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Wesley brothers in Cornwall: part 2

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©1994 whilst a Bible College student (1992-96) CARRY FORWARD FROM PART ONE:The west of England of the eighteenth century was a wild and lawless place. In the face, at times, of mob violence and much opposition even from the established church the Wesleys battled on. How can we discern the signs of true revival? Crime rates fall, immoral standards are banished and misery and sorrow are turned to joy. The Wesleys portray the physical and spiritual qualities needed to spearhead a true work of God. THE MINISTRY CONTINUES:

THE following year (1744) both John and Charles visited Cornwall again. John was first, travelling with lay preacher James Wheatley, he arrived in Cornwall on Monday 2nd April and spent the night at Digory Isbell’s, travelling to St Ives the following day to stay with John Nance.
John spent two weeks in Cornwall culminating in a visit to John Bennett’s parish where Wesley preached to a large crowd at Laneast. Charles made his way down to Cornwall on the 12th July and reached St Gennys on the 15th where he stayed with “Brother Thomson”. Charles obviously loved his visits to Cornwall.
To read his journal of this period gives a glimpse into his joy and delight, not just in his ministry but in the friends he made and in the delights of the countryside. He seems to have been especially fond of rock climbing around the Cornish coast.
Charles went on preaching tours with the rectors Thomson and Bennett. In St Ives the arrival of three clergymen apparently alarmed their persecutors who were in awe of such highly respected ministers as Thomson and Bennett. Charles records that the “Brethren were strengthened” by the arrival of Thomson.
Persecution continued to be a problem for the Methodists throughout 1744 as John and Charles both experienced. The mobs continually caused trouble. In St Ives stones were thrown through the windows of believers’ homes, and those who offered the preachers hospitality were often under attack.
It was the Anglican ministers who continued to stir up persecution; in St Ives, Hoblin the curate railed against the Methodists as enemies of the church, claiming they were Jacobites *1 and Papists *2.
In Penzance John fi rst encountered the minister, Dr Borlase who was a noteworthy adversary, and a magistrate who made it impossible for the persecuted Methodists to obtain justice against their persecutors. Charles said that Borlase was the greatest persecutor of the little fl ock in Penzance and records one of Borlase’s fellow clergymen claiming “he wished the Bible was still in Latin only, that none of the vulgar might be able to read it.” * 3
Despite the opposition there was much to encourage the Wesleys in 1744.
Their journals note the forming of new societies in Penzance, Morva and Gwennap and new preaching points opened in Penzance and Falmouth on the south coast. They continued to preach to crowds of hundreds and thousands.
The greatest evidence of the work of the Lord was at Gwennap where for the fi rst time in living memory the jail was found empty. Charles wrote, “the whole county is sensible of the change and not one Gwennap man was available for a wrestling match”, they were “struck off the devil’s list, and found wrestling against him, not for him.” *4
Persecution was a continuing problem for these fi rst Cornish Methodists and the sad thing is that the chief protagonists were the Anglican ministers. Borlase as magistrate posed serious problems, along with another minister in Redruth who was also a magistrate and determined to “root out this sect”. The next time John returned to Cornwall in July 1746 he found lay preachers being arrested on “trumped up” charges; one was even arrested on the charge of knowing his sins were forgiven.
Borlase himself attempted to arrest John and have him pressed as a soldier. He and the other magistrates made use of an act passed during Queen Anne’s reign (1703) which allowed them to impress idle persons for soldiers and marines. Though some of the lay preachers found themselves arrested, Wesley always escaped by some mysterious means always facing the accusers with calm confi dence and seems to have had miraculous escapes from their hands. Often his prospective captors seemed to let him go without any explanation.
Riots continued. During 1746, there was a fi erce riot in Falmouth from which John so miraculously escaped that he wrote, “I never saw before..... the hand of God so plainly shown as here.” *5 A few days later he faced what became known as the Helston mob at Stithians near Helston, which became what the early Methodists called a “stormcentre” for several years. Charles visited in July and found that the “rebels of Helston threatened hard,” some even claiming that he had brought the Pretender with him.
At the same time Charles was amazed and delighted at the change wrought in St Ives, where no threat at all faced him. He wrote that he “walked the streets with astonishment, scarce believing it St Ives.”
It was the same throughout the county.
Opposition was beginning to abate. In places where the persecution was worst Charles feared for the societies but found to his joy and encouragement that the Lord was raising up “exhorters” — men who stood fi rm and held the societies together, standing in the gap and keeping the trembling sheep together. New societies were springing up at this time, e.g. at Wendron and Stithians. Methodism was obviously making very real and deep roots throughout Cornwall.
The impact of these first three years of Methodism is truly impressive. The Wesley brothers had made many true and abiding friendships. They preached to thousands. Many were converted.
The societies were visibly increasing and growing in strength and nurturing their own preachers and leaders. In northwest Cornwall the Wesleys had good friends and co-workers in the two ministers Thomson and Bennett and fi ve churches (Trewint, Laneast. Tresmere, Week St Mary and Tamerton) where they could freely preach to the large crowds who gathered. It was here that John saw a “great awakening” unlike any other in Cornwall. *6
Charles who had a deep passion for Cornwall wrote at the time,
“I...adored the miracle of grace, which has kept these sheep in the midst of wolves. Well may the despisers behold and wonder. Here is a bush in a fi re, burning, yet not consumed! What have they done to crush this rising sect?
but lo! they prevail nothing!....Many waters cannot quench this little spark which the Lord has kindled neither shall the fl oods of persecution drown it.” *7
...Revival! And it was such a revival that no one was left insensible to its effects...
Some persecution continued however and in 1747 it took an unexpected turn when Lavington was made the Bishop of Exeter, his diocese included Cornwall. Lavington did not like Methodists and began his campaign against them by closing the pulpits in N.W. Cornwall to the Wesleys. Only one remained open to them at George Thomson’s church. Thomson withstood the Bishop, remaining a fi rm friend to the Wesley brothers. Lavington continued his attack by publishing pamphlets against Methodism, these had titles such as, “The Enthusiasm of Methodist and Papists Compared”. One of these pamphlets contained an accusation against John Wesley concerning his conduct with women, and one Cornish woman in particular. This caused Wesley a lot of trouble. The pamphlet was circulated as far as northern England and was used by his enemies to besmirch his name.
In 1750 John took it upon himself to visit the woman concerned and on questioning her found she had no complaint against him. It appears that Lavington had used her idle gossip without ever verifying the truth of her statements.
About this time saw the notable conversion of the Anglican minister Samuel Walker of Truro further adding to Lavington’s anxieties. In fact Lavington’s attacks appear to have been a desperate and largely futile measure. His infl uence was quite limited and by September 1748 the churches in Cornwall were once again open for the Wesleys to preach in.
From this time the situation in Cornwall became much more settled and Methodism grew peacefully and rapidly. One notable visit of John Wesley was in September 1757.
In his journal he records a journey around Cornwall’s perimeter and not once is there a mention of mobs, violence or attempted arrests. He found places which had been previously closed to him now welcoming him with open arms. One such place was Mevagissey. “When I was here last,” he wrote, “we had no place in the town.... But things are altered now:
I preached just over the town, to almost all the inhabitants, and all were as still as night.” *8
One of the hardest places to preach at was Helston, but fi nally in 1777, on August 20th John reported that “prejudice there was at an end”, and that “all the town, except a few gentry, willingly hear the word of salvation.” *9
1777 can be claimed as the year that saw the end of persecution against the Methodists in Cornwall. By 1780 there were 26 Methodist preaching houses in Cornwall, third in number to Ireland with 37 and Yorkshire with 54, Durham was fourth with 15. *10
John Wesley’s fi nal and 32nd visit to Cornwall came in July 1789. It’s a visit that has been described as a triumphal march. In Richard Watson’s words: “when he was last in Cornwall Wesley passed through the towns and villages as in a triumphal march, whilst the windows were crowded with people anxious to get a sight of him and to pronounce upon him their benedictions, yet he says not a word of it all.” *11
Wesley preached in packed churches and chapels and even in Helston he found the “largest and most serious congregation I ever remember to have seen here.” His last comment on Cornwall was, “So there is a fair prospect in Cornwall from Launceston to Land’s End.” *12
It cannot be doubted that over a period of 46 years the ministry of the Wesleys completely transformed the lives of the Cornish. From a land of sinners, Cornwall became a land of saints. One old saying used to be that the devil wouldn’t cross the Tamar into Cornwall because he had heard that whatever entered Cornwall was made either into a pasty or a saint, and he fancied neither. Claude Berry wrote of John Wesley:
No other individual in history has left such an impress upon Cornwall as Wesley, and if beneath that impress something of our old spontaneity and naiveté was lost, much was buried that was brutal and depraved and did not deserve to survive. *13
What was it that Wesley brought to Cornwall that precipitated such a great change which was felt not only in Cornwall but throughout the British Isles?
The answer can be found in one word — revival! And it was such a revival that no-one was left insensible to its effects, even those with no particular religious interest cannot deny the stupendous changes for good that were wrought in British society as the revival took hold and Jesus became known as Lord throughout the land. The Wesley brothers were men who had a message that burned in their souls with such holy passion that they could not help but proclaim it to all and sundry.
That passion was born from the deep conviction that the gospel is the power of God to salvation and that through the preaching of the gospel men and women would meet the Saviour and fi nd all their needs met in Him. It is such passion and conviction that is desperately needed amongst the Lord’s people today.
During times of persecution in Cornwall, God raised up “exhorters” who held the societies together, some of these men became part of “Wesley’s army” of itinerant preachers and are worthy of note as they illustrate something of the infl uence and fruitfulness of John and Charles Wesley’s ministries. We shall briefl y look at just three of these:

PETER JACO: Born in Newlyn in 1729 Peter Jaco was the son of a pilchard processor. After leaving school at the age of 14 he joined his father in employment. From a young age Peter had “awful thoughts of God” which kept him from youthful excesses.
He was aware of his sinfulness but did not know what to do about it. In 1746 he heard his fi rst Methodist preacher and was soon after converted through the preaching of a local tinner. He later became an exhorter and when John Wesley visited in 1751 he appointed Peter over several societies. In 1754 Wesley called him to London and at Conference he was appointed to the Manchester circuit.
He faced many diffi culties. Once in Warrington he was struck so hard on the chest by a brick that the blood gushed out through his mouth, nose and ears. He often preached three of four times a day, riding 30 or 40 miles with very little of the basic necessities of life.
He died in 1781 aged 52 after several years of ill health. JOHN MURLIN: Born at St Stephen in 1722 he was a farmer and a carpenter, and by his own admission an “enemy to God and his own soul”. He swore, gambled and drank heavily.
He heard a Methodist preacher in February 1749 and came under conviction of sin. In April he found release for his soul after a long struggle.
Soon he was asked to lead a small class and later became a reluctant preacher and was amazed to fi nd God using him to bring blessing.
Following this John Wesley asked him to be a travelling preacher at fi rst sending him to west Cornwall. Later he would labour in Ireland, Bristol, London and Manchester. In his latter days he was affl icted by painful rheumatism so that he could barely walk. He had a stroke which left him completely immobilised, but he continued to maintain his happiness in the love of God. He died in 1799 and was buried in the same vault as John Wesley at City Road Chapel.
RICHARD RODDA: Born in 1743 at Sancreed his parents were “God-fearers” who initially wanted nothing to do with the Methodists.
However his eldest sister was converted, followed by his mother. From a very early age (4-6) he developed an awareness of God and sin. In 1756 he came under strong conviction of sin and after seeking rest for his soul for two years, he found peace with God on the 11th June 1758 upon which he wrote a hymn, “Praise God, my soul, whose wondrous love hath drawn thy thoughts to things above.”
Richard worked in the mines and testifi ed to many miraculous escapes wrought by God’s hand.
He became a local preacher, often preaching three times on a Sunday, travelling many miles on foot. He met John Wesley while on a business trip to Wales and offered his service to the Glamorgan circuit.
He laboured as an itinerant preacher for 33 years and ended his days in London on October 30th 1815 aged 72.
Like most of the early Methodist preachers he faced trials and persecutions which he overcame fearlessly and was never deterred from his call to be an itinerant preacher.

1 Jacobite: One dedicated to the return of the Stuart kings to the thrones of England and Scotland.
2. Papist: Used as a disparaging term for a Roman Catholic.
3 Op cit; p.374
4 Op cit; p.375
5 Works, Vol 1; p.505
6 ibid; p.508
7 Journal, Vol 1; p.423
8 Works, Vol.2; p.427
9 In J.S.Simon; The Last Phase; p.94
10 ibid; p.160
11 In Journal Vol 7; p.528
12 In J.S. Simon; op cit; p.317
13 Claude Berry; Cornwall; p.185
C. Wesley Journal; Vols. 1, 2
J. Wesley Works; Vols. 1, 2, 6
J. Wesley Journal; Vols. 7, 8
J. S. Simon J. Wesley and the Methodist Societies
J. S. Simon J. Wesley and the Advance of Methodism
J. S. Simon J. Wesley and the Last Advance
J. S. Simon The Last Phase
F. G. Gill In the Steps of John Wesley
Claude Berry Cornwall
Peggy Pollard Cornwall
Thomas Jackson(ed) Lives of Early Methodist Preachers; Vols. 1,2,3
Rev. L. Tyerman The Life and Times of Wesley

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Appeared in Issue 13.1 CETF 39 MARCH 2007
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