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reformer was indebted to his mother ; as who, that is ever
great or good, is not ?

Never was child more fortunate in a maternal guide
than young Wesley, and never could mother claim more
exclusively the credit of her son's early training. At
eleven years of age he left home for the Charterhouse-
school, but up to that period he was educated by his
mother. Literary composition, correspondence, and paro-
chial and secular duties fully employed his father; but
amid the domestic cares of fifteen living children, his
pious and gifted mother found time to devote six hours
daily to the education of her family.

Passing from under the tutelage of his accomplished
mother, young Wesley became at the Charterhouse a
sedate, quiet, and industrious pupil. The regularity of
system which characterized the man was even then visible
in the boy, taking his methodical race round the garden
thrice every morning. His excellent habits were rewarded
by the esteem of his masters, and his election six years
afterward to Christ's Church College, Oxford. At the
University he maintained the reputation for scholarship
acquired at school, and ere long was chosen a Fellow of
Lincoln, and appointed Greek Lecturer and Moderator of
the Classes to the University. And here properly begins
the religious life of the young reformer. Prior to his
ordination, which took place in 1725, he had devoted him-
self to such a course of reading as he considered most
likely to conduce to his spiritual benefit, and qualify him
for his sacred office. Upon the mind of one so religiously


and orderly brought up, the Ascetic Treatises of Thomas a
Kempis, and Taylor's Holy Living cmd Dying, would
naturally make a deep impression, the more as their ear-
nest strain would contrast so favourably with the epicurean
insouciance, or the stolid fatalism of his classic favourites.
The highest effort of Pagan heroism and philosophy was
to invite then- dead to the feast and orgie, and mock at
death by crowning him with flowers, while of all the
sublimer objects of life they were as ignorant as to its
more serious duties they were unequal. Surfeited with
their dainties which he had relished as a child, when he
became a man he put away childish things with the loath-
ing of a matured and higher taste. Assistant to his father
for two years in the adjacent living of Wroote, and
engaged thus in the actualities of the ministry, his soul
found more and more occasion for self-examination, self-
renunciation, and devotion to the solemn work of his call-
ing. Impressions deepened upon his mind which could
not fail to issue in great good to the Church of Christ,
impressions made by his temper of body, early training,
and the studies and duties of his vocation. His views
were very imperfect of the doctrines of grace, but his
heart was undergoing that process of preparation for their
full disclosure and ready reception which might be resem-
bled to turning up the fallow ground. He was not far
from the kingdom of God. "While the young clergyman
was engaged in the searchings of heart attendant upon his
early experience, and was prosecuting the labours of his
country cure, God was maturing at Oxford a system of
events which was to issue in the result he sought light
to the understanding, peace to the conscience, purity to
the life, and an assured sense of the divine forgiveness.


Charles Wesley, the younger brother, during John's two
years' absence on his cure, seemed to have waked all at
once from the religious apathy of his under-graduate
course, and falling in with two or three young men of
kindred feelings with his own, they associated for mutual
improvement and religious exercises. They received the
sacrament weekly, and practised certain very obvious but
very unusual austerities in regard to food, raiment, and
amusements, quite sufficient to draw upon them general
observation. The world, which has a keen sense of the
ridiculous, saw in all this only oddity and folly, and in
sooth it is no necessary adjunct of real religion perhaps
thought it something still less worthy of respect hypoc-
risy, and love of notoriety. But observers could have
borne even with these defects better than with what they
found in the enthusiastic objects of their dislike earnest
practical godliness, which intimidation could not daunt
nor ridicule shame. They gave these parties, therefore,
the names of Sacramentarians, Bible-bigots, Bible-moths,
the Holy, and the Godly Club. But, from the orderly
method of their life, the name Methodists, that of an
ancient sect of physicians, gradually stuck to the latter
party, one not altogether new in its applications to religion
any more than the Puritans (Cathari) of an earlier date.
This title they neither sought nor shunned. If it gave no
glory, it implied little reproach. But they justified their
religious views by the practical value of their measures.
They could appeal to their works as their best vindication.
Their acquittal were triumphant were the tree of their
profession judged by its fruits. We know not where, out
of the Gospels, a more successful appeal is made in favour
of practical godliness, the religion of good sense and good


works, than in the document we are about to submit to our
readers. Never was there less enthusiasm, fanaticism,
rant, (O si sic omnia /) in any page of letter-pressnever
more convincing ratiocination, more clear exposition of
duty, than in its dozen quiet interrogations.

" Whether it does not concern all men, of all conditions,
to imitate Him, as much as they can, who went about
doing good?

" "Whether all Christians are not concerned in that com-
mand, "While we have time let us do good unto all men,
especially to those who are of the household of faith ?

""Whether we shall not be more happy hereafter the
more good we do now?

""Whether we may not try to do good to our acquaint-
ance among the young gentlemen of the university ?

"Particularly whether we may not endeavour to con-
vince them of the necessity of being Christians and of
being scholars?

" May we not try to do good to those that are hungry,
or naked, or sick? If we know any necessitous family,
may we not give them a little food, clothes, or physic, as
they want ?

" If they can read, may we not give them a Bible or
a Prayer-Book, or a Whole Duty of Man? May we
not inquire now and then how they have used them,
explain what they do not understand, and enforce what
they do ?

"May we not enforce upon them the necessity of
private prayer, and of frequenting the church and sac-
rament ?

"May we not contribute what we are able toward
having their children clothed and taught to read ?


"May we not try to do good to those who are in prison?

"May we not release such well disposed persons as
remain in prison for small debts?

"May we not lend small sums of money to those who
are of any trade, that they may procure themselves tools
and materials to work with?

" May we not give to them who appear to want it most
a little money, or clothes, or physic?"

Such is their apology a probe for the conscience, which
searches the latent wound, but only searches to heal a
promptuary of every good word and work a brief but
weighty preface to a life of labour and of love a whole
library of folio divinity in small the casuistry of an
honest and good heart resolved in a handful of questions
the law that came by Moses, clothed in the inimitable
grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ a most Holy
Inquisition of which no brotherhood need be ashamed
the beatitudes of our Lord charged home, and chambered
in the heart by the impulse of an earnest query a thema
con vwiasione, making melody in the heart unto the Lord
while breathing deep-toned benevolence toward man. If
ever Church originated in an unexceptionable source it
was this. If ever one could challenge its foundation as
resting on the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself
being the chief corner-stone, it was this. If ever Church
was cradled, as its Lord was cradled, in supreme glory to
God and good will to man if ever Church at its birth
was an incarnation of the first and chief commandment,
charity, the sum and end of the law, it was this Church.
This is more than can be said of any of the great moral
revolutions of the world. Almost all the more remarka-
ble changes in human opinion, the truths as well as the


errors, have been mixed with a considerable alloy of
human infirmity in their origin and conduct. Envy and
selfishness, and pride and ambition, have shown themselves
in various degrees, as moving powers in the world of
thought and religion, and though the results under divine
superintendence have been overruled to good, the process
has been faulty. "We cannot say, for we do not believe,
that there was not much of human passion at the bottom
of the indignant Luther's breach with Some, while ingen-
uous Protestantism must blush over the sensuality and
cruelty of Henry YIIE. Even the self-denying non-con-
formists do not show so bright, when we reflect that the
majority of them, in closing their ministry in the Church
on St. Bartholomew's day, did never perhaps belong to
what is popularly called the Church of England, nor
object so much to the imposition of a particular prayer-
book, as to any prayer-book at all, being in fact Presby-
terians and Independents. But here, alike free from the
infirmities of Aletharch, or Heresiarch, free from selfish
aim or end, unfraught with doctrinal pride, uninflated by
youthful presumption, a few good men go forth, a second
college of apostles, ordained with a like ordination, having
the unction of the Holy One, and charged with the same
divine mission, " to seek and to save that which was lost,"
freely receiving from heaven, and freely giving in return.
Language and imagery would fail us in depicting sooner
than our soul cease from admiring the purity and sub-
limity of the object these compassionate men sought by
their personal consecration, their visits of mercy, and
their prayers:

" I can't describe it though so much it strike,
Nor liken it I never saw the like."


Looking down, like the divine humanity of the Son of
God from the height of his priestly throne, far above
every feeling save that of sorrow for the sufferings and
sins of men, their eyes suffused with pitiful tears, and they
resolved to do what they could. Suffice it to say, that,
baptized in such a laver as this, the Methodist Church,
which has since attained a respectable maturity, has never
renounced the principles that hallowed its early dedica-
tion, has kept the whiteness of its garments unsullied by
the pollutions of the world, has raised visibly everywhere
the banner of mercy to the bodies and souls of men, and
can say still, as it professed then, "I am free from the
blood of all men."

John Wesley will be found to have given currency by
his course of action to a set of divine ideas easily acted
upon, but not always clearly apprehended, which make
up the sum of personal religion, and without which, it
may be added, personal religion cannot exist. This is the
philosophy of his career, perhaps very imperfectly under-
stood by himself, probably never drawn out by him in a
systematic form, yet sufficiently obvious to us who look
back upon his completed life, and live amid the results of
his labours. Immersed in the complexities of the game,
the turmoil of the storm in which his busy life was cast,
the unceasing struggle of his soul with the gigantic evils
of the world, he could neither observe nor analyze, as we
can do, the elements arrayed against him, nor the princi-
ples evolved in the conflict that were ministrant to his
success. As we are in the habit of raising instinctively
the arm, or lowering the eyelid to repel or shun danger,
so he adopted measures and evolved truths by force of
circumstances more than by forethought, those truths and


measures so adapted to his position as a preacher of right-
eousness amid an opposing generation, that we recognise
in their adaptation and natural evolution proof of their
divineness. They are the same truths which were exhib-
ited in the first struggles of an infant Christianity with
the serpent of Paganism, and when exhibited again upon
a like arena seventeen centuries afterward, with similar
success, are thus proved to be everywhere and always the
same, eternal as abstract truth, and essential as the exist-
ence of God.

The first grand truth thrown up upon the surface of
John Wesley's career, we take to be the absolute necessity
of personal and individual religion.

To the yoke of this necessity he himself bowed at every
period of his history : never even when most completely
led astray as to the ground of the sinner's justification
before God, did he fail to recognise the necessity of con-
version and individual subjection to the laws of the Most
High. "What he required of others, and constantly taught,
he cheerfully observed himself. Yery soon after starting
upon his course did he learn that the laver of baptism was
unavailing to wash from the stain of human defilement,
the supper of the Lord to secure admission to the marriage
supper of the Lamb, and Church organization to draft men
collectively to heaven by simple virtue of its corporate
existence. These delusions, whereby souls are beguiled to
their eternal wrong, soon ceased to juggle him, for his eye,
kindled to intelligence by the Spirit of God, pierced the
transparent cheat. He ascertained at a very early period
that the Church had no delegated power to ticket men in
companies for a celestial journey, and sweep them rail-
road-wise in multitudes to their goal; consequently that


this power, where claimed or conceded, was usurpation on
the one hand, and a compound of credulousness and ser-
vility on the other, insulting to God and degrading to man.
But he began with himself. We suppose he never knew
the hour in which he did not feel the need of personal
religion to secure the salvation of the soul. He was hap-
pily circumstanced in being the son of pious and intelli-
gent parents, who would carefully guard him against the
prevalent errors on these points. He never could have
believed presentation at the font to be salvation, nor the
vicarious vow of sponsors a substitute for personal renun-
ciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil: and he
early showed this. When the time of his ordination drew
nigh, and he was about to be inducted into the cure of
souls, he was visited with great searchings of heart. His
views of the mode of the sinner's acceptance with God
were confused indeed ; but on the subject of personal con-
secration they may be said never to have varied. Fight-
ing his way, as he was called to do, through a lengthened
period of experimental obscurity, " working out his salva-
tion with fear and trembling," we nevertheless cannot
point to any moment in his spiritual history in which he
was not a child of God. What an incomparable mother
must he have had ! what a hold must she have established
upon his esteem and confidence, to whom this fellow of a
college referred his scruples and diificulties in view of his
ordination, and whom his scholarly father bade him con-
sult when his own studious habits and abundant occupa-
tions forbade correspondence with himself! Animated to
religious feeling about this time, he made a surrender of
himself to God, made in partial ignorance, but never
revoked. " I resolved," he says, " to dedicate all my life


to .God, all my thoughts, and words, and actions ; being
thoroughly convinced there was no medium; but that
every pa/rt of my life (not some only) must either be a
sacrifice to God or myself, that is, in effect, to the devil."
And his pious father, seconding his son's resolve, replies :
" God fit you for your great work ! fast, watch, and pray !
believe, love, endure, and be happy!" And so he did
according to his knowledge, for a more conscientious cler-
gyman and teacher, for the space of ten years, never lived
than the Rev. John Wesley, fellow and tutor of Lincoln.
But there was a whole world of spiritual experience yet
untrodden by him amid the round of his college duties,
ascetic practices, and abounding charities. His heart told
him, and books told him, and the little godly company who
met in his rooms all told him, in tones more or less distinct,
that he had not yet attained that he was still short of the
mark that the joys of religion escaped his reach, though
its duties were unexceptionably performed. His course of
reading, the mystic and ascetic writers, together with the
dry* scholastic divinity that furnishes the understanding
but often drains the heart, tended to this result, to fill the
life with holy exercises rather than to overflow the soul
with sacred pleasure. Of the simple, ardent, gladsome,
gracious piety of the poor, he yet knew next to nothing.

Our censure of the scholastic divinity only reaches to the case in hand,
as among our favourite authors we reckon Thomas Aquinas, and the
Master of the Sentences. We are glad to be able to justify our partiality
by such respectable authority as that of Luther. In his book De Conciliis,
(torn, vii, p. 237,) he writes thus of Peter Lombard: "Nullis in conciliis,
nullo in patre tantum reperies, quam in libro sententiarum Lombardi.
Nam patres et concilia quosdam tantum articulos tractant, Lombardua
autem omnes; sed in prsecipuis illis articulis de Fide et Justificatione
nimis est jejunus, quanquam Dei gratiam magnopere praedicat."


But God was leading him through the wilderness of such
an experience as this by a right way to a city of habita-
tion, doubtless that he might be a wise instructor to others
who should be involved hereafter in mazes like his own.
He looked upon religion as a debt due by the creature to
the Creator, and he paid it with the same sense of con-
straint with which one pays a debt, instead of regarding it
as the ready service of a child of God. A child of God
could not be other than religious ; but, more than this, he
would not if he could ; religion is his

" vital breath,
It is his native air."

But Wesley did not understand as yet the doctrine of free
pardon, the new birth, and the life of faith : he therefore
worked, conscientiously and laboriously indeed, but like a
slave in chains. But he was not too proud to learn from
very humble teachers, a few Moravian emigrants that
sailed in the same vessel with him to Georgia. Their
unaffected humility, unruffled good temper, and serenest
self-possession in prospect of death when storms overtook
the ship, struck him forcibly, and made him feel that they
had reached an eminence in the divine life on which his
college studies, extensive erudition, and pains-taking devo-
tion had failed to land himself. He therefore sat himself
at their feet; he verified the Scripture metaphor, and
became " a little child." In nothing was the lofty wisdom
of John Wesley and his submission to divine teaching
more apparent than in this, that he made himself a fool
that he might be wise. Salvation by grace, and the wit-
ness of the Spirit, were taught him by these God-fearing
and happy Moravians ; and his understanding became full


of light. It was only, however, some three years after-
ward, subsequent to his return to England, that the joy of
this free, present, eternal salvation flowed in upon his soul.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding took
possession of heart and mind through Christ Jesus, and
for fifty years afterward he never doubted, he never
could doubt, of his acceptance with our Father who is in
heaven. The sunshine of his soul communicated itself
to his countenance, and lighted all his conversation. To
speak with him was to speak with an angel of God.

From that time he began to preach a new doctrine, a
doctrine of privilege as well as duty, of acceptance through
the Beloved, and assured sense of pardon, and the happi-
ness of the service of God. And God gave him unlooked
for, unhoped for success. Excluded by almost universal
consent from the churches of the Establishment, he betook
himself to barns, and stable-yards, and inn rooms; and
ultimately, with Whitefield, to the open air, in the streets
and lanes of the city, in the hills and valleys, on the com-
mons and heaths, and with power and unction, with the
Holy Ghost and much assurance did he testify to each of
his hearers the doctrine of personal repentance and faith,
the necessity of the new birth for the salvation of the soul.
And signs and wonders followed in them that believed :
multitudes were smitten to the ground under the sword
of the Spirit; many a congregation was changed into a
Bochim, a place of weeping; and amid sobs, and tears,
and waitings, beneath which the hearts of the most stub-
born sinners quailed, one universal cry arose, "What
must we do to be saved?" John "Wesley's divine simple
Scriptural answer was, " Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
and thou shalt be saved."


His personal experience of the efficacy of the prescrip-
tion gave confidence to his advice. The physician had
been healed himself first: he had been his own earliest
patient : he knew the bitterness of the pain, the virulence
of the disease, and he had proved the sanative power of
\ his remedy. The ordeal of the new birth he had tried
before he recommended it to others. He had visited the
pool of Bethesda, and could therefore speak well of its

And well might it work such change to have the neces-
sity of personal religion insisted upon with such unprece-
dented particularity and pointedness. He singled out each
hearer; he allowed no evasion amid the multitude; he
showed how salvation was not by a Church, nor by fami-
lies, nor by ministers, nor by ordinances, nor by national
communions, but by a deep singular individual experience
of religion in the soul. His address was framed upon the
model of the Scripture query, "Dost thou believe upon
the Son of God?"

A second truth developed in the ministry of John Wes-
ley, is the absolute need of spiritual influence to secure the
conversion of the soul. Conversion is not a question of
willing or not willing on the part of man : the soul bears
no resemblance to the muscles of the healthy arm, which
the mere will to straighten and stiffen throws into a state
of rigid tension at the instant, and retains them so at
pleasure. The soul is in the craze and wreck of paralysis :
the power of action does not respond to the will: the
whole head is sick, the heart faint. To will is present
with us, but how to perform that which is good we know
not. The sick man would be well, but the wish is unavail-
ing till the simple, the leech, and the blessing of the Most



High conspire, to invigorate. Just so is it with the soul ;
it must tarry till it be endued with power from on high,
but not, be it understood, in the torpor of apathy, nor in
the slough of despair ; no, but wishing, watching, waiting.
Though its search were as fruitless as that of Diogenes, it
must be seeking nevertheless, just as, though the prophet's
commission be to preach to the dead, he must not dispute
nor disobey. We must strive to enter in although the
gate be strait and the way narrow: we must be feeling
after God, if haply we may find him, though it be amid
the darkness of nature and the tremblings of dismay. We
may scarce have ability to repent after a godly sort, yet
ought we to bring forth "fruits meet for repentance."
With God alone may rest the prerogative to pronounce us
" sons of Abraham," yet, like Zaccheus, must we work the
works becoming that relation, and right the wronged and
feed the poor. While, then, we emphatically announce
the doctrine that the influence of the Holy Ghost is neces-
sary to quicken, renew, and purify the soul, we do at the
same time repudiate the principle that man may fold his
hands in sleep till the divine voice arouse him. Nothing
short of a celestial spark can ignite the fire of our sacri-
fice, but we can at least lay the wood upon the altar.
None but the Lord of the kingdom can admit to the
privilege of the kingdom, but at the same time it is well
to make inquiry of him who keeps the door. John was
only the bridegroom's friend, the herald of better things
to come; yet "Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the
region round about Jordan," did but its duty in flocking
to him to hear his tidings, and learn where to direct its

Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 2 of 26)