J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

The Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago online

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the fire at one time, and yet succeed in keeping so many hot.

Like Whitefield, he justly regarded preaching as God's chosen
instrument for doing good to souls, and hence, wherever he
went, his first step was to preach. Like him, too, he was ready
to preach anywhere or at any hour — early in the morning or
late at night, in church, in chapel, or in room — in streets, in
fields, or on commons and greens. Like him, too, he was
always preaching more or less the same great truths — sin, Christ,
and holiness — ruin, redemption, and regeneration — the blood
of Christ and the work of the Spirit — faith, repentance, and con-
version — from one end of the year, to the other.


Wesley, ho\vever, was very unlike Whitefield in one important
respect. He did not forget to organize as well as to preacli.
He was not content with reaping the fields which he found
ripe for the harvest He took care to bind up his sheaves and
gather them into the barn. He was as far superior to White-
field as an administrator and man of method, as he was inferior
to him as a mere preacher.* Shut out from the Church of
England by the folly of its rulers, he laid the foundation of a
new denomination with matchless skill, and with a rare discern-
ment of the wants of human nature. To unite his people as
one body — to give every one something to do — to make each
one consider his neighbour and seek his edification — to call
forth latent talent and utilize it in some direction — to keep '' all
at it and always at it " (to adopt his quaint saying), — these were
his aims and objects. The machinery he called into existence
was admirably well adapted to carry out his purposes. His
preachers, lay-preachers, class-leaders, band-leaders, circuits,
classes, bands, love-feasts, and watch-nights, made up a spiritual
engine which stands to this day, and in its own way can hardly
be improved. If one thing more than another has given per-
manence and solidity to Methodism, it was its founders mas-
terly talent for organization.

It is needless to tell a Christian reader that Wesley had con-
stantly to fight with opposition. The prince of this world will

* A writer in "Ctx^ North British Rez'ieiv\vx'> well and forcibly described the difference
between the two great English evangelists of the last century. " Whitefield was soul, and
Wesley was system. Whitefield was the summer cloud which burst at morning or noon a
fragrant exhalation over an ample track, and took' the rest of the day to gather again ;
Wesley was the polished conduit in the midst of the garden, through which the living water
glided in pearly brightness and perennial music, the same vivid stream from day to day.
All force and impetus, Whitefield was the powder-blast in the quarry, and by one explosive
sermon would shake a district, and detach materials for other men's long work ; deft, neat,
and painstaking, Wesley loved to split and trim each fragment into uniform plinths and
polished stones. Whitefield was the bargeman or the waggoner who brought the timber
of the house, and W'esley was the architect who set it up. Whitefield had no patience for
ecclesiastical polity, no aptitude for pastoral details ; Wesley, with a leader-like propensity
for building, was always constructing societies, and with a king-like craft of ruling, was
most at home when presiding over a class or a conference. It was their infelicity that they
did not always work together ; it was the happiness of the age, and the furtherance of the
gospel, that they lived alongside of one another."


never allow his captives to be rescued from him without a
struggle. Sometimes he was in danger of losing his life by the
assaults of violent, ignorant, and semi-heathen mobs, as at Wed-
nesbury, Walsall, Colne, Slioreham, and Devizes. Sometimes
he was denounced by bishops as an enthusiast, a fanatic, and
a sower of dissent. Often — far too often — he was preached
against and held up to scorn by the parochial clergy, as a here-
tic, a mischief-maker, and a meddling troubler of Israel. But
none of these things moved the good man. Calmly, resolutely,
and undauntedly he held on his course, and in scores of cases
lived down all opposition. His letters in reply to the attacks
made upon him are always dignified and sensible, and do equal
honour to his heart and head.

I have now probably told the reader enough to give him a
general idea of John Wesley's life and history. I dare not go
further. Indeed, the last fifty years of his life were so entirely
of one complexion, that I know not where I should stop if I
went further. When I have said that they were years of con-
stant travelling, preaching, organizing, conferring, writing, argu-
ing, reasoning, counselling, and warring against sin, the world,
and the devil, I have just said all that I dare enter upon.

He died at length in 1791, in the eighty-eighth year of his
life and the sixty-fifth of his ministry, full of honour and respect,
and in the "perfect peace" of the gospel. He had always
enjoyed wonderful health, and never hardly knew what it was
to feel weariness or pain till he was eighty-two. The weary
wheels of fife at length stood still, and he died of no disease but
sheer old age.

The manner of his dying was in beautiful harmony with his
life. He preached within a very few days of his death, and the
texts of his two last sermons were curiously characteristic of the
man. The last but one was at Chelsea, on February the i8th,
on the words, "The king's business requireth haste" (i Sam.
xxi. 8). The last of alb was at Leatherhead, on Wednesday


the 23rd, on the words, " Seek ye the Lord while he may be
found" (Isa. Iv. 6). After this he gradually sunk, and died on
Tuesday the 29th. He retained his senses to the end, and
showed clearly where his heart and thoughts were to the very

The day but one before he died he slept much and spoke
little. Once he said in a low but distinct manner, '' There is
no way into the holiest but by the blood of Jesus." He after-
wards inquired what the words were from which he had
preached a little before at Hampstead. Being told they were
these, " Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that
though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that
ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. viii. 8) ; he re-
plied, " That is the foundation, the only foundation ; there is
no other."

The day before he died, he said suddenly, " I will get up."
While they were preparing his clothes, he broke out in a man-
ner which, considering his weakness, astonished all present, in

" I'll praise my Maker while I've breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,

Praise shall employ my noblest powers ;
My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,

Or immortality endures."

Not long after, a person coming in, he tried to speak, but
could not. Finding they could not understand him, he paused
a Httle, and then with all his remaining strength cried out,
" The best of all is, God is with us ;" and soon after, lifting up
his dying voice in token of victory, and raising his feeble arm
with a holy triumph, he again repeated the heart-reviving words,
" The best of all is, God is with us." The night following he
often attempted to repeat the hymn before mentioned, but could
only utter the opening words, " I'll praise ; I'll praise." About
ten o'clock next morning he was heard to articulate the word
*' Farewell," and then without a groan fell asleep in Christ and

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rested from his labours. Truly this was a glorious sunset !
" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be
like his."

Wesley was once married. At the age of forty-eight he
married a widow lady of the name of Vizelle, of a suitable age,
and of some independent property, which she took care to have
'settled upon herself. The union was a most unhappy one.
Whatever good qualities Mrs. Wesley may have had, they were
buried and swallowed uj) in the fiercest and most absurd passion
of jealousy. One of his biographers remarks, " Had he searched
the whole kingdom^ he could hardly have found a woman more
unsuitable to him in all important respects." After making her
husband as uncomfortable as possible for twenty years, by
opening his letters, putting his papers in the hands of his ene-
mies in the vain hope of blasting his character, and even some-
times laying violent hands on him, Mrs. Wesley at length left
her home, leaving word that she never intended to return.
Wesley simply states the fact in his journal, saying that he knew
not the cause, and briefly adding, "I did not forsake her, I did
rot dismiss her, 1 will not recall her."

Like Whitefield, John Wesley left no children. But he left
behind him a large and influential communion, which he not
only saw spring up, but lived to see it attain a vigorous and
healthy maturity. The number of Methodist preachers at the
time of his death amounted in the British dominions to 313,
and in the United States of America to 198. The number of
Methodist members in the British dominions was 76,968, and
in the United States 57_,62i. Facts like these need no com-
ment ; they speak for themselves. Few labourers for Christ
have ever been so successful as Wesley, and to none certainly
was it ever given to see so much with his own eyes.

In taking a general view of this great spiritual hero of the
last century, it may be useful to point out some salient points
of his character which demand particular attention. When


God puts special honour on any of his servants, it is well to
analyze their gifts, and to observe carefully what they were.
What, then, were the peculiar qualifications which marked
John Wesley?

The first thing which I ask the reader to notice is his extra-
ordinary singleness of eye and te?iaciiy of purpose. Once embarked
on his evangelistic voyage, he pressed forward, and never
flinched for a day. " One thing I do," seemed to be his motto
and constraining motive. To preach the gospel, to labour to
do good, to endeavour to save souls, — these seemed to become
his only objects, and the ruling passion of his life. In pursuit
of them he compassed sea and land, putting aside all considera-
tions of ease and rest, and forgetting all earthly feelings. Few
men but himself could have gone to Epworth, stood upon their
father's tombstone, and preached to an open-air congregation,
" The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteous-
ness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Few but himself
could have seen fellow-labourers, one after another, carried to
their graves, till he stood almost alone in his generation, and
yet preached on, as he did, with unabated spirit, as if the ranks
around him were still full. But his marvellous singleness of
eye carried him through all. " Beware of the man of one
book," was the advice of an old philosopher to his pupils.
The man of " one thing" is the man who in the long run does
great things, and shakes the world.

The second thing I ask the reader to notice is his extra-
ordinary diligence, self denial, a?id economy of time. It puts one
almost out of breath to read the good man's Journals, and to
mark the quantity of work that he crowded into one year. He
was to all appearance always working, and never at rest.
" Leisure and I," he said, " have taken leave of one another.
I propose to be busy as long as I live, if my health is so long
indulged to me." This resolution was made in the prime of
life ; and never was resolution more punctually observed.


*' Lord, let me not live to be useless," was the prayer which he
uttered after seeing one, whom he once knew as an active and
useful man, reduced by age to be a picture of human nature in
disgrace, feeble in body and mind, slow of speech and under-
standing. Even the time which he spent in travelling was not
lost. " History, poetry, and philosophy," said he, " I commonly
read on horseback, having other employment at other times."
When you met him in the street of a crowded city, he attracted
notice not only by his bands and cassock, and his long silvery
hair, but by his pace and manner ; both indicating that all his
minutes were numbered, and that not one was to be lost.
" But though I am always in haste," he said, '•' I am never in a
liurry, because I never undertake any more work than I can go
through with perfect calmness of spirit." Here, again, is one
secret of great usefulness. We must abhor idleness ; we must
redeem time. No man knows how much can be done in
twelve hours until he tries. It is precisely those who do most
work who find that they can do most.

The last thing which I ask the reader to notice is his marvel-
lous versatility of mind a?id capacity for a variety of things. No
one perhaps can fully realize this who does not read the large
biographies which record all his doings, or study his wonderful
Journals. Things the most opposite and unlike — things the
most petty and trifling — things the most thoroughly secular — ■
things most thoroughly spiritual, — all are alike mastered by his
omnivorous mind. He finds time for all, and gives directions
about all. One day we find him condensing old divinity, and
publishing fifty volumes of theology, called the " Christian
Library;" — another day we find him writing a complete com-
mentary on the whole Bible ; — -another day we find him com-
posing hymns, which live to tliis day in tlie praises of many a
congregation ; — another day we find him drawing up minute
directions for his preachers, forbidding them to shout and
scream and preach too long, insisting on their reading regularly


lest their sermons became threadbare, requiring them not to
drink spirits, and charging them to get up early in the morn-
ing ; — another day we find him calmly reviewing the current
literature of the day, and criticizing all the new books with cool
and shrewd remarks, as if he had nothing else to do. Like
Napoleon, nothing seems too small or too great for his mind to
attend to ; like Calvin, he writes as if he had nothing to do
but write, preaches as if he had nothing to do but preach, and
administers as if he had nothing to do but administer. A ver-
satility like this is one mighty secret of power, and is a striking
characteristic of most men who leave their mark on the world.
To be a steam-engine and a penknife, a telescope and a micro-
scope, at the same time, is probably one of the highest attain-
ments of the human mind.

I should think my sketch of Wesley incomplete if I did not
notice the objection continually made against him — that he was
an Arminian in doctrine. I fully admit the seriousness of the
objection, I do not pretend either to explain the charge away,
or to defend his objectionable opinions. Personally, I feel
unable to account for any well-instructed Christian holding
such doctrines as perfection and the defectibihty of grace, or
denying such as election and the imputed righteousness of

But, after all, we must beware that we do not condemn
men too strongly for not seeing all things in our point of view,
or excommunicate and anathematize them because they do not
pronounce our shibboleth. It is written in God's Word, " Why
dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought
thy brother?" We must think and let think. We must learn
to distinguish between things that are of the essence of the
gospel and things which are of the perfectmi of gospel. We
may think that a man preaches an imperfect gospel who denies
election, considers justification to be nothing more than forgive-
ness, and tells believers in one sermon that they may attain


perfection in this life, and in another sermon that they may
entirely fall away from grace. But if the same man strongly
and boldly exposes and denounces sin, clearly and fully lifts up
Christ, distinctly and openly invites men to believe and repent,
shall we dare to say that the man does not preach the gospel
at all % Shall we dare to say that he will do no good % I, for
one, cannot say so, at any rate. If I am asked whether I
prefer Whitefield's gospel or Wesley's, I answer at once that I
prefer Whitefield's : I am a Calvinist, and not an Armmian.
But if I am asked to go further, and to say that Wesley preached
no gospel at all, and did no real good, I answer at once that I
cannot do so. That Wesley would have done better if he could
have thrown off his Arminianism, I have not the least doubt ;
but that he preached the gospel, honoured Christ, and did
extensive good, I no more doubt than I doubt my own

Let those who depreciate Wesley as an Arminian, read his
own words in the funeral sermon which he preached on the
occasion of Whitefield-s death. He says of his great fellow-
labourer and brother : —

" His fundamental point was to give God all the glory of
whatever is good in man. In the business of salvation he set
Christ as high and man as low as possible. With this point he
and his friends at Oxford — the original Methodists so-called —
set out. Their grand ])rinciple was, there is no power by
nature, and no merit in man. They insisted, ' all grace to
speak, think, or act right, is in and from the Spirit of Christ ;
and all merit is not in man, how high soever in grace, but
merely in the blood of Christ.' So he and they taught. There
is no power in man,, till it is given him from above, to do one
good work, to speak one good word, or to form one good
desire. For it is not enough to say all men are sick of sin : no,
we are all dead in trespasses and sins. ,

" And we are ail helpless, both with regard to the power and


the guilt of sin. For who can bring a clean thing out of an
unclean % None less than the Almighty. Who can raise those
that are dead, spiritually dead, in sin % None but he who
raised us from the dust of the earth. But on what consideration
will he do this ? Not for works of righteousness that we have
done. The dead cannot praise thee, O Lord, nor can they do
anything for which they should be raised to life. Whatever,
therefore, God does, he does it merely for the sake of his well-
beloved Son. ' He was wounded for our transgressions, he
was bruised for our iniquities. He himself bore all our sins in
his own body on the tree. He was delivered for our offences,
and rose again for our justification.' Here, then, is the sole
meritorious cause of every blessing we can or do enjoy, and, in
particular, of our j^ardon and acceptance with God, of our full
and free justification. But by v/hat means do we become inter-
ested in what Christ has done and suffered % ' Not Ijy ^yorks,
lest any man should boast, but by faith alone.' ' We conclude,'
says the apostle, ' that a man is justified by faith without the
deeds of the law.' And ' to as many as receive Christ he gives
power to become sons of God ; even to them which believe in
his name, who are born not of the will of man but of God.'

" Except a man be thus born again he cannot enter into the
kingdom of God. But all who are thus born of the Spirit have
the kingdom of God within them. Christ sets up his kingdom
in their hearts — righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy
Ghost. That mind is in them which was in Christ Jesus,
enabling them to walk as Christ walked. His indwelling Spirit
makes them holy in mind, and holy in all manner of conversa-
tion. But still, seeing all this is a free gift through the blood
and righteousness of Christ, there is eternally the same reason
to remember — he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

" You are not ignorant that these are the fundamental doc-
trines which Mr. Whitefield everywhere insisted on ; and may
they not be summed up, as it were, in two words — 'the new


birth, and justification by faith?' These let us insist upon with
all boldness, and at all times, in all places, in public and in
private. Let us keep close to these good old unfashionable
doctrines, how many soever contradict and blaspheme."

Such were the words of the Arminian, John Wesley. I make
no comment on them. I only say, before any one despises
this great man because he was an Arminian, let him take care
that he really knows what Wesley's opinions were. Above all,
let him take care that he thoroughly understands what kind of
doctrines he used to preach in England a hundred years ago.


Wesley's Preaching — Preface to Published Volume of Sermons — Extracts from Sermons
Preached before the University of Oxford — Rules for the Guidance of his Helpers —
Advice to his Preachers — Letter to the Bishop of Lincoln — General Estimate of Wes-
ley's Merits.

England a hundred years ago received such deep impressions
from John Wesley, that I should not feel I did him justice if I
did not give my readers a few select specimens of his writings.
Before we turn away from the father of Methodism, let us try to
get some distinct idea of his style of thought and his mode of
expressing himself Let us see how his mind worked.

The man who could leave his mark so indelibly on his fellow-
countrymen as John Wesley did, we must all feel could have
been no ordinary man. The man who could keep his hold on
assemblies till he was between eighty and ninety years old, and
produce effects second only to those produced by Whitefield,
must evidently have possessed peculiar gifts. Two or three
extracts from his sermons and other writings will probably be
thought interesting and instructive by most Christian readers.

The materials for forming a judgment in this matter are
happily abundant, and easily accessible. A volume of fifty-
seven sermons Ues before me at this moment, prepared for


publication by Wesley's own hands, and first published in 177 1.
It is a volume that deserves far more attention than it generally
receives in the present day. The doctrine of some of the dis-
courses, I must honestly confess, is sometimes very defective.
Nevertheless, the volume contains many noble passages ; and
there are not a few pages in it which, for clearness, terseness,
pointedness, vigour, and pure Saxon phraseology, are perfect
models of good style.

Wesley's preface to his volume of sermons is of itself very re-
markable. I will begin by giving a few extracts from it. He says, —

" I design plain truth for plain people. Therefore, of set
purpose, I abstain from all nice and philosophical speculations;
from all perplexed and intricate reasonings ; and, as far as
possible, from even the show of learning, unless in sometimes
citing the original Scriptures. I labour to avoid all words
which are not easy to be understood — all which are not used
in common life; and in particular those technical. terms that
so frequently occur in Bodies of divinity — those modes of
speaking which men of reading are intimately acquainted with,
but which to common people are an unknown tongue. Yet I
am not assured that I do not sometimes slide into them un-
awares ; it is so extremely natural to imagine that a word which
is familiar to ourselves is so to all the w^orld.

" Nay, my design is, in some sense, to forget all that ever
I have read in my life. I mean to speak in the general, as
if I had never read one author, ancient or modern, always
excepting the inspired. I am persuaded that, on the one hand,
this may be a means of enabling me more clearly to express
the sentiments of my heart, while I simply follow the chain of
my own thoughts without entangling myself with those of othei
men ; and that, on the other, I shall come wnth fewer weights
upon my mind, with less of prejudice and prepossession, either
to search for myself or to deliver to others the naked truth of
the gospel.


" To candid, reasonable men I am not afraid to lay open
what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart, I have
thought, ' I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an
arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and
returning to God, just hovering over the great gulf, till a few
moments hence I am no more seen ! I drop into an un-
changeable eternity ! I want to know one thing, — the way to
heaven — how to land safe on that liappy shore. God himself
has condescended to teach the way ; for this very end he came
from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Oh, give

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 7 of 36)