From the top of the next enormous mountain, we had a view of Weardale. It is a lovely prospect. The green gently-rising meadows and fields, on both sides of the little river, clear as crystal, were sprinkled over with innumerable little houses; three in four of which (if not nine in ten) are sprung up since the Methodists came hither. Since that time, the beasts are turned into men, and the wilderness into a fruitful field.
It being very cold, I judged it best to preach in the House, though many of the people could not get in. Just as I began to pray, a man began to scream, and that so loud, that my voice was quite drowned. I desired he would contain himself as far as he could, and he did so tolerably well. I then applied the account of the Woman of Canaan. The people devoured every word. Wed. 3. — I desired to speak with those who believed God had saved them from inward sin. I closely examined them, twenty in all, ten men, eight women, and two children. Of one man, and one or two women, I stood in doubt. The experience of the rest was clear; particularly that of the children, Margaret Spenser, aged fourteen, and Sally Blackburn, a year younger. But what a contrast was there between them! Sally Blackburn was all calmness; her look, her speech, her whole carriage was as sedate, as if she had lived threescore years. On the contrary, Peggy was all fire; her eye sparkled; her very features spoke; her whole face was all alive, and she looked as if she was just ready to take wing for heaven! Lord, let neither of these live to dishonour thee! Rather take them unspotted to thyself!
In the evening, I preached on, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
And indeed God confirmed his word. There was a cry on every side, but not like that last night. This did not damp, but quicken, the rest, especially that of the children; many of whom mourned for God, but none rejoiced with joy unspeakable. About twenty of them, steady and consistent, both in their testimony and behaviour, desired to join with their elder brethren, in the great sacrifice of thanksgiving. A few were then also constrained to cry out, but the greater part enjoyed “the silent heaven of love.” Thur. 4. — At five I took my leave of this blessed people. I was a little surprised, in looking attentively upon them, to observe so many beautiful faces as I never saw before in one congregation; many of the children inparticular, twelve or fourteen of whom (chiefly boys) sat full in my view.
But I allow, much more might be owing to grace than nature, to the heaven within, that shone outward.
Before I give a more particular account of this work of God, it may be well to look back to the very beginning of it. In this part of Weardale, the people in general are employed in the lead mines. In the year 1749, Mr Hopper and John Brown came and preached among them. But it made no impression; none opposed, and none asked them to eat or drink. Mr H., nevertheless, made them several visits in the ensuing spring and summer.
Towards autumn four found peace with God and agreed to meet together.
At Christmas two of the Exhorters in Allandale determined to visit Weardale. Before they entered it, they kneeled down on the snow, and earnestly besought the Lord that he would incline some person, who was worthy, to receive them into his house. At the first house where they called, they were bid welcome, and they stayed there four days. Their word was with power, so that many were convinced, and some converted to God. One of these Exhorters was Jacob Rowell. They continued their visits, at intervals, all winter. At the beginning of summer, about twenty lively, steady people were joined together. From that time they gradually increased to thirty-five and continued about that number for ten years.
There was then a remarkable revival among them, by means of Samuel Meggot, so that they increased to eighty; but, four years since, they were reduced to sixty-three. From that time they increased again, and were, in August, a hundred and twenty.
In two respects, this society has always been peculiarly remarkable: The one, they have been the most liberal in providing everything needful for the Preachers: The other, they have been particularly careful with regard to marriage. They have in general married with each other; and that not for the sake of money, but virtue. Hence, having been yoke-fellows in grace before, they more easily bear the yoke of marriage, and assist each other in training up their children; and God has eminently blessed them therein. For in most of their families, the greatest part of the children above ten years old are converted to God. So that to several among them one may say, as St. Paul to Timothy, “The faith which dwelt first in thy grandmother, and thy mother, I am persuaded is in thee also.” It was observable too, that their Leaders were upright men, alive to God, and having an uncommon gift in prayer. This was increased by their continual exercise of it. The Preachers were there but once a fortnight. But though they had neither Preacher nor Exhorter, they met every night for singing and prayer.
Last summer the work of God revived, and gradually increased till the end of November. Then God began to make bare his arm in an extraordinary manner. Those who were strangers to God felt, as it were, a sword in their bones, constraining them to roar aloud. Those who knew God were filled with joy unspeakable and were almost equally loud in praise and thanksgiving. The convictions that seized the unawakened were generally exceeding deep; so that their cries drowned every other voice, and no other means could be used than the speaking to the distressed, one by one, and encouraging them to lay hold on Christ. And this has not been in vain.
Many that were either on their knees, or prostrate on the ground, have suddenly started up, and their very countenance showed that the Comforter was come. Immediately these began to go about. From one to another of them that were still in distress, praising God, and exhorting them without delay to come to so gracious a Savior. Many, who to that hour appeared quite unconcerned, were thereby cut to the heart, and suddenly filled with such anguish of soul as extorted loud and bitter cries.
By such a succession of persons mourning and rejoicing, they have been frequently detained, so that they could not part till ten or eleven at night, nay, sometimes, not till four in the morning.
A farther account was drawn up by the Leaders: — “On Sunday afternoon, December 1, as William Hunter was preaching, the power of God fell on the congregation in a wonderful manner. Many, being cut to the heart, cried aloud for mercy, and ten were added to the society. On Tuesday evening we met again at six, but could not part till ten. In this time four found peace with God, and ran from one to another, exhorting them to believe in Christ. On Wednesday night many were deeply distressed, but none set at liberty. While we were meeting on Thursday, two were enabled to rejoice in God their Saviour. On Saturday night we met at six, and three of us sung and prayed. But before the third had done, his voice could not be heard for the cries of the people. Seven of these soon arose, blessing and praising God, and went about encouraging others. Many hardened sinners were much affected thereby, and began to cry as loud as they had done; so that we had nothing to do, but to stand and see the wonderful work of God. And O how dreadful, yet pleasing, was the sight! All this time many were crying for mercy. Among these were four young men who remained on their knees five hours together. We endeavoured to break up the meeting at ten, but the people would not go; so that we were constrained to continue till twelve: Near this time one was asked, what he thought of this. He answered, ‘I wish it be all real .’ He then turned to go home; but, after taking a few steps, began to cry aloud for mercy. He cried until his strength was quite gone, and then lay as one dead till about four o’clock in the morning; then God revealed his Son in his heart.
During this meeting eleven persons found peace with God. “On Sunday morning we met at the common hour, and three of us sung and prayed as usual, till our voice was drowned by the thanksgivings of the new converts, and the cries of convinced sinners. Among the rest an ancient woman was so struck, that she vehemently cried out, ‘Mercy! Mercy! O what a sinner am I! I was the first that received them into my house in Weardale, and have heard them almost these thirty years. O, pray for me! Mercy, mercy!’ It was not long before she found mercy and mightily rejoiced in God her Savior. And about the same time another mourner passed from death unto life. “We met again at two, and abundance of people came from various parts, being alarmed by some confused reports. We sang and prayed, and the power of God descended. A young man who had been deeply wounded in the morning, now found One mighty to heal. We then concluded, but many of the people came in again, and others stayed at the door. Among those who came in, was one who had been remarkably profligate. He cried for mercy with all his might; several crowded about to see him: And before we parted not only he, but five more were rejoicing and praising God together. We met again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and by that time nine more found peace. “Mr Rowell came on Thursday, stayed three days, and joined many new members. Three-and-thirty of these had found peace with God, as did five more in the week following. When Mr Watson came, he joined many more, eleven of whom were justified.
At our meeting on Tuesday, eleven more were filled with the peace of God. Yet one young man seemed quite unconcerned. But suddenly the power of God fell upon him; he cried for two hours with all his might, and then the Lord set his soul at liberty. On Saturday a few met at M. Hunter’s room, who were athirst for full sanctification. For this they wrestled with God, until a young man found the blessing, as several others have done since. We have ever since continued our meetings, and God has continued his loving-kindness toward us. So that above one hundred and twenty are added to the society, above one hundred of whom are believers.”
I left John Fenwick on Friday 5th, to examine the society one by one. This he did on Friday and Saturday. The account of what ensued he gave in the following words: — “On Saturday evening God was present through the whole service, but especially toward the conclusion. Then one and another dropped down, till six lay on the ground together, roaring for the disquietude of their hearts. Observing many to be quite amazed at this, I besought them to stand still and see the salvation of God.
But the cry of the distressed soon drowned my voice; so I dismissed the congregation. About half of them went away. I continued praying with the rest when my voice could be heard; when it could not, I prayed without a voice, until after ten o’clock.
In this time, four of these poor mourners were clothed with the robes of praise. “The society now consists of one hundred and sixty-five members; of whom there are but twenty that have not found peace with God.
Surely such a work of God has not been seen before in any part of the three kingdoms.”
Such a work, it is true, in many respects, was that at Everton some years since; yet not in all, as will fully appear, if we consider a few more circumstances of this: — “Forty-three of these are children, thirty of whom are rejoicing in the love of God. The chief instrument God has used among these is Jane Salkeld, a schoolmistress, a young woman that is a pattern to all that believe. A few of her children are, Phebe Teatherstone, nine years and a half old, a child of uncommon understanding; Hannah Watson, ten years old, full of faith and love; Aaron Ridson, not eleven years old, but wise and stayed as a man; Sarah Smith, eight years and a half old, but as serious as a woman of fifty: Sarah Morris, fourteen years of age, is as a mother among them, always serious, always watching over the rest, and building them up in love. “Mention was made of four young men, who were affected on the second Wednesday in December. These, hearing of the roaring of the people, came out of mere curiosity. That evening six were wounded and fell to the ground, crying aloud for mercy. One of them, hearing the cry, rushed through the crowd to see what was the matter. He was no sooner got to the place, than he dropped down himself, and cried as loud as any. The other three pressing on, one after another, were struck just in the same manner. And indeed all of them were in such agonies, that many feared they were struck with death. But all the ten were fully delivered before the meeting concluded, which indeed was not till four in the morning. “Jane Collins had been a hearer for twenty years, but was not awakened, till at a prayer-meeting last winter she was cut to the heart. It being Sunday, the meeting should have ended at nine; but through her distress it continued till near twelve. She was then hardly persuaded to go home. In the evening she returned, but was dead as a stone. So she continued all night; but, the next day, God revealed his Son in her heart. “Edward Farles had been a hearer for many years, but was never convinced of sin. Hearing there was much roaring and crying at the prayer-meetings, he came to hear and see for himself. That evening many cried to God for mercy. He said he wished it was all real; and went away more prejudiced than before, especially against the roarers and criers, as he called them. But soon after he got home, he was struck to the ground, so distressed that he was convulsed all over. His family fearing that he would die, sent for some of the praying people. For some hours he seemed to be every moment on the point of expiring, in deep agony both of body and mind. He then lay as quite breathless; but, about four in the morning, God in a moment healed both soul and body. Ever since he has adorned the Gospel. “The rise of the late work was this: — William Hunter and John Watson, men not of large gifts, but zealous for Christian Perfection, by their warm conversation on the head, kindled a flame in some of the Leaders. These pressed others to seek after it, and for this end appointed meetings for prayer. The fire then spread wider and wider, till the whole society was in a flame.” Thus far John Fenwick.
It was observed above, that this work greatly resembled that at Everton. It did in many respects, but not in all: To instance in some particulars: — It resembled that work 1. In its unexpected beginning. No such work had ever been seen before either at Everton or in Weardale, when it broke out in so astonishing a manner, equally unlooked for by the instruments and by the subjects of it. The latter resembled the former work,2. In the swiftness of its progress, I mean in the persons affected; many of whom were in one day, or even two or three hours, both convinced of sin, (without any previous awakening,) and converted to God. 3. In the number of persons both convinced and converted; which was greater in a few months, than it had been in Weardale from the first preaching there, or in Everton for a century. The work in Weardale resembled that at Everton, 4. In the outward symptoms which have attended it. In both, the sudden and violent emotions of mind whether of fear or sorrow, of desire or joy, affected the whole bodily frame; insomuch that many trembled exceedingly, many fell to the ground, many were violently convulsed, perhaps all over, and many seemed to be in the agonies of death. And the far greater part, however otherswise affected, cried with a loud and bitter cry. To name but one circumstance more, there was a great resemblance, 5. In most of the instruments whom God employed. These were plain, artless men, simple of heart, but without any remarkable gifts; men who (almost literally) knew “nothing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
In these respects, the work of God in Weardale nearly resembled that at Everton; but in other respects they were widely different: For, 1. That was the first work of God, of the kind, which had ever been in those parts in the memory of man. This was only the revival of a work, which had continued for many years. Now these circumstances are common at the dawn of a work, but afterwards very uncommon. I do not remember to have seen the like anywhere in the three kingdoms, unless at the beginning of a war. 2. Although the former work was swift, the latter was far swifter. In general, persons were both awakened and justified in a far shorter time. 3. A far greater number were converted to God in Weardale, than about Everton; although the number of hearers, round about Everton, was abundantly greater than in Weardale. 4. Although the outward symptoms were the same, yet in Weardale there were none of the dreams, visions, and revelations, which abounded at Everton; and which, though at first they undoubtedly were from God, yet were afterwards fatally counterfeited by the devil, to the great discredit of the work of God. 5. There was a great difference in the instruments, whom God employed in one and in the other work. Not one of those in or near Everton had my experience in the guiding of souls. None of them were more than “babes in Christ,” if any of them so much. Whereas in Weardale, not only the three Preachers were, I believe, renewed in love, but most of the Leaders were deeply experienced in the work of God, accustomed to train up souls in his way, and not ignorant of Satan’s devices. And hence we may easily account for the grand difference between the former and the latter work; namely, that the one was so shallow, there scarce being any subjects rising above an infant state of grace; the other so deep, many, both men, women, and children, being what St. John terms “young men” in Christ. Yea, many children here have had far deeper experience, and more constant fellowship with God, than the oldest man or woman at Everton which I have seen or heard of. So that, upon the whole, we may affirm, such a work of God as this has not been seen before in the three kingdoms.
From John Wesley's Journal June 1772.
WESLEY DISCUSSING THE REASON FOR THE FAILURE OF THE REVIVAL
I now inquired into the causes of that grievous decay in the vast work of God, which was here two years since; and I found several causes had concurred: 1. Not one of the Preachers that succeeded was capable of being a nursing-father to the new-born children: 2. Jane Salkeld, one great instrument of the work, marrying, was debarred from meeting the young ones; and there being none left who so naturally cared for them, they fell heaps upon heaps: 3. Most of the liveliest in the society were the single men and women, and several of these in a little time contracted an inordinate affection for each other; whereby they so grieved the Holy Spirit of God, that he in great measure departed from them: 4. Men arose among ourselves, who undervalued the work of God, and called the great work of sanctification a delusion. By this they grieved some and angered others; so that both the one and the other were much weakened.
Hence, the love of many waxing cold, the Preachers were discouraged; and jealousies, heart-burnings, evil-surmisings, were multiplied more and more.
From John Wesley's Journal - June 1774
But it came good again.
Thur. June 5 1788. — Desiring to pay one more visit to the loving society in Weardale, I set out early, and drove through wonderful roads to Wolsingham; a town near the entrance of the vale. I could not preach abroad, because of the storm; and the House would not near contain the people. However, as many crowded in as could: The rest got near the door or windows, and surely the willing mind was accepted.
In the evening, the wind being still very high, I was obliged to preach within, in Weardale also; and it was a time of uncommon blessing. Friday, 6. Going out of my room, I missed a step, and fell forward, so that the edge of one of the stairs came a quarter of an inch above my right eye, exactly upon my eyelid. I put a little white paper upon it, which immediately stopped the bleeding, and preached without any inconvenience. The work of God has much increased here lately. Many have been convinced of sin, many justified; some perfected in love, and many added to the society.
From John Wesley's Journal - June 1788.
This chapel was built in 1760. It is the oldest Methodist Chapel in the world which has had continuous weekly services. John Wesley came here many times.
The first revival in Weardale was in 1751 when two men came from Allandale and then another around 1762. (see below)