Otley Revival

I came across this article in a Methodist magazine a long time ago. I was shocked by its contents. It describes a revival in Ottley that virtually nobody knows about, yet Wesley thought it was the most important of his life. It was the first time, as far as I am aware, that the Baptism of Fire/Sanctification/Holiness became generally accepted anywhere in the world. It is amazing that such a significant event should become almost entirely unknown in the United Kingdom.


Studies in the Methodist Revival

The Nazarene Preacher Magazine March 1967

By Herbert McGonigle

The Methodist Pentecost

MANY years since, I saw that 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' I began following after it—and ten years later, God gave me a clearer view than I had before of the way how to attain this, namely, by faith in the Son of God." These were the opening words of a letter from John Wesley to Lady Huntingdon written in 1771. The letter is an important one, relative both, to his own experience and to his preaching of entire sanctification. In the remainder of the letter he reminds her ladyship that for more than thirty years, he has continued to preach: "We are saved from sin, we are made holy by faith."

The "many years since" take us back to the years 1725-29. This last date saw the rise of Oxford Methodism, a band of young men earnestly seeking God andholiness. John Wesley was their leader and it was typical of Wesley, the scholar, that books influenced him greatly, in his quest for holiness. The writings of Clemens' Alexandrinus, Bishop Taylor, Thomas a Kempis, William Law, Fenelo and the mystics convinced him that holiness was of the heart; it was rooted in heavenly tempers and sanctified thoughts and did not merely consist, as he had earnestly believed, in outward works of righteousness. With some qualifications, Alexander  Knox's summary was correct: "In John Wesley's view of Christian Perfection  are combined, in substance, all the sublime morality of the Greek fathers, the spirituality of the Mystics and the divine philosophy of our favourite Platonists, Marcarius, Fenelon, Lucas, and all their respective classes,  have been consulted and digested, by him, and his ideas are essentially theirs" 

""Ten years after," in 1738,- Wesley saw, what his greatest mentor, Law, had not seen, that salvation was by faith alone. Justification and sanctification are received by faith. "We are saved from sin; we are made holy, by faith." Wesley immediately declared the gospel of faith and soon all over the land hundreds of people could testify to its reality. There were fewer testimonies to sanctification than to justification, but many were seeking the blessing and some had entered into the experience. Wesley at first seems to have thought that the blessing was attainable only at death, but he soon realised that what God could do at the hour of death, He could do, a week, a year, ten years, before. For some time, Wesley also thought that the grace of entire sanctification could not be lost, but Thomas Walsh and others convinced him of his mistake Tyerman says that in 1760 Wesley, "for the first time, found people professing to experience and practise Christian perfection". If this were true, it would mean that from 1738 to 1760 Wesley preached on experience of grace of which he saw no positive fruit. Tyerman is wrong, in his assumption; there, are records in Wesley's Journals of those who were entirely sanctified before 1760. On Saturday, April 16, 1757, Wesley talked with M. B., "a mother in Israel," who told Wesley: “On August 23, 1744, I was sitting alone, about eight in the morning—when the power of God came upon me so that I shook all over like a leaf. Then a voice said: ‘This day is salvation come to thy house.' At that instant, I felt an entire change. I was full of love and full of God. I had the witness in myself that He had made an end of sin, and taken my whole heart forever. And from that moment I have never lost the witness, nor felt anything, in my heart but pure love."

Here is as plain a testimony to entire sanctification as can be found anywhere in Wesley's writings, and it was given in 1757. Tyerman's contention that Wesley found no professors of entire sanctification before 1760 cannot be substantiated. On November 1, 1762, Wesley wrote: “I have known and taught instantaneous sanctification above these twenty years." Wesley would not have continued to preach entire sanctification by faith for “above twenty years" if there had been no witnesses to it all this time. The Conference Minutes, particularly for the years 1745, 1747, 1753, and 1758, have much to say about this "second blessing, properly so called." Suggestions are made as to how best the doctrine should be preached and how to examine and exhort those who already have the experience.

Wesley's sermon "On Patience," published in 1784, is a much neglected source of his teaching on sanctification. Having premised that the experience of entire sanctification is instantaneous, Wesley says: "Two or three persons in London (in 1744) gave me an account of their experiences. It was exactly similar to the preceding account of entire sanctification," i.e., instantaneous. "A few years after (1756) I desired all those in London who made the same profession, to come to me all together at the Foundry that I might be thoroughly satisfied. I desired that man of God, Thomas Walsh, to give us the meeting there. When we met, first one of us and then the other asked them the most searching questions we could devise. They answered everyone without hesitation and with the utmost simplicity so that we were fully persuaded they did not deceive themselves". This passage reveals that many of the first Methodist converts professed sanctifying grace and that Wesley took great care to examine each witness individually. He and Walsh "asked them the most searching questions… and we were fully persuaded."

Although Tyerman was mistaken in saying there were no Methodists professing entire sanctification before 1760, he was correct in making that year the starting point of the "glorious work of sanctification," This revival, which began in 1760, Wesley called the "Methodist Pentecost." Here is his account of it:

"In the beginning of the year 1760, there was a great revival of the work of God in Yorkshire. "On January 13th," says a correspondent, "about-thirty persons were met together, in Otley (near Leeds, in Yorkshire) in the evening, in order, as usual, to pray, sing hymns, and to provoke one another to love and good works. When they came to speak of the several states of their souls, some with deep sighs and groans complained of the heavy burden they felt from the remains of inbred sin; seeing in a clearer light than ever before the necessity of a deliverance from it ... They had no doubt of the favour of God, but they could not rest while they had anything in them contrary to His nature. One cried out in an agony, 'Lord, deliver me from my sinful nature,' then a second, a third, and a fourth; and while he that prayed first was uttering these words, ‘Thou God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hear us for the sake of thy Son Jesus,' one broke out: 'Blessed be the Lord forever; for He has purified my heart,' Another, 'Praise the Lord with me, for He has cleansed my heart from sin.' Thus they continued for the space of two hours, some praising and magnifying God, some crying to Him for pardon or purity of heart, with the greatest agony of spirit. Before they parted, three believed God had fulfilled His word and cleansed them from all unrighteousness." 

Here began that glorious work of sanctification which had been nearly at a stand for twenty years.

Wesley visited Otley and was convinced of the genuineness of the reports. This work of sanctification was not as "novel" as Tyerman would have us believe. There had been many examples of it for over twenty years, but in comparison to the number who were justified, the number of those, who had a clear witness to entire sanctification was small. Hence Wesley speaks of the revival at Otley "as the work that had been nearly at a stand."

This revival in 1760 was the most important of its kind Wesley experienced in fifty-three years of evangelism. Other revivals there had been, like those at Everton in 1759 and Weardale in 1772, but none so deep, so far-reaching, and so lasting as that at Otley. Its effects were soon felt all over England and in the south and west of Ireland. On October 28, 1762, John Wesley wrote: "Many years ago my brother frequently said, 'Your day of Pentecost is not fully come, but I doubt not it will. And you will then hear of persons sanctified, as frequently as you do now of persons justified.’ Any unprejudiced reader may observe that it was now fully come. And accordingly we did hear of persons sanctified, in London and most other parts of England, and in Dublin and many other places in Ireland, as frequently as of persons justified; although instances of the latter were far more frequent than they had been for twenty years before."

The Methodist Pentecost had come! If Wesley, always exact and definitive in his use of words, likened the work at Otley to that which launched the Church in Jerusalem, then we can be sure it was a revival of importance. We shall briefly trace the kindling of the fire among the societies and note that, wherever the flame spread, hundreds were converted and many experienced the blessing of entire sanctification. The following quotations from Wesley's writings are representative of many more that clearly indicate, in Wesley's own expression, "the word of God as fire among the stubble."

March 6, 1761: "I met again with those who believe God has delivered them from the root of bitterness. Their number increases daily. I know not if fifteen or sixteen have not received the blessing this week."

September 21, 1761: "Here likewise [at Bristol] I had the satisfaction to observe a considerable increase of the work of God. The congregations were exceeding large and the people hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and every day afforded us fresh instances of persons convicted of sin or converted to God. So that it seems God was pleased to pour out His Spirit this year, on every part both of England and Ireland; perhaps in a manner we had never seen before, certainly not for twenty years."

July 24, 1762: "I rode to Dublin and found the flame was not only continuing but increasing." The revival at Dublin was so extensive that Wesley gave an account of it in detail. He concluded: "In some respect, the work of God in this place was more remarkable than even that in London. It is far greater, in proportion to the time, and to the number of people, A few days later Wesley, heard of a similar work in Limerick, in the west of Ireland. 'There is a glorious work going on in Limerick. The Lord has made your last visit to us a great blessing. Such times were never before in Limerick. The fire which broke out before you left us is now spreading on every side".

Wesley returned to England to find the River of Blessing in full spate. From Cheshire, he heard that "there was an outpouring of the Spirit—nor is His hand yet stayed". "The power of God is present with us—six or seven justified in a week; others find the very remains of sin destroyed"—this was the encouraging news from Staffordshire. On August 4, 1762, Wesley rode to Liverpool, where "there was such a work of God as had never been known there before.” Two days later he heard from Bolton: "Glory be to God, He is doing wonders among us." The next day Wesley found sixty at Manchester who "believed God had cleansed their hearts." At the close of 1762, Wesley reflected: "I now stood and looked back on the past year; a year of uncommon trials and uncommon blessings. Abundance have been convinced of sin, very many have found peace with God; and in London only, 'I believe full two hundred have been brought into glorious liberty" 

All the Methodist societies in England and Ireland felt the influence of the Otley revival for many years after 1760. In that year the total number joined in all the societies could not have been more than 13,000. In 1767 the number had risen to 26,341, and in 1771 to 30,338. On November 18, 1763, Wesley wrote: "Before Mr Walsh left England, God began that great work which has continued ever since, without any considerable intermission . . . The peculiar work of this season has been what St Paul calls 'the perfecting of the saints.’ Many persons in various parts of England and Ireland have experienced so deep and universal a change, as it had not before entered into their hearts to conceive…. The work of God went on. Nor has it ceased to this day in any of its branches: God still convinces, justifies, sanctifies.”

This appraisal was written near the beginning of "the glorious work"; eighteen years later, Wesley's judgment had not changed. In 1781 he wrote: "The glorious work of sanctification spread from 1760, first through various parts of Yorkshire, afterward in London ....Dublin .... and all the south and west of Ireland. And wherever the work of sanctification increased, the whole work of God increased in all its branches"

The revival in Otley was convincing proof that when believers entered the blessing of entire sanctification the whole work of God prospered. Wesley saw this in most of his societies; when believers claimed the blessing, sinners were converted. His Journals have much to say on the relationship between entire sanctification and revival.

September 15, 1762: "Where Christian perfection is not strongly and clearly enforced, the believers grow dead and cold."

September 30, 1765: "Where Christian perfection is little insisted upon, be the preachers ever so eloquent, there is little increase, cither in the number or grace of the hearers.

February 8, 1766: "Where Christian perfection is not strongly and explicitly preached, there is seldom any remarkable blessing from God, and consequently, little addition to the society, and little life in the members of it .... Till you press the believers to expect full salvation now, you must not look for any revival"

In analysing the influence and extent of the Otley revival, it is significant that it had little or no effect on Scotland. The chief reason was that Calvinistic Scotland did not respond too readily to the Arminian preachers and especially their teaching on Christian perfection. Wesley's references to sanctification in Scotland (only four!) make this plain.

June 8, 1779: "I spent some time with the society [at Inverness], increased from twelve to between fifty and sixty .. . Many were going on to perfection, so that all the pains which have been taken to stop the work of God here, have hitherto been in vain."

June 17, 1779: "When Mr. Brackenbury preached the old Methodist doctrine [in Edinburgh] one of them said: 'You must not preach such doctrine here. The doctrine of perfection is not calculated for the meridian of Edinburgh.’ Is it any wonder that the work of God has not prospered here?"

The other two references, May 3, 1784 and May 22, 1784, are to the same effect—sanctification and revival are inextricably linked together.

We, today, who are committed to this gospel of entire sanctification can learn much from the Methodist Pentecost. We must learn, with John Wesley, "that until we press the believers to expect full salvation now, we must not look for any revival."  

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