During the eighteenth century, the conditions of society in England were deplorable. Due to the revolutions in the spheres of industry and agriculture, there was a mass migration of the poor to the cities. Desperate for work, these people were prepared to take up whatever was offered. Working conditions were terrible and they were forced to live in slums that were unsanitary and crowded. The poor had no protection against employment. Under the system of apprenticeship, where the parents of a boy paid the master fit teaching the trade, a lot of exploitation existed.
The moral condition of such people was as wretched as their physical state. Drinking and gambling were the two rampant vices. The people were very fond of brutal sports like cock fighting and bear-baiting. Football matches played on the streets ended in bloody brawls. Boxing matches between women attracted large crowds. People indulged in smuggling and wrecking. The taverns became the focal point of the poor and the helpless. Quite a few taverns became notorious for riot and debauchery. As a result of drinking and gambling, the poor often landed in the debtor’s prison. Conditions in these prisons were terrible. Churchgoing became irregular. Thousands of slum dwellers in the cities did not go to church at all and were ignorant heathens. This was the condition of English society when the Wesley Brothers appeared on the scene.
Methodism was a movement begun by a group of students at Oxford University in the 1720s. They aimed to lead disciplined and methodical lives. They were spiritual and practiced good habits. These activities earned them the name ‘Methodists‘. The Wesley Brothers, John, and Charles, along with George Whitefield, all of whom were Methodists, began a missionary crusade in England and Wales. Methodism was a purely religious movement. They wished to reach the vast mass of human beings who were neglected by the church and the state. The founders of the movement not only preached all over the country themselves but sent out preachers on similar missions. Both Wesley Brothers and Whitefield preached in the open air to enormous congregations, sometimes numbering 30,000 or 40,000 people. The Methodists tried to teach the people to lead an active, selfless, Christian life. They focused on thrift, toil, abstinence, and discipline. They wanted to save their souls and also to help others. They were filled with humanitarian feelings and began to visit the prisoners in jail. Service was the keynote of the Methodists. Many of them began to teach the poor children living in the slums. The Methodists tried to teach people to lead a Christian and civilised life. Wesley forbade his followers from indulging in gambling, fighting, and drinking. He tried to inspire the people to lead good and virtuous lives with his ownlife as an example.
The Evangelical Movement in the church of England was a direct outcome of the Methodist movement. The Evangelical Movement tried to fight against the indifference of the eighteenth century and attempted to revive puritanism. Spiritual devotion was the chief aim of this movement. Many devout and earnest men became preachers of its doctrines. It particularly influenced the members of Cambridge University.
Methodism gave eighteenth-century England another immortal gift. It enhanced the beauty of the Christian religion with joyful hymns. People like Issac Watts and Charles Wesley produced several hymns which became popular at once. Above all else, we may see the influence of the Methodists on the religious life of the entire British nation. There is no doubt that the early period of Hanoverian rule was singularly lacking in religious activities and enthusiasm. It was the spiritual zeal of John Wesley that restored Christianity as a living force in the daily life of the nation.
Published by Ayisha Shabana.M