From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
At the Roots of Methodism: Wesley stood by crown in adversity
Mon, 17 Jun 2002 14:41:08 -0500
June 17, 2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: This is a regular feature on Methodist history prepared especially for
distribution by United Methodist News Service. An artist's rendering of John
Wesley is available.
A UMNS Feature
By John Singleton*
As celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession
to the British throne continue this year, predictions about the impending
demise of the monarchy appear to have been premature. British public opinion
voted with its feet when more than 1 million people celebrated the jubilee
in central London for two days running, and an additional 1 million people
shared street parties and other jollifications the length and breadth of the
British Isles. The popularity of the royal family appears, for the time
being at least, to have taken a decided upswing with people of all ages.
Debate over the future of the monarchy has never really been very high on
the agenda of Methodists in Britain. Their annual conference still sends a
"loyal address" to the queen, and the country's national anthem - "God Save
Our Gracious Queen" - is printed in the official Methodist Church hymnbook.
And even those Methodists who hold strong reservations about the privilege
and wealth represented by the crown will probably have joined in the jubilee
fun. It's a case of using any excuse to hold a party!
So what would the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, have made of it all -
particularly as the monarch is also head of the Church of England? The
evidence is that, in the context of his time, Wesley was a loyal but not
always uncritical subject of the king. And just occasionally, as in the
question of American independence, his loyalties became split, and he ended
up radically changing his views (from supporting independence to opposing
But his loyalty was never in question when King George II was threatened by
rebellion on his own doorstep. In 1745, Wesley returned to the northern city
of Newcastle to find the populace in a state of "utmost consternation," for
the Jacobite rebellion was under way, and news had been received that the
forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie - the pretender to the throne - had entered
Edinburgh, only 100 miles north of Newcastle, and were poised to move south.
In a letter to the mayor of Newcastle during these troubled times, Wesley
wrote: "All I can do for His Majesty, whom I honor and love - I think not
less than I did my own father - is this: I cry unto God, day by day, in
public and in private, to put all his enemies to confusion. And I exhort all
that hear me to do the same; and, in their several stations, to exert
themselves as loyal subjects; who, so long as they fear God, cannot but
honor the King."
A week later, with the walls of the city bristling with canon and other
defenses prepared for sustaining an assault, Wesley preached an emotional
sermon to a congregation in nearby Gateshead.
"In the afternoon, I expounded part of the lesson for the day, Jacob
wrestling with the angel," he wrote in his journal. "The congregation was so
moved that I began again and again, and I knew not how to conclude. And we
cried mightily to God to send His Majesty King George help from his holy
place, and to spare a sinful land yet a little longer, if haply they might
know the day of their visitation."
The expected attack by the rebels never materialized, although a band of up
to 1,000 of them came within a few miles of Newcastle.
On a later occasion, when he came physically close to the king, Wesley
seemed unimpressed by his stature and was quick to draw a salutary lesson.
"I was in the robe chamber, adjoining to the House of Lords, when the king
put on his robes," he said. "His brow was much furrowed with age, and quite
clouded with care. And is this all the world can give even to a king? All
the grandeur it can afford? A blanket of ermine round his shoulders, so
heavy and cumbersome he can scarce move under it! An huge heap of borrowed
hair, with a few plates of gold and glittering stones upon his head! Alas,
what a bauble is human greatness! And even this will not endure."
The welfare of the king's successor, King George III - whose attack of
insanity in November 1788 sparked political warfare between those who
enjoyed his patronage and those who urged that full powers be given to the
dissolute Prince of Wales - was of great concern to Wesley. The king
recovered his sanity less than a year later and resumed his authority on
March 10, 1789.
An entry in Wesley's journal records that on March 29 the founder of
Methodism was preaching at the New Room, Bristol, to a "numerous
congregation." "I preached on the sickness and recovery of King Hezekiah and
King George, and great was our rejoicing," he wrote.
One wonders what Wesley might have said about tInterestingly, the gold state
coach in which Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh rode from
Buckingham Palace to St Paul's Cathedral for the queen's great jubilee
service. The coach was first seen during Wesley's lifetime - in 1762, when
King George III traveled to the state opening of Parliament. Commissioned by
the king, the coach cost 7,562 British pounds - the equivalent of about
700,000 pounds today, or more than $1 million. Wesley's shunning of personal
extravagance and his somewhat austere lifestyle give us clues as to what he
might have thought of this royal extravagance. On the other hand, he mixed
well with people of all classes, and many well-to-do people were among his
admirers and friends.
In the context of his times, it is hard to imagine that Wesley would not
support the stability and leadership expected of a God-fearing British
monarch. But if he had stayed on in America, he might have thought
# # #
*Singleton is a writer with the weekly Methodist Recorder newspaper in
London. He is also administrator of Methodist churches and projects in the
Tower Hamlets area of East London. He can be contacted by e-mail at
United Methodist News Service
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