Religious expression


John WesleyMethodism was a religious movement which began in the eighteenth century as an attempt to reform the Church of England from within. It was founded by John Wesley, an Anglican priest, who, along with his brother Charles, underwent an intensely emotional religious experience in 1738. Their ministry often consisted of preaching in the open air to groups of workers whose living conditions were poor and who felt themselves neglected by the Church of England. 
Wesley re-emphasised the biblical doctrines that:
  • Individuals may be assured of their salvation because of the grace of God
  • By the power of the Holy Spirit, they are capable of attaining perfect love for God and their fellow human beings. 
The Wesleyan Methodist Church (which separated from the Church of England in 1795) grew rapidly during the period of Keats’ life, especially in industrial areas. The emotional engagement of its adherents with Christianity has been likened to the stress on feeling and passion to be found in Keats and the other Romantic poets. Just as Methodism stressed the individual’s personal relationship with God, so the Romantics stressed the primacy of the imagination and each man’s individual response to experience.

The Evangelical Revival

Evangelicalism was predominantly an Anglican movement which started in the mid-eighteenth century and which had strong links to Methodism. Its characteristics included:
  • A literal interpretation of the Bible
  • Strict keeping of the Sabbath
  • Preaching in order to convert
  • Reform of the heart
  • A stress on the sins of humanity
  • The need for personal salvation
The new Evangelicals were also passionately opposed to slavery and attacked the moral laxity of the privileged as a poor example for the lower orders. They also worked hard to warn of the dangers of alcohol (establishing the temperance movement) as well as criticising the weakness of the established Church and its moral message.
As British society, and Europe in general, were very turbulent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Evangelicalism offered stability. In order to achieve the goal of world-wide mission, the Church Missionary Society (1799) and the British and Foreign Bible Society (1804) were founded. 
Although Keats ultimately rejected the Christian message, the passionate strength of his convictions has much in common with the energy to be found in the religious movements of his time.
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