Chapter IV -- Results of the Revival
It is difficult properly to estimate the results of the Methodist revival of the eighteenth century. Isaac Taylor declares that it has "so given impulse to Christian feeling and profession, on all sides, that it has come to present itself as the starting-point of our modern religious history." Speaking of those, perhaps a hundred in number, who were notably connected with the movement, he says: "It would not be easy, or not possible, to name any company of Christian preachers, from the apostolic age downward to our own times, whose proclamation of the gospel has been in a larger proportion of instances effective, or which has been carried over so large a surface, with so much power, or with so uniform a result. No such harvest of souls is recorded to have been gathered by any body of contemporary men since the first century." Similar testimonies could easily be quoted from a variety of sources.
The Methodist revival rendered incalculable service to the nonconforming sects, by arousing them from their languishing condition, and infusing into them new life and vigor. It rendered also great service to the Established Church. If it created an independent body, it filled it largely from those who had been of no benefit to the Establishment, and were practically strangers to its services; and whatever it took away, it gave therefore an adequate compensation in the spiritual impulses which it imparted. The Evangelical School, which embraced very much of the life and power of the English Church in the closing part of the eighteenth and the first quarter of the nineteenth century, may not have been altogether due to Methodism, but it cannot be denied that it received thence much of its inspiration and means of growth. This school was distinguished by more or less of a Calvinistic bias,-- quite positive in Berridge and Romaine, but of a moderate type in the majority. Its ruling interest, however, was practical rather than speculative. Some of its members, as, for example, the two most eccentric, Grimshaw and Berridge, were remarkable for the extent of their labors. As respects the claims of the Established Church, the Evangelicals occupied a liberal position. "They simply regarded her as one of many Protestant communions. Distinctive Church principles, in the technical sense of the term, formed no part of their teaching." 1 Overton, History of the English Church in the Eighteenth Century. Besides those named above, the Evangelical school included Henry Venn, Walker of Truro, John Newton, the poet Cowper, Thomas Scott, Richard Cecil, Charles Simeon, Joseph Milner, Isaac Milner, and Thomas Robinson of Leicester. Hannah More, and such distinguished laymen as William Wilberforce and the two Thorntons may also be embraced in the list.
A fresh impulse to humanitarian and benevolent enterprise is also to be attributed to Methodism. It was among the pioneers in the organization of Sunday-schools, and in the work of Bible and Tract distribution, and other means of benefiting the ignorant and wretched. "One of the noblest results of the revival," says Green, "was the steady attempt, which has never ceased from that day to this, to remedy the guilt, the ignorance, the physical suffering, the social degradation of the profligate and the poor. It was not till the Wesleyan impulse had done its work that the philanthropic impulse began." 1 History of the English People, iv. 273.
Robert Raikes may be called the founder of Sunday-schools, as the work which he began about 1783 gave a special impulse to the institution of such schools. But, as Tyerman remarks, it deserves to be mentioned that Hannah Ball, a young Methodist lady, had a Methodist Sunday-school at High Wycombe fourteen years before Robert Raikes began his at Gloucester; and that Sophia Cooke, another Methodist, was the first who suggested to Raikes the Sunday-school idea, and actually marched with him at the head of his troop of ragged urchins, the first Sunday they were taken to the parish church. (Life and Times of John Wesley, i. 10, 11.) Wesley's attitude toward the enterprise was cordial from the start. In 1784 he wrote: "I find these schools springing up wherever I go. Perhaps God may have a deeper end therein than men are aware of. Who knows but some of these schools may become nurseries for Christians?" (Ibid., iii. 414, 415.)
In the closing part of the century Methodism served as a bulwark against French infidelity and revolutionary zeal. The wildfire was transferred to English soil. The writings of Paine won enthusiastic disciples. Some made a bonfire of their Bibles in honor of their new apostle, and some even got so far beyond the apostle himself that they deliberated whether they ought not to uncitizen him for superstitiously professing some belief in the existence of God. But such opinions made only a measure of headway. "England, on the whole," says Lecky, "escaped the contagion. Many causes conspired to save her, but among them a prominent place must, I believe, be given to the new and vehement religious enthusiasm which was at that very time passing through the middle and lower classes of the people, which had enlisted in its service a large proportion of the wilder and more impetuous reformers, and which recoiled with horror from the anti-Christian tenets that were associated with the Revolution in France." 2 England in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 691, 692.