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John Bennet and the Origins of Methodixsm and the Evangelical Revival in Englaqnd, Scarecrow Press, 1997

John Bennet and the Origins of Methodixsm and the Evangelical Revival in Englaqnd, Scarecrow Press, 1997


As one travels along the road from Glossop to Buxton, enjoying the rural splendours of the High Peak area of Derbyshire, the careful motorist, passing through the tiny hamlet of Chinley, will not fail to notice the quaint old edifice of Chinley Chapel. In the shaded tranquility of the graveyard of this Church, near the side wall with its ivy and mullioned windows, lies a raised gravestone, bearing the names of John and Grace Bennet. This silent monument, already weathered by time, bears perpetual testimony to two little known yet worthy labourers in revival history. Although later falling out with John Wesley over rival claims for the hand of a woman, Grace Murray (the woman Bennet married and now rests with in peace in the same grave) Bennet was one of the most influential itinerants establishing Methodism in the north of England during the early days of the Evangelical Revival. With justification one writer has stated John Bennet was “one of the most outstanding of Wesley’s young preachers”.1 Similarly another writer of revival history remarked how Bennet was without doubt “the first instrument of conveying what was afterwards called Methodism, into Derbyshire and the adjoining counties”.2



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The details of Bennet’s life can be accurately reconstructed due to the fact that he, like so many other preachers at that time, was meticulous in keeping a journal recording the events which occurred from day to day. “I was born”, he states, “at Whitehaugh near Chinley in the parish of Chappel-en-le-frith and County of Derby on March 1st Anno Dom”.5 He was the youngest son of William Bennet, a yeoman, and Ann his wife, who were members of the local dissenting Chapel ministered by Dr James Clegg.6 Bennet, having received a staunch nonconformist upbringing, regarded himself from the earliest age as depraved and degenerate in nature, worthy only to receive the anger and judgment of Gods. As he wrote in his diary;


I came into the world with a nature wholly corrupted and a heart fully set in me to do evil from the morn of my days, though I was under the light of the gospel, and the inspection of pious parents and not yet corrupted by custom; yet the imaginations of my heart and the whole tenor of my life were only evil continually”.7


 However, despite such early feelings of guilt and conviction Bennet could still claim: “til I was about twelve years of age I lived as other young children, fond of play, of fine clothes and of praise, but afraid to swear or to take God’s name in vain”.8

                Bennet, having received a good education at the school at Chappel-en-le-Frith, and at the hands of private tutors, at the age of about seventeen decided on the study of Divinity and for this purpose he was placed under the care of Dr Lathom of Findern Academy, near Derby. However his enthusiasm for theology did not last long and he soon relinquished all thoughts of the Christian ministry. Undecided as to what career to follow Bennet commenced work as a a justice’s Clerk for Mr Bagshawe of Sheffield, in whose employment he continued for the next five years. On leaving this position and still uncertain as to permanent employment, he purchased a number of packhorses and carried on business as a carrier regularly transporting goods across the bleak moors from Sheffield to Macclesfield.

                It was during this period when he worked as an independent carrier that Bennet first became acquainted with the Methodist preacher, David Taylor. Having been invited by a colleague to go and hear Taylor speak, Bennet traveled to Sheffield Moor at the appointed time with the intention to deride the speaker rather than to better his soul. However, instead of finding Taylor to be an object of ridicule, Bennet was “deeply affected’ with the power of the message, and consequently requested an interview with the preacher. As a result of the meeting that followed, Taylor was invited to speak at Chinley, and so began his regular preaching visits, often to the nearby common at Gorsty Low. The arrival of Taylor caused great excitement amongst the Chinley people and Dr. Clegg, fearing the “Antinomian teachings” of the itinerant preacher, warned his congregation not to attend the Methodist meetings. Despite such warnings from his minister Bennet became a traveling companion of the Methodist preacher.

            In January 1741 an event occurred which changed the course of Bennet’s life. Although intellectually aware of his need for God’s grace he was still a stranger to the working of the holy Spirit in his heart and life. He states in his journal; “I went to hear David Taylor at Heyfield” in the house of Samuel Fowler. Many of the people who had gathered in the house were deeply moved by the message they heard, including Bennet. “I was seized upon, as though I had been streuck with some mental disease”, he exclaimed, “and I was ready to faint, my face went so pale that a person in the room asked me if I was not sick. I made her no positive answer but cast myself down upon a bed where I saw a miraculous vision the Lord Jesus Christ as walking over a plot of land”.9 As Bennet lay down, bemused and shocked, a glorious vision of the Risen Christ was given to himin which Jesus stood before him drawing his attention to the wounds in his arms, hands and side. On seeing this dramatic image Bennet cried out “in a flow of passion of Holy Joy and grief mixed together, so that as he stated: “I was heard to be in distress by all them that were in the lower rooms”. On being awakened by the anxious on-lookers Bennet records in his journal: “I was conscious the change I then felt was then made by the operation of the Spirit of God, and though all men in the world would join in deriding it, I would adore it as the finger of God”.10

                This “evangelical experience’ marked the turning point of Bennet’s life. During the next two years he accompanied Taylor on his frequent preaching journeys through the northern counties of England and gradually developed his talents as a preacher. In the spring of 1742 Bennet traveled with a friend across the moors from Chinley to Sheffield in order to hear another influential preacher, Benjamin Ingham.  Sometime in 1742 Bennet became the assistanty preacher to Mr Ingham, zealously proclaiming the gospel wherever they went. These preaching tours took the two men all over Lancashire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and even as far a field as the Yorkshire Dales. Many received the men and their message with open hearts while others did everything possible to ridicule and oppose their task. On one occasion Mr. Ingham had given notice that he would preach in a field near to the picturesque village of Heyfield, Derbyshire. Bennet informs us that “the town seemed to be in an uproar and opposed us with all their might”.11 The men of the town, hoping to thwart the preacher’s purpose, had commissioned a small boy to run through the very same field where the service was to be held dragging a scented “trail’ for the dogs to follow. However, to the great surprise and disappointment of the would-be antagonists, the dogs ran and barked with great fury until they came to the crowd and miraculously preceded no further, thus permitting the preaching to continue undisturbed.

                In the Summer of 1742 Bennet, now an accomplished preacher, first met John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Having heard him preach in Sheffield, and being impressed by what he heard, Bennet, in the Spring of the following year, renounced all allegiance to the Moravians and Ingham, and became connected with the Methodist movement. During the months that followed Bennet was tireless in his efforts in taking the gospel message to the towns and villages throughout the northern counties until he became Superintendent of a circuit of religious societies scattered throughout the north of England. This well organized network of religious groups later became known as “John Bennet’s Round”. Every fortnight the Derbyshire preacher would travel up to two hundred miles, usually on horseback, following a route from his home at Chinley to Chester, then to Manchester, Bolton and the Pennine Moors. The diary, which he kept from his conversion in 1742 to 1754, clearly reveals the vigour and determination of the evangelist, the dangers and hazards that he met on the way, and the constant threat of mob violence and the ailments of constant ill health.

                Bennet, like many of the other of Wesley’s itinerant preachers often faced fierce persecution and the fury of the mob. At Sheffield, just outside Leeds, in April 1743 Bennet and Wesley faced “a mob of several thousand” which “gathered about the chapel and pulled one part down”, and “in the night carried away a deal of timber etc., that belonged to the house” (25 April, 1743). In August 1748 Bennet, with William Grimshaw and another lay preacher called Thomas Colbeck, preached at Ewood near Blackburn, Lancashire. Bennet states in his diary how:

 “our enemies roared horribly. The rush cart went down when we were singing. It was dressed with flowers and garlands. The drum beat, the music played, and they fired their guns which caused the valley below us to echo, as though the hills had fallen. What with the drum, music, guns firing and shouting on one side of a little croft, and we singing on the other, you would have really thought the English and French armies were engaged in battle. We gained the field and kept it about four hours. The enemies fled making a retreat into the valley. But no sooner  was we dispersed but the rabble began a shouting upon the hill as though the highlanders were approaching”. (4 august 1748, Mirror of the soul, op.cit., p. 170-171).  

Whilst preaching at the Meeting House at Davyhulme, near Manchester, Bennet describes in detail , whilst   

“Our brother John Heywood told me, that it was expected that we should have great persecution that evening for several of the                great men had declared that they would spend half their estates or they would drive us from the country. At the appointed time I began my exhortation from Isaiah 49:8 etc. no sooner had I begun but a great company of rude men with clubs and staves and quite inflamed with    liquor came and beset the house. These men were some of the vilest ruffians that could be hired for money or drink gathered together         several miles round by the blowing of a horn, the greatest part were the militia. The captain or leader of this gang was a petty steward of          a gentleman in the neighbourhood, notwith-  standing he called himself a Christian, is a very constant churchman and attender on the altar. Surely if his zeal was for God, it was not According to knowledge. They ranked them-selves as soldiers in battle array, one being the officer gave the word of command fire so they flung stones etc., at the door and windows and soon had broke a large window in pieces so that no one quarrel was whole. A stone and glass cut one of our sister’s lip and knocked loose many of her teeth. During this time I stood upon a chair with my back against the window and notwithstanding they were  not permitted to touch me, with stones or dirt a mullion in the window prevented, so that although stones and dirt came into the house like hale shot yet I was not touched. God preserved body and soul. My soul was kept calm and in perfect peace”.

 Persuaded by his colleagues to get down from the chair Bennet, falling down on his knees, joined with them in prayer for their assailants. After prayer he began again to preach but, as he states:

  “The captain of the band burst in at the door Looking like a man distracted saying ‘which is The fellow?’ I answered, ‘I am he’. He laid hold On my arm, and said ‘come out of the door Thou hast no business here’. I desired we might Talk together a little, but he immediately rushed Out of the door to his companions and then They were much more violent. It was thought by the brethren that I had better go away privately out at the back door while I had time for they began to surround the house. So I went as directed into the fields, without hat or  anything save my wig upon my head, where I stayed about an hour. The mob made search in and about the house for me but could not find me. They gave several shouts after having blown the horn. I suppose the shouts might have been heard five miles. The bells were set a ringing  at Flixton and Eccles for joy that a Methodist was taken   . . . . .   Brother Whitlow was with me. We kneeled down upon the ground and prayed for our enemies that were in pursuit of us. We sat down on the bank of a great river for sometime but having sat we grew cold so we fled intending to go to a friend’s house, but our enemies had blocked up our way, and thought they would stay all night, so rather than be starved in the field we walked through a small brook which look me above the knee”.

 Reaching the safety of dry ground, both Bennet and Whitlow pulled out their Bibles and randomly opened the sacred text, Bennet finding Nahum 2:1, a verse encouraging the persecuted people of God, while Whitlow opened his bible at Matthew 18:32, which tells the story of God’s punishment of the wicked servant. Uplifted by what they had read Bennet was taken to “a little house where I was kindly received and I stript off my shoes and stockings and warmed me by the fire”. He then returned to the house where he had preached the night before and found that:

“The windows were all dashed in pieces and the House covered with dirt etc. Upon enquiry I was Told that the rebels had been and made     search through the house for me, and also in the outhousing, and not finding me threatened to pull the covering off the house and had been upon the house and began to pull the thatch. They also had made an attempt to have come at my horse in order to have abused him but the door being locked they could not come at him for there order was to break the locks, so by this we found they were directed what to do”. (March 2, 1747).



               During the years in which Bennet served as a Methodist preacher he experienced not only the opposition and violence of men but also witnessed the violence of nature. “On Saturday the 23rd of July 1748”, reports Bennet, “there fell for about three hours, in and about Heyfield in Derbyshire, a very heavy rain which caused much a flood as had not been seen by any now living in those parts”. The rain was apparently so fierce that “the rocks were loosened from the mountains: one field was covered with large stones from side to side, several water-mills were clean swept away, without leaving any remains” and “the trees were torn up by the roots, and whirled away like stubble”.12 The storm was seen by Bennet as the judgment of God in that “two women of a loose character were swept away from their own door and drowned: one of them found near the place, the other was carried seven or eight miles”. Even the dead were disturbed as the graveyard at the local parish church was torn up, the water sweeping the bodies from the graves. “Then the flood abated”, states Bennet, “to the surprise and horror of everyone dead bodies were found hanging on trees; others left in ,meadows or grounds; some partly eaten by dogs, or wanting one or more of their members”.

                In his daily journal Bennet describes several amazing spiritual occurrences and people such as the faith healer Bridget Bostock. While on a preaching tour of Cheshire in 1748 he

“About nine I seto out to see the famous Bridget Bostock, Doctor, who is said to open the eyes Of the blind, to unstop the deaf ear, and to cause the lame to walk. I called at Sandbach to get my horse shod and a man told me he saw a judge come to her in his coach. He was carried into the housed by his own servants, but returned out of the house and walked himself to his coach. I went forward and quickly over-took a poor man with loaden horses asking him the way for Coppal. We fell into some discourse about the Doctor. He said she had done much good. A neighbour of his who had been long confined to his bed by the  rheumatism or palsy was carried in his bed to her and found help. This man said he was with the man the day before and saw him walking about. I went forward still, and before I came at the house, I met many persons returning from her. Amongst the rest were four or five noblemen with their attendants. The way was trod like unto a town street with the passengers. When I came near the house I saw a great number of persons attending at the door. Two carts stood at the door with impotent folk in, they had beds in the carts and lay in them not being able to move themselves. I soon perceived the minister of the parish amongst the spectators. I looked upon him as a person the most able to give me a just character of her worth, and I walked with him into the field and enquired of her character.  He told me she had done much good. His own Son was one of her patients. He had been under the doctor’s hands far, and near, upon the account of a white swelling in his ankle and could be cured by none. But applying to this woman he was cured”.  

Bennet then described the woman herself:

 “I saw the woman amongst the patients in an Old stable. She hath no form or comeliness, a Thin poor woman about sixty-five years of age,   With an old brown gown made of linsey or some Such like. She had an old coarse linen brat Around her waist, an old night cap with a Flannel clout underneath hanging into her neck, A coarse check handkerchief on her shoulder And a pair of clogs on her feet”.


With obvious respect and fascination Bennet described how:

 “She anointed her patients with spittle and Rubbed the parts that were pained with her Hand. She asked their names and prayed God to bless them. It surprised me to see the number of people attending her. The minister said she had 1500 persons in three days and 7,000 persons in fifteen days to visit her. I left her and came to Middlewich where I got dinner. The woman of the house told me of a young man called there who had been lame from his childhood so thus he could not lift his hand to his head but was so restored that he could use them”. (28 September 1748)



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               While serving as a Methodist preacher Bennet not only established and regulated the first Methodist societies in many areas of the northern counties of England but he was, as Frank Baker remarked; “one of the architects of early Methodist connexionalism” (F. Baker, John Bennet and early Methodist polity, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, vol. xxxv, 1965, pp. 1-4). He is credited with establishing the first Methodist Circuit Quarterly Meeting at Todmorden Edge, October 1748

Despite his general usefulness in the early days of the revival that swept through England and America in the 18th century Bennet’s significance is only now being fully realized. The first biography on Bennet, published in 1997, and Bennet’s diary published five years later, stressed the fact that Bennet deserved to be more than a mere footnote to John Wesley’s career.3 Previously, scholars tended to ignore John and Grace Bennet partly due to the fact that after serving under Wesley for nine years, Bennet, for doctrinal reasons (his Calvinism stood in contrast to Wesley’s Arminianism) and having fallen in love with, and marrying a woman apparently already engaged to Wesley himself, finally seceded from Methodism in 1752, and became an independent minister. Some Methodist historians, regarding such action as almost a mutiny, and the affaire de cour surrounding Grace Murray as casting a dark shadow on the otherwise saintly character of the Methodist founder, ignored Bennet and his achievements. However, as we shall see in this brief appraisal of Bennet’s life “few men were more useful in the early stages of Methodism than he”.4           


As mentioned above, apart from his preaching activities, John Bennet will be remembered for his marriage to the widow Grace Murray, a lady who at the time of Bennet’s proposal was already apparently engaged to be married to no less a person than John Wesley himself. The details of this famous affair de cour are beyond the scope of this present essay but can be read elsewhere. Tension obviously existed between Wesley and Bennet, two suitors for the hand of a woman. They also differed doctrinally, for Wesley was Arminian while Bennet was a Calvinist. Following some heated disagreements between the two men Bennet’s departure from Methodism was inevitable. In 1752 he seceded from the Methodist Church in Bolton, Lancashire, and with the congregation that left with him, formed the first Congregationalist Church in that town. Mainly due to Bennet’s influence Congregationaluism was established in Bolton. As one writer remarks: “to the Independents of Bolton – Mr John Bennet stands out as a figure of lasting assocuiations” (J. Johnston, Mawdsley Street Chapel, Bolton-le-Moors, 1808-1908, Sherratt & Hughes, London, 1908, p. 51). In 1754 Bennet, now ordained as a congregationalist Minister, accepted the call to take up the pastorate of a Church in the village of Warburton, Cheshire. Despite constant ill health he was very active “generally preaching four or five times a week besides in places in some distance”.

                In May 1759, Bennet, fatigued with much preaching and constant sickness, finally died at the age of forty-five. “He was seized with jaundice”, states his wife, “occasioned through his over exertions and a great loss of blood from a wound that he accidentally received in his leg and of this he died, on Thursday the 24th of May, after lying ill thirty-six weeks” (W. Bennet, Memoirs of Grace Murray, np., Manchester, 1803, P. 12). Grace Bennet, writing many years after the event, described her husband’s death in the following words. “I have seen many saints take their leave from this world, but none like John Bennet. May my last end be like this: as I was sitting on his bedside, he said, ‘My dear, I am dying’ and he conversed with me till two. I said, ‘thou art not afraid of dying?’ He answered cheerfully, ‘No my dear, for I am assured past a doubt or even a scruple that I shall be with the Lord to behold His glory: the blood of Jesus Christ hath cleansed me of all sin’”. Grace continued by asking her husband: “canst thou now stake thy soul on the doctrine thou hast preached?” to which he replied “yes, it is the everlasting truth, stick by it”. He then prayed for his wife and children, and for the Church of Christ and cried out: “I long to be gone: I am full – my cup runneth over”. They then “kissed each other, and he fell asleep in the arms of Jesus, with sing, sing, sing upon his lips” (Memoirs of Grace Bennet, op.cit., p. 12). As one surveys the activity and zeal of his life, it would be fair to agree with Bennet’s self description whe n he described himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ in the worke of the gospel” (J. Bennet, taken from the frontispiece of sermon ms on “The saint’s perseverance manifested and proved from the Word of God”, 1756, kept in the Methodist Archives, John Rylands University Library, Deansgate, Manchester).  






 1.         A. Dallimore, George Whitefiled, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1970, vol. 1, p. 338.

2.           J. Everett, Historical sketches of Methodism in Sheffield,

Manchester, 1828, p. 9.   

3.           See S. R. Valentine, John Bennet and the Evangelical Revival in

England, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, USA, 1997 and S. R. Valentine,

Mirror of the Soul: the diary of an early Methodist preacher, John

Bennet,1714-1754, Methodist Publishing House, Peterborough, 2002.

4.              J. Everett, Historical Sketches, op.cit., p. 40.

5.              Bennet’s autobiographical journal, see  S. R. Valentine, (ed.)

Mirror of the Soul: the diary of an early Methodist preacher, 

op.cit., p. 15.

6.              The famous Congregationalist minister whose diaries have been

published, see V. Doe, (ed) The Diary of James Clegg, 1708-55, 3

vols., Derbyshire Record Society, 1978. There are several references to

Bennet in these dairies.

7.               S. R. Valentine, Mirror of the Soul, op.cit., p. 15.  

8.                Mirror of the Soul, ibid., p. 18.

9.                Ibid., p. 23-24.

10.             Ibid., p. 23.

11.             6 May 1742, ibid., p. 49.

12.             A verbal account of a terrible storm given by Bennet to John

Wesley, see John Wesley’s journal, op.cit., vol. 3, p. 375, 30 August



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  • omar: Hi simon, do you have an email address I can contact you on? Wanted to speak to you about one of the books you have written...many thanks
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