Leslie Griffiths

Something out of Nothing and it all began Here

(A Review by John Davies)

Lord Griffiths spoke to us on the anniversary of Charles Wesley’s conversion in 1738. Three days later, on 24th of May, John Wesley experienced an ‘in-pouring of the Holy Spirit’ and ceased to be,
in his own words, ‘an almost Christian’.

Leslie Griffith’s lecture was narrative in form. He told of the foundation of Methodism and the lives of John and (to a lesser extent) Charles Wesley. But the shape of this narrative was more like a gospel then a biography, in that it concentrated on Wesley’s spiritual career and ministry while deftly sketching in a few salient details of his early life and education.

Lord Griffiths put strong emphasis on the social programmes of early Methodism, its bias to the poor, the marginalised and the condemned, including those about to be hanged. In contrast to their
own privileged education, the brothers provided schooling for fifty street children girls and boys. They also provided a health service for poor people.

Griffiths emphasised the Wesley brothers’ High Church doctrine, their knowledge and use of the Church Fathers and other spiritual
predecessors, the power of Charles’s poetry, the inclusivity which led to a rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination and of the passive Quietism of the Moravians in favour of an
active mission to all. ‘All’ was a keyword in Charles Wesley’s hymns.

The lecture’s witty title, recalling the creation itself and proclaiming the movement’s origins in the work of the Holy Spirit, a ‘fantastic release of energy’ as Lord Griffiths put it, also referred to the
ruined gunfoundry which was Methodism’s headquarters in London for 40 years. This was the ‘Here’ of the title. These years, the speaker implied, were a formative wilderness experience,
before Wesley’s chapel was built. From this ruined foundry Wesley went out to preach the gospel to the country’s roughest and toughest, as well as to gentry and aristocracy. Tears poured down
the blackened cheeks of Bristol miners as they heard that God loved them. Wesley was mobbed, attacked, abused and pelted with vile refuse, but thousands rejoiced in his message. His last letter
was to William Wilberforce, exhorting him to carry on the opposition to slavery which John and Charles had been committed to for most of their lives.

Throughout their lives, Griffiths reminded us, the Wesley brothers were high church Anglican priests. Lord Griffiths himself is Ecumenical Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral. The evening contained
another narrative, Leslie Griffith’s testimony in answer to a question. He grew up unchurched except for Sunday School in utter destitution in South Wales, went to a grammar school and
university, where he was converted to Christ by himself quoting words of Jesus remembered from Sunday school. He was, he said, like C.S. Lewis, “surprised by joy”. Altogether it was a joyful evening.

 

John Davies

22 May 2015