1700s Britain was an ugly place. By common consent, standards of decency and public morality were incredibly low. Visitors from mainland Europe were astonished and disgusted by the filth, coarseness and debauchery on display on London's streets. Images by Hogarth, such as Gin Lane depict a society on the brink of collapse. Lawlessness and robbery was rife, leading Hugh Walpole to observe, "One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle".
Despite all its well documented faults, the Victorian era saw an amazing change in society and attitudes. Slavery had been abolished, education was widely available to the poor, the penal code had been reformed, Sunday Schools were common in every parish, charities - such as Barnardo's Homes, NSPCC, YMCA - had been established. Knowledge of the Bible was widespread.
What made the difference? No doubt there were many factors, but without a doubt the main driving force for change was what is now referred to as the Wesleyan Revival of the 1700s.
John Wesley was converted in 1738. Immediately he set about spreading the Gospel message throughout the UK. By the time of his death in 1791, Wesley had travelled 250,000 miles on horseback, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, preaching the Gospel. Thousands were converted, and social change followed hard on the heels of the revival. Given a new hope and purpose in living, the new converts saw the world in a different way - and society was changed.
Sadly, today's UK society is reverting to the disastrous model of the 1700's. What we need today - more than ever - is a genuine evangelical revival. When people are converted, everyone benefits. Let us pray that the Gospel Wesley preached will be preached without fear, and that the God of John Wesley will change our society again!