This morning I spoke at a conference organised by the Community Faiths Forum in Belfast. Afterwards I came across this paragraph in an article about the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and it has some relevance to the theme of the conference. It was written by John Telford and is taken from his book The Popular History of Methodism, which was published in 1897:
As a Social Reformer, Wesley was far in advance of his time. He found work for the deserving poor, provided them with clothes and food in seasons of special distress, established a lending stock to to help struggling business men with loans. He opened dispensaries in London and Bristol, and did everything he could to assist debtors who had been thrown into prison. Some of the most stirring stories of Wesley's life are connected with these labours of love. In visiting the prisons, in temeperance work, in care for the debtor, and in opposition to the slave trade, Wesley was far in advance of his time. He was a lvoer of all good work, and a hearty supporter of those who were seeking to redress time-crying wrongs of the world.
Wherever he went, Wesley preached the gospel without fear or favour. He spoke about the law of God and the sin of man and he also declared the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ but he also cared for the poor and needy. He did not see a contradiction between the one and the other. Rather his love for God led him to love others and to address their needs, spiritually and physically.
Many of the great social reformers of the past, such as Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce, were inspired to social action because of their saving faith in Jesus Christ.