I just finished John Capon’s 1988 book, John and Charles Wesley, The Preacher and the Poet. It was another of those inexpensive purchases from Amazon that has an interesting surprise. The front page inscription notes, “purchased at Wesley Chapel, London, June 1988.” This is a 158-page paperback, published by Hodder Christian Paperbacks.
The book jumps into the Wednesbury riot in its first paragraph:
As darkness fell in the Midland market-town of Walsall two rival gangs of men were at each other’s throats. The weapons ranged from pitchforks, heavy wooden clubs and bottles to bare hands and clenched fists. In the midst of this heaving, threatening throng, with victims being clubbed to the ground and beaten unmercifully, stood a man who by his dress and demeanour appeared unconnected with the riot – though he was in fact its cause.
Wesley is rescued from the riot by local judges turning away those holding Wesley and finally Wesley convincing the largest of his attackers to become his defender. Five days later, the defender George Clifton, joined a Methodist Society and remained an active lifelong follower of Wesley.
Capon goes on to share the biography of the Wesley childhood in Epworth, college years in Oxford, missionary travel to Georgia, personal awakening upon their return and tireless work in the years that followed.
What Methodism came to believe owed a great deal to the formative theological and devotional influences in Wesley’s life. Wesley believed in loyalty to the church; the inner experience of God fed by prayer and the Scriptures; an independent mind and outlook; commitment to a disciplined, caring lifestyle; personal justifying faith in the Christ of the cross; the necessity of fellowship and evangelism. Wesley summed it up himself in two words: Scriptural holiness.
Wesley’s dictum (was) never to strike one stroke in any place where I cannot follow the blow. The instrument of follow up was the society. There was nothing particularly new in the idea of small groups of people coming together for religious purposes.The unique ingredient that made them effective was the class system.
Classes met weekly under approved leaders to exercise vigilance over the members of the class. He prepared tickets which he gave to each of those of whose seriousness and good conversation I found no reason to doubt. Quarterly visits were made by Wesley or his preachers to check on the spiritual status and progress of those who held tickets.
Capon closes his story of the Wesley brothers relating John’s death in his house next door to Wesley Chapel on City Road in London.
The brand plucked from the burning at Epworth 82 years before, which had set all England alight by the heat of its flame, was finally extinguished.