Wesley’s Britain in the 1700s - Ethical/moral decline
Type of Spiritual Experience
Impose a religion on a populace, restrict discussion, base beliefs on dogma, provide clergy that preach that people should do as they say but not as they do, and you end up with a populace that treats religion morals and ethics with contempt. Whilst today, many have rejected religion altogether, in the 1700s, the Church was far more powerful, but just as impotent in setting moral or ethical trends.
The parallels of the two ages – the 1700s and now are striking.
People in Britain in the 1700s drank heavily, this was the time of the gin parlours and ‘ruined women’. They gambled, they fought duels. They organised dog fights and cock fights [they still do today]. They were extremely cruel to animals and Hogarth in a number of his satirical etchings depicted scenes of the cruelty in the hope of stabbing the conscience of these people.
There was a considerable rise in sexual promiscuity and ‘unnatural acts’ [sodomy and buggery] and a decline in family values. Pastors preached in vain on the need for women to “resist men inflamed by libertine principles and pornographic literature” and the need for women to “remain virgins until marriage”. [Notice the responsibility lies solely with the women here].
Prostitution was rampant. A German visitor to London complained of passing a "lewd female" every ten yards on a December evening along Fleet Street, including girl prostitutes as young as twelve.
In 1748 the novel Fanny Hill described as a ‘memoir of a woman of pleasure’ was published. The Church of England asked the Secretary of State to "stop the progress of this vile Book, which is an open insult upon Religion and good manners." A move guaranteed to increase sales.
A description of the experience
Wesley's concerns were not 'puritanical' in the negative sense often implied by the term. Wesley saw the cruelty that Hogarth saw, the hurt that underage sex causes, the orphans that sex outside marriage produced, the diseases that prostitution and sexual promiscuity produced. There was hurt and hate in abundance that he witnessed everyday and as such if we define ‘evil’ as hurt or hate – he was right. The victims of ‘evil’ were his congregation. His objective was to try to replace hate by love.
He demonstrated love in his concern for the sick and the poverty stricken, but he also used a two prong approach by giving them a vision of where hate would lead them.
There was no ‘do as I say not as I do’. It was abundantly clear that John and his brother lived their faith. The solution they used was not an ideal solution, but then the ethical problem was severe and Hurt and hate were so dominant that drastic measures were needed.
And so in order to try to differentiate hurt from love, Wesley used the concept of Satan – the devil and hell! As he is pointing out - hell is of their own making.
The Sermons of John Wesley - Sermon 73 - Of Hell
"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9:48.
The punishment of those who, in spite of all the warnings of God, resolve to have their portion with the devil and his angels, will, according to the ancient and not improper division, be either paena damni, -- "what they lose;" or paena sensus, -- "what they feel." …...
First, let us consider the paena damni, -- "the punishment of loss." This commences in that very moment wherein the soul is separated from the body; in that instant, the soul loses all those pleasures, the enjoyment of which depends on the outward senses. The smell, the taste, the touch, delight no more: The organs that ministered to them are spoiled, and the objects that used to gratify them are removed far away. In the dreary regions of the dead all these things are forgotten; or, if remembered, are only remembered with pain; seeing they are gone for ever. All the pleasures of the imagination are at an end. There is no grandeur in the infernal regions; there is nothing beautiful in those dark abodes; no light but that of livid flames. And nothing new, but one unvaried scene of horror upon horror! There is no music but that of groans and shrieks; of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; of curses and blasphemies against God, or cutting reproaches of one another. Nor is there anything to gratify the sense of honour: No; they are the heirs of shame and everlasting contempt.
Thus are they totally separated from all the things they were fond of in the present world. At the same instant will commence another loss, -- that of all the persons whom they loved. They are torn away from their nearest and dearest relations; their wives, husbands, parents, children; and (what to some will be worse than all this) the friend which was as their own soul. All the pleasure they ever enjoyed in these is lost, gone, vanished away: For there is no friendship in hell. Even the poet who affirms, (though I know not on what authority,)
Devil with devil damn'd
Firm concord holds,
does not affirm that there is any concord among the human fiends that inhabit the great abyss. ……
…….. The fire will be the same, essentially the same, to all that are tormented therein; only perhaps more intense to some than others, according to their degree of guilt; but their worm will not, cannot be the same. It will be infinitely varied, according to the various kinds, as well as degrees, of wickedness.
This variety will arise partly from the just judgment of God, "rewarding every man according to his works:" For we cannot doubt but this rule will take place no less in hell than in heaven. As in heaven "every man will receive his own reward," incommunicably his, according to his own labours, -- that is, the whole tenor of his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions; -- so undoubtedly, every man, in fact, will receive his own bad reward, according to his own bad labour. And this, likewise, will be incommunicably his own, even as his labour was.
Variety of punishment will likewise arise from the very nature of the thing. As they that bring most holiness to heaven will find most happiness there; so, on the other hand, it is not only true, that the more wickedness a man brings to hell the more misery he will find there; but that this misery will be infinitely varied according to the various kinds of his wickedness. It was therefore proper to say, the fire, in general; but their worm, in particular.