St. Just in Penwith

A mining town in which the development of Wesleyan Methodism can be studied in microcosm, from the first preaching to the building of the present Methodist church. Both John and Charles Wesley visited St Just in 1743 and attended services at the parish church. In 1744 Charles Wesley noted it was crowded with the allegedly schismatical Methodists. Both Wesleys preached by the cross at the entrance to the churchyard. John Wesley preached in the 'plen an gwary', the open air arena where performances have taken place through the ages. John's host in the town was the innkeeper, William Chenhalls (1693-1780), whose house with its three dormer windows stands opposite the churchyard gate. Here was the first home of the Methodist society in the town, but the house in North Row, now called 'The Meeting Place' was already in use as a Methodist society house when Charles Wesley was there in 1746 and it continued to serve the society for class meetings and weekday preaching services until 1755. On Sundays the society members attended the parish church. 'The Old Schoolroom' in Cape Cornwall Street is now a private house. The older part of this building replaced the North Row society house in 1755. Wesley preached from its foundation stone on 13 September. When he returned to preach there two years later he thought it to be 'the largest and most commodious in the county'. In 1799 it was extended towards the town, the new part becoming the Wesleyan chapel and the old part the schoolroom. After 1833, when the present Methodist church was opened, the Cape Cornwall Street property became the schoolroom, and is now a private house. The present Methodist Church (1833), at the end of Chapel Street, still dominates the town.

The Bible Christians had a chapel in Bosorne Street. It was enlarged in 1859. It closed in 1960 – one hundred years after a revival had seen a St. Just Circuit separated from Penzance. It is now demolished.

On Bosorne Terrace is St.Just Free Church, the sole surviving Wesleyan Reform Union chapel in Cornwall. Its origins lie with the Wesleyan Reformers of the 1850s, but drew strength from various local separations from the Wesleyans.


Charles Wesley's Journal:

30 July 1743: 'I believed a door would be opened this day, and, in the strength of he Lord set out for St. Just, a town of tinners… My text was, "The poor have the Gospel preached unto them." I showed, the sum thereof is, "Thine iniquity is pardoned. God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven thee." The hearts of thousands seemed moved as the trees of the forest, by that wind which bloweth as it listeth. The door stood wide open, and a multitude are just entering in. Here it is that I expect the largest harvest.'

July 1744: 'I preached on the plain, and brother Meriton after me. Our Lord rides on triumphant through this place. Upward of two hundred are settled in classes, most of whom have tasted the pardoning grace of God.'

[Three days later] 'Preached at St. Just to the largest company that had ever been seen there, and strongly warned the Society against spiritual pride.'

[On Sunday] 'Expounded Isa.35 at St. Just, and many hands that hung down were lifted up.'

July 1746: 'Most of St. Just Society were present. I applied those seasonable words, "Will ye also go away?" with great severity and love. Besought them to cast up the stumbling block of sin, to turn unto the Lord with weeping and fasting and mourning, that the gospel door might be again opened among them. I urged the same thing upon them in the Society-room, and with many tears they promised amendment, and requested me to come to them again.'

Later] 'I had heard sad accounts of St. Just people; that, being scattered by persecution they had wandered into by-paths of error and sin, and been confirmed therein by their covetous, proud exhorter John Bennets … found about a dozen of the shattered Society, which quickly increased to fifty or sixty.

'Perceived, as soon as we knelt down that there was a blessing in the remnant. We wrestled with God in his own strength from one till nine (with only the preaching between). I acknowledged God was with them of a truth… The little flock were comforted and refreshed abundantly.

'I spoke with each of the Society, and was amazed to find them just the reverse of what they had been represented. Most of them had kept their first love, even while men were riding over their heads, and they passed through fire and water. Their exhorter appeared a solid, humble Christian; raised up to stand in the gap, and keep the trembling sheep together.'

[Sunday] 'Went to church at St. Just, and then to my old pulpit, the large stone by brother Chinhall's house. I preached from Matthew 22. All was quiet till I came to those words, "And the remannt took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.' Then one begun throwing stones. But I went on exhorting them to save themselves from this untoward generation. My discourse was as mixed as the multitude - law, gospel, threatenings, promises, which I trust the Spirit applied to their several cases.'

John Wesley's Journal:

September 1743: 'There were prayers at St. Just in the afternoon, which did not end until four. I then preached at the Cross, to I believe a thousand people, who all behaved in a quiet and serious manner.'

[Next day, Sunday] 'Between eight and nine I preached at St. Just, on the green plain near the town, to the largest congregation (I was informed) that had ever been seen in these parts. I cried out, with all the authority of love, "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" The people trembled, and were still. I had not known such an hour before in Cornwall.'

[A week later] 'The congregation at St. Just was greatly increased while I proclaimed to every convicted sinner, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." '

April 1744: 'The wind and rain beat hard upon us again as we walked from Morvah to St. Just, which also frighted many from coming. However, some hundreds were there, to whom I declared, If ye have nothing to pay, God will frankly forgive you all. It is remarkable that those of St. Just were the chief of the whole country for hurling, fighting, drinking, and all manner of wickedness; but many of the lions are become lambs, are continually praising God, and calling their old companions in sin to come and magnify the Lord together.'

June 1745: 'I preached at seven to the largest congregation I have seen since my coming. At the meeting of the earnest, loving society all our hearts were in a flame: and again at five in the morning, while I explained "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."

July 1745: I had just begun preaching at St. Just when Mr. E[ustick] came once more, took me by the hand, and said I must go with him. To avoid making a tumult, I went. He said I had promised last week not to come again to St. Just for a month. I absolutely denied the having made any such promise. After about half an hour he handed me back to my inn.'

July 1747: 'I examined the classes at St. Just, establishd and settled in the grace of God.'

August 1750: 'I rode to St. Just, where there is still the largest society in Cornwall; and so great a proportion of believers I have not found in all the nation beside. Five-and-forty persons I have observed, as they came in turn, and every one walking in the light of God's countenance.'

July 1753: '[We] rode on to St. Just; and found such a congregation at six in the evening as we used to have ten years since. I did not find any society in the county so much alive to God as this. Fifty or three score have been added to it lately, and many children filled with peace and joy in believing.

[Sunday] 'I preached at eight to a still larger congregation.'

September 1755: 'In the evening I preached at St. Just. Except at Gwennap, I have seen no such congregation in Cornwall.'

September 1757: 'I preached in the new house at St. Just, the largest and most commodious in the county.'

September 1760: 'I have not seen such a congregation here for twice seven years. Abundance of backsliders being present, I chiefly applied to them. Some of them smiled at first, but it was not long before their mirth was turned into mourning; and I believe few if any went away without a witness from God that He "willeth not the death of a sinner".

[Next day] 'At five the room was near full; and the great power of God was in the midst of them. It was now accompanied with one unusual effect: the mouth of those whom it most affected was literally stopped. Several of them came to me and couild not speak one word; very few could utter three sentences. I rejoined to the Society ten or eleven backsliders, and added some new members.

[Next morning] 'The room at St. Just was quite full at five, and God gave us a parting blessing.'

September 1762: 'Hence we rode to St. Just, where I spent two comfortable nights, the congregations being very large evening and morning.'

September 1765: 'Coming to St. Just, I learned that John Bennets had died some hours before. He was a wise and a good man, who had been above twenty years as a father to that society. A little before his death he examined each of his children concerning their abiding in the faith. Being satisfied of this, he told them, "Now I have no doubt but we shall meet again at the right hand of our Lord.' He then cheerfully committed his soul to Him and fell asleep.

'On the numerous congregation in the evening, I enforced those solemn words, "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest." '

September 1766: 'The multitude of people at St. Just constrained me to preach abroad though it rained the whole time. But this did not discourage the congregation, who not only stayed till I had concluded, but were not in haste to go away then, many still hovering about the place.'

August 1769: 'I rode over to St. Just, but could not preach abroad bcause of the violent wind. However, God spoke to many hearts, both this evening and in the morning.'

August 1770: 'In the evening I preached before the house at St. Just on "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.' It was a glorious hour. The same spirit breathed upon us at the meeting of the society. At such a season who does not feel that nothing is too hard for God?

August 1776: 'I preached at six in the market-place at St. Just. Two or three well-dressed people walked by, stopped a little and then went on. So they did two or three times. Had it not been for shame, they might have heard that which is able to save their souls.

[Next day]: 'The congregation, both morning and evening, was large; and great was our rejoicing in the Lord.'

August 1778: 'In the evening I preached in the market-place at St. Just. Very few of our old society are now left; the far greater part of them are in Abraham's bosom. But the new generation are of the same spirit; serious, earnest, devoted to God, and particularly remarkable for simplicity and Christian sincerity.'

August 1780: 'I preached near the preaching-house at St. Just. God applied His word with power, more especially at the meeting of the society, when all our hearts were as melting wax.'

August 1785: 'In the evening I preached at St. Just, where are still many of our eldest brethren, although many are gone to Abraham's bosom.'

August 1789: 'I went on to St. Just, and preached in the evening to a lovely congregation, many of whom have not left their first love.'

Entry written by: CCS
Category: Place
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