Blake suffered intensely from the subtle forms of economic oppression and
railed against them. His anger sparked the most searching critique of the
restrictive structures of society and of the psychic attributes associated with
Wesley lacked Blake's prophetic mind, but he had a concern for souls that led
his converts first to an elevation of character and soon to an elevation of
economic station. In the simplest natural terms Wesley's converts replaced
drinking and gambling with praying and singing hymns--and became
prosperous, just as the Quakers had done in earlier generations.
Wesley held extremely conservative political views, but unlike most Tories he
loved the poor. He devoted his life to helping them raise their circumstances, all
of course a byproduct of his concern for their souls! While Blake denounced and
railed against the social evils of the day, Wesley picked up one by one the fallen
members of the underclass and instilled in them a means of lifting themselves
up into the middle class.
He taught them for example to "gain all you can, save all you can, give all you
can". The admonition won sufficient adherents to make a tremendous
contribution to the humanitarian movement. Blake wrote about the prisons of
the mind; Wesley systematically visited real prisons his entire life and organized
helping institutions to address the needs of prisoners and to ameliorate their distress.
Wesley had a life changing message and organizational genius as well. Through
his religious message and his Methodist societies he contributed significantly to
the relief of economic distress and oppression. In contrast Blake's message was
virtually incomprehensible to the kinds of people most responsive to Wesley's.
In fact it is incomprehensible to most people today because it requires a level of consciousness impossible for the materially minded.
Wesley and Blake may have been the two greatest men produced by England in
the 18th Century. The work of Wesley and his fellow evangelists had immediate
and far reaching consequences in the life of the world. For example his
preachers exercised a great civilizing influence on the American frontier. The
Methodist Church today represents the best of the American way, theologically
and socially enlightened beyond the generality of the population.
Blake's work in contrast was far ahead of his time. It had no immediate visible
influence, yet it offers the best hope of the future for the English speaking world
to break out of the strait jacket of dead materialism. The present age needs a
spiritual revival as desperately as did Wesley's.
But the Wesleyan style of revival has less to offer the modern mind than it did
to the 18th Century underclass. The Blakean vision has a great deal to offer to
the best minds of this century, the relatively few minds capable of an individual
form of spiritual creativity. The mind of Blake offers the strongest possible
protection against the mindless conformity that threatens the human race.
Although Blake did have a copy of a Wesleyan hymnbook, we lack evidence of
direct first hand experience with a Methodist group. Most certainly he would
have found the discipline distasteful. But Methodism was one of the rare forms
of English religious life that Blake had good words for.
In the prose introduction to Chapter Three of 'Jerusalem' he defended
Methodists and Monks against what he deemed to be the hypocritical attacks
of Voltaire and the other philosophies. He named Wesley and Whitefield as the
two witnesses of Revelation 11.3 , the archetypal image of the rejected and
despised prophet of God (cf Milton 22:61; Erdman 118). He grouped Whitefield
with St. Teresa and other gentle souls "who guide the great Wine press of