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degree have wanted those sympathies that should exist
between the shepherd and the flock, or would have
quailed before the rough treatment the first preachers
were called to endure. Although the refinement of a
century has done much to crush the coarser forms of per-
secution, it must not be forgotten that the early ministers
of Methodism were called to encounter physical quite as
frequently as logical argumentation. The middle terms
of the syllogisms they were treated to were commonly the
middle of the horsepond, and their Sorites the dungheap.
Now the plain men whom "Wesley was so fortunate as to
enlist in his cause were those whose habits of daily life
and undisputing faith in the truth of their system qualified
them to " endure hardness as good soldiers." They were


not over refined for intercourse with rude, common peo-
ple, could put up with the coarsest fare in their mission to
preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the poorest of
the poor, and were not to be daunted by the perspective
of rotten eggs and duckings, of brickbats and manda-
muses, which threatened to keep effectually in abeyance
any temptation to incur the woe when all men should
speak well of them. Hence among the first coadjutors of
the great leader were John Nelson, a stone-mason ; Thomas
Olivers, a shoemaker; William Hunter, a farmer; Alex-
ander Mather, a baker ; Peter Jaco, a Cornish fisherman ;
Thomas Hanby, a weaver, &c.

Another point in regard to the ministry to which Wesley
gave habitual prominence, was the duty of making that
profession a laborious calling. The heart and soul of his
system, as of his personal ministry, he made to be work.
Work was the mainspring of his Methodism, activity,
energy, progression. From the least to the largest wheel
within wheel that necessity created, or his ingenuity set
up, all turned, wrought, acted incessantly and intelligently
too. It was not mere machinery ; it was full of eyes. To
the lowest agent of Methodism, be it collector, contributor,
exhorter, or distributer of tracts, each has, besides the
faculty of constant occupation, the ability to render a
reason for what he does. Work and wisdom are in happy
combination at least, such was the purpose of the con-
triver, and we have reason to believe has been in a fair
proportion secured. And the labour that marks the lower,
marks preeminently the higher departments of the system.
The ministry beyond all professions demands labour. He
who seeks a cure that it may be a sinecure, or a benefice
which shall be a benefit to himself alone who expects to



find the ministry a couch of repose instead of a field for
toil a bread-winner rather than a soul-saver by means of
painful watchings, fastings, toils, and prayers has utterly
mistaken its nature, and is unworthy of its honour. It is a
stewardship, a husbandry, an edification, a ward, a war-
fare, demanding the untiring effort of the day and unslum-
bering vigilance of the night to fulfil its duties and secure
its reward. It is well to remember that the slothful and
the wicked servant are conjoined in the denunciation
of the indignant master "Thou wicked and slothful
servant !"

"Where there may be sufficient lack of principle to
prompt to indolence and self-indulgence, there are few
communions which will not present the opportunity to the
sluggish or sensual minister. But the Methodist mode of
operations is better calculated than perhaps almost any
other for checking human corruption when developing
itself in this form. The ordinary amount of official duty
required of the travelling preachers is enough to keep both
the reluctant and the willing labourer fully employed.

And Mr. Wesley exacted no more of others than he cheer-
fully and systematically rendered himself, daily labour even
to weariness being the habit of his life.

He was the prince of missionaries, however humble his
self-estimate might be, the prime apostle of Christendom
since Luther ; his preeminent example too likely to be lost
sight of in this missionary age, when the Church, in the
bustle of its present activities, has little time to cherish
recollections of its past worthies, or to speculate with
clearness on the shapes of its future calling and destiny.
But in one sense he was more than an apostle. By mira-
cle they were qualified with the gift of tongues for missions


to men of strange speech ; but Wesley did not shrink from
the toil of acquiring language after language, in order to
speak intelligibly on the subject of religion to foreigners.
The Italian he acquired that he might minister to a few
Vaudois ; the German, that he might converse with Mora-
vians; and the Spanish, for the benefit of some Jews
among his parishioners. Such rare parts, and zeal, and
perseverance, and learning, are seldom combined in any
living man : we have never seen nor heard of any one like
Wesley in the capacity and liking for labour ; we indulge,
therefore, very slender hopes of encountering such a one
in the remaining space of our pilgrimage. In our sober
judgment, it were as sane to expect the buried majesty of
Denmark to revisit the glimpses of the moon as hope to
find all the conditions presented in John Wesley show
themselves again in England. We may not look upon his
like again. His labours in a particular department that
of preaching astound from their magnitude ; although
these, far from being the sum total of his occupations,
were but a fraction of a vast whole, and a sample of the
rest. During fifty-two years, according to his biographers,
he generally delivered two sermons a day, very frequently
four or five. Calculating, therefore, at twice a day, and
allowing fifty sermons annually for extraordinary occa-
sions, which is the lowest computation that can be made,
the whole number in fifty-two years will be forty thousand
four hundred and sixty. To these may be added an infi-
nite number of exhortations to the societies after preach-
ing, and other occasional meetings at which he assisted.
Add to these his migrations and journeyings to and fro,
and none can say that his life was not well filled up. In
his younger days he travelled on horseback, and was a


hard but unskilful rider. With a book held up before his
eyes by both hands, and the rein dropped on the horse's
neck, he often travelled as much as fifty, sixty, or even
seventy miles a day ; from the quickness of his pace and
unguardedness of his horsemanship, endangering his own
and the good steed's limbs by frequent falls. At a later
period he used a carriage. Of his travels the lowest cal-
culation we can make is four thousand miles annually,
which, in fifty-two years, will give two hundred and eight
thousand miles; that is, if he had ridden eight times
round the globe on which we dwell, he would have had a
handsome surplus of miles remaining to have done his
achievement into Irish measure. Of the salutary effect
of these abundant labours upon his frame we have his
personal testimony at a very advanced age. His was a
"cruda viridisque senectus" to the last, and he himself a
memorable instance of the worth of the OPEN-AIR-AND-
HABI>WOKK-CUKE, a process of more certain value and
ready application at all times than hydropathy, homoeo-
pathy, or any of the thousand quackeries of the pres-
ent day.

In person he was small, and, when seen in company
with his friends, appeared almost unusually so. An
engraving is extant which thus pictures him walking with
Hamilton and Cole. It is amazing that so slight a frame,
shaken as it had been by early pulmonary attacks, could
have endured such incessant exposure and labour. To
seek to delineate the more subtile lines or delicate shades
of his character, our purpose forbids. The time and space
would be wanting, while there is no lack of liking
for the task. We shall therefore confine our further
remarks to an illustration of what we conceive to be the


(As seen -waikin* m i.'ue streets of Edinburgh.)


leading traits of John "Wesley's character, never so speci-
fied that we are aware of before, yet lying so palpably on
the surface, that they have only to be named to be recog-
nised. Without the preeminent qualities in question, no
one was ever great and good ; and as we have no scruple
in calling him great and good beyond easy comparison, so
are these qualities to be found developed in him to an
unusual degree. They made him what he became, the
successful reformer of his age, and one of England's
noblest worthies, while his system will make him a bene-
factor to millions yet unborn.

The distinctive features of character we unhesitatingly
ascribe to him, are an indomitable firmness, and a bound-
less benevolence. John Wesley was a man in a singular
measure tenax propositi. Where he thought himself cer-
tainly right, nothing on earth could move him. In all
such cases this quality is a great virtue, but in cases of a
different complexion it is a great fault. In questions of
doubtful propriety and prudence it will bear the ugly
names of obstinacy and self-will. But, stigmatize it as we
please, there never was a great man without a strong will,
and an infusion of self-reliance sufficient to raise him
above the dauntings of opposition and reliance upon
props. It is a heritable quality, as transmissible from
father to son, as the sage or " foolish face." Wesley cer-
tainly derived it from his parents. The daughter of the
eminent non-conformist rector of Cripplegate, Dr. Annes-
ley, who at thirteen years of age had studied the state
Church controversy, and made up her mind, with force of
reason too, to contemn her father's decision, and take her
place for life on the other side, cannot be supposed to
have been wanting in firmness ; who, further, would never


renounce her Jacobite respect for the jus divinum of the
Stuart kings, nor say amen to her husband's prayers for
him of the Revolution, nor bow beneath the thousand ills
of her married life, and pursued the onward, even, and
unwearying tenor of her way, undismayed by censure,
uncrushed by poverty and domestic cares, unchanging
and unchanged to the last, could not be wanting in it.
Nor was the sire less endowed with it, though there was
more of petulance and human passion in its display in
him. The man whose whole life was a perpetual struggle
with circumstances and war with opinions, and a series of
ill-rewarded efforts the wight who stole away from the
dissenting academy, whence they sohoed him in vain, and
without consulting friend or relative, tramped it to Oxford,
and entered himself a penniless servitor ; who afterward,
a right loyal but very threadbare clergyman, rode off in a
huff from his wife, nor rejoined her for a twelvemonth, till
the death of King William released him from his sturdily
kept but unrighteous vow who " fought with wild beasts"
for high Church of the highest order, and shrank from no
cuffs he caught in such a cause; and who, when his
" Job " was consumed in the fire that burnt his parsonage,
sat down to renew the labour of years, and recompose
and rewrite his learned Latin folio: these are so many
indications of indomitable firmness, that we should be
blind as moles to overlook its presence in his character.
John Wesley had the same unbending sinew. He too
was made of stern unpliant stuff, and to drive the Tiber
back to its sources were as easy a task as to turn him back
from a course deliberately chosen with the approval of his
judgment. Opponents, strong and numerous enough, he
had to encounter, to justify concession, had he been so


disposed, nor was reason always so visibly on his side but
he might have paused. We shall name an occasion or
two such as rarely occur in the life of a good man, which
signalized the lordliness of his will, and proved him to be
endowed with a rare determination. We omit the ridi-
cule and minor persecutions provoked by the religious
singularities of his early career, as not sufficient to turn
even an aspen-minded man who had any earnest devotion
about him, from his way, and note his first most trying
decision that by which he was led to renounce his father's

Shortly before his father's decease, it occurred to the
head of the family, looking anxiously forward to its for-
tunes, and those of his parish, how desirable it would be
that his son John should succeed him in his cure, at once
for the perpetuation of the religious care he had exercised
over his parishioners, and that his wife and daughters
might retain their accustomed home at the parsonage.
Here was every consideration to move a susceptible man
regard for souls, veneration for a parent in the ministry,
respect for hoar hairs grown gray in the service of the
Church, and Christian and family ties of more than ordi-
nary strength all put before him in a strain of uncommon
force and pathos by his father in his final appeal.

But none of these tilings moved our hero. He was
devout, affectionate, and filial, but firm ; so notoriously so,
that his elder brother Samuel, writing to him on the sub-
ject in December, 1734, says: "Yesterday I received a
letter from my father, wherein he tells me you are unalter-
ably resolved not to accept of a certain living if you could
get it. After this declaration I believe no one can move
your mind but Him who made it." The question was, in


fact, decided, and he was not to be shaken from his deter-
mination, the ground of decision being not the comparative
merits of Epworth and Oxford, as fields of usefulness, but
something more exclusively personal. He felt as many a
man in earnest about salvation has felt before and since,
that the care of his own soul is of prime importance, and
must be especially regarded in every measure we adopt ;
that the neglect of self is ill compensated by saving ben-
efit to others, or any advantage of an earthly kind. For
reasons given with great length and clearness, in a letter
to his father, he concluded a continued residence at Oxford
essential to his soul's peace and welfare. " The point is,"
he says, " whether I shall or shall not work out my salva-
tion, whether I shall serve Christ or Belial." The semi-
monastic life of the university was essential to the very
life of piety in his heart according to his views at that
juncture; therefore Epworth, with its long list of pru-
dential make-weights, kicked the beam.

And Wesley was humanly right. His personal relation
to eternity outweighed all other considerations to his awa-
kened soul. He felt, as few men feel, how solemn a thing
it is to die. His resolution was based upon the sentiment
of his own hymn in after days :

"A charge to keep I have,

A God to glorify ;
A never-dying soul to save,

And fit it for the sky."

And "Wesley was divinely right. If ever the Spirit of
God had to do with the moral movements of men, its
operation is discernible in this case. It was of infinite
moment to the world that "Wesley's decision should have
been what it was, and of equal moment to his own peace


of conscience that it should have been correct. The mode
in which he viewed the question sets him right in the
court of conscience, and the results that followed justified
his decision. His father would have involved him in a
maze of nice casuistry puzzled him by a complex tangle
of motives and influences but wiser than he, and more
free from bias, the son looks at it in the simple, proper
light, that of duty, and gives utterance to the following
sentiments, which are sublimely true :

"I do not say that the glory of God is to be my first, or
my principal consideration, but my only one: since all
that are not implied in this are absolutely of no weight ;
in presence of this they all vanish away, they are less than
the small dust of the balance. And, indeed, till all other
considerations were set aside, I could never come to any
clear determination; till my eye was single my whole
body was full of darkness. Every consideration distinct
from this threw a shadow over all the objects I had in
view, and was such a cloud as no light could penetrate.
Whereas, so long as I can keep my eye single, and
steadily fixed on the glory of God, I have no more doubt
of the way wherein I should go, than of the shining of
the sun at noon-day."

"Well said, clear head, and stoutly done, brave heart,
though there were natural yearnings and fond misgivings
in thy way ! In questions of duty thou didst clearly see
duty alone is to be consulted. Thou didst not confer with
flesh and blood; these had crushed thy conscience, and
warped thy will, and reversed thy decision. Thou didst
take the matter to the infallible oracle, Him that sitteth
upon the throne ; like Hezekiah thou didst lay it upon the
altar of the Most High, and tremulously say, "that which


I know not teach thou me," and thou wert rewarded with
a divine intimation, "This is the way!" Thou didst thus
hate thy father and thy mother and thy house, and take
up thy cross for Christ's sake and the gospel's; but thy
more than natural, thy Christian firmness, reaped its
recompense even here, for thou receivedst a hundredfold
now, even in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters
and mothers, and children, and long since, in heaven,
eternal life. Stoic fortitude, Koman daring, hide your
heads before such firmness as this. Epictetus is a jest,
and Regulus, "egregius eovul" a fable, when compared
with this plain narrative of modern heroism. Here, how-
ever, was one of the leading features of John "Wesley's
character, broadly portrayed, deeply coloured, boldly
thrown up from the canvass, and giving happy omen of
his future career.

The firmness which marked his decision here, the same
which forbade discouragement and retractation at Oxford,
where, after a short absence, he found his flock of twenty-
seven persons reduced to five, and which made him resist
the authorities at Georgia, was peculiarly shown in his
relations to the Church of England throughout his life.
In the line of remarks this topic opens, we shall describe
simply the facts of the case, and neither apologize for
Wesley nor condemn the Church. He was never a Dis-
senter in his own view of the word, and never wished his
followers to be. Nevertheless there is a prevailing order
in the proceedings of every community, and this order, in
his own Church, he did not hesitate to disturb, at the
instance of what he deemed sufficiently valid reasons.
Whatever his followers may urge in defence of his meas-
ures, they were obviously at odds with ecclesiastical order.


We have a very remarkable conversation of John Wesley
with the Bishop of Bristol, in the year 1739, on the subject
of justification by faith, in which, after disposing of that
topic, Wesley's proceedings are canvassed; the whole
going in proof of two things : the one how careful he was
in the outset of his career to encroach as little as possible
upon canonical order; and the other, that at the call of
apprehended duty he was prepared to go any lengths in
violation of it.

The history of Wesley's relations to the Established
Church is traced with elaborate skill in a series of papers
in the "Wesleyan Methodist Magazine" for 1829, to
which we must refer our readers, and one sentence alone
from which we will extract: " While his attachment to
the Church was truly conscientious, equally so was his
determination to innovate as Providence should direct
him. His language equally with his actions indicated the
self-impelling convictions of the Reformer." This is just
the philosophy of the case as clearly put by the author,
and felt by Mr. Wesley. But so completely had the ven-
erable leader of the movement habituated himself to the
independent, action of his society that nothing could have
been more in accordance with the current of his life, prin-
ciples, and anticipations, (see "Minutes of Conference"
for 1744,) nor more certainly have secured his approval,
than the distinctive position this body has since taken up,
neither controlled by the Church of England nor hostile
to it. That body seems to have embodied in the happiest
way the spirit and pattern of its founder, when it defined
its general policy toward the Establishment in the follow-
ing terms : " Methodism exists in a friendly relation with
the Establishment. In all its official writings and sane-


tioned publications, though often called to defend itself
against intemperate clergymen, it treats the Church itself
with respect and veneration, and cordially rejoices in the
advance of its religious character and legitimate moral

In the unbending firmness of our hero we see much
of the gracious man, the man whose heart is established
with grace, but we see also in it largely the man John
Wesley. We fancy we perceive in it no less somewhat
of the sturdiness of the national character. John Bull
will not be badgered and brow-beaten any more than
he will be coaxed and cajoled into what his strong
determination opposes ; and Wesley, in his nervous Eng-
lish, his practical wisdom, his steady good sense, and his
unconquerable will, displayed some of the most respect-
able and salient points of the Saxon character, belonging
by unmistakable evidence to that family of the Bulls,
which, notwithstanding all its faults, has no few quali-
ties to admire. There is in his rigid firmness, moreover,
something of his puritan ancestry, one point at least in
which Bishop Warburton was right. His blood was viti-
ated with their stubborn humour, if it be a vice. He
belonged to the tribe of Ishinael by both father's and
mother's side at a single remove, and he could not be
expected to turn out other than he did. But we pause.
John Wesley was frank, generous, open, simple as a child ;
confiding, plastic, and persuasible where a man had right
upon his side, but where himself was right he was posi-
tive to a fault? no, to perfection; and it had been a
less miracle to move a mountain into the sea than to move
him from his purpose. This goes far to explain the man
and his work. To no one was Regent Murray's saying at


the grave of John Knox ever more applicable than to our
intrepid modern John :

" There lies one who never feared the face of man."

Unbounded benevolence was another leading trait in
his character. This was the basis of his life, the spring
of his self-denial and his labours. A recluse at Oxford,
musty folios and metaphysics could not extinguish the
smouldering fire within

" He thought as a sage, but he felt as a man."

Afterward the fire burst forth ; he kindled as he flew over
the world, a flaming seraph of mercy to mankind.

At the University his benevolence led him into frightful
prisons and condemned cells, into hospital and lazar-house ;
from the society of the common-room and beloved books
to converse with felons and miserable sufferers. It cur-
tailed his bread and his dress, it debarred him of the com-
fort of a well-shorn head, it led to a course of self-sacrifice
and effort for the benefit of the wretched and the sinful,
which put his sincerity sorely to the test, and lasted with
his life. His heart bled for the world ; he saw sin burst-
ing out in blotches of sorrow all over the face of society,
and he longed to purify, console, and heal. He could not
look upon men drawn unto death and ready to be slain
without attempting their rescue. He saw no hope for their
bodies or their souls but in the labours and voluntary gifts
of Christians for their salvation. He felt for their fate ;
but, eminently practical, he felt in bed and board, in
clothing and comfort. His was sumptuary sensibility
more than tearful, active compassion rather than passive.
Merely because more easy of illustration, and not for a


moment putting it in comparison with the ardour of his
soul to do good, we adduce his monetary benevolence in
proof of our point a benevolence which would give all,
do all, reserve nothing, provided it could but win a
revenue of glory to God and happiness to wretched men.
Never did any man part with money more freely. His
charities knew no limit but his means. He gave away all
that he had beyond bare provision for his present wants.
He began this procedure early, and never left off till he
had done with earth. In his first year at college he
received 30, and making 28 suffice for his necessities,
he gave away in charities 2. The next year he received

Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 4 of 26)