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1758 was again in difficulty, and the question was discussed, "Shall Age 55 we drop it?" Answer, "By no means, if a fit master can be procured." It was found that Wesley's publications had not been diligently recommended; and, to promote the sale of them, it was agreed to allow one person in every circuit (if he desired it) ten per cent commission upon all he sold. It was asked, if Nicholas Manners had said, “I want no more grace for a year and a day." The reply was, "Ask himself. If he has, and will not be convinced of his fault, let him be publicly disowned." Another question of some importance was, "Ought any tickets to be given to children?" Answer, "Not to the unawakened; it makes them too cheap." To preach most profitably in the morning, it was recommended frequently to read and explain half a chapter in the Bible; and sometimes to read and enlarge upon one of the tracts in the "Christian Library." Except once a year, none but members of the bands were to be admitted into lovefeasts; and, in order to purge the bands, and leave none in them but those living in the enjoyment of conscious pardon, it was resolved, that each assistant, at the next quarterly visitation, should take two or three sensible men with him (either preachers, stewards, or leaders), and should closely examine every person in the band societies, and expel all, even if it should be two thirds of the entire number, who were not exercising the faith by which a man is justified and finds peace with God. Such persons might be fit for penitential classes, but were not for the private bands.
Besides discipline, the conference also discussed doctrine. When in Dublin, four months before, Wesley had been drawn into a controversy by Miss H—, on the doctrine of perfection. The lady complained, that some of his preachers placed the doctrine "in a dreadful light; one of them affirming, that a believer, till perfect, is under the curse of God, and in a state of damnation"; and another saying, "If you die before you have attained it, you will surely perish." Wesley replied to this in a long letter, dated Dublin, April 5, 1758, in which he repudiates such sentiments. He admits, that "young men " may have said these things, but their doctrines
1 Methodist Magazine, 1780, p. 223.
were not his. To settle the matter, he brought it before the 1758 Bristol conference as follows:
Question.-"Do you affirm, that perfection excludes all infirmities, ignorance, and mistake?
Answer.-"We continually affirm just the contrary.
Q.-"Do you say, 'Every one who is not saved from all sin is in a state of damnation?'
A. "So far from it, that we will not say any one is in a state of damnation, that fears God and really strives to please Him.
Q.-"In what manner would you advise those who think they have attained, to speak of their own experience?
A. "With great wariness, and with the deepest humility and self abasement before God.
2.-"How should young preachers, especially, speak of perfection in public?
A. "Not too minutely or circumstantially, but rather in general and scriptural terms.
Q.-"What does Christian perfection imply?
A. "The loving God with all the heart, so that every evil temper is destroyed, and every thought, and word, and work springs from, and is conducted to the end by the pure love of God and our neighbour."
It is a curious fact, that, while Wesley and eight other preachers were appointed to the London circuit, Charles Wesley had Bristol wholly to himself; three preachers, however, having charge of the adjoining country, under the technical denomination of the "Wiltshire" circuit. This shows, that Charles had now substantially relinquished the itinerant ministry, and had made Bristol his principal place of residence. The circuits into which the United Kingdom was divided, were, including London and Bristol, thirteen in number; one of these, however, being "Wales," with two itinerants, and another "Ireland," with ten. "Cornwall" had seven; "Staffordshire" two; "Cheshire" three; "Leeds," "Haworth," and "York," had eight; "Lincolnshire" three; and "Newcastle" four.1
From the above condensed account of the proceedings of the conference of 1758, it will be seen, that Wesley was exceedingly anxious, and, in fact, resolved, at all hazards, to maintain the purity of his preachers and societies. "Are our societies," he asked, "in general as godly, and as serious, as
1 Minutes of Conference (edit. 1862), vol. i., p. 711.
1758 the old Puritans? Why should they not? What means can Age 55 we use to effect it?" Then follows the answer, to “enforce family discipline," and to "closely examine the state of every soul, not only at stated times, but in every conversation." 1 In accordance with this was a laconic letter, which, at the beginning of the year, Wesley wrote to Mr. Merryweather, of Yarm.
"LONDON, January 16, 1758.
"MY DEAR BROTHER,-No person must be allowed to preach or exhort among our people, whose life is not holy and unblamable; nor any who asserts anything contrary to the gospel which we have received. And, if he does not own his fault and amend it, he cannot be a leader any longer.
"I am your affectionate brother,
"JOHN WESLEY.” 2
The day after the Bristol conference closed its sittings, Wesley attended a performance of Handel's "Messiah" in Bristol cathedral; and, on August 21, set out on a tour in Wales, from which he returned to Bristol on September 2. Here he spent a considerable time, with the Rev. John Fletcher and other preachers, in discussing the doctrine of Christian perfection, and wrote down the general propositions in which they were all agreed.
On October 2, he started for London. At Bradford he met the stewards of the Wiltshire and Somersetshire societies. At Warminster, he preached in a good man's yard, his congregation being numerous, and consisting of "saints and sinners, rich and poor, churchmen, quakers, and presbyterians." "Some disturbance," says he, "was expected, but there was none. The whole assembly behaved well; and, instead of curses or stones, we had many blessings as we rode through the town for Salisbury." Strangely enough, this was Wesley's first and last visit to the town of Warminster. Some time. afterwards, however, a class was formed; and, amid the bitterest persecutions, held on its way. Men would often enter the preaching house, and remain, during the whole service, covered with their slouching hats, cursing the preacher and his friends, and even smoking vile tobacco. Sometimes
1 Minutes of Conference (edit. 1862), vol. i., p. 713.
Rev. John Berridge.
they would challenge the Methodists to fight; and, at others, 1758 sing profane songs while the Methodists sang sacred ones. Age 55 one instance, they smashed the seats, and windows, and pulpit of the meeting-house in Back Street; threw John Spicer into a deep ditch; and so injured Caleb Daniel that he died soon after.1
From Warminster, Wesley proceeded to Portsmouth, where he preached in Whitefield's Tabernacle. At Newport, in the Isle of Wight, he found the town filled with soldiers, "the most abandoned wretches he ever saw," and used the cornmarket as his preaching place. At Gosport, he occupied the Tabernacle; at Fareham, "a wild multitude" was his congregation; at Rye, he had "a crowded audience"; at Rolvenden, a "serious congregation," skirted with "a few drunkards"; at Northjam, "the house was stowed as full as possible," and many stood in the rain outside; at Canterbury, he had a dangerous fall from his horse, but found "the little society free from all divisions and offences." On October 21, after an absence of near eight months, he again reached London.
Four days later, he set out for Norwich. At Colchester, he preached on St. John's Green, and found that, in three months, a society of one hundred and twenty persons had been gathered. At Norwich, James Wheatley called upon him, and offered him his Tabernacle. Here he spent a week among "a settled and well united society." In returning, he visited, by request, the famous vicar of Everton.
John Berridge is too notable a man to be passed in silence. He was the son of a wealthy farmer, and was now forty-two years of age. Having taken degrees at the Cambridge university, he, in 1749, accepted the curacy of Stapleford, which he served for the next six years. In 1755, he removed to the vicarage of Everton, where he continued to reside until his death. The epitaph on his tomb, excepting the date of his death, was written by himself, and is as follows:
"Here lie the earthly remains of John Berridge, late vicar of Everton, and an itinerant servant of Jesus Christ: who loved his Master and His work; and, after running His errands many years, was called up to wait on Him above. Reader, art thou born again? No salvation
1 "Methodism in Frome," p. 41; and Methodist Magazine, 1835, p. 812.
1758 without the new birth! I was born in sin, February, 1716. Remained ignorant of my fallen state till 1730. Lived proudly on faith and works for salvation till 1754. Admitted to Everton vicarage, 1755. Fled to Jesus alone for refuge, 1756. Fell asleep in Christ, January 22, 1793."
This is a truthful outline of the history of this remarkable man. To fill it up would require a volume. His preaching, up to the time of his conversion, had been useless; since then, it had been full of power. Three months before Wesley's visit, his ministry had been blessed to the Rev. Mr. Hicks, a clergyman at Wrestlingworth, about four miles from Everton, who became his companion in his itinerant tours, and was greatly useful. In learning, Berridge, it is said, was inferior to very few of the most celebrated sons of science and literature in the Cambridge, university. From his entrance at Clare Hall to his acceptance of the vicarage of Everton, a period of twenty-one years, he regularly studied fifteen hours a day. His understanding was strong; his wit almost without parallel. In stature, he was tall, but not awkward; lusty, but not corpulent. His voice was deep, but not hoarse; strong, but not noisy; his pronunciation distinct, but not broad. In his countenance there was gravity, without grimace: his address was solemn, but not sour; easy, but not careless; deliberate, but not drawling; pointed, but not personal; affectionate, but not fawning. He would often weep, but never whine. His sentences were short, but not ambiguous; his ideas collected, but not crowded. His itinerant circuit embraced the counties of Bedford, Cambridge, Essex, Hertford, and Huntingdon. In this circuit, for more than twenty years, he preached, upon an average, from ten to twelve sermons every week, and frequently rode a hundred miles. In some places, from ten to fifteen thousand persons composed his congregations. People came to hear him from a distance of twenty miles, and were at Everton by seven o'clock in the morning, at which early hour he preached. Four sermons on a Sunday were his regular work. His usefulness was great. During the first year after his conversion, he was visited by a thousand persons, under serious impressions; and it was computed, that, during the same space of time, about four thousand were awakened to a concern for the welfare of their souls, under his own and the joint ministry