William Seward: The First Methodist Martyr

SEWARD1Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  A man named William Seward lived from 1702-1740.  He died at the age of 38 from unnatural causes in October of 1740.  Here is a brief account of Seward’s life and death:

Born at Badsey [England] in 1702, William went to London as a young man and there he acquired considerable wealth as a successful business man; he also enjoyed a reputation as a generous benefactor of the poor… [He bestowed Badsey Church with many expensive tangible gifts].

In 1738, William met the Reverend Charles Wesley and soon became closely involved with the evangelistic campaigns of the early Methodists.  One of the group, George Whitefield, wrote in his diary in April 1739, “went to Badsey and preached in Mr. Seward’s brother’s yard.”  In all, Whitefield preached at Badsey on three consecutive days, on the third occasion to “a weeping audience.”

In 1740, following his return from a trip to America, William Seward commenced open-air preaching on his own account. He encountered hostile crowds in South Wales and then at Hay-on-Wye [which is on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English border] in October he was heavily stoned by a particularly aggressive mob and a few days later died from his wounds, thus becoming the first Methodist martyr. He is buried near Hay, in the village churchyard at Cusop. The church there has a memorial tablet, which was dedicated in August 1978, 238 years after Seward’s death.
(Terry Sparrow, A Brief History of Badsey and Aldington).

Seward is known as the first Methodist martyr.  Every indication is that Seward was a man who was faithful up to and including death for the sake of Christ.  In light of the persecution that the early Methodist revival encountered, Charles Wesley devoted his time to writing a series of hymns for “times of trouble and persecution.”  In the section “Hymns in Times of Persecution,” hymn #15 is titled, “A Prayer for the First Martyr,” likely written with William Seward in mind (Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution, 40, n. 20).  Wesley wanted to contribute hymns to prepare Christians for the persecution they would likely face in his time.  Wesley writes,

While in affliction’s furnace,
And passing through the fire,
Thy love we praise, which knows our days,
And ever brings us nigher.
We clap our hands exulting
In Thine almighty favor;
The love divine which made us Thine
Shall keep us Thine forever.
(Charles Wesley, “Head of Thy Church Triumphant,” 1745)

We need Wesley’s eloquent reminder.  Wesley’s poetic expression echoes the exhortations of the Risen Christ to the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).  The risk-filled gospel requires much of us if we give ourselves to the task of being witnesses for Christ.  Even so we must press on with the words of Christ: “Do not fear” and “be faithful unto death.”


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