John Wesley and the early Methodists, Pt 1

Iain Murray’s book, Wesley and Men who Followed, is Christian biography at its best. Murray, unlike other reformed writers, has a deep appreciation and proper understanding of the early Methodist preachers, both in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of the men Mr. Murray exposes us to today is the unknown Thomas Collins (1810-1864), one of the evangelists who labored in preaching the gospel in the mid-19th century. Collins professed to have a saving experience of Christ around 1819 at the age of 9 under the preaching of Gideon Ouseley, but the more permanent change came later in 1826 at 16 years of age when a genuine local revival broke out at Redditch, England under the ministry of W. Davies, the local Methodist minister. Collins was on fire for God and, as Murray states, he was ‘encouraged to take a lead among young men who were organized to evangelize surrounding villages.’ Before long, he was to speak publicly for the first time at Stratford-on-Avon, which ‘meant a round trip on foot of thirty miles.’

Murray goes on to show his progress, as he combined an apprenticeship in business with local preaching, but after an experience in a prayer meeting in March, 1830 (age 20), which experience he called a ‘fire baptism’, his calling was set and the Methodist district meeting (conference) recommended him as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry.

Though early on considering that he might be called to overseas missionary work, Collins remained at Redditch, where the effects of the Spirit’s outpouring had been continuing, with converts increasing from 290 to 400 in twelve month’s time. He then was called to Wark in Northumberland (northeast England, on the border of England and Scotland) to labor in what he called a hard field of rugged country, an area of 14×20 miles, all to be covered on foot or by horseback when possible. His early impressions of the place–

‘Darkness covers the people. Some indeed are well-meaning and very sincere, but are completely ignorant of the short and straight gospel way. There is not much religion and the little there is, it is not of the type that gives promise. Professors [professing Christians] here seem to have no idea of God’s mighty saving purposes. They have not learned to care for others and are full of complaints about themselves. Sinners are perishing all around. My heart yearns for them; ‘Lord, give me converts and raise up for me helpers, men who in the freshness of first love will joyously go to and fro and tell Thy simple plan. O, for more men of God!’

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