by the rev. hugh price hughes, m.a.
He who desires to understand the real history of the English people during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries should read most carefully three books: George Fox’s Journal, John Wesley’s Journal, and John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua.
As Lord Hugh Cecil has recently said in a memorable speech, the religious question cannot be ignored. It is the question; in the deepest sense it is the only question. It has always determined the course of history everywhere. In all ages the skeptical literary class has tried to ignore it, as the Roman historians, poets, and philosophers ignored Christianity until the time when Christianity became triumphant and dominant throughout the Roman Empire.
But, however much ignored or boycotted by literary men, the growth or decline of religion ultimately settles everything. Has not Carlyle said that George Fox making his own clothes is the most remarkable event in our history? George Fox was the very incarnation of that individualism which has played, and will yet play, so great a part in the making of modern England. If you want to understand “the dissidence of Dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion,” read the Journal of George Fox.
Then came John Wesley and his “helpers.” They were the first preachers since the days of the Franciscan Friars in the Middle Ages who ever reached the working classes. In England, as in France, Germany, and everywhere else, the Reformation was essentially a middle-class movement. It never captured either the upper classes or the working classes. That explains its limitations.
As Dr. Rigg has shown, Wesley’s itineraries were deliberately planned to bring him into direct contact neither with the aristocracy nor with the dependent or poverty-stricken poor, but with the industrious self-supporting workmen in town and country. The ultimate result was that “the man in the street” became Methodist in his conception of Christianity, whatever his personal conduct and character might be. A profound French critic said, fifty years ago, that modern England was Methodist, and the remark applies equally to the United States and to our colonies. The doctrines of the Evangelical Revival permeated the English-speaking world.
Then Newman appeared on the scene and a tremendous change began. The Anglican Church revived, and revived in Newman’s direction. We witness today on every side the vast results of the Newman era. Many of these results are beneficial in the extreme; others cannot be welcome to those who belong to the schools of George Fox and John Wesley.
The whole future of the British Empire depends upon this question of questions—Will George Fox and John Wesley on the one hand, or John Henry Newman on the other, ultimately prevail? And the best way to arrive at the true inwardness of the issue is to read, ponder, and inwardly digest Wesley’s Journal and Newman’s Apologia.
It is a great advantage that Mr. Parker has secured permission to republish Mr. Augustine Birrell’s “Appreciation.” That brilliant writer demonstrates that there is no book in existence that gives you so exact and vivid a description of the eighteenth century in England as Wesley’s Journal. It is an incalculably more varied and complete account of the condition of the people of England than Boswell’s Johnston. As Mr. Birrell says, Wesley was himself “the greatest force of the eighteenth century in England. No man lived nearer the center than John Wesley. Neither Clive nor Pitt, neither Mansfield nor Johnson. No single figure influenced so many minds, no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life’s work for England.” Wesley has demonstrated that a true prophet of God has more influence than all the politicians and soldiers and millionaires put together. He is the incalculable and unexpected element that is always putting all the devices of the clever to naught.
I do not understand what Mr. Birrell means by saying that “as a writer Wesley has not achieved distinction. He was no Athanasius, no Augustine; he was ever a preacher.” It is true that Wesley’s main business was not to define metaphysical theology, but to cultivate friendly relations with Christians of all schools, and to save living men from sin. But he gave a deathblow to the destructive dogma of limited salvation with which the names of Augustine and Calvin will be forever associated.
No doubt, like Oliver Cromwell, Wesley was essentially a “man of action,” and he deliberately sacrificed the niceties of literary taste to the greater task of making Englishmen on both sides of the Atlantic real Christians. Even so, the style of some of his more literary productions is a model of lucidity and grace.
But my main point here is to echo Mr. Birrell’s final statement, that “we can learn better from Wesley’s Journal than from anywhere else what manner of man Wesley was, and the character of the times during which he lived and moved and had his being.” My co-religionists and all who love the most characteristic qualities of modern English life are under a deep debt of obligation to my friend Mr. Parker and His publishers for giving them an opportunity of studying the eventful eighteenth century of English history at its center and fountainhead.
The fact that this edition of the work has been condensed is no drawback. The Journal, as originally published, was itself condensed by Wesley….For popular purposes Mr. Parker’s edition will answer all important ends, and will give English readers for the first time an opportunity of reading in a handy form one of the most important, instructive, and entertaining books ever published in the English language.
Of course Mr. Parker alone is responsible for the selection of the portions of the Journal which appear in this volume.
HUGH PRICE HUGHES