John Wesley

 

On what motive do you thus poison yourself? Only for the pleasure of doing it? What! Will you make yourself a beast, or rather a devil? Will you run the hazard of committing all manner of villanies; and this only for the poor pleasure of a few moments, while the poison is running down your throat? O never call yourself a Christian! Never call yourself a man! 

Another example as to how the church responded to social changes took place in Britain in the 18th century. The industrial revolution was under way, along with its many attendant horrors such as the use of child labor and a disregard for environmental issues.

 

Many people found solace in alcohol — A phrase used at the time was, “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence (two pennies)”. Hogarth’s well-known illustration ‘Gin Lane’ illustrates the problem. We see the craftsman and the housewife pawning the tools of their trade, a man who has hanged himself, the collapsing buildings and — most prominently — the drunken and diseased woman dropping her baby into the street. It is a parody, of course, but it illustrates how degraded society had become.

The Anglican church, the state church, ad become somewhat complacent and indifferent to the plight of these industrial workers. In response to this situation John Wesley (1703-1791) and others founded what was later to become the Methodist church. One of the cornerstones of their Christian faith was that it is wrong to drink alcohol. As the quotation at the head of this page shows, he did not mince words.

 

We now think of Wesley as being a strict teetotaler,. However, his attitude toward alcohol was actually more moderate and nuanced, nor was it entirely consistent. The full Hogarth cartoon, as shown below, is entitled Gin Lane and Beer Street. It condemns the vice and misery associated with gin, but it actually promotes the value of beer consumption. It is probably more accurate to say that Wesley was more opposed to drunkenness than he was to drinking per se. Nevertheless, he recognized that the church was not responding adequately to a major social ill, so he energetically promoted a faith-based solution.

Beer-Street-Gin-Lane-Hogarth.jpg