John Wesley and the poor



John Wesley cared deeply about the poor. In Bristol, he was proud to find the Methodist New Room Congregation active in ministering with the poor. They not only brought “good news to the poor,” but embodied various forms of “social holiness.” There was a school for poor children, a dispensary with free medicine for the poor, prison visitation, and the formation of a Stranger’s Friend Society which was for the benefit of those outside the Methodist Society – especially the poor. This Society visited and helped the poor in their homes.

John Wesley said one reason so many rich people cared nothing for the poor was that they had never been inside a poor person’s home, did not know how the poor lived, and had no first-hand experience of poverty themselves. He was highly critical of the rich as a class, and once, in preaching to a wealthy congregation in London, called them a brood of vipers – using a text from John the Baptist. One irate member of the congregation accosted Wesley afterwards and told Wesley he should preach that sort of sermon to the riffraff down at Spitalfields, one of the poorest sections of the city. Wesley replied that if he were to preach at Spitalfields, his text would be, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

The Rev. Dave Hanson is a retired pastor and John Wesley scholar.