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WESLEY: A HEART STRANGELY WARMED


At the first half of the 18th century, England was also in a mess. Gin and gambling were destroying the lives of poor and rich alike. This was the age of Dick Turpin - crime figures were so high, there was so much danger from highway men and footpads that Horace Walpole wrote, "One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle." The government did not know how to respond so they simply added the death penalty for more and more and more crimes.


Meanwhile in 1713 England by defeating France and Spain had secured itself a monopoly in the slave trade. The horrors of unbridled greed in the early industrial revolution meant that three out of every four children died before the age of five because of the insanitary slums and poverty. And of course it hardly goes without saying--churchgoing was at an all time low, and clergy were time servers. I have an ancestor Bishop Carr of Worcester, who gambled (and lost) so much, that when he died, his creditors highjacked the coffin, and would not allow it to be buried, until the debts had been paid. That was the state of the church and the nation at the time.


And then in 1738, a man called John Wesley went to meeting in Aldersgate in the City of London. He heard a reading from a sermon of Martin Luther on Romans and as he listened “My heart was strangely warmed” he said. He felt God - not the god of cucumber sandwiches but the God who tears open the heavens and shakes mountains. And he began to preach. He preached outside the shafts of coalmines and at the doors of factories. He preached not where the church said people should come, but where people were.


And lives were changed. Workers who would take their pay and drink it away, leaving nothing for their wives and children, put aside the bottle and turned to Jesus. Families were reunited. Child mortality dropped. Literacy grew as people longed to learn to read to read the Bible. Prayers were answered - people were healed of physical ailments. Church attendance grew - passionate church attendance singing hymns to what at the time were considered vulgar pop-song tunes. Parliament itself was effected. The slave trade was abolished. Sending children down the mines or up the chimney was abolished. The death penalty was restricted to truly serious crimes. And the crime rate fell...because one heart was strangely warmed. And then many hearts were strangely warmed. In one generation, a nation was changed.

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