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This was by far the largest conference that had yet been 1755 held, there being not fewer than sixty-three preachers present, Age 52 being seventeen more than the entire number of itinerants then employed. Twelve are designated “half itinerants," namely, William Shent, William Roberts, Jonathan Jones, Jonathan Maskew, James Rouquet, John Fisher, Matthew Lowes, John Brown, Charles Perronet, Enoch Williams, John Haime, and John Furz. Fifteen are named as “our chief local preachers," namely, John Jones, Thomas Maxfield, Thomas Westall, J. Haughton, Francis Walker, Joseph Tucker, William Tucker, Thomas Colbeck, Titus Knight, John Slocomb, James Morris, Eleazer Webster, Michael Calender, John Bakewell, and Alexander Mather.
“At the close of the conference,” says Wesley, “I spoke thus :— It has been affirmed, that none of our itinerant preachers are so much alive as they were seven years ago. I fear many are not. But if so, they are unfit for the work, which requires much life. Otherwise your labour will be tiresome to yourself, and of little use to others. Tiresome, because you will no longer serve Christ and the people willingly and cheerfully. Of little use, because you will no longer serve them diligently, doing it with your might. I have several reasons to fear it is so with many of you ; but let your own conscience be the judge. Who of you is exemplarily alive to God, so as to carry fire with him wherever he goes? Who of you is a pattern of self denial even in little things? Who of you drinks water? Why not? Who rises at four? Why not? Who fasts on Friday? Why not? Who has not four meals a day? Who goes through his work willingly and diligently? never on any account disappoints a congregation? Who has every part of the plan at heart ? always meets society, bands, leaders ? Who visits in Mr. Baxter's method ? Who preaches the old thundering doctrine, no faith without light? Who constantly and zealously enforces practical religion ? relative duties? recommends books? Kingswood school? Who is never idle ? What assistant enforces uniformly every branch of the Methodist plan on the preachers and people ? visits all the societies regularly? Do you see every preacher observe the rules? Do you reprove, and, if need be, send me word of the defaulters? Do you send me a regular account quarterly? Is your whole heart in the work? Do not you give way to unconcern, indolence, and fear of man? Who will join heart and hand, according to the twelve rules? particularly the twelfth ?”
This was faithful dealing with a vengeance. Probably, it
: Minutes (edit. 1862), vol. i., p. 711.
1755 was not unneeded; but none but a man of Wesley's courage Age 52 would have dared to use it. Affairs, however, were becoming
desperate, and a strong hand was necessary to put them right. Some of the preachers had lost their zeal, and others were wishful to become Dissenters. The year 1755 was a crisis. It was an infinite mercy that Methodism was not dashed to pieces.
The great question was the necessity or propriety of the Methodists separating from the Established Church, and of the Methodist itinerant preachers administering the Christian sacraments. For years, there had been dissatisfaction and grumbling. The people, in many instances, had been repelled from the sacramental table in the church, and had been driven to the alternative, of either receiving the Lord's supper in Dissenting chapels (where such an irregularity might be permitted), or of absolutely committing sin by neglecting one of the most important ordinances of the Christian system. No wonder, that the Methodists were uneasy, and dissatisfied. No wonder, that not a few of Wesley's preachers, embracing nearly all the most pious and gifted, sighed for some arrangement to meet the emergency created by their own success. Among these were the two Perronets-Edward and Charlesmen of education, talent, and piety. Another was Thomas Walsh, pronounced by Wesley the best biblical scholar he ever knew. The leader of the dissentient band was Joseph Cownley, whom Wesley considered one of the best preachers in England. These were men of mark and influence among their less cultured brethren. They were as capable of forming correct opinions as the two Wesleys were. They had a right to be heard ; and it was hardly fair to denounce them because they thought, that the Methodists were entitled to the sacraments of the Christian church; and that they, as divinely called preachers of Christ's religion, might be permitted to administer ordinances which that religion solemnly enjoined. Cownley, Walsh, and the Perronets were right; but the time was scarcely come for this to be acknowledged. To a great extent, the Church of England was corrupt ; it was also persecuting and repelling. What was there in such a church to make Methodists and Methodist preachers long for continued union with it?
Separation from the Church.
Charles Wesley was irritated and fidgety to a most extraordinary extent. With all the bigotry of the high churchmanship of the present day, he seemed to think, and speak, and act as though salvation, out of the Church of England, was impossible. This may be forgiven, but it cannot be commended. He was unquestionably sincere; but his action, in this affair, was intolerant and absurd. His brother, with a mind far more equable, would probably have acted very differently from what he did, if he had been unfettered, and uninfluenced by his friends. But Charles worried him, and others puzzled him; and the result, as we have already seen, was the agreement come to, after a three days' discussion by the conference of 1755, that, whether it was lawful or not, it was not expedient for the Methodists to separate from the Established Church,
This was a matter of high importance; and, as it will, ever and anon, present itself throughout the whole of Wesley's subsequent career, we shall be excused for giving further details respecting it at this period of its history. The following are extracts from unpublished letters written by Charles Wesley to the Rev. Walter Sellon, formerly a Methodist preacher, and master of Kingswood school, but now an ordained clergyman of the Church of England, and settled at Smithsby, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
“MY DEAR BROTHER,—I have seen your honest, friendly letter to Charles Perronet, for which I thank you, both in behalf of myself, and the Church of England. You see through him and his fellows. Pride,cursed pride has perverted him and them ; and, unless the Lord interpose, will destroy the work of God, and scatter us all as sheep upon the mountains. In your fidelity to my old honoured mother, you are a man after my own heart. I always loved you, but never so much as now. How unlike the spirit of poor Perronet and his associates ! What a pity, that such spirits should have any influence over my brother! They are continually urging him to a separation ; that is, to pull down all he has built, to put a sword in our enemies' hands, to destroy the work, scatter the flock, disgrace himself, and go out—like the snuff of a candle.
“May I not desire it of you, as a debt you owe the Methodists and me, and the Church, as well as him, to write him a full, close, plain transcript of your heart on the occasion ? Charles Perronet, you know, has taken upon him to administer the sacrament, for a month together to the preachers, and twice to some of the people. Walsh and three others
have followed his vile example. The consequence you see with your own eyes. O that my brother did so too ! Our worthy friend [Lady Huntingdon ?] at Clifton could not but believe, my brother had laid on hands, or they would not have dared to act thus. You have her thoughts in mine. Write to my lady, that you may have her mind from herself. You must make one of our conference in Leeds, which will be in May. I give you timely notice. Pray for us. I stand alone, as the preachers imagine. Nevertheless the Lord stands by me. Fain would they thrust me out, that they may carry all before them. The Lord bless and keep you !
“C. WESLEY." 2
" LONDON, December 14, 1754. “MY DEAR BROTHER AND FRIEND,– Write again and spare not. My brother took no notice to me of your letter. Since the Melchisedechians have been taken in, I have been excluded his cabinet council. They know me too well to trust him with me. He is come so far as to believe a separation quite lawful, only not yet expedient. They are indefatigable in urging him to go so far, that he may not be able to retreat. He may lay on hands, say they, without separating. I charge you, keep it to yourself, that I stand in doubt of him; which I tell you, that you may pray for him the more earnestly, and write to him the more plainly. Our conference is in May. You must be there, if alive. The Methodist preachers must quickly divide to the right or left, the church or meeting. God be praised for this, that Satan is dragged out to do his worst, while we are yet living to look him in the face. I know none fitter for training up the young men in learning than yourself or J. Jones. We must, among us, get the sound preachers qualified for orders.
“ You are a poor writer of shorthand. Perhaps I may teach you better when we meet.
“My partner salutes you in increasing love. Many thousands, besides her, shall prosper, because they love our Jerusalem. Farewell in Christ!
“ C. WESLEY.” 3
1 In his shorthand diary, Charles Wesley writes as follows. "1754 : October 17.-Sister Macdonald first, and then sister Clay, informed me that Charles Perronet gave the sacrament to the preachers, Walsh and Deaves, and then to twelve at sister Garder's, in the Minories.”
6 October 18.-Sister Meredith told me that her husband had sent her word that Walsh had administered the sacrament at Reading.”.
“October 19.—I was with my brother, who said nothing of Perronet, except, 'We have in effect ordained already. He urged me to sign the preachers' certificates; was inclined to lay on hands; and to let the preachers administer.”
“ October 24.—Was with my brother. He is wavering ; but willing to wait before he ordains or separates.” 2 Manuscript letter.
Separation from the Church.
1755 Age 52
"LONDON, February 4, 1755. “MY DEAR BROTHER,—There is no danger of my countenancing them, but rather of my opposing them too fiercely. 'Tis pity a good cause should suffer by a warm advocate. If God gives me meekness, I shall, at the conference, speak and not spare. Till then, it is best the matter should sleep, or we should make the delinquents desperate, and their associates, among the preachers, hypocrites. My brother purposely holds his peace, that he may come to the bottom of them. Your letters, and some others wrote with the same honesty, have had due effect upon him; and made him forget he was ever inclined to their party. He has spoken as strongly of late, in behalf of the Church of England, as I could wish, and everywhere declares he never intends to leave her. This has made the Melchisedechians draw in their horns, and drop their design. Sed non ego credulus illis. We must know the heart of every preacher, and give them their choice of church or meeting. The wound can no longer be healed slightly. Those who are disposed to separate had best do it while we are yet alive. Write to my brother again, and urge it
upon his conscience, whether he is not bound to prevent a separation both before and after his death. Whether, in order to this, he should not take the utmost pains to settle the preachers, discharging those who are irreclaimable, and never receiving another without this previous condition, that he will never leave the Church.' He is writing an excellent treatise on the question, whether it is expedient to separate from the Church of England, which he talks of printing. Be very mild and loving in your next, lest he should still say, “The separatists show a better spirit than their opposers.' You may honestly suppose him now of our mind. I will answer for your admission to the conference at Leeds in the beginning of May. My brother says, his book will be out next summer. I will allow him till next winter. Is not Nicholas Norton under the influence of Charles Perronet ? Keep copies of yours to my brother. J. Jones will thank you for a title. I suppose you know, W. Prior is ordained, without learning, interest, or ought but Providence to recommend him. The Lord of the harvest is thrusting out labourers in divers places. Mr. Romaine, Venn, odd, Jones, and others here are much blessed. Pray for them as well as us. The Lord be your strength. Farewell in Christ !
“ C. WESLEY.” 1
These letters are not worthy of the man who wrote them. The scruples of men like Cownley, Walsh, and the two Perronets deserved respect, instead of being denounced as “pride,---cursed pride." "The men,” says Mr. Jackson,“ were not children, either in years, understanding, or piety. They were rebuked, but not convinced ; and were left to utter