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homage. To endangered men the night was given for far
other uses than for sleep : the storm is high and the rocks


are near, the sails are rent, and the planks are starting
beneath the fury of the winds and waves, what is the
dictate of wisdom, of imperious necessity? what but to
ply the pump, to undergird the ship, to strike the mast,
haul taut the cordage, "strengthen the things that remain,"
and trust in the Most High. If safety is vouchsafed, it is
God who saves. So in spiritual things man must strive as
if he could do everything, and trust as if he could do
nothing ; and in regeneration the Scripture doctrine is that
he can do nothing. He may accomplish things leading
thereto, just as the Jews ministered to the resurrection of
Lazarus by leading Christ to the sepulchre ; but it was the
divine voice that raised the dead. Thus sermons, Scrip-
tures, catechisms, and all the machinery of Christian
action, will be tried and used, dealt out by the minister
and shared by his flock ; but with each and all must the
conviction rest that it is not by might of mechanism, nor
by power of persuasion conversion is brought about, but
by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts.

This truth was grievously lost sight of in Wesley's days,
sunk in the tide of cold morality that inundated the land
and consigned it to a theosophy less spiritual than that of
Socrates or Plato. But up from the depths of the heathen-
ish flood our great reformer fished this imperishable truth,
a treasure-trove exceeding in value pearls of great price,
or a navy of sunken galleons. And through his ministry
this shone with unequalled light, for if anything distin-
guished it more than another from contemporary minis-
tries, it was the emphatic prominence it assigned to the
Spirit's work in conversion. This was the Pharos of his
teaching, the luminous point which led the world-lost soul
into the haven of assured peace and conscious adoption.


And much need was there that this dogma should have
received this distinctive preeminence and peculiar honour,
for it was either totally forgotten, coarsely travestied, or
boldly denied.

Having now dealt with the truths that bear upon per-
sonal religion and individual subjection to the truth, as
well as the means whereby this was to be effected the
direct agency of the Divine Spirit, things insisted upon
with untiring energy by John Wesley we now turn atten-
tion to the views which our great reformer put forth
regarding Christians in their associated capacity. He
knew full well, none better than he, that the individual
believer is not a unit, an isolation, a monad, complete in
his own sufficiency, spinning round himself like a top upon
its peg, rejoicing in the music of its complacent hum ; no,
but a joint in a system, a member of a body, a fraction of
a whole, a segment of an orb, which, incomplete without
its parts, becomes only by their adhesion terse and rotund.
Every portion of the Christian community, like every por-
tion of the body politic, is related to every other portion.
When a man becomes a Christian he is inducted into a
fraternity, made free of a sodality and guild, with the
interests of which he becomes so intimately bound up
that his pulse dances in its health and languishes in its
decay. The figure of Scripture becomes experimental
truth: "Whether one member suffer, all the members
suffer with it ; or one member be honoured, all the mem-
bers rejoice with it." 1 Cor. xii, 26. He is disjoined from
his former association with worldly men ; the bad blood of
his unconverted alliances is drawn off and that of a new
fellowship infused, and he becomes a member of its body,
of its flesh, and of its bones. A homogeneity is established


between himself and all the other parts of this spiritual
incorporation; and while in matters of faith, obedience,
and personal responsibility he retains his individual man-
hood, in all that affects the fortunes and duties of the
Church he thrills with a quick sympathy as the remotest
nerve will with the brain. And this corporate life he only
lives, enjoys its advantages, and answers its ends, while he
lives in conjunction, in observance of divine ordinances
and visible worship, with men like-minded with himself,
the regenerate sons of God. For developing this feature
of the Christian life Wesley made provision in the
arrangements of his system, and this he did by promi-
nently recognising this further third principle, namely :

That the Church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual organiza-
tion consisting of spiritual men associated for spiritual

This is the theory of that Church of which he was for
several years the laborious and conscientious minister, and
is nowhere more happily expressed than in its nineteenth
article : " The visible Church of Christ is a congregation
of faithful men in the which the pure word of God is
preached and the sacraments duly administered accord-
ing to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of neces-
sity are requisite to the same." But this beautiful and
Scriptural theory was, to a great degree, an unapproacha-
ble ideal in this country until that system arose, under the
creative hand of "Wesley, which made it a reality and
gave it a positive existence, "a local habitation and a
name." It is true the name he gave it was not Church, it
was The Society, and in other forms and subdivisions,
bands, classes, &c., but in essence it was the same; it
was the union and communion of the Lord's people for


common edification and the glory of Christ. As soon as
two or three converts were made to those earnest personal
views of religion he promulgated, the inclination and
necessity for association commenced. It was seen in his
Oxford praying coterie; seen in his fellowship with the
Moravians; and afterward fully exemplified in the mother
society at the Foundry, Moorfields, and in all the affiliated
societies throughout the kingdom. The simple object of
these associations was thus explained in a set of general
rules for their governance, published by the brothers Wes-
ley in 1743. The preamble states the nature and design
of a Methodist Society to be " a company of men having
the form and seeking the power of godliness; united in
order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation,
and to watch over one another in love, that they may help
each other to work out their salvation. There is only one
condition previously required of those who desire admis-
sion into these societies a desire to flee from the wrath to
come, and to be saved from their sins." They were further
to evidence this desire : " 1. By doing no harm, by avoid-
ing evil of every kind. 2. By doing good, by being in
every kind merciful after their power; as they have
opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far
as possible, to all men. And, 3. By attending upon all
the ordinances of God. Such are the public worship of
God ; the ministry of the word, either read or expounded ;
the supper of the Lord ; family and private prayer ; search-
ing the Scriptures ; and fasting or abstinence." Whether
we regard the design of association given in these terms,
or the specification of duty, we seem to trace a virtual
copy of the articular definition of the Church recently
cited. Wesley never failed to recognise the Scriptural


distinction between the Church and the world, nor to
mark it. While he viewed with becoming deference the
kingdoms of this world, and bowed to the authority of
the magistrate as the great cement of human society, the
clamp that binds the stones of the edifice together, he saw
another kingdom pitched within the borders of these,
diifering from them in everything and infinitely above
them, yet consentaneous with them, and vesting them
with its sanction, itself all the while purely spiritual in
its basis, laws, privileges, and sovereign. Blind must he
have been to a degree incompatible with his general per-
spicacity, had he not perceived this. The men who pos-
sessed religion, and the men who possessed it not, were
not to be for a moment confounded. They might be
neighbours in locality and friends in good-will ; but they
were wide as the poles asunder in sentiment. The quick
and the dead may be placed side by side, but no one can
for ever so short a period mistake dead flesh for living
fibre, the abnegation of power for energy in repose. The
church and the churchyard are close by ; but the worship-
pers in the one and the dwellers in the other are as unlike
as two worlds can make them. The circle within the
circle, the company of the converted, the imperium in
im/perio, the elect, the regenerate, Wesley always distin-
guished from the mass of mankind, and made special
provision for their edification in all his organisms.

And in sooth the marked and constant recognition of
this spiritual incorporation it is which gives revealed
religion its only chance of survival in the world. To
forget it is practically to abolish the distinction between
error and truth, between right and wrong. There is no
heresy more destructive than a bad life. To class the man


of good life and the man of bad together, to call them by
the same name and elevate them to the same standing, is
high treason against the majesty of truth, poisons the very
spring of morality, and does conscience to death. A
nation cannot be a Church, nor a Church a nation. The
case of Israel was the only one in which the two king-
doms were coextensive, conterminous. A member of a
nation a man becomes by birth, but a member of a Church
only by a second birth. Generation is his title to the one,
regeneration to the other. The one is a natural accident,
the other a moral state. Citizens are the sons of the soil,
Christians are the sons of heaven. To clothe, then, the
members of the one with the livery and title of the other
without the prerequisite qualification and dignity, is not
only a solecism in language, but an outrage upon truth.
It is to reconcile opposites, harmonize discords, blend dis-
similitudes, and identify tares with wheat, light with dark-
ness, life with death. It is the destruction of piety among
the converted, for they see the unconverted honoured with
their designation, advanced to their level, obtruded upon
their society. It is ruin to the souls of the unconverted,
because without effort of their own, without faith, or
prayer, or good works, or reformation, or morals, they are
surprised with the style and title, the status and rewards
of Christian men. This is unfortunately the practice on a
large scale ; the theory is otherwise and unexceptionable.
Imbued with a deep sense of the beauty and correctness
of the theory, Wesley did only what was natural and
right. when he sought to make it a great fact a substance
and not a shadow in the Church militant. In this he
not only obeyed a divine injunction, but yielded to the
current of events. By a natural attraction his converts


were drawn together. Like will to like. "They that
feared the Lord spake often one to another;" and "all
that believed were together." The particles were similar,
the aggregate homogeneous. They had gone through the
same throes, rejoiced in the same parentage, learned in
the same school, and embraced the same destiny. They
owned a common creed, " one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all ;" resisted a common tempta-
tion, took up a common cross, and in common renounced
the world, the flesh, and the devil. They came together
on the ground of identity of character, of desire for mutual
discipline and benefit, and of community of feeling and
interest. It is obvious to perceive that "Wesley did not
originate this communion, whether it were for good or
evil ; for it was an ordinance of God in its primal institu-
tion, and in this particular instance arose out of the very-
nature of the case. Wesley could not have prevented it,
except by such measures as would have undone all he had
done. God's believing people found one another out, and
associated by a law as fixed and unalterable as that kali
and acid coalesce, or that the needle follows the magnet.
But while he did not enact the law which God's people
obeyed in this close intercommunion and relationship, he
understood and revered it, and furthered and regulated
the intercourse of the godly by the various enactments
and graduated organizations of his system. He set the
city upon the hill, and bade it be conspicuous ; the lamp
upon the stand, and bade it shine ; the vine upon the soil,
and said to it, Be fruitful. He set it apart, and trimmed
it, and hedged it in; convinced that such separation as
Scripture enjoins (2 Cor. vi) was essential to its growth
and welfare a truth the Christian law teaches and indi-


vidual experience confirms. Every benefit the institution
of a Church might be supposed to secure is forfeited when
the Church loses its distinctive character and becomes
identified with the world.

But neither to glorify their founder by their closer com-
bination, nor for self-complacent admiration, nor to be a
gazing-stock for the multitude an ecclesiastical lion of
formidable dimensions and portentous roar nor for the
tittle tattle of mutual gossipry did John "Wesley segregate
his people; no, but for their good and the good of man-
kind. The downy bed of indolence for the Church, or the
obesity that grows of inaction, never once came within his
calculations as their lot. To rub the rust from each other,
as iron sharpeneth iron, was the first object of their associ-
ation ; and the second to weld their forces together in the
glowing furnace of communion for the benefit of the
world. They were to rejoice in the good grapes of their
own garden, and sweeten by inoculation and culture the
sour grapes of their neighbour. They were to attract all
goodness to themselves, and where it was wanting create
it, after the Arab proverb, " The palm-tree looks upon the
palm-tree and groweth fruitful !" It was as the salt of the
earth they were to seek to retain their savour, and not for
their own preservation alone. No one ever more sedu-
lously guarded the inward subjective aspect of the Church,
its self-denying intent, its exclusion of the unholy and
unclean, than John Wesley ; and no one ever directed its
objective gaze outward and away from itself, "to have
compassion on the ignorant and out of the way," with
more untiring industry than he. He knew the Church's
mission was more than half unfulfilled, while it locked
itself up in its ark of security, and left the world without


to perish. He was himself the last man in the world to
leave the wounded to die, passing by in his supercilious-
ness, and asking, ""Who is my neighbour?" and the last
to found a community which should be icy, selfish, and
unfeeling. He was a working minister, and fathomed the
depth and yielded to the full current of the truth, that the
Church must be a working Church. Armed at all points
with sympathies which brought him into contact with the
world without, the Church must resemble him in this.
He was an utterly unselfish being; he, if ever any,
could say

"I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me."

To work for the benefit of men when he might have taken
his ease, became a necessity of his nature, moulded upon
the pattern of his self-sacrificing Master, and the law of
his being must be that of the Church's. It must " do or
die." It must be instant in season, out of season. It must
go into the highways and hedges. It must beseech men
to be reconciled to God. It must compel them to come in.
It miist give no sleep to its eyes, nor slumber to its eyelids,
till its work be done. It must stand in the top of high
places, by the way in the places of the paths, and cry, " O
ye simple, understand wisdom ; and ye fools, be ye of an
understanding heart !" It must gather all the might of its
energies, and lavish all the wealth of its resources, and
exhaust all the influences it can command, and coin all
the ingenuity of its devices into schemes for the saving
benefit of the world. Thus not merely conservative of the
truth must the Church be for its own edification and nur-
ture, but also diffusive of the truth for the renewal and
redemption of all around.


And these were grand discoveries a hundred years ago,
of which the credit rests very mainly with the founder of
Methodism, although mere common-places now. It is true
they were partially and speculatively held even then ; but
very partially, and in the region of thought rather than of
action. Some saw the truth of the matter, but it was in
its proverbial dwelling, and the well was deep, just per-
ceptible at the bottom, but beyond their grasp ; while to
the many the waters were muddy, and they saw it not at
all. There were no Bible, Tract, or Missionary Societies
then to employ the Church's powers and indicate its path
of duty. But "Wesley started them all. He wrote and
printed and circulated books in thousands upon thousands
of copies. He set afloat home and foreign missions. The
Church and the world were alike asleep; he sounded the
loud trumpet of the gospel, and awoke the world to trem-
ble and the Church to work. Never was such a scene
before in England The correctness and maturity of his
views amid the deep darkness surrounding him is startling,
wonderful, like the idea of a catholic Chulrch springing up
amid a sectarian Judaism. It is midday without the ante-
cedent dawn. It beggars thought. It defies explanation.
A Church in earnest as a want of the times is, even now
in these greatly advanced days, strenuously demanded and
eloquently enforced by appeal after appeal from the press,
the platform, and the pulpit ; but "Wesley gave it practical
existence from the very birth-hour of his society. His
vigorous bantling rent the swathing bands of quiet, self-
communing, and prevalent custom, and gave itself a
young Hercules to the struggle with the inertia of the
Church and the opposition of the world. Successfully it
encountered both. It quickened the one and subdued the


other, and attained by the endeavour the muscular devel-
opment and manful port and indomitable energy of its*
present life. John "Wesley's Church is no mummy cham-
ber of a pyramid silent, sepulchral, garnished with still
figures in hieroglyphic coif and cerecloth, but a busy
town, a busier hive, himself the informing spirit, the
parent energy, the exemplary genius of the whole. Never
was the character of the leader more accurately reflected
in his troops. Bonaparte made soldiers, Wesley made
active Christians.

The last principle we shall notice as illustrated by his
career has relation to the nature and work of the ministry.

A grand discovery lying very near the root of Method-
ism, considered as an ecclesiastical system, it was the for-
tune of John Wesley to light upon, not far from the outset
of his career, a discovery quite as momentous and influen-
tial in the diffusion and perpetuation of his opinions as
that with which Luther startled the world in 1524. Luther
published the then monstrous heresy that ministers who
are married can serve the Lord and his Church as holily,
learnedly, and acceptably as celibate priests and cloistered
regulars ; and our hero found out that men unqualified by
university education for orders in the Church were the
very fittest instruments he could employ in the itinerant
work of early Methodism. Rough work requires rough
hands. The burly pioneer is as needful in the army as the
dapper ensign, and the hewer of wood in the deep forest
as the French-polisher in the city. Now this was a great
discovery, up to that period a thing unknown. The
Roman Church knew nothing of such a device its orders
of various kinds bore no approximation to it ; the Protest-
ant Churches knew nothing of it presbyter and bishop


were at equal removes from it ; the very puritans and non-
conformists knew nothing of it, they being in their way as
great sticklers for clerical order and their succession as
any existing body the more pardonable, as some were
living in the early part of Wesley's history who had them-
selves officiated in the Churches of the Establishment.
His discovery was, that plain men just able to read, and
explain with some fluency what they read and felt, might
go forth without license from college, or presbytery, or
bishop, into any parish in the country, the weaver from
his loom, the shoemaker from his stall, and tell their
fellow-sinners of salvation and the love of Christ. This
was a tremendous innovation upon the established order
of things everywhere, and was as reluctantly forced upon
so starched a precisian as John Wesley, as it must have
horrified the members of the stereotyped ministries and
priesthoods existing around. But, as in Luther's case, so
here "the present necessity" was the teacher: "the
fields were white to the harvest, and the labourers were
few." We have ample evidence to show that if he could
have pressed into the service a sufficient number of the
clerical profession he would have preferred the employ-
ment of such agents exclusively, but as they were only
few of this rank who lent him their constant aid, he was
driven to adopt the measure which we think the salvation
of his system, and in some respects its glory. The greater
part of the clergy would have been unfitted for the work
he would have allotted them, even had they not been
hampered by the trammels of ecclesiastical usage. This
usage properly assigns a fixed portion of clerical labour to
one person, and to discharge it well is quite enough to
tax the powers of most men to the utmost. Few parish


ministers, how conscientious and diligent so ever, will ever
have to complain of too little to do. But Wesley had a
roving commission, was an "individuum vagum," as one
of the clergy called him, and felt himself called by his
strong sense of the need of some extraordinary means to
awaken the sleeping population of the country to overleap
the barriers of clerical courtesy and ecclesiastical law,
invading parish after parish of recusant incumbents with-
out compunction or hesitancy at the overweening impulse
of duty. However much some clergymen may have sym-
pathized with him in religious opinion, it is easy to under-
stand how many natural and respectable scruples might
prevent their following such a leader in his Church
errantry. They must, in fact, have broken with their
own system to give themselves to his, and this they might
not be prepared to do. They might value his itinerating
plan as supplementary to the localized labours of the
parish minister, but at the same time demur to its taking
the place of parochial duty as its tendency was and as its
effect has been. Thus was Wesley early thrown upon a
species of agency for help which he would doubtless sin-
cerely deplore at first, namely, a very slenderly equipped
but zealously ardent and fearless laity, but which, again,
his after experience led him to value at its proper worth,
and see in the adaptation of his men to the common mind
their highest qualification. "Fire low" is said to have
been his frequent charge in after life to young ministers, a
maxim the truth of which was confirmed by the years of
an unusually protracted ministry and acquaintance with
mankind. A ministry that dealt in perfumed handker-
chiefs, and felt most at home in Bond-street and the ball-
room, the perfumed popinjays of their profession; or one


that, emulous of the fame of Nimrod, that mighty hunter
before the Lord, sacrificed clerical duty to the sports of
the field, prized the reputation of securing the brush
before that of being a good shepherd of the sheep, and
deemed the music of the Tally-ho or Hunting Chorus infi-
nitely more melodious than the Psalms of David; or,
again, one composed of the fastidious student of over-
refined sensibilities, better acquainted with the modes of
thought of past generations than with the actual habits of
the present, delicate recluses and nervous men, the bats
of society, who shrink from the sunshine of busy life into
the congenial twilight of their library, whose over-edu-
cated susceptibilities would prompt the strain

" O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a clo.ud !
I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed !"

these would have utterly failed for the work John "Wesley
wanted them to do. Gentlemen would either to a great

Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 3 of 26)