It is the 26th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1732.
It was the year that Count Leopold von Firmian of Salzburg told the Protestants in his realm to scram. The previous year, the Catholic count signed an edict of expulsion, ironically on the 31st of October, the anniversary of Luther's posting of his Theses over 200 years prior.
Salzburg was a Prince-bishopric, meaning they were in the Holy Roman Empire but were free to make certain decisions themselves. Von Firmian's decree led to over 30,000 Protestants dispersing into a diaspora. In 1732, King Frederick William I of Prussia invited the Salzburg Protestants to resettle in East Prussia. Many Lutherans and Calvinists would settle there, setting up a battle between themselves down the road.
Several English protestants were sympathetic to the plight of the Salzburgers and implored King George II to offer sanctuary. In the history of the English Monarchy, only two monarchs have been Lutheran, George I and George II. George was especially keen on helping his co-religionists. The question was, how? England had never been especially fertile ground for Lutheranism. The problem for King George was, where could he allow them to settle?
Luckily, in this same year, 1732, James Oglethorpe was granted a charter to found a new colony in British North America. This colony, named after King George, would become a haven for certain kinds of religious dissenters. Thus, George would have these Salzburgers go to Georgia. They flourished initially but eventually dispersed or anglicized. If you stop in Ebenezer, Georgia, you can still see artifacts of their one-time flourishing community.
Up the road from the newly formed colony, the first professional play was put on in the colonies in 1732. A troop of English actors performed George Farquhar's "The Recruiting Officer" at the Nassau theater in New York.
Back in London, 1732 saw the opening of the Royal Opera House. Opera had been a tricky issue for the church. It was mostly secular, and theatre-going, in general, was scoffed at. However, by this time, the works of Handel and others were becoming popular. His and other's Oratorios became a kind of "Christian Opera." Soon certain Operas were seen as appropriate for a Christian audience.
Religious attitudes were changing, some softening others becoming more calcified. This was the context for the growth of Methodism both in England and the colonies. And it was on this day, the 26th of August, in 1732, that one of the founders and unsung heroes of the group, William Morgan, died tragically in his early twenties.
William Morgan had met Charles Wesley when the two shared a boat on their way to Oxford in 1729. Morgan was coming from his home in Dublin, and the two struck up a friendship based on theological convictions. Soon, Charles' brother John arrived, and the three began to meet weekly for a reading group, to celebrate the Lord's Supper, and for prayer. They were mocked as Enthusiasts and Sacramentarians. However, the group began to grow. Soon their "methodical" approach to piety led to them being called "Methodists."
However, William Morgan believed that piety must go beyond private devotion. He thought that the group should be serving the poor, helping the sick, and visiting those in prison. It was the last thing that he was most keen on. He spent many days a week ministering to and preaching to convicts. His zeal was so great he received a letter from his father, who told him to leave that "ridiculous society." Morgan would convince the Wesleys also to adopt piety that helped the physical life of those suffering. However, Morgan himself was suffering from an illness possibly contracted while serving. We know little of how he died, except that it was on this day, the 26th of August, in 1732. His influence would lead the Wesley's and then later Methodists to emphasize ministries to the sick and imprisoned.
The reading for today comes from Charles Wesley, from his "Prayers for Condemned Malefactors," a hymnal for prisoners inspired by Morgan's work. This is a selection from that work.
Friend of all the sinful race,
Jesus, full of truth and grace,
Sent the wand' ring sheep to find,
Save these outcasts of mankind:
Earnestly remember them,
That they may themselves condemn;
Them for whom we life request,
On the brink of hell arrest.
O reverse their sorest doom,
Snatch them from the wrath to come,
Touching whom we now agree,
Mercy to implore from thee.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the condemned malefactor, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.