THE BEGINNING OF 200 YEARS OF AUSTRALIAN METHODISM.
Scripture: Romans 1:16-17.
© REV THE HON DR. GORDON MOYES, A.C.
Edward Eagar, after whom Wesley Mission Sydney, named a Lodge for homeless people in Darlinghurst, was born in Killarney, Ireland in 1787. His parents were landed gentry so he was well educated. He trained as a solicitor and became an attorney to His Majesty’s Courts in Ireland. In 1809 he was charged with forging a bill of exchange, convicted and sentenced to death.
He pleaded for clemency and was gaoled for 18 months until transported to Australia. The chaplain sought Edward Eagar’s repentance. Edward committed his life to Christ, repented, and the chaplain sent a letter with him to Australia to Rev Samuel Marsden. The letter said of his conversion, “he wept, and in fervent prayer at the throne of grace we implored mercy for his poor soul, when lo! The heavenly pardon came with power to the afflicted suppliant. All in an instant was love, joy, peace. He has since continued praising and blessing that God and Saviour who dealt so graciously with him. He has really become a new creature.”
He arrived as a convict in chains in 1811 and was assigned to teach children. He soon commenced Bible classes in the Windsor district. He was then given charge of the local school. In 1812 he met with two newcomers Thomas Bowden and John Hoskin and they formed the first membership of the Methodist Church on March 12, 1812. However, more than a year earlier Edward Eagar had started services and class meetings in the Hawkesbury, the true birthdate of Methodism.
Why did he not get the credit? Because when Rev Colville wrote the massive history of the Methodist Church in Australia, it was at a time when the Methodist Church was desperate for respectability and anxious to distance itself from our convict roots and because Edward’s later life involved a bigamous marriage. It was better to go with the upright as Bowden and John Hoskin as founders.
But there is no doubt Edward Eagar was the most significant man in the Australian Methodist Church in the first two decades of its commencement. In 1812, Edward wrote to the Methodist Conference in England to “send us a minister lest we die in our sins.” The minister, Rev Samuel Leigh, arrived in 1815 and Edward Eagar introduced him to Governor Macquarie. He was the first Methodist minister in Australia and is remembered by the Leigh Memorial Church in Parramatta.
In 1813 Edward Eagar was given a conditional pardon, and set himself up as a lawyer in Pitt Street. He was the most active early member of our church. He quickly became the wealthiest man and landholder in Sydney.
He assisted in founding the Sydney Benevolent Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Australian Religious Tract Society, and established the Society for the Protection and Civilisation of Distressed Islanders of the South Seas. He also planned the first mission to Aborigines. He put up 10% for the funding capital to establish the Bank of N.S.W. (Westpac) but was angry he was not allowed to be a director of the bank because he had been a convict.
In 1818 he was granted a full pardon. However, Judge Jeffrey Bent did not let him forget he had been a convict and had been disbarred from practise as a lawyer. He lost a court case because pardoned convicts did not have a right to own property, to sue, to give evidence in court or to have other civil rights.
Other emancipated convicts saw their rights denied. So Edward Eagar took up their case with the British Government. He fought for trial by jury, and for freedom to trade commercially. This was the first Australian attempt to change government policy. He was a hard antagonist and made many enemies including John Macarthur. Dr William Redfern, after whom Redfern is named, and Edward Eagar sailed to London in 1821 to argue the case in the Court of St James on behalf of other freed convicts. He fought the case for 20 years and eventually won.
Eagar was Australia’s first liberal political agitator. He left behind his wife and three sons behind taking his daughter with him. He was never to return. But in London, his personal life fell from his Christian standards. He married a 16-year-old girl and they had 10 children.
His Sydney wife Jemima had moved into a house in Macquarie Street with William Charles Wentworth and had a son by him. Wentworth was our most famous citizen. He was first to cross the Blue Mountains and was our most powerful Member of the Legislative Council. For ten years I sat beneath a marble bust of him in our Parliament.
Edward Eagar was a devout man and the first secretary of the Sydney Methodist church, but after his civil rights were denied him, he was bitter against the conservative government and social standards set by men like William Charles Wentworth.
But Eagar’s son Geoffrey became the first accountant of the Bank of N.S.W., a leading public servant and the Treasurer of N.S.W., the best Treasurer of the nineteenth century, and cabinet minister. He never forgave his father for leaving his mother. When Edward Eagar died in 1866, he was described as “a gentleman”, but a study of his life shows that he constantly wrestled with God. He had an internal conflict between good and evil, between doing the best and being overcome by the worst.
Many men in Sydney today know that inner wrestling with God in their hard times. That is why I named the eight storey building for homeless people after Eagar. In that remade old chapel with its ancient sandstone front dating back to 1847, and its concrete tower apartments rising on the skyline, there is a place that says the old can become new, and a name that says the worst can start again. Edward Eagar’s sins were obvious, his conversion was genuine, and his early devotion to Christ and the Church was real.
Edward Eagar did so much good for Australia. But he always had a hard wrestle with God over the conflict within his conscience, the limiting afflictions of his character, the temptations of the city, and the burden of his problems. But he gave in. He did not persevere until God blessed him. He stands as a symbol of a man who did so much but who could have accomplished much more if he had only persevered until God blessed him. He gave up too soon. Consequently a hundred years later the Methodist Church preferred to forget him.
From that early beginning hundreds of thousands of Australians were converted and became Methodists. They build thousands of churches, schools, Sunday schools, welfare centres, university colleges; missionary stations among Aborigines, Pacific Islanders Asian communities and the like.
Many people do not understand why Sydney Methodist Church changed its name in 1884 to Central Methodist Mission, then with the coming of the Uniting Church to Wesley Mission. They do not understand its heritage. They do not understand why in my ministry we built many new builduings and named Wesley Church, Wesley Theatre, Wesley Hospital, Wesley Conference Centre and have in the foyer of Wesley Centre a Bible printed in 1650 written in by John Wesley. I also purchased a 250 year old chair made by the most famous chair maker in history, Thomas Chippendale, identified as “JOHN WESLEY’S CHAIR” now in a historical showcase.
Many people visit Wesley Mission but few know its history. History prepares us for the future. If you do not know from whence you have come, you do not know where you are heading! Historians understand that.
I was having dinner with my wife with four eminent church leaders who were commenting on Wesley Church’s life and witness to the city: The then Anglican Archbishop Donald Robinson, the former Dean of Sydney Dr Stuart Barton Babbage, the head of the University Department of History Professor Ken Cable, and the Chairman of the Government Inquiry into Universities Dr Roderick West. They each commented that in the Uniting Church of Australia, and in the lurching by the church to the left to find its new image, Wesley Mission has stood successful and strong because it remained true to its heritage.Professor Cable said: “If Wesley Mission is different from other Uniting Churches it is because it has remained true to its heritage and its calling.” What is this Wesley heritage we continue? John Wesley was one of the most influential people of eighteenth century England and all church history.
1. JOHN WESLEY - THE MAN:
John and Charles Wesley’s parents were remarkable people. His father Samuel was an Anglican clergymen and his mother Susanna, was an amazing woman of spiritual depth. They had nineteen babies, ten surviving. John’s childhood was marked by a traumatic experience. He was saved from their burning house in Epworth when aged six, so that both son and parents believed he was “a brand plucked from the burning” for a reason.
His education was at Charterhouse and then a Master of Arts at Oxford. For 13 years he served God as an ordained Anglican priest and missionary. His missionary service was marked by frustrating failure. On his way home from USA, he wrote in his Journal: “I went to America to convert the Indians, but Oh, who shall convert me?”
His warm heart experience was central to his life. His life falls into two parts with the dividing point being May 24th 1738, while aged 35. He felt his heart “strangely warmed” while listening to Martin Luther’s introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, at a devotional meeting of a group of pietist European Christians, the Moravian Brethren.
He wrote: “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart by faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” From that conversion, came a great evangelical movement that swept throughout Britain, bringing to the world a new Protestantism combining evangelism and social reform. So the 24th May 1738 became Wesley Day ever since.
His travels after his conversion were prodigious. He rode over 225,000 miles on horseback, preaching 44,000 ser¬mons and personally won one hundred and forty thousand converts to Christ. His death in 1791 saw two hundred thousand Methodists in Britain, Europe and America. His last words were: “The best of all is, God is with us!” On his memorial at Westminster Abbey are his words: “God buries his workmen, but continues His work.” Within ten years of his death, one in every thirty Englishman was a Methodist. He fought to the end, and six days before his death wrote to William Wilberforce to urge him to abolish slavery.
2. JOHN WESLEY’S MESSAGE:
God’s grace was seen in God’s loving response to our sin and apartness from God. Christ’s life, death on the cross for our sins, and resurrection enables us to enter the new life. So Personal Salvation must be acknowledged by all who would be Christian. The message of Christ’s salvation must be told to everyone.
God’s grace freely saves all through personal faith. A Spirit filled life assures us of salvation and enables us to live with spiritual power. The gifts and fruit of the Spirit enable growth in grace until we become mature in Christ and able to serve others. A transformed society is the result of transformed lives. Personal evangelism combines with social responsibility as seen in Wesley Mission today.
A social care for all people, especially the poor, marked the early Methodists. Wesley turned a foundry into a meeting place seating 1500, with rooms for teaching, a free school for sixty children, a shelter for widows, a dispensary for the poor and a cafeteria, the first Wesley Centre.
The giving of money for practical social care came from people covenanting to give: “a penny a week and a shilling a quarter.” Methodists taught the lessons of gaining, saving and giving which enabled Wesley’s poor to grow in selfesteem and dignity.
3. JOHN WESLEY’S METHODS.
1. Restore the Scriptural Christianity. Wesley sought to restore New Testament Christianity, by living the principles and spiritual power that made the early church great. Every year he preached in Oxford urging the reform of the Anglican Church by a return to New Testament Christianity. Wesley stood in the restorationist tradition.
2. Renew the Church. They were mocked in trying to bring life into the church as “Enthusiasts” “Bible Moths” “Reformers”, but the mocking name that stuck was “Methodists”. His brother Charles, taught people by wonderful Hymns. In 1728 Charles established the Oxford Club which John was to lead. Charles wrote Christian doctrine in hymns to fit popular songs sung in tav¬erns.
“Methodists sang their creeds.” On Pentecost Sunday, 21st May 1738, three days before John felt his heart “strangely warmed”, Charles was influenced by Luther’s introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, especially the verse, “Christ loved me and gave himself for me”. He wrote the first of a phenomenal 6,500 hymns, and on the anniversary of his conversion:
“And can it be that I should gain,
Died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be
That thou, my God shouldst Die for me.”
3. Spiritual discipline was learnt from their devout mother. At Oxford they spent two hours in prayer and Bible reading daily. To help others grow in their faith, especially those who were poor and illiterate, Wesley organised a system of classes, bands and societies, supported by travelling preachers and wrote or edited over 400 books on a variety of Christian teaching.
The Classes, were house churches with a local layman or woman as pastor and teacher. The class leader visited each person at home each week to advise, teach, question, correct and comfort the believers, and collect offerings for the poor. The bands brought together about 20% of the classes for mutual confession of sin and prayer. The smaller society was made up of devout people who shared their goods and money in common.
3. Reform the nation. Wesley was an evangelist who held personal evangelism in balance with social responsibility. When people were born again, they had to show the fruit of faith by loving their neighbours. The urban poor of England’s Industrial Revolution were evangelised and souls were saved among the coal miners, iron smelters, quarrymen, ship yard workers, cotton factory hands and ser¬vants.
He said “Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most.” They established credit unions, free schools, dispensaries, attacked factory work conditions, slavery, gambling, piracy, war and political graft. So Methodists hurled themselves into social reform. The Wesleyan Revival is the greatest example of the impact of a spiritual movement upon the life of a nation.
4. Research the methods. Wesley was pragmatic. His effectiveness dates from the day his friend George Whitefield demonstrated how coal miners would listen to the Gospel preached out of doors. Wesley said “I should have thought the saving of souls a sin if it had not been done in church.” But because it worked, Wesley preached frequently at 5am, in the open air of marketplace and mine-head because poor people were going to work at that time.
4. JOHN WESLEY’S MEGA TRENDS.
John and Charles Wesley established some church growth principles which worked, trends that lasted, megatrends unaffected by time or culture.
Dr J. Edwin Orr, the great authority on Revival in the church lectured at Wheaton College USA. He told me he took some students in 1940 on a brief visit to England including the Epworth Rectory. Beside the bed are two worn impressions in the carpet where it was said John Wesley knelt for hours in prayer for England’s social and spiritual renewal. As the students were getting on the bus, he noticed one was missing. Going back up-stairs he found one student kneeling in the carpet kneeholes praying: “O Lord, do it again! Do it again!”. Orr placed a hand on the student’s shoulder and said gently, “Come on Billy, we must be going.” And rising Billy Graham rejoined the bus.
God will do it again if we are as committed as John and Charles Wesley. They gave to us some vital megatrends.
1. Accept personal salvation as the basis of faith.
2. Believe a plain gospel to reach plain people.
3. Commit every believer to a small nurture group.
4. Demonstrate practical concern for the poor.
5. Expect personal growth and spiritual discipline.
6. Face social problems in Christ’s name.
7. Grow the church by whatever good means work.
At the conclusion of almost every sermon, John would call people to repentance and to seek salvation. He would write in his journal: “We offered Christ”. So now I offer Christ to you. Receive Him into your heart by faith. In a church in Chester, England, the congregation erected a plaque which reads: “Near this spot on June 20th 1752, the Rev. John Wesley preached his first sermon in this city. His sermon was “O let me commend my Saviour to you.” On this spot, let me commend my Saviour to you.
Even as you sit in your seats, like John Wesley put your trust in Jesus Christ; hold an assurance, a confidence, a conviction, a certainty that Christ has saved you; and testify to what you have felt in your heart by faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is paramount, then repentance of your sins, then confession of the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life, followed by a life of obedience to your Lord. That is how to find your assurance!
John Wesley’s life was turned round by the understanding of one verse of the Bible: Romans 1:17 “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The Good News is that we are made right with God through our faith.
It is our faith in Jesus Christ who lived, died upon the Cross for our sins, was raised from the dead, has ascended into heaven where He reigns as Lord, and who will come again in glory, that saves us. We are made right with God through our faith. By our faith we live, and our life in Christ is full, free and eternal.