Strangely warmed: the Wesleys and the Evangelical Awakening
The scene is set in the city of Oxford, England. It is a warm Sunday afternoon in June. The year is 1738.
As the clock in the famous Tom Tower strikes two, an impressive procession moves slowly into the university church of St Mary the Virgin on High Street. It is led by an official bearing the insignia of the 'Vice-chancellor, followed by the Vice-chancellor himself arrayed in all his finery. Sandwiched between him and the university Proctors is the select preacher for the day, with the scarlet-robed Doctors of Divinity bringing up the rear.
This is a university service which all resident members are expected to attend. The church fills as a hymn is sung and a bidding prayer offered. Then the preacher, small in stature and quiet in manner, announces his text from Ephesians 2:8-'By grace are ye saved through faith'.
Before long it is clear that this is no routine sermon. It is a cry from the heart and a call to battle. It is the manifesto ofa new movement within the church of God.
It heralds the advent of what became known as "the Methodist revival'.
The preacher was John Wesley, almost thirty-five years of age, the son of a cleric and a Fellow of Lincoln College in Oxford. The message was a re-affirmation of the Protestant Reformers' emphasis on free grace and saving faith. Nothing but this, Wesley declared, could check the immorality which was flooding the land. Endeavouring to empty 'the ocean of wickedness' drop by drop through piecemeal reforms was a futile exercise. Only the proclamation of the 'righteousness which is of God by faith' could stem the tide of permissiveness.
In such direct and uncompromising terms Wesley threw down his challenge. It was more than enough to disturb the customary calm of a Sunday afternoon university ...