Hanby grew up in straitened circumstances due to his father's alcoholism and early death. But Hanby was a hard worker and he could provide adequately for his needs and then some.
At the age of thirteen, he heard that the Bishop would be coming to confirm the children, and he thought he should learn the catechism. He did so and was confirmed. But the same day that he was confirmed, he ran out playing with other kids and heard a vocie say that since he had broken the Sabbath, he had undone whatever had been done at Confirmation. He began to read and repeat many prayers, hoping some ritual could fix things.
He met Joseph Cheesebrough, a shoemaker and Methodist, who showed him the true way to salvation by grace and invited him to attend the Methodist Society (small group meeting). Although he was a little leery of the Methodists (mobs had threatened to disrupt their meetings), he went and was finding grace and truth. But the local Anglican clergyman took exception to the Methodist work and convinced Hanby that they were Puritans, and could not be trusted. The clergy man said if they would leave off and form a proper religious society, he himself would occasionally come.
"In a little time we had a larger society than the Methodists, of people who had an outward show of religion, who could play cards, and do whatever they liked, and conform to the world in almost everything."
Hanby wanted none of that and so rejoined the Methodists, He recounts that many Methodist preachers came through town, "who often preached to us while the blood ran down their faces, by the blows and pointed arrows thrown at them while they were preaching."
Hanby grew under the Methodist preaching and doctrine, and while he was prospering in his business, he heard a call to preach, but wrote it off to temptation. He could not tell if his uneasiness about preaching was from God or the devil. While in this confusion and prayer, he heard of a woman who was on the point of death, but was very glad of it! He had heard of the "happy deaths" reported among the Methodists; he wanted to see for himself. So he went to the home, but stayed off in a corner as he was a stranger. He listened to Brother Shent (a famous Methodist preacher) pray for her. He left with Brother Shent and begged him to go to Hanby's hometown to preach. he went back into the house and heard that the sick woman had asked for him. He was shocked, as he was unknown to her. He went to her side, and relates that she said to him, "God has called you to preach the Gospel; you have long rejected the call, but He will make you go. Obey the call, obey the call."
He decided he would give it a try. At his first sermon, two people found forgiveness of sins [such fruit was one of the criteria of being a Methodist preacher]. He found more success and was very aggressive in moving into the places where there had been no Methodist preaching.
But Hanby had uncommon struggles with the mobs that opposed Methodist work. This mob broke into a private residence to seize Hanby, but the congregation fought to keep from him. He kept coming back to that town because some remained faithful in spite of the violence. Once when he returned, the inn-keeper barely got him out alive.
In a new town, where there had been no Methodist work, a mob attacked, with a local man swearing that he would have the preacher's liver! Hanby had to run upstairs, sneak downstairs and hide in the barn, but he was found by one of the mob. As they were about to kill him, one had a change of heart and helped Hanby escape. The man was the best boxer in town, so as Hanby ran, this man fought the mob, and helped Hanby over walls and hedges, until he could escape and hide in the fields throughout the night.
He had other encounters with violent mobs in other towns, but credited Providence with saving his life. And then in 1755, he became an official Methodist preacher! What an ordination process!
Hanby was well-respected as a Methodist pastor. He was President of the Conference in 1794. I want to record an account of his last Sunday on earth. He was 63, and this was his work: at 6 a.m., he preached on Luke 2; in the afternoon on Isaiah 9:6, "His name shalle be called Wonderful Counselor;" and in the evening, from I Timothy 3:16, "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great." He also met four or five classes that day.
My Methodist brothers and sisters! Are we this zealous? We do not have the trials here in America that Hanby had in England. But the fields are white for the harvest! Will we work with their fervor?