[The following passage is from John Wesley, a biography of the founder of Methodism by Arnold Lunn, published in 1929.]
Left to themselves, the mob would perhaps never have troubled about the Methodists. The riots were too often instigated by an unholy alliance between the parson and the squire. The parson resented the invasion of his parish by irregular preachers, and the squire disliked the Methodists, because it is the habit of English squires to distrust religious and political innovations. The squirearchy suspected that the doctrines of the Methodists tended to obliterate social distinctions. “I asked a little gentleman at St. Just,” writes Wesley, “what objection there was to Edward Greenfield. He said, “Why the man is well enough in other things; but his impudence the gentlemen cannot bear. Why, sir, he says he knows his sins are forgiven!’”
The impudence of the Methodists spread dismay in exalted quarters. The Duchess of Buckingham, having been invited by Lady Huntingdon to hear Whitefield preach, replied as follows:
“I thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive, and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks, and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.”
Once it was generally realised that the Methodists might be mobbed with impunity, the new sport became as popular as bear-baiting. Indeed, much of the trouble with which Wesley and his preachers had to contend was due to nothing more malicious than the brutal horseplay so common in a brutal period. Sometimes the mob just wanted a fight. If a Methodist was handy all the better. Neither the squire nor the parson would be likely to make a fuss if some stray Methodist had his bones broken.
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