He was not at all a killjoy.
John Wesley may have formed the oaken roots of Methodism, but records show him to have been, if not a wisecracking humorist, certainly a joyful sort.
A fellow preacher spoke of his “cheerfulness mingled with gravity, a sprightliness which was the natural result of an unusual flow of spirits and was yet combined with … the most serene tranquillity”.
Yet it cannot be denied that he could stir up a maelstrom in a crowd as soon as look at it. Trouble was his middle name, so to speak. And you wouldn’t know it to look at him: a neat figure, five foot three in his stockings, with brown-auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. A fastidious man.
And fastidiously, he recorded a visit to Hull where he made quite an impression on the local populace and they on him.
It was a chilly April day, roundabout teatime, when a coach called for Mr Wesley and took him to a place called Mighton Car, about half a mile outside town, where the people came: thousands of them. Some wealthy, some without two pennies to rub together; some on foot, or horse, and some in coaches. And they waited to hear the great man speak.
Now we only have Mr Wesley’s word for what he said that day. I know of no other testimonies. And like all one-sided accounts, I can only surmise he was selective in what he relayed. His journal asserts that he simply preached:” What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Sometimes, it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.
Thousands seriously attended to his words, he informs his journal.
But some did not. Quite a lot, actually. Many behaved, he says, as if they were possessed by demons.
Clods of earth being hurled in his direction were the least of his worries; many chose stones. But Wesley says not one touched him, or disturbed him.
There is, is there not, a wisdom in knowing when to retreat; and Mr Wesley was nothing if not a wise man. He finished what he had to say and cast around for his coach.
But the coachman- clearly not a spiritual man – had scarpered: driven clean away when the going got tough.
Thank goodness for the gentlewoman!
There she sat, in a coach already crammed with seven people. History does not record whether she consulted her fellow passengers before flinging open the door and inviting Wesley and his wife in, designating the whole party as a riotous getaway coach.
So there they were, their driver willing the horses on and the crowd swarming around the wheels and throwing whatever they could in at the windows, which were down so that the glass did not get broken.
And how did Mr Wesley avoid harm?
“A large gentlewoman who sat in my lap,” he recalls, “screened me so that nothing came near me.”
Ah; does not God work in strange ways?