- Howell Harris (1714-73) was the driving force behind Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. Originally intended for the Anglican ministry, Harris spent just one term at Oxford University before returning to Wales in 1735, where he commenced preaching in private homes. By the time of his death, he had helped establish Methodism throughout the Principality. Source: Dictionary of National Biography.
- Selina Hastings (1707-91), Countess of Huntingdon, was the most important lay convert of the period. An early member of the Fetter Lane Society, she devoted herself entirely to the work of the revival after the death of her husband in 1746. From 1760 she sponsored the building of several chapels, which eventually formed the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. She also founded a college at Trevecka for the training of preachers. After corresponding with the Welsh evangelist Howell Harris, she adopted Calvinist views. This posed some problems for her relationship with the Wesley brothers, which had been very close. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974), and Wesley family papers deposited at the Methodist Archives and Research Centre.
- John Cennick (1718-55) was converted in 1737 and immediately started to preach and write hymns. Charles Wesley edited many of his hymns for publication in 1739. Cennick is considered by some scholars to be the first Methodist lay preacher. He became a master at Kingswood School but left Methodism as a result of his Calvinist beliefs and a personal dispute with John Wesley. He joined George Whitefield and then the Moravians. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) .
- James Erskine (Lord Grange) (1679-1754) was a brother of the Scottish Jacobite the Earl of Mar Erskine lived in London where he practised law and after 1734 occupied a seat in Parliament. He was a supporter of the Evangelical movement and sometimes attended services at the Foundery. He attended the Conference of 1748 and engineered the release of the lay preacher John Nelson after he was pressed into the army in 1744. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974).
- Daniel Rowlands (1713-90) was a son of the Rector of Llangeitho in Cardiganshire, Wales. Rowlands himself was ordained into the established church. He commenced Evangelical preaching in about 1735 after hearing a sermon by Griffith Jones. He formed a close association with the lay preacher Howell Harris and the religious societies which they founded, mark the beginning of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church. Rowlands was the effective leader of the movement from 1743 when he was elected deputy moderator to the absent George Whitefield by the first general assembly of the Church. Rowlands was suspended by his bishop in 1763 because of his Methodist activities. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974).
- John Edwards was born in Fareham, Hampshire, and was converted by the preaching of Martin Madan. He moved to London in 1762, where he served as a local preacher for almost forty years. He undertook the building of a chapel in Lambeth at his own expense. Source: Arminian Magazine 1803, pp.289-296
- James Robe (1688-1759) was educated at Glasgow University and entered the Presbyterian ministry in 1709. His preaching sparked off a great revival in his parish of Kilsyth in 1740, which swiftly spread to other areas of West Scotland. The controversy which followed, caused Robe to publish a detailed account of the revival. Source: Dictionary of National Biography.
- Alexander Webster (1707-1784) entered the Scottish Presbyterian ministry in 1733 and swiftly rose to a position of importance. Webster was appointed Chaplain to the Prince of Wales in 1748 and was elected moderator of the general assembly in 1753. His main claim to posthumous fame rests in the key role that he played in the taking of the first Scottish national census in 1755. Source: Dictionary of National Biography
From James Erskine at Westminster to Howell Harris at Trevecka, Brecknockshire. Harris's letter of the 14th inst was most agreeable. Ever since Harris left London, Erskine has longed to hear from him although it grieves him to think that Harris has the wrong idea about him. Spiritual matters are discussed in detail. Reference is made to the persecution suffered by Harris, specifically when he was bound over by the Quarter Sessions.
Harris's account of the success of the work in Wales was most gratifying, and will be a source of joy to some of God's servants in Scotland - Erskine assumes that Harris does not mind his passing on the accounts contained in Harris's letters. The servants he refers to, are Messrs [James] Robe, McLauran, McCulloch and [Alexander] Webster etc.
Erskine would gladly ride to Wales and back in order to hear the sermon given by [Daniel] Rowlands - the greatest that Harris had ever heard on 'that prayer of Nehemiah'. It is a text which Erskine has long thought to be important but has been so perplexed by it that he has rarely felt able to use it. He would be very grateful if Rowlands could find time to send him a copy.
Reference is made to Erskine's dear friend Mrs Dutton of Huntingdonshire.
The sentiments expressed by Harris in his letter to Erskine of the 14th inst concerning suffering are reiterated. Their mutual friend Charles Wesley expressed the same views in a powerful sermon he delivered at West Street Chapel in Seven Dials, London 'before the Lords Supper there celebrated yesterday as it is every Lord's day & oftener'.
[ Note: West Street Chapel was built by the Huguenots in about 1700. It was rented by John Wesley in 1743, and was the Methodist head quarters in West London until 1798, when it was replaced by the Great Queen Street Chapel. The building is still in use as commercial premises. Source: J. Henry Martin, John Wesley's London Chapels (1946), pp.47-49, and John Vickers and Betty Young, A Methodist Guide to London and the South-east, 1980, p.16.]
The hand of God can be seen 'in vindicating Ch Wesley from the aspersions the Devil stirrd up vile persons to cast upon him, Lady [Huntingdon] was at the Chappel yesterday where none officiated in prayer, preaching, & the blessed supper & singing but Mr Ch: Wesley: & verily believe the Lord was signally wth him...'
[John] Cennick left London soon after Harris and a few days ago Mr Hammond had a sudden call to go to his father who was believed to be dying. Erskine therefore gave Harris's letter to John Edwards to deliver to whichever of those gentlemen returned first 'not knowing any at the Tabernacle [Chapel] who would be so carefull of it'.This morning he learned that Cennick arrived back in London last Saturday evening and Harris's letter will no doubt be in his hands by now.
[Note: The Tabernacle was built by George Whitefield in 1752-3 to replace a timber structure of the same name. It stood in Leonard Street (formerly Tabernacle Row), and had accommodation for four thousand worshippers. John Wesley preached a funeral sermon for Whitefield at the Tabernacle in November 1770. The building no longer stands. Source: Philip Temple, Islington Chapels - An Architectural Guide to Nonconformist and Roman Catholic places of worship in the London borough of Islington (1992), Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and Edward H. Sugden, John Wesley's London - Scenes of Methodist and World wide Interest with their Historical Associations (1932).]
Since Harris left, disputes have arisen at the Tabernacle 'about some notions & unscriptural expressions, chiefly maintained & usd by Messrs Cennick, Cudworth (who I am not acquainted with), Pugh, Goodwin & some others'. Apparently Mr Sleep on a Sunday morning several weeks ago in the little meeting place in Castle Place, just as Mr Pugh finished preaching, rose to his feet and challenged him about his views. Erskine saw them both at the Tabernacle that evening and heard some dispute between them revolving around the preaching of supposedly false doctrines. This morning someone who had been at the Tabernacle last night told Erskine that just after [John] Cennick had preached, Mr Sleep stood up and denounced the phrasing and doctrines contained in the sermon. The congregation silenced him in the same way that they had in Castle Street, namely by the singing of hymns. This kind of thing must have dire consequences if the Lord does not provide a remedy. 'So far as I can see, these phrases & notions are much the same wch Dr ?Crisps & that were revisd some years after the revolution in opposition to the other estream of Neonomianism set up by Dr Williams a dissenter. At that time Bp Shillingfleet was desired to write his mind on these subjects, but I have not yet read it, & I think he dyed before he finished what he was to write...' Erskine thinks that some foreign theologians were also asked to state their views, and he has in his possession a small Latin book by the Calvinist Professor Witgius of Utrecht and formerly Leyden. In Erskine's opinion it is a very sound and moderate book. He trusts that these differences have not appeared in Wales. Erskine has been told that it was because of disputes that Harris came to London last time '& that you declared agst these singularity'. It is a pity that Erskine was unaware of this at the time for he could have found out more from Harris, as it is, he is unwilling to comment on what these people really believe without a more detailed knowledge of them. Yet he has expressed his disapproval and is of the opinion 'that in place of farther union among the professors of the doctrine of Grace, the Tabernacle would ever long be rent into separated partys...'
One of the Tabernacle 'an ignorant & uninstructed young man' recently told Erskine that Harris had one day 'preached in derogation of the suppreme Deity of our Lord Jesus [unreadable word] & that Mr Cennick having next preached there, cleard up with great evidence & earnestness the truths you had denyd or ?darkened. I could not believe this...I fear most of the Tabernacle will follow these men in their odditys & dangerous unscriptural words...Some of them I find have got in to this phrase, when declaring & asserting their opinions - so has the Lord taught, or revealed his truth to me! Alas, Alas, how may they mistake their own spirit for the Lord's!. I long for a private conversation with Mr Cennick, whom I loved - what stumbling division...may not this occasion to saints or sinners ...In nothing printed by Mr Whitefield wch I have read, nor in no preaching or conversation of his that I have heard, did he ever give countenance to such things. This makes me fear there has been too much ground for what was surmised before & about the time he left London viz: that Mr [Cennick] & others inclined to leave him. All this calls for fasting & prayer in faith...'
Reference is made to Hariss's practice of praying about public affairs, and this leads to a detailed discussion of the common belief that the evils of the age will cause God to inflict punishment through famine and pestilence etc. Erskine would be very interested to discover Harris's views on the matter.