Great Moments in Methodist Missions
The First Methodist Martyr
William Seward

There is a remnant among a people called Methodist crying out in prayer for God to birth us as a movement again.  Not a movement as many status quo Methodist would define it, but a movement of historical proportions.  Many are praying and dreaming of a spiritual awakening grounded in the power of the gospel of Christ.  Many are praying for a reawakening to the spreading of Scriptural holiness throughout the land.  Many are interceding for a movement characterized by banded discipleship serving to transform one life at a time for the glory of God. For those who are a part of this remnant, this post is dedicated to you.

Movements are exciting.  They take on momentum and break through barriers.  When gospel propagation is the pulsating force in a movement, apostolic velocity is unleashed in transformative power.

While great movements are exciting, great movements involve sacrifice. With the birth of every great movement, there are those who pay a great price. We see it in the book of Acts. We see it in early Methodism.

After Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate Street, it wasn’t long before his proclamation of the gospel was accompanied by a convictional, white-hot fervency.  That fervency in his heart was accompanied by a fresh wave of antagonism from people.  As most readers know, it wasn’t long before John Wesley was chased out of towns, run out of cow pastures, and banned from Anglican pulpits.

While the persecution Wesley faced often receives greater attention, many remain unaware of the persecution other early Methodists faced.  Most contemporary Methodists are unaware of the contention the early Methodists faced as they invited people to “flee the coming wrath and be saved from their sins.”

Many of the early Methodists were arrested, imprisoned, mocked, pelted with excrement, and stoned as they proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  Most of today’s Methodists are not aware there were martyrs who were part of birthing the Methodist movement. Even fewer can name the first Methodist martyr.

Who was the first Methodist martyr?  His name was William Seward. 

Seward was a young and successful stockbroker.  Being exceptionally bright, he rapidly bloomed professionally.   One day Seward heard the message of Christ through the early Methodists. He was deeply impacted and professed faith in Christ.  As he began to grow as a Christian, Seward also began proclaiming the gospel to others.  Like Wesley and Whitfield, Seward took to open air preaching. 

In one instance early in Seward’s ministry, he faced great opposition at Newport.

“The mob rushed upon them with the utmost fury.  They tore the sleeves of his coat – one of them off – and pelted him with apples, dirt, and stones.  At Caerleon the mob pelted him with dung and dirt, and threw eggs, plum-stones, and other hard substances in his face.  Mr. Seward received a blow on the right eye which destroyed its sight.  For a few days this affected the other eye, so that he had to be led about by the hand.” ii

Undeterred, Seward continued to proclaim the gospel to those in need.  In October of 1740, Seward was preaching in the open air to a crowd.  The crowd began to grow into an angry mob.  As their anger grew into rage, they also pelted Seward with stones. Seward fell to the ground unconscious.  One author records what happened next.

“(Seward) was carried from the scene unconscious. For a few days he hovered between life and death, but sank steadily lower till on October 22, 1740, his spirit passed away.” iii

Seward died at the tender age of 38.  In light of Seward’s story, we are sobered by the reality that the term “Methodist-martyr” is not an oxymoron.

While many pray for God to rekindle the primal fires of the Methodist movement again, it behooves us to remember that great movements are characterized by great sacrifice.  Those who birthed the Methodist movement suffered; even at the cost of their lives.

When we want the power of early Methodism without the price of early Methodism, there is a chance we may experience neither. Great movements involve sacrifice. With the birth of every great movement, there are those who pay a great price. We see it in the book of Acts. We see it in early Methodism.

That’s why the term, “Methodist-martyr” is not an oxymoron. 

Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC, and founder of The Immersion School, a discipleship training center in Birmingham, Alabama.  He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law.  In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation.  They are currently laboring to build a second home in Thailand for 50 orphans vulnerable to being trafficked. Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111

i Substantiation for this description is found in the journals of John Wesley and George Whitfield.  The book, Early Methodists Under Persecution, by Josiah Henry Barr, is also a great resource.  Written in 1916, the author pulls from multiple sources chronicling stories of the early Methodists suffering great mistreatment for the cause of the gospel of Christ. 

ii J. Bulmer, Memoirs of Howell Harris, pp. 23ff

iii Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.584