Wesley and the Cannons of God’s Providence

In Wesley and the Second Jacobite Rebellion, I described how John Wesley found himself in Newcastle in 1745, just at the time the city was preparing to defend itself against the invading army of Charles Edward Stuart, pretender to the thrones of England and Scotland. The city was in a panic and the people were terrified. Wesley continue to preach as best he could amidst the chaos, and his journal entry for Sunday, September 22 records this:

At eight I preached at Gateshead, in a broad part of the street near the popish chapel, on the wisdom of God in governing the world. How do all things tend to the furtherance of the gospel!

Wesley’s journal is filled with his belief in God’s active intervention in “governing the world.” Mobs attack him, but somehow never manage to hurt him. He survives all sorts of dangers in his travels. When he needs something, it appears at just the right time. God brings him the people that need to hear him preach and touches their hearts. John Wesley’s journal is nothing but the story of how God working in and through his life.

Most importantly, in Wesley’s view, God’s active governance of the world has an end, a purpose: the furtherance of the gospel. God does not superintend the events of Wesley’s world for Wesley’s own comfort, personal fulfillment or worldly happiness. God is working out his purposes. He is advancing the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Wesley, that meant bringing people from wherever they were in their spiritual lives to the point of repentance, justification, new birth and sanctification.

It’s interesting, then, that Wesley saw even the cannons of the English army as playing a role in the providence of God.

Wesley’s accommodations in Newcastle were situated outside the walls of the city. People advised him to abandon his lodgings. Even apart from the danger from the enemy, the cannons firing from the city gates would deafen him. Wesley’s journal entry for September 22 continues:

This made me look how the cannons upon the gates were planted; and I could not but adore the providence of God, for it was obvious 1) they were all planted in such a manner that no shot could touch our house; 2) the cannon on Newgate so secured us on one side, and those upon Pilgrim Street gate on the other that none could come near our house, either way, without being torn in pieces.

As the city defenses were laid out, Wesley’s house happened to be located between two batteries, yet outside their fields of fire. And, Wesley thought, the cannons perfectly covered the avenues of approach to his quarters, protecting him from the enemy’s advance. This happy circumstance, Wesley believed, was God’s providence, preserving him to continue his work of preaching the gospel.

I admire Wesley’s faith in God’s provision, but I don’t have much confidence in his estimate of the situation when it came to the inviolability of his house. There was a reason that the army demanded he modify the structure of his home: the area around his house would become a battlefield if the rebel army appeared at Newcastle. And someone should have probably reminded Wesley that the enemy has cannons, too. If the enemy invested the city, at best Wesley would have been stranded in no man’s land between two warring armies. The English cannons are tasked with protecting the walled city and the population as a whole, not individuals who foolishly decide to remain outside. Get inside the city walls, Mr. Wesley. Better yet, evacuate the area, and stay out of the defenders’ way.

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1 thought on “Wesley and the Cannons of God’s Providence”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed your blog, Mitch. This is perhaps the best sentence you’ve written so far: “God does not superintend the events of Wesley’s world for Wesley’s own comfort, personal fulfillment or worldly happiness. God is working out his purposes. He is advancing the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Wesley, that meant bringing people from wherever they were in their spiritual lives to the point of repentance, justification, new birth and sanctification.” I’m curious, though: if Wesley saw the benefit of the cannons for the Crown, then what did he think of those cannons defending the cause of the Crown against the revolution in the colonies and what it meant when those cannons were defeated ultimately? Thanks for your faithfulness to this blog, brother! Matt

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