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he was assailed were most ferocious in their spirit and conduct, and seemed bent upon doing him bodily mischief, even to the destruction of his life. He had narrow escapes both there and at Walsall. In going to Wednesbury, where in spite of all opposition he had established a considerable society, he passed through Birmingham the first time in the year 1738, but did not preach : and it is a little remarkable, that as the town then contained about 25,000 inhabitants, he should have delayed to open his commission here till five years afterwards. In 1743, when again on his way to Wednesbury, he delivered his first sermon here, in all probability under the canopy of heaven, to a small but attentive congregation. His next sermon in this town was preached on Gosta Green, amidst much uproar, and a continual volley of stones and dirt : this was the fourth discourse he had delivered that day: the three preceding ones having been preached at Wednesbury and Bilston, a fact which gives some idea of the labours of this extraordinary man.
Birmingham had now got fast hold of Wesley's heart, his interest in the place having been increased both by opposition and success. We find him repeatedly here from this time onward. Indeed at a subsequent period of his history he appears to have paid an annual visit to the town. In November 1745, he remained two or three days, and during this sojourn, in all probability, he organised a society. Still his success was not great for several years, as we find in his journal the following remark in 1749. • After preaching at Dudley I rode to Birmingham. This had long been a dry, uncomfortable place, so I expected little good here; but I was happily disappointed. Such a congregation I never saw there before ; not a scoffer, nor a trifler, nor an inattentive person, (so far as I could discern) among them; and seldom have I had so deep, so solemn a sense of the presence and love of God: the same blessing we had at the meeting of the society, and again at the morning meeting. Will God then at length cause even this barren wilderness to blossom as the rose?” In March 1751, he says—“I was obliged to preach abroad, the room not being able to contain half the congregation. O how is the scene changed here! Formerly when I preached at Birmingham the stones flew on every side. If
disturbances were made now, the disturbers would be in more danger than the preacher.” This, however, was only a lull of the passions of the opponents of his preaching, for as his success increased, Satan determined that resistance should increase with it. Mobs still collected in formidable numbers, and assailed him and the congregation with every species of annoyance. In 1768, we find the following entry in his journal. “The tumults which subsisted here so many years are now wholly suppressed by a resolute magistrate." And, of course, might have been suppressed before if the magistrates had done their duty; but in fact they hated Methodism as much as the mob, and connived at the violence by which it was assailed. Under this date he remarks “I was pleased to see a venerable monument of antiquity, George Bridgins, in the one hundred and seventh year of his age. He can walk to the preaching, and retains bis understanding, and can see tolerably well. What a dream will even a life of a hundred years appear to him the moment he awakes in eternity!" I make at present but one extract more from his journal, 1772. "I took chaise to Birmingham. Here are brethren walking in the fear of God, and in the comfort of the
Holy Ghost. God has at length made even the beasts of the field to be at peace with me. All was quiet in the evening, and although the snow lay mid-leg deep in the street, yet at five in the morning the house was nearly filled.” But it is humiliating to consider that it took more than twenty years to tame these wild beasts. A happy change has come over our population since then. Could another Wesley again appear and preach on Gosta Green, the populace would be more ready to escort him in honour to his home than to pelt him with stones. Methodism, as well as other forms of true religion, has long too deeply established itself in the conviction of the people as the poor man's friend, to be an object of obloquy; and education has done much not only to tame the fury of the passions, but to enlighten the judgment on the subject of religious liberty. Mobs cannot now be so easily raised at the bidding of an official or wealthy persecutor, as they could have been at one time.
It would seem from these statements that the first preaching was from time to time in the open air, according to the opportunities Mr. Wesley had of visiting Birmingham, and it is also probable that the place of meeting for the society was a private dwelling in the occupation of a Mr. Walker, in Steelhouse-lane, nearly opposite the Independent chapel now standing there. This individual had been a man of immoral life, but being much impressed with Mr. Wesley's preaching, he said to his wife that he had heard this new preacher, and should wish to let the people meet in his house. “Well,” she replied, “if they come here they must meet in the garret.” And for a time, it is believed, they did so. Our minds can hardly help thinking of the hundred and twenty disciples which nearly seventeen
centuries before had assembled in the attic of Jerusalem. Could the veil of futurity have been at that time lifted up to these few despised followers of the pelted preacher of Gosta Green, and the numerous and noble edifices which now grace and bless our town, have been seen, which in another century would belong to that same society, how they would have been astonished, and with what difficulty would they have believed the revelation.
The first public preaching place occupied by Mr. Wesley's followers, was the old play house, situated in Court 15, in Moor-street.* Mr. Wesley preached at the opening of this first place of convocation for his followers March 21, 1764. By this time the number of the Methodists had so far increased in Birmingham, as to entitle it to the honour of being formed into a separate circuit. This took place in 1782, up to which time it had belonged to the Staffordshire Circuit. This was now divided into North and South Staffordshire, and Birmingham placed at the head of the latter, and Burslem the head of the former, at which time our town reported to the Conference the number of seven hundred members.
It must be evident that such a society needed more accommodation than could be furnished by the old “ cast off theatre" in Moor-street, and in 1782, the chapel now standing in Cherry-street, though much altered, enlarged since then, and the freehold purchased in 1823, was opened for public worship by the venerable founder of the society, then in the eightieth year of his age. Dr.
* I may here give another instance of Hutton's want of accuracy, for in his history he speaks of this body of Methodists as belonging to Whitfield. He was right, however, in saying that, at the date of his history they had “procured a cast off theatre in Moor-street,” “ where,” says he in his own style of levity and burlesque, “ they continue (1780) to exhibit.”.
Adam Clarke, on his way through Birmingham, had preached in the shell of the new building.
A few days before the opening of Cherry-street chapel we find the following remarks in the journal of Mr. Wesley.
“I have entered my eightieth year, but blessed be God my time is not labour and sorrow. I find no more bodily pain or infirmities than I did at five and twenty, and I impute it—first, to the power of God fitting me for what he calls me to; second, to my still travelling four or five thousand miles a year; third, to my sleeping night or day whenever I want it ; fourth, to my rising at a set hour; fifth, to my constant preaching, particularly in the morning." Happy Wesley, to have the power of sleeping so completely at will as to be able at any time, night or day, to command it to his aid. The opening of Cherry-street chapel for Methodism“ caused no small stir about that. way.” On the following Sunday Mr. Wesley remained in the town and attended the parish church of St. Martin's, for it was his wont still to be present, as he had opportunity between the times of his own sermons, at the worship of the established church. On this occasion he heard the preacher declaim with great vehemence against these “hair-brained, itinerant enthusiasts.” Who the preacher was it is useless to inquire, and would do him no honour, and us no good to record. Certain it is, the present rector of St. Martin's better understands the Methodist body than did this his predecessor, and would speak of them in other terms than these.
As the Methodists still increased in numbers, another chapel was erected in Bradford-street, which was opened by Mr. Wesley in 1786. The want of room still being felt, a third place of worship was erected at Belmont-row, in 1789. Here, also, the veteran labourer preached in