John Wesley And Organized Methodism
John Wesley started out with no elaborate system of religious organization in his mind. The Moravians, with whom he was at first associated, illustrated(at this time in England) the general idea at the basis of his scheme, namely, that of societies within a church; but the more specific features of Methodist economy were provided one after another in answer to some special exigency. The first societies of which Wesley may be regarded as the founder were instituted in 1739, at Bristol and London. The former city witnessed the first project for the building of a Methodist chapel, but the latter had the preaching house that was first opened for use. This was the Foundry, a deserted building, which was appropriated by Wesley in November, 1739. "This date has been considered the epoch of Methodism, for thenceforward the Foundry was its headquarters in London." 1 Stevens, History of Methodism, i. 131 It is to be noticed, however, that the societies instituted in 1739 had a Moravian or semi-Moravian statue, Wesley being at that time a member of a Moravian society, and acting in conjunction with the fraternity. But the next year marked a rupture with the Moravians, and Wesley's societies stood then upon an independent basis. The cause of the rupture was certain strange notions which had invaded the Moravian societies in London, and which gained in them for a season the ascendency. These notions were nothing less than a pronounced quietism. The leaders in the aberration, among whom Philip Molther was conspicuous, taught that any degree of doubt is inconsistent with justifying faith, and that until this faith is bestowed one must abstain from outward means of grace, lest he be led to trust in them instead of trusting in Christ alone. These mischievous tenets infected the society in Fetter-lane, which had received its constitution from Peter Boehler, but had been largely under the supervision of Wesley. Finding himself unable to make headway against the erroneous teachings, Wesley took his leave of the society in July, 1740, having previously requested those of like mind to accompany him.
The first chapels that were built for Wesley's societies were vested in himself; but after a few years property of this kind was devolved upon trustees. The expense incurred in chapel-building gave rise in 1742 to an important feature in Methodist economy. For the more effective collection of funds, the societies were divided into classes of twelve, one of the twelve serving as collector, and being responsible for a penny a week for each member. Forthwith it was discerned that this class system could be made useful for other than financial ends, that, indeed, it could be made to serve as a beneficent means of discipline and religious edification. So the financial became an eminently religious institution, and the collector, or class leader, a kind of sub-pastor.
Among Wesley's auxiliaries, the lay preachers were perhaps the most important. So long as he maintained his position as a member of the Established Church, and refrained from founding a separate sect, they were simply indispensable in a work of rapid and extensive evangelism. The requisite laborers could not be found among those who were in orders. The only feasible method was to accept the services of laymen, who, if not highly cultured in many instances, were nevertheless far more competent to enlighten and elevate the degraded masses than any agency besides that was available. As early as 1739 Wesley employed John Cennick as a lay helper, if not strictly as a lay preacher. Tyerman maintains that Cennick labored at Kingswood in the latter capacity. If this conclusion be accepted, it is necessary to explain why Wesley was so much exercised, in 1740 or 1741, by the news that Thomas Maxfield was preaching to the society in London. The explanation is not clear, unless it be assumed that Wesley had regard to difference of men and places, and thought that the recently converted layman was venturing upon too high a responsibility in undertaking to preach to the London congregation. Whatever the previous facts in the case, Wesley was convinced by the advice of his mother and by his own observation of Maxfield's gifts that he ought not to be restrained from preaching, and from that time the talents of laymen in expounding the Word were freely called into requisition. By the year 1744 about two score of these lay preachers were in Wesley's employ. These men generally were fitted for their work by genuine experience of the saving power of the gospel, by a living sympathy with the poor people, and by a hardihood and courage which prepared them to endure privation, and to face the violence of the mob. Some of them had a rare knowledge of men, and great skill in the arts of address. Some of them, too, came to possess no mean acquaintance with books, at least with those more directly connected with their vocation; for upon nothing did Wesley insist with greater vigor than upon diligence in his preachers to improve their opportunities for study. The names of some of these men impartial history will ever treasure with veneration and affection. John Nelson, the converted mason, for example, will be known as long as Methodism claims a place in the world. A more engaging specimen of sturdy and consecrated manhood, of invincible patience and courage, of zeal ballasted by strong common-sense, has scarce ever emerged from the ranks of the common people in England.
Wesley's position in relation to his preachers and the members of his societies was that of a head of a voluntary association. He consulted with them freely; he met the preachers annually in conference, the first gathering of this kind being in 1744; but the real authority remained nevertheless in his own hands. To enter his Connection was equivalent to entering into a personal engagement with him to be subject to his scheme. Every one was free to come or go, and very little ceremony was requisite in either case, but the face of membership, so long as it existed, was an acknowledgment of Wesley's leadership. We find him, accordingly, defining his own power as follows: "It is a power of admitting into and excluding from the societies under my care; of choosing and removing stewards; of receiving or not receiving helpers; of appointing them where, when, and how to help me; and of desiring any of them to meet me when I see good." No doubt Wesley had inherent qualities naturally impelling to leadership; but that love of authority was allowed to interfere with conviction of duty, there is no adequate evidence. He took the lead no less in labor and hardship than in governing. His work had far advanced before any one appeared either fitted or willing to share his responsibility. The engagements of his preachers were then with him, and whether they would be bound to others depended upon their choice. Some will think that in his later years he ought to have shared his power with the Conference. Possibly this might have been done with good effect. Still there was some ground for fearing that a change of this kind would interfere with the efficient prosecution of the work in hand. We may conclude that Wesley spoke with entire sincerity, if not with entire understanding of himself, when he said to the Conference of 1766: "I did not seek any part of this power; it came upon me unawares; but when it was come, not daring to bury that talent, I used it to the best of my judgment. Yet I never was fond of it; I always did, and do now, bear it as my burden, -the burden which God lays upon me, and therefore I dare not yet lay it down. But if you can tell me any one, or any five men, to whom I may transfer this burden, who can and will do just what I do now, I will heartily thank both them and you."
Up to his death Wesley both wrote and spoke against separation from the Established Church. At the same time, however, he looked upon separation as something very likely to occur in the near future, and it cannot be denied that he took steps in its direction, --steps which may be regarded as virtually leading on to the territory of dissent. In other words, he was an inconsistent Churchman, attached to the Church of England, but more attached to the kingdom of Christ, and constrained to do violence to his relation to the one that he might serve what he considered to be the interests of the other. This appears especially in his ordinations. Many in his societies were inconvenienced as respects the sacraments, not being able to obtain them at all, or only from clergymen whose manifest lack of vital piety so offended their religious instincts that their hearts revolted against their ministrations. Being denied the aid of the bishops in meeting this need, Wesley, at length, after years of delay, proceeded himself to the work of ordination. First, in 1784, he ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey presbyters, and Thomas Coke superintendent, at the same time commissioning the last to ordain Francis Asbury to the office of superintendent.
These ordinations all had reference to the United States, the independence of which, recently achieved, had placed them outside of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of England. Under these conditions, Wesley naturally concluded that his American societies ought to be erected into an independent church. In 1785 he ordained John Pawson, Thomas Hanby, and Joseph Taylor to administer the sacraments in Scotland. In the succeeding two or three pears several more were ordained for the same field. Finally (1788-89), he ordained Alexander Mather, Thomas Rankin, and Henry Moore, to minister in England. The first of these three was still farther ordained to the rank of superintendent; but no special use was made of the dignity.
In ordaining to the rank of presbyters, Wesley certainly kept within prerogatives allowed by the theory of church government, which he had entertained for years. as early as 1746 his reading of Lord King's account of the primitive Church had shaken his notions about the necessity of bishops and their original distinction from presbyters. Ten years later we find him penning this decisive statement: "I still believe the episcopal form of church government to be Scriptural and apostolical; I mean well agreeing with the practice and writings of the apostles. But that it is prescribed in Scripture, I do not believe. This opinion, which I once zealously espoused, I have been heartily ashamed of ever since I read Bishop Stillingfleet's 'Irenicon.' I think he has unanswerably proved that neither Christ nor His apostles prescribe any particular form of church government; and that the plea of divine right for diocesan episcopacy was never heard of in the primitive Church. "Believing thus in the original identity of presbyters and bishops and the optional character of episcopacy, he did not at all transcend his ecclesiastical theory when, as a presbyter, he proceeded to ordain to the like office. But was his act in ordaining accordant with the polity and practice of the Established Church of England as understood on all sides in his day? Certainly not. It was an irregularity, a cutting loose from constituted authority, of so grave a character as to be virtually the initiation of ecclesiastical independence.
As respects also Wesley's ordinations to the rank of superintendent, it cannot be definitely charged that Wesley transcended his theory of church constitution, while at the same time it must of course be allowed that he acted counter to the established polity of the church of which he was a member. It has been urged that Coke, being a presbyter, had as good a right to ordain Wesley superintendent as Wesley to ordain him. Undoubtedly, so far as the mere fact of ecclesiastical rank was concerned. But there were other facts of determining force in the case. Wesley was looked upon as the father of the American societies. He had a de facto authority over them. They were at liberty to repudiate this authority if they pleased. But they were not pleased to do so. They greatly preferred that his authority should be used in assisting them to provide satisfactorily for their ecclesiastical needs. In sending Coke as superintendent, Wesley simply made the satisfactory provision, and made it too, though in a somewhat extraordinary way, yet not by the usurpation of any unprecedented prerogatives. Supposing superintendent to be equivalent to bishop, instances could be cited both from the primitive Church, and from the Church of the Reformation, showing that it was no unheard of thing that bishops should be ordained by presbyters.
1 "The appointment of a bishop by presbyters," says Jackson, "is no novelty, as the early history of the Church of Alexandria demonstrates, as well as that of the Lutheran Church in Germany. In the appointment of Dr. Coke Mr. Wesley did no more than the great German reformer had done to meet the wants of the people whom God had given him. Every reader of ecclesiastical history knows that Martin Luther, again and again, with the rid and concurrence of his fellow presbyters, ordained bishops for the Protestant Church of Germany."But what did Wesley mean by the term "superintendent"? Did he use it merely as a modest equivalent of "bishop"? Some have answered in the negative, and have blamed those who substituted the latter for the former term. No doubt the substitution was not agreeable to Wesley, but at the same time, no serious misnomer, no real contradiction of the newly constituted office, was involved in the use of the title "bishop." A superintendent, solemnly inducted into office by an extra lying-on of hands, and accredited with supervisory power over a body of presbyters, is not a simple presbyter. He exercises functions generally associated with the episcopal office, and to all practical intents is a bishop. A superintendent of this kind Wesley plainly meant to provide.
(Life of Charles Wesley, p. 761.)
Stanley, referring to the induction of Athanasius into the episcopal office, says: "Down to this time (according to the tradition of the Alexandrian Church itself) the election to this great post had been conducted in a manner unlike that of the other sees of Christendom. Not the bishop, but twelve presbyters, were the electors and nominators, and, according to Eutychius, consecrators. It was on the death of Alexander that this ancient custom was exchanged for one more nearly resembling that which prevailed elsewhere." (Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church, pp. 325, 326.) Compare Bishop Lightfoot, Christian Ministry, in Commentary on Philip., pp. 228-236.
The same year that Wesley consummated his American ordinations, he provided for the permanent and legal standing of his Connection on British soil. His Deed of-Declaration (1784) constituted one hundred of his preachers to be the legal Conference after his death, this conference being empowered to fill its own vacancies, to receive and to expel preachers, and to appoint them, under certain restrictions, to their fields of labor. "Subsequently, by a wise accommodation, all the preachers who were in connection with the Conference were permitted to vote, and such as had been members a given number of years were allowed to put the President in nomination, by their votes for the confirmation of the Legal Hundred." 1 Stevens, History of Methodism, ii. 207.
Wesley was far from being indifferent to dogma. No important work like his was ever built upon moonshine. Great evangelical truths, decisively grasped, and vitalized by intense conviction, lap at the foundation of the Methodist revival. Nevertheless, Wesley regarded beliefs entirely subordinate to purity of heart and life, and valued the former only as a means of inspiring and sustaining the latter. He required no lengthy confession of faith as a condition of admission into his societies. "Is a man a believer in Jesus Christ?" he wrote, in 1765, "and is his life suitable to his profession?" are not only the main, but the sole inquiries I make in order to his admission into our society. The essence of religion be defined as nothing else than "humble, gentle, patient love." He commended the saying that "God made practical divinity necessary, the devil, controversial," and lamented on one occasion that the circumstances required him to spend ten minutes of his sermon in controversy, a larger amount of time than he had publicly given to this kind of work for many months before. 1 Journal, 1751. across all lines of sect he was able to discern spiritual kindred. Concerning Marcus Aurelius he said: "I make no doubt but this is one of those many who shall come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the children of the kingdom, nominal Christians, are shut out." However much he reprobated the opinions of the Quakers, he found his heart captivated by the piety of William Edmundson, and exclaimed, "Could mistakes send such a man as this to hell? Not so. I am so far from believing this that I scruple not to say, Let my soul be with the soul of William Edmundson!" Some of the examples of religious consecration most admired by him were found within the borders of Roman Catholicism. Of Thomas à Kempis and Francis de Sales he wrote, "I doubt not they are now in Abraham's bosom."
Very soon after his conversion Wesley gave decided expression to the main points of his theological scheme. Indeed his earlier exposition of some of these points was more radical than his later.
Like all who took a prominent part in the great revival, Wesley emphasized the doctrine of justification by faith. At the same time, however, he laid great stress upon good works, -- not indeed, as a primary condition of justification, but as binding upon the conscience, as the necessary fruits of faith, as indispensable to the retention of the divine favor, and to progress in the divine life. Accordingly, we find him dissatisfied with Luther's commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, and charging him with a too lax and disparaging tone in his references to the law. 1 Journal, June, 1741. The same order of thought is conspicuous in the General Rules which he prepared for his societies. The idea of neglecting the common Christian duties on the score of any subjective caprice stirs a righteous indignation in him, and he speaks of "trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of devils, that we are not to do good unless our hearts are free to it." He constantly gives a prominent place to the ethical element in religion. In this he undoubtedly rendered a most needful and important service to Methodism. Inculcating, as it does, a strongly subjective type of piety, magnifying the believer's privilege in respect to inward experiences, it needs just such a safeguard against fanatical superiority to externals as the phase of teaching in question.
At first Wesley was disposed to insist upon assurance as invariably an accompaniment of justification, so that its absence would be proof of the lack of justifying grace. But he afterwards retreated from this radical position, and while he emphasized the common privilege of believers to walk in the light of assurance, he allowed that one might be in a justified state who was not clearly assured of the fact.
On the subject also of Christian perfection, or entire sanctification, Wesley made at an early date his strongest statement. Some points on the subject expressed in the preface to a hymn-book, published not later than the spring of 1741 (Tyerman says in 1740), were afterwards modified as being by far too radical. According to his matured theory, Christian perfection was understood to imply exemption from sin, from everything contrary to love, but not from mistakes in judgment and corresponding mistakes in action, not from wandering thoughts and other species of temptation which invade the mind without being consented to or cherished. It was farther described as a perfection accommodated to man's actual powers, involving, therefore, not such a service as angels or the unfallen Adam were able to render, but only the best service which a nature wounded by the fall, and retaining ever in this world certain infirmities despite the healing work of divine grace, is competent to render. It does not appear that Wesley at first distinctly inculcated the idea that this crowning grace is to be suddenly grasped by a simple act of faith. But as one witness after another appeared who testified that they had in this manner obtained it, he came to the conclusion that, though there is likely to be more or less of an interval between justification and entire sanctification, believers ought to be encouraged to seek for the higher state by a distinct act of faith, and not by a prolonged discipline. According to Wesley, an adequate assurance of having attained this state requires, among other evidences, the positive witness of the Holy Spirit. He also, at least on certain occasions, advised caution in preaching or testifying upon the subject before promiscuous assemblies.
There is no distinct proof on record that Wesley himself ever claimed to have experienced the grace of entire sanctification. On the contrary, there is evidence that when far on in life he disclaimed its possession; 1 Tyerman, ii. 598. and to the end he practised a reserve in the matter of personal testimony that might profitably have been imitated by more than one of his followers. Nevertheless, he affirmed with great constancy the doctrine of the attainability of the supreme grace. Very serious discouragements to its advocacy arose. In 1762 some of those in London, professing to have been entirely sanctified, ran into open fanaticism, contemning their more sober teachers, and boasting with intemperate zest of visions and prophesyings. An unbalanced man, by the name of George Bell, was the ringleader in the folly, but more or less of countenance was given to it by a man of so good repute as Thomas Maxfield. Bell finally spoiled his reputation as a prophet by fixing a date for the end of the world, and Maxfield, disowning Wesley's leadership, became the head of an independent society. These events produced a reaction in the mind of Charles Wesley, so that he began to teach, not, indeed, that entire sanctification is unattainable in this life, but that it is to be expected only in those ripened by long discipline, and is not to be made prominent as a matter of personal testimony. John, on the other hand, while he insisted upon searching tests, held to his former views with full conviction, and that, too, in the face of an extensive reaction. In 1766 we find him declaring that a general faintness had fallen upon the whole kingdom as respects the subject of Christian perfection, and that he was almost weary of striving against the stream both of preachers and people. A few years later he affirmed that only a very small proportion of those once professing the grace had retained it. In 1772 he complained that almost all his preachers, while they believed in perfection, failed to make it a living issue, preaching upon it not at all, or only at long intervals. A sufficient list of discouragements, surely! That Wesley continued to press the doctrine shows the importance that it claimed in his estimate.
In proportion as Wesley emphasized the ethical side of Christianity, and insisted upon good works, he was jealous of the tenets of high Calvinism. While, no doubt, he abhorred them from a theoretical point of view, he honestly feared their practical influence. He regarded them as naturally affording shelter to the Antinomianism which he detested above all things. Occasionally he found those who had become infected with the Antinomian virus. Accordingly, at the Conference of 1770 he believed it opportune to warn his preachers against leaning too much to Calvinism, against lowering the claims of the law, and disparaging the worth of good works. Addressing those who were understood to make no question about the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith, Wesley was not careful to guard his statements in the interests of that doctrine; in fact, he made use of expressions that might be regarded as qualifying the doctrine somewhat seriously. This was unfortunate. The minutes of 1770 passed under the notice of those for whom they were not primarily designed. The needed explanations which a friendly Arminian could supply, the Calvinist was slow to devise. A cry of disapprobation arose from the Calvinistic Methodists and their sympathizers. The minutes were stigmatized as Pelagian and papistical. At the ensuing Conference explanations were offered which were deemed satisfactory by representatives of the offended party. But controversial animosity baring once been excited easily found occasion to burn with increasing ardor. On the Calvinistic side the principal champions were Richard Hill, Rowland Hill, and Augustus Toplady. These men, on the whole, were eminently distinguished by earnest and self-denying piety; but in this controversy they appear distinguished for nothing so much as for polemic bitterness and virulence. They seem to have acted upon the principle that it was necessary to crush John Wesley, that they were the men to do it, and that in doing it they were justified in going outside of the matter in dispute, and raking together everything that could serve as material of personal opprobrium. Toplady avowedly proceeded on this principle. He was convinced that Wesley was "the most rancorous hater of the gospel system" that ever had appeared in England, and that he deserved the utmost severity of treatment that could be visited upon him. "Mr. John Wesley," he says, "is the only opponent I ever had whom I chastised with a studious disregard to ceremony. Nor do I in the least repent of the manner in which I treated him. ... I only gave him the whip when he deserved a scorpion." Toplady looked through the distorting medium of a perfect horror of Arminianism. He viewed it as a profane assault upon the divine sovereignty, a system in which the Creator is brought down into pitiful subjection to the creature, a system closely allied to the Epicurean doctrine of chance, and justly exposed to the charge of atheism. Indeed, he went so far in his detestation of Arminianism as to question the salvability of its persistent upholders. "I much question," he says, "whether the man that dies an Arminian can go to heaven. But certainly he will not be an Arminian when he is in heaven." According to his own system, the creature is under the dominion of an absolute causation, which is distinguished from a universal and inexorable fatalism only by having its seat in a personal intelligence and will. In other words, God determines beyond all contingency every item in the creature's fortunes. Speaking of fate, he says: "If you mean a regular succession of determined events, from the beginning to the end of time, an uninterrupted chain without a single chasm, all depending on the eternal will and continued influence of the great First Cause,--if this is fate, it must be owned that it and the Scripture predestination are at most very thinly divided, or rather, entirely coalesce."
Wesley himself took little part in the controversy, and the task of answering assailants devolved mainly upon Walter Sellon, Thomas Olivers, and John William Fletcher. The first two were spirited disputants, and repaid their opponents with something of their own coin. Fletcher, on the other hand, was too much of a saint not to sanctify controversy itself with the leaven of Christian love. He was a man in whom ardent devotion and tender charity were blended into a charming unity. The testimonies which have been pronounced in his favor make as complete a canonizing sentence as was ever issued. Wesley declared him the most unblamable man that he had met in the course of his four-score years. Robert Hall said: "Fletcher is a seraph who burns with the ardor of divine love. Spurning the fetters of mortality, he almost habitually seems to have anticipated the rapture of the beatific vision." Henry Venn wrote of him: "I have known all the great men for these fifty years; but I have known none like him. I was intimately acquainted with him, and was under the same roof with him once for six weeks, during which time I never heard him say a single word which was not proper to be spoken, and which had not a tendency to minister grace to the hearers.
The way in which Fletcher's enthusiastic piety manifested itself would be almost certain to appear obtrusive in another. But in him freedom of expression was joined with a grace and gentility which overcame the impression of forwardness or intemperateness. His courtesy was no small element in his influence. "It was pure and genuine," says Wesley, "and sweetly constrained him to behave to every one (although particularly to inferiors), in a manner not to be described, with so inexpressible a mixture of humility, love, and respect. This directed his words, the tone of his voice, his looks, his whole attitude, his every motion. "To similar effect is the remark of Benson: "His manner was so solemn, and at the same time so mild and insinuating, that it was hardly possible for any one to be in his company without being struck with awe and charmed with love." The subduing effect of this amiable bearing was well illustrated in the case of a prominent Dissenting minister, Thomas Reader, who called upon Fletcher in order to take him to task for what he regarded as erroneous teaching in a recent publication. "Fletcher, knowing him by name, ran from his study to receive his visitor, and spreading out his hands, exclaimed, 'Come in, come in, thou blessed of the Lord! am I so honored as to receive a visit from so esteemed a servant of my Master? Let us have a little prayer, while refreshments are getting ready.' Mr. Reader was puzzled. He remained three days, but was utterly unable to muster sufficient courage to even intimate the object of his visit. Afterwards he stated that he never enjoyed three days of such spiritual and profitable intercourse in all his life." 1 For this and other facts, see Tyerman, Life, Letters, and Literary Labors of John William Fletcher.
Switzerland was the native land of Fletcher, where he was born in 1729. After finding his way to England (1752), and spending an interval in perfecting his acquaintance with the English language, he served as tutor in the family of Thomas Hill, of Tern Hall. In 1757, he entered into holy orders, and three years later began work in the parish to which he was attached for the remainder of his life. His choice of this parish was an eccentricity of piety very rarely witnessed in those times. While he was offered Dunham, he took Madeley, as providing more work and less salary. The difficulties of the field, as also the spirit in which he entered upon it, are indicated by these words written soon after his installation: "The bulk of the inhabitants are stupid heathens, who seem past all curiosity, as well as all sense of godliness. I am ready to run after them into their pits and forges, and I only wait for Providence to show me the way. I am often reduced to great perplexity, but the end of it is sweet. I am driven to the Lord, and He comforts, encourages, and teaches me." The generous manner in which he cared for his parishioners is thus described by Benson: "The profusion of his charity toward the poor and needy is scarcely credible. It constantly exhausted his purse; it frequently unfurnished his home; and sometimes left him destitute of the common necessaries of life. That he might feed the hungry, he led a life of abstinence and self-denial; and that he might cover the naked, he clothed himself in the most homely attire."
Before he had taken orders, Fletcher had made acquaintance with the Methodists, and conceived for them a cordial friendship. He entertained in particular a profound regard for Wesley. Accordingly, when the controversy began to rage over the obnoxious minutes, he stepped out of his place as president of Lady Huntingdon's college at Trevecca, freely gave his friend the benefit of his industry and talent, and published his "Checks to Antinomianism." As an offset to the arguments of opponents, and also, for the most part, as a presentation of Biblical and practical points of view, these controversial writings of Fletcher were an eminent success. While he deals in a brotherly way with the persons of his antagonists, he indulges in many sharp thrusts at their opinions. A passage or two will illustrate. "Nothing can be more absurd," he says, "than to affirm that when 'something is required to be done in order to receive a favor, the favor loses the name of a free gift, and directly becomes a debt.' I say to two beggars, Hold out your hand, here is an alms for you. The one complies, and the other refuses. Who in the world will dare to say that my charity is no more a free gift, because 1 bestow it only upon the man that held out his hand? Will nothing make it free but my wrenching his hand open, or forcing my bounty down his throat?" "Suppose a schoolmaster said to his English scholars, 'Except you instantly speak Greek, you shall all be severely whipped,' you would wonder at the injustice of the school tyrant. But would not the wretch be merciful in comparison with a Saviour (so-called), who is supposed to say to myriads of men who can no more repent than ice can burn, 'Except ye repent ye shall all perish'? I confess, then, when I see real Protestants calling this doctrine 'the pure gospel,' I no more wonder that real Papists should call their bloody inquisition the house of mercy, and their burning of those whom they call heretics an auto de fé, or act of faith." "Let no one say that we wrong the Calvinian decree of reprobation when we call it a horrible decree, for Calvin himself is honest enough to call it so."
Some of Fletcher's representations may be open to correction. In particular, the propriety of the terms which he employs in distinguishing between a first and a second justification may be questioned. But the general vivacity of style and energy of thought in the "Checks to Antinomianism" must be recognized by any candid reader, and their relative superiority in the controversy which occasioned them is unmistakable. Says one, whose denominational connections might have begotten sympathy with the opposing party: "Whatever may be the theological opinions of any one who has studied the controversy, he must needs admit that Fletcher had the advantage in precision of thought, in skillful reasoning, and in eloquence of expression. Without justifying all his conclusions, whilst demurring to several of his arguments, I must bear witness to the high moral tone and sweet Christian temper of these productions, and not forget to remark that he could and did rise to an elevation above one-sided views, and brought together what in other parts of the discussion were too often torn asunder." 1 John Stoughton, History of Religion in England, vi. 268.
Fletcher's labors were ended in 1785. His death was a special grief to Wesley. One of his cherished hopes had been that the vicar of Madeley might become his successor in the leadership of the societies.
The preceding pages have so largely revealed the character of Wesley that little needs to be added specifically upon this subject. Criticism, no doubt, has its opportunity here as well as elsewhere. It has pointed, for example, to a species of credulity, a too ready assent to the supposition of supernatural agency in connection with unusual or surprising events. And, in truth, it cannot be denied that Wesley's journal betrays a certain zest for the marvelous. This is evinced, if by nothing else, by the amount of space which he gives to narratives of experiences of a fanciful or extraordinary cast. At the same time, it must be allowed in justice to Wesley, that all such experiences went for nothing with him as opposed to the grand spiritual and ethical tests of character which are laid down in the New Testament. Again, it may be charged against him that in one and another instance he showed a certain precipitancy in judging opinions, and a needless severity in strictures upon persons. This must be allowed, but the statement should go with the second of these specifications, that Wesley was exceedingly fond of open dealing, and if he gave plain talk to others, he was able betimes to receive it himself with good grace, and, moreover, was never disposed to ask an opponent to come more than half way before welcoming him in the spirit of genuine reconciliation. Again, it may be alleged that the rigid scheme which he imposed upon his school at Kingswood bespeaks a heart out of sympathy with the impulses and needs of childhood. No doubt, the Kingswood regime was quite remote from modern notions of youthful discipline; but to some extent it is to be charged against the times, and at most was an index of Wesley's head rather than of his heart. He lavished a generous love upon children, and some of the scenes which sited most of a mellow radiance upon the closing years of his pilgrimage are those which reveal his tenderness for the young or their responsive affection for him. The charge of ambition, which some of the earlier critics were disposed to urge, requires but a brief answer. That Wesley was not wholly beyond the infirmity which disposes most men to relinquish with a degree of reluctance power which has long been exercised, is to be granted. He was loath to withhold his hand from Methodist affairs in America after the societies had been constituted a distinct church. He imposed his own thinking upon his English preachers in a somewhat remarkable manner. The selection of his "Notes on the New Testament" and four volumes of his sermons to be a doctrinal standard was a piece of paternalism which may be explained, in large part, by Wesley's peculiar relations to his workmen, but is not easily justified. These facts, we conceive, indicate some share in the very natural inclination to hold on to power once acquired. But this is far from being identical with conscious self-seeking. Wesley did not live in the same zone with a shallow, earthy ambition. The accusation of plagiarism, out of which Toplady made so much capital, demands still less notice. No doubt Wesley's "Address to the Colonies" was little else than an abridgment of Johnson's pamphlet on the subject, and it would have been wise to have mentioned this fact. But Wesley probably judged that the fact of abridgment would be understood, the treatise of Johnson being so prominently before the public. In any case, Johnson himself, so far as is known, was not disposed to complain. On the contrary, he was much pleased to have the aid of Wesley in circulating his arguments. According to Isaac Taylor, another must be added to the list of defects, or alleged imperfections, in the great evangelist, namely, his lack of domestic instincts. "Wesley," he says, "apostolic man as he was, and having a heart and a countenance warm and bright as the sun with genuine benevolence.-- an unselfish, loving soul, a soul large enough to fill a seraph's bosom,-- himself knew nothing of the domestic affections." If Taylor had said that Wesley was singularly unfortunate in his attempts to satisfy the domestic instincts of his nature, no exception could be taken. The Georgia disappointment was followed by a more grievous disappointment, as Grace Murray, partly by her own choice, and partly by the influence of officious friends, broke her engagement with him, and hastily consummated a marriage with one of his preachers; and this was followed by the most grievous affliction of all, an unreasonable and termagant wife. In 1751 he married Mrs. Vazeille, a widow lady of good repute. At first she accompanied him in his work, but soon grew weary of his incessant itinerating, became almost crazed by jealousy, and in fine acted such a part that "she deserves," says Southey, "to be classed in a triad with Xantippe and the wife of Job, as one of the three bad wives." All the evidence goes to show that Wesley treated her with becoming patience and consideration. "Several of his letters to her, which were written after their marriage, have been preserved. They display the utmost tenderness of affection, and justify the opinion that, had it been his happiness to be married to a person that was worthy of him, he would have been one of the most affectionate husbands that ever lived." Jackson, Life of Charles Wesley, p. 441. Taylor was quite out of the way in his estimate of Wesley's domestic aptitudes. There is clear evidence that he was to an extra degree responsive to the charms of womanhood. "His early impressibility," says Stoughton, "seen in tender affection for beautiful and gifted sisters, and in warm friendship for the gentler sex, prepared for a lifelong habit of purest sympathy with Christian women." 1 History of Religion in England, vi. 112.
The grand distinguishing traits of Wesley were consecration, industry, mental alertness, and executive ability. He was intensely devoted. Obstacles the most formidable sank out of sight before his invincible resolution. He was inaccessible both to fear and flattery. His indifference to the verdict of those in high position almost passed over into a species of aversion to people of rank. As he himself states, he cared for no intercourse with persons of quality. He had a very poor opinion of the moral and intellectual character of the more favored classes of his own time, and on one occasion exclaimed over the difficulty of being shallow enough for a polite audience.
The amount of work accomplished by Wesley is almost without a parallel. He achieved much, not merely because he was always occupied, but because he was supremely methodical and self-possessed. "Though I am always in haste," he writes, "I am never in a hurry; because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit." For a long period he traveled annually not less than four thousand and five hundred miles. Besides canvassing England and Scotland, he crossed the Irish channel forty-two times, and spent in the aggregate about six years in that country. Some of his most talented and trusted laborers, such as Thomas Walsh, Adam Clarke, and Henry Moore, were won in this field. It is estimated that in the course of fifty years he preached upwards of forty thousand times. Besides doing this work he was active in disseminating Christian literature among his people, compiling a library of choice treatises and contributing many volumes of his own productions. He managed, moreover, to secure considerable time for miscellaneous reading. We find him at one time reviewing his studies in Homer; at another, reading a work of Voltaire, or some of the writings of Rousseau; in many instances perusing recently issued works in history and theology.
Wesley was awake to the issues of his day, and in active sympathy with progress in every department. He was interested in scientific discoveries. Franklin's experiments with electricity in particular excited his enthusiasm, and called out the exclamation, "What an amazing scene is here opened, for after ages to improve upon!" He gave his hearty support to the anti-slavery movement, which rose to prominence in his later years, and the last letter which he wrote was to Wilberforce, encouraging him in his philanthropic labors for the slave. He denounced slavery as utterly inconsistent with justice, and fervently implored God to work out the emancipation of the oppressed. "Arise, and help those that have no helper, whose blood is spilled upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son's blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; lee it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the South." With equal emphasis Wesley denounced the liquor traffic. Words of more terrific energy have scarce ever been uttered against this spoiler of human thrift and happiness than fell from his lips in one of his sermons. Speaking of those who sell for aught but medicinal purposes, he said: "They murder his Majesty's subjects by wholesale, neither does their eye pity or spare. They drive them to hell like sheep, and what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men? Who, then, would envy them their large estates and sumptuous palaces? A curse is in the midst of them; the curse of God cleaves to the stones, the timber, the furniture of them! The curse of God is in their gardens, their walks, their groves,-- a fire that burns to the nethermost hell!"
To some extent Wesley outlived the opprobrium which had been heaped upon him year after year. Many of his opponents ceased from their railings, and the churches, which had been almost entirely closed against him, began to open their doors, so that he received more invitations to preach than he could well accept. In substantial fulfillment of his hope that he might cease at once to work and live, he died March 2, 1791, a week after preaching his last sermon. The victory upon the death-bed was such as befitted the close of a victorious life.
The societies which owned Wesley as their founder were at this time no inconsiderable body. The report for 1790 announces 134,549 Methodist members, of whom 57,631 belonged to America. Among the British Methodists a question of engrossing interest immediately after Wesley's death was naturally their relation to the Established Church. Every year more and more pressure was brought to bear in the direction of independence. The manner in which the independent status was ultimately reached has been succinctly described as follows: "After a resistance protracted for four years, it was settled by the Conference of 1795 that, where a majority of the stewards and leaders in any society, and also of the trustees of the chapel, desired it, the Lord's Supper might be administered. No society was advised to ask for this. The tone of the Conference to the last was rather dissuasory; but provision was made that society by society, where the members insisted on the sacraments being administered they should be administered. This is all the separation from the Church of England which has ever taken place in Methodism. It took some twenty years to consummate the result. That result was, the ministers finally came to administer the sacrament in every circuit and every society." 1 Rigg. The Relations of John Wesley and of Wesleyan Methodism to the Church of England.