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The Holy Club

During John Wesley's absence from Christ Church, his younger brother Charles (1707-88) matriculated there. Along with two fellow students, he formed a small club for the purpose of study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. On John's return, he became the leader of the group which increased in number and commitment. They fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. Club members began in 1730 visiting prisoners. They preached, educated, relieved jailed debtors whenever possible, and cared for the sick.

Given the low ebb of spirituality in Oxford at that time, it was not surprising that Wesley's group provoked a negative reaction. They were considered to be religious fanatics. Wits called them the "Holy Club", a title of derision. Wesley regarded the contempt with which he and his group were held to be a mark of a true Christian.

Currents of opposition became a furore following the mental breakdown and death of a group member, William Morgan. In response to the charge that "rigorous fasting" had hastened his death, Wesley noted that Morgan had not fasted for a year and a half. In the same note, which was widely circulated, Wesley referred to the name "Methodist" with which "some of our neighbors are pleased to compliment us." That name was used by an anonymous author in a 1732 pamphlet describing Wesley and his group as, "The Oxford Methodists."

Critics of the Holy Club recited a popular ditty:
By rule they eat, by rule they drink,
By rule do all things but think.
Accuse the priests of loose behavior.
To get more in the laymen's favor.
Method alone must guide 'em all
When themselves "Methodists" they call.

 

Notable members of the Holy Club who distinguished themselves later in life were:
John Wesley - founder of the Methodist Church
Charles Wesley - famous hymn writer
John Gambold - bishop of the Moravian Church
John Clayton - distinguished Anglican churchman
James Hervey - noted religious writer
Benjamin Ingham - famous evangelist in Yorkshire
Thomas Broughton (divine) - secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
George Whitefield - famous clergyman associated both with the First Great Awakening in the United States and the evangelical revival in England


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