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Sketch of George Whitefield preaching at Rose Green

Conversion and revival

"[George] Whitefield preached at Rose Green to many thousands, coaches, horsemen etc … and came home singing. All the way being 2 or 3 miles to the heart of the city and the streets were crowded all the way, so that we were almost carried off by the multitude."
(William Seward, 1739: DDSE 23)

"O my dear friend cry aloud, tell the peoples; yea, tell all the people to come to this fountain of our dear Master's blood: quickening, cleansing, healing, life giving blood; freely poured flushing out of Jesus for every creature."

John Edmonds, 1739, EMV 55

The testimonies document the grassroots response to revival meetings held across the British Isles during the middle decades of the 18th century. At these unruly and often violent gatherings, crowds sometimes numbering in tens of thousands were told of the transforming power of God and offered the choice between an eternity in hell or heaven.

Delivered by charismatic preachers of the calibre of George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, this message had a shocking impact. Listeners often appeared to be in a state of rapture. The testimonies report cases of physical and emotional collapse with long term effects on the mental and emotional state of converts.

"In general, they [Methodists] are made up of the ignorant part of mankind, and are commonly a peevish, morose, conceited people babbling their nonsense almost in every obscure corner."

Nath Fletcher, A Methodist dissected… (York: 1749)

This extreme behaviour and the impact of conversion on lifestyles and relationships was a cause of acute concern. Methodists were accused of fanaticism and of undermining family ties and society itself. The fact that women were attracted in disproportionate numbers added to the disquiet.

Opposition was not confined to an established Church of England fearful that lack of reason in religion produces sectarianism; or to secular authorities suspicious of utopian idealists. Hostility to the evangelicals entered the mainstream of popular culture. The "mad Methodists" were attacked in print, dragged into court and mocked in the street for their visions, dreams and eccentricities.

George Whitefield preaching at Leeds, 1749 (jrl16040785)