The preacher John Wesley, who rode on horseback throughout Britain, giving three classes each day for 50 years. He attracted 80,000 followers who formed themselves into small groups for ‘mutual spiritual upliftment.’
Today is exactly 270 years since the day in 1738 when John Wesley went to a prayer meeting in London and felt his heart ’strangely warmed.’ It was about ‘quarter to nine in the evening’ and he felt himself saved by God.
A fleeting moment in time for him, but one that would dramatically change his life and have immense repercussions for millions of people. Wesley soon began his preaching ministry which would see him giving three classes a day for the next 50 years. In the marketplace, in the fields, and at the colliery, he found people whose lives had not been touched as his had and gave them a message of transformation and surrender to God.
Through small groups, helping each other move forward in spiritual life, and enthusiastic singing to God (and sometimes dancing!) the followers grew rapidly. The result was the Methodist movement and a revival of God consciousness.
For Britain, it is said that Wesley and his preachers helped to prevent the bloody revolutions against the aristocracy that were taking place in nearby France. The same revolution took place among working people but it was tempered with charity and spiritual understanding. Methodism took hold among the working classes in the newly industrialised Britain, led to the Trades Union movement, which led to the Labour Party, which ultimately led to our present government.
In America, Methodism was a vital force because, quite simply, it was the only religious expression taught in many regions.
Methodism also led to the Salvation Army. When Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura heard about them and their outdoor singing of hymns to God, he said that it was the first manifestation of the sankirtan movement in the western world.
At his death in 1791 Wesley had attracted 80,000 followers and was adored by hundreds of preachers. Like all similar movements it was troubled by schisms after his death. But he and his message live on and the world has been enriched by what happened within him on this day 270 years ago today.