that the great size, power, and volume of good works of the Methodist Church of her day “were but …the practical fruits of a life of applied devotion. Its great strength, its inherent growing power, came from the fact that it was from first to last primarily a religious revival – a revival of the practice of the presence of God.”

Source of almost all quotes:
Evans, Anne. “John Wesley and the Methodists.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine 7.1 (1909): 50-58.

Anne Evans does not give an exact source for her direct quotes from John Wesley’s writings.

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This is the second in a three-part blog post series about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. The quotes are from Anne Evans’ article titled John Wesley and the Methodists. Click here to read the first blog post.

Charterhouse and Christ Church College, Oxford

Neither the Charterhouse School nor Christ Church College…seem to have found him (John Wesley) an especially noteworthy denizen, though a good and tractable pupil.” So wrote Anne Evans in her 1909 article about Wesley. However, she noted that Wesley later credited “much of his physical endurance to the fact that for years of his early life he scarcely tasted animal food, his portion of meat being invariably stolen and devoured by the school bullies.

“A Systematic Life of Ceaseless Toil”

John Wesley, Founder of Methodist Church

John Wesley, Founder of Methodist Church. Image from

After graduation from Christ Church, Wesley was ordained a minister of the Anglican Church and was admitted as a fellow of Lincoln College, where he prophetically wrote that “Leisure and I have parted company forever.” The (not particularly complimentary) nickname of “Methodist” was given to Wesley by more happy-go-lucky Oxonians, because of “his methodical planning and utilizing of each minute of each day, both for himself and for the group of like-minded youths who straightway gathered about him.

The small group accepted the nickname with good humor, and soon reinforced its meaning by their strict observance of the rituals of the Anglican Church and “their strenuous philanthropy, both consciously calculated for a high return in personal spiritual gains.” Anne Evans comments that of course, the movement did not become popular, “for it was exclusive and self-seeking and righteous over much.

So, in spite of the fact that John Wesley was personable, had good manners, a quick wit and a “keen logical faculty,” his years as an Anglican minister in Oxford were something of a failure. But not as much of a failure as his next religious venture.

Missionary to the American Colonies

John Wesley was dispatched to the Colonies in 1735 to take up duties as an Anglican minister in Savannah, Georgia. Anne Evans describes his two years there as “grotesque in their solemn futility.” He courted a woman who rejected his advances and married another man. His insistence on exact religious ceremonial form did not go down well with “frontiersmen, careless of proprieties, struggling with raw, half-savage conditions.” In fact, his congregation rebelled. He made no attempt to reach the Indians with his message because, he wrote, “there was not one to be found desirous of his teaching.” He had to return to England, dispirited and at a loss as to what to do next.

What happened to transform this good but despondent man into a firebrand, preaching “unflinchingly to a half-mad rabble, who howled their anger and derision and repeatedly threatened his very life,” but who, by Wesley’s preaching, “were held, subdued, and won, departing with a new light by which to live“?

The Humble Moravians

Wesley’s transformation began when he encountered, on the voyage to America, a small band of members of the Moravian Church. He was strongly attracted by their “simplicity, their cheerfulness, their willingness to serve in the humblest offices, unpaid and unthanked…” (These qualities undoubtedly appealed greatly to Anne Evans, for they were ones she strove to follow herself. She spent a good deal of time researching the history and tenets of the Moravian Church for an article she wrote on the subject, which I covered briefly in my biography of her.) Wesley discovered some extraordinary characteristics of these Moravian passengers: “No neglect could rouse them to protest, no insult to anger, no danger to terror.” He saw these characteristics in action on the voyage, when a huge wave washed over the ship, throwing “all the other passengers into a wild panic while the Moravians, undisturbed, continued the hymn they were singing at evening worship.” Wesley asked their bishop, “Do not even your women and children know fear?” The bishop replied confidently, “Not fear of death, certainly.

The End of the Story of John Wesley and the Methodists – to be discussed in the next blog post.

Evans, Anne. “Foundations of the Moravian Church.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine (1917-1918): 267-273.

Evans, Anne. “John Wesley and the Methodists.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine 7.1 (1909): 50-58.

Sternberg, Barbara E., Jennifer Boone, and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Denver: Buffalo Park Press and The Center for Colorado and the West, 2011. 284-85.

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