Dark Nights and Wonders

‘The baiting of bulls, bears, badgers and dogs—with fireworks attached to them—was typical of the third and fourth decades of this century (England in the the 1700’s). Most of those tortures took place in public house grounds, on village greens, in village church grounds, or in cathedral closes. The animals were often baited to death to provide greater excitement.’

‘And another “sport” was cockfighting with metal spurs. Many eighteenth century clergymen bred fighting cocks and sometimes had church bells rung to honour a local winner. The setting of trained dogs on ducks in lakes was another favourite recreation, as was fox-hunting, cudgel-play and pugilism—boxing without gloves—for men and women, which sometimes went on for hours. Prize-fights between male bruisers who battled bare-fisted attracted mobs of twelve thousand or more.

‘Gambling was a national obsession for all classes, bringing appalling ruin to thousands. In London and other big cities, promiscuity became a sport, from court masquerades to fornication in broad daylight on the village green, or selling one’s wife at a cattle market.

‘There was an abundance of openly pornographic literature. Donald Drew quotes Irish historian William Lecky: “The profligacy of the theatre during the generation that followed the restoration (of the monarchy) can hardly be exaggerated.” Likewise, a judge remarked, “no sooner is a playhouse opened in any part of the kingdom, than it becomes surrounded by a halo of brothels.”9 The bible became a closed book, and the result was ignorance, lawlessness, and savagery. And until the advent of the Sunday School movement toward the end of the century, little of no provision was made for the free education of the poor, except the church system of charity schools, which were invariably a farce: most teachers being half-literate.

‘As for lawlessness, thieves, robbers and highwaymen, Horace Walpole observed in 1751, “one is forced the travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle.” Savagery showed itself in the plundering of ships lured by false signals onto rocks, and in the indifference shown to the drowning sailors. This was regular activity along the entire coastline of the British Isles.

‘Into this spiritual and moral quagmire stepped John Wesley … One of nineteen children, he narrowly escaped death as a little boy when one night the rectory caught fire and was burned to the ground … He went through school to Oxford, where he was elected as a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College. Devoutly religious, he and others ministered to the poor and down trodden, but their peers despised them for it.’
John was ordained to the Church of England, after which he sailed to America and embarked on an embarrassing attempt at being a missionary. Having failed miserably and even gotten himself into an awkward romance that almost led to a duel, he sailed back to England saying, ‘I went over to attempt to convert them but who will convert me?’

This experience led him to conclude that he had misread or even missed something altogether. After talking things over with some Moravian missionaries and attending one of their services in 1738, he wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ died for my salvation and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine … I testified openly to all there what I now … felt in my heart.”10

See Dark Nights and Wonders Part V on John’s second attempt at offering God’s love to the world.

9 Managalwadi V. The Book That Made Your World pp: 261-262 – Thomas Nelson 2011

10 Ibid p 263