In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart arrived in Scotland from France and raised and army in order to invade England. Stuart was the Young Pretender to the thrones of England and Scotland, the grandson of James II who had been deposed by Parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The military actions that took place in Scotland and England in 1745 and 1746 are known as the Second Jacobite Rebellion.
John Wesley arrived in Newcastle at about the time Stuart’s force captured Edinburgh, about 100 miles to the north. This posed a potential problem for Wesley, beyond the physical dangers and difficulties associated preaching in such an environment. One of the accusations thrown at Wesley during his ministry was that he was a secret supporter of Stuart’s cause. His journal entry for July 4, 1745 includes this quotation informing Wesley why so many people were violently opposed to him.
“Sir, I will tell you the ground of this. All the gentlemen of these parts say that you have been a long time in France and Spain and are now sent hither by the Pretender; and that these societies are to join him.”
Even before the capture of Edinburgh, people in much safer parts of England feared that these strange groups of people called “Methodists” were up to no good. They were so odd, so different from the men and women one ordinarily encountered, who knew what they were really doing? Maybe they were secretly plotting to overthrow the government. They were, of course, doing nothing of the kind, but that didn’t stop people from reacting violently to them. Mobs attacked them, injured them and even tried to kill them.
As an aside, I consider how some people say that Jesus must have really been an anti-Roman agitator whose true aim was the overthrow of Caesar’s empire. Nobody gets put on a cross for preaching about inward holiness, God’s forgiveness and perfect love. Nobody gets their head chopped off for preaching about a coming transformation of the cosmos that brings peace, righteousness and eternal life for those trust in God. Or so the argument goes. One only has to look around the world to see how violently people react to essentially religious claims with which they disagree. Wesley’s experience shows that it is quite possible for people to cast their rejection of a religious message in secular political terms.
So Wesley entered Newcastle under suspicion of being a Stuart sympathizer, and Stuart was on the move. Wesley needed to demonstrate his loyalty to King George, not only for the sake of his own safety, but for the sake of the gospel he preached. On September 21, Wesley wrote the mayor of Newcastle, explaining why he had not attended the emergency meeting called by the mayor to prepare for the defense of the city:
Sir,–My not waiting upon you at the town hall was not owing to any want of respect. I reverence you for your office’ sake; and much more for your zeal in the execution of it. I would to God every magistrate in the land would copy after such an example! Much less was it owing to any disaffection to his Majesty King George. But I knew not how far it might be either necessary or proper for me to appear on such an occasion. I have no fortune at Newcastle: I have only the bread I eat and the use of a little room for a few weeks in the year. All I can do for his Majesty, whom I honor and love—I think not less than I did my own father—is this, I cry unto God day by day, in public and in private, to put all his enemies to confusion: and I exhort all that hear me to do the same; and, in their several stations, to exert themselves as loyal subjects; who, so long as they fear God, cannot but honor the King.
In worship on Sunday, September 29, Wesley records how he led the congregation in prayer.
And we cried mightily to God to send his Majesty King George help from His holy place and to spare a sinful land yet a little longer, if haply they might know the day of their visitation.
Most of the British army was engaged on the continent in the War of Austrian succession. There were few regular British forces available to withstand the Stuart invasion. Wesley’s journal records how the leaders and people of Newcastle prepared to defend themselves against what they were sure was an imminent attack upon the city.
The mayor enlisted and armed willing volunteers to serve as a citizen militia, reinforcing the few companies of regular soldiers available for the defense of Newcastle. Among non-combatants, those who could, fled. Those who stayed behind, Wesley describes as poor and terrified.
Weak points in the city’s fortifications were reinforced. Gates were filled in with stone, obstructing the enemy’s entry to the city. Cannon were mounted on the city walls. Lines of observation and fields of fire were cleared. That last point was the purpose of Wesley’s encounter on October 8 with a “burly man” sent by the general in command of the military force. Wesley wrote the general, complaining of the messenger’s rude behavior, but offering his unreserved support to Newcastle’s military defense:
[Your messenger a said to me] “You must pull down the battlements of your house, or tomorrow the General will pull them down for you.” Sir, to me this is nothing. But I humbly conceive it would not be proper for this man, whoever he is, to behave in such a manner to any other of his Majesty’s subjects, at so critical a time as this. I am ready, if it may be for his Majesty’s service, to pull not only the battlements, but the house down; or to give up any part of it, or the whole, into your Excellency’s hands.
Wesley also reports on the capture of an enemy spy and the “actionable intelligence” he provided after being involuntarily saved from a suicide attempt.
Among those who came from the north was one whom the mayor ordered to be apprehended on suspicion of his being a spy. As soon as he was left alone he cut his own throat; but a surgeon, coming quickly, sewed up the wound, so that he lived to discover those designs of the rebels, which were thereby effectually prevented.
Given the era, I am fairly certain that the spy’s delivery from death was only temporary, and the means of exatracting information from him extraordinary by modern standards.
Wesley complains about none of this. None of it, except for the vulgarity of the troops. The soldiers, it seems, were not very well behaved. In his September 21 letter to the mayor, Wesley asked the government to do something about it.
Unto whom, then (I may ask you), should we flee for succor, but unto Him whom, by our sins, we have justly displeased? O Sir, is it not possible to give any check to these overflowings of ungodliness? To the open, flagrant wickedness, the drunkenness and profaneness which so abound even in our streets? I just take leave to suggest this. May the God whom you serve direct you in this and all things!
Why was this important? Why should it be important to the magistrate? How could you expect God to be on the side of people who, by their wicked behavior, spit in his face? On October 26, Wesley sent the mayor another letter on the matter:
My soul has been pained day by day, even in walking the streets of Newcastle, at the senseless, shameless wickedness, the ignorant profaneness, of the poor men to whom our lives are entrusted. The continual cursing and swearing, the wanton blasphemy of the soldiers in general, must needs be a torture to the sober ear, whether of a Christian or an honest infidel. Can any that either fear God, or love their neighbor, hear this without concern? especially if they consider the interest of our country, as well as of these unhappy men themselves. For can it be expected that God should be on their side who are daily affronting Him to His face? And if God be not on their side, how little will either their number, or courage, or strength avail?
And what could the government do? Wesley’s first letter to the mayor appears to imply that the English government should control its troops’ behavior by force of law and the authority of command. In 1775, the American congress drafted the first “Articles of War” for its new army. In Army Values, 1775, I described how the Articles began:
Article 2 was this: “Go to church.” Article 2 recommends – but does not require – Soldiers and officers to attend what it calls “Divine Service.” The same article does require everyone, however, to behave decently and reverently wherever worship services are taking place. It imposes fines on those who misbehave, with the fines being used for the benefit of the sick and wounded. Article 3 seems just as quaint: “no cussing.” Anyone guilty of “profane cursing or swearing” was also subject to a fine.
The law can restrain the soldiers’ wicked conduct. but what the soldiers Wesley saw on the street really needed was a change of heart. They needed to repent. And in order to repent, they needed preaching. Now, there’s something Wesley could really do to help the king. More about that in the next installment.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Stuart’s rebel army moved south to besiege Carlisle, to the west, and not Newcastle. A number of battles ensued before the Jacobite forces were finally defeated in April, 1746. Charles Stuart withdrew once again to the continent of Europe where he maintained his claim to the English throne until the end of his life in 1788.