by augustine birrell, king’s counsel


JOHN WESLEY, born as he was in 1703 and dying as he did in 1791, covers as nearly as mortal man may, the whole of the eighteenth century, of which he was one of the most typical and certainly the most strenuous figures.

He began his published Journal on October 14, 1735, and its last entry is under date Sunday, October 24, 1790, when in the morning he explained to a numerous congregation in Spitalfields Church “The Whole Armor of God,” and in the afternoon enforced to a still larger audience in St. Paul’s, Shadwell, the great truth, “One thing is needful,” the last words of the Journal being “I hope many even then resolved to choose the better part.”

Between those two Octobers there lies the most amazing record of human exertion ever penned or endured.

I do not know whether I am likely to have among my readers anyone who has ever contested an English or Scottish county in a parliamentary election since household suffrage. If I have, that tired soul will know how severe is the strain of its three weeks, and how impossible it seemed at the end of the first week that you should be able to keep it going for another fortnight, and how when the last night arrived you felt that had the strife been accidentally prolonged another seven days you must have perished by the wayside.

Contesting the Three Kingdoms

Well, John Wesley contested the three kingdoms in the cause of Christ during a campaign which lasted forty years.

He did it for the most part on horseback. He paid more turnpikes than any man who ever bestrode a beast. Eight thousand miles was his annual record for many a long year, during each of which he seldom preached less frequently than one thousand times. Had he but preserved his scores at all the inns where he lodged, they would have made by themselves a history of prices.  And throughout it all he never knew what depression of spirits meant—though he had much to try him, suits in chancery and a jealous wife.

In the course of this unparalleled contest Wesley visited again and again the most out-of-the-way districts—the remotest corners of England—places which today lie far removed even from the searcher after the picturesque.

Today, when the map of England looks like a gridiron of railways, none but the sturdiest of pedestrians, the most determined of cyclists can retrace the steps of Wesley and his horse, and stand by the rocks and the natural amphitheaters in Cornwall and Northumberland, in Lancashire and Berkshire, where he preached his gospel to the heathen.



Grandfather of John Wesley

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