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WHITEFIELD and Charles Wesley were still invalids, and, though they preached with more or less frequency, their evangelistic labours, in 1762, were limited when compared with the labours of former years.
Wesley began the year with a grand service, in the chapel at Spitalfields, at which nearly two thousand members of the London society were present. Besides Berridge and Maxfield, he was assisted by Benjamin Colley, a young man, born at Tollerton, near Easingwold, who had recently received episcopal ordination, and was now officiating, as a clergyman, in Methodist chapels. His ministerial gifts were small;1 but his piety was sincere and earnest. Strangely enough, this young Yorkshire Levite was carried away by the fanatical enthusiasm of Bell and Maxfield (to be noticed shortly), and though he did not live more than half-a-dozen years afterwards, his life was clouded, and not what it might have been.'
The remarkable work of sanctification was rapidly spreading throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Wesley
"Many have been convinced of sin, many justified, and many backsliders healed. But the peculiar work of this season has been, what St. Paul calls the perfecting of the saints.' Many persons in London, in Bristol, in York, and in various parts, both of England and Ireland, have experienced so deep and universal a change, as it had not entered into their hearts to conceive. After a deep conviction of inbred sin, of their total fall from God, they have been so filled with faith and love (and generally in a moment), that sin vanished, and they found, from that time, no pride, anger, desire, or unbelief. They could rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. Now, whether we call this the destruction or suspension of sin, it is a glorious work of God; such a work as, considering both the depth and extent of it, we never saw in these kingdoms before. It is possible some have been mistaken; and it is certain some have lost what they then received. A few
1 Manuscript letter of J. Pawson.
2 Methodist Magazine, 1782, pp. 157, 386; and 1783, p. 328.
(very few, compared to the whole number) first gave way to enthusiasm, then to pride, next to prejudice and offence, and at last separated from their brethren. But although this laid a huge stumbling block in the way, still the work of God went on. Nor has it ceased to this day in any of its branches. God still convinces, justifies, sanctifies. We have lost only the dross, the enthusiasm, the prejudice, and offence. The pure gold remains, faith working by love, and, we have ground to believe, increases daily."1
This was written at the end of 1763. On the last day of 1762, Wesley remarked in his Journal: "I looked back on the past year; a year of uncommon trials and uncommon blessings. Abundance have been convinced of sin; very many have found peace with God; and, in London only, I believe full two hundred have been brought into glorious liberty. And, yet, I have had more care and trouble in six months, than in several years preceding. What the end will be, I know not; but it is enough that God knoweth."
To understand Wesley's allusions here, we must briefly glance at the history of two of the principal men concerned.
Thomas Maxfield was one of Wesley's first preachers. For more than twenty years, he had acted under Wesley's direction. His origin in Bristol was humble, but he had married a wife with considerable fortune. At Wesley's instigation, a friend had recommended him to Dr. Barnard, bishop of Londonderry, for ordination. The bishop said, “Sir, I ordain you, to assist that good man, that he may not work himself to death."2 Maxfield thus became one of Wesley's most important preachers; and, perhaps, this was one of the reasons why not a few regarded him with envy. At all events, many censured him; and Wesley "continually and strenuously defended him; thereby offending several of his preachers, and a great number of his people."
As early as 1760, Wesley had appointed Maxfield to meet, every Friday, a sort of select band in London, consisting of Messrs. Biggs, Latlets, Calvert, and Dixon, all of whom professed to be entirely sanctified. Some of these favoured ones soon had dreams, visions, and impressions, as they thought,
1 Wesley's Works, vol. iii., p. 149.
2 Moore's Life of Wesley, vol. ii., p. 218.
Thomas Maxfield and George Bell.
from God; and Maxfield, instead of repressing their whimsies,
At the conference of 1761, Maxfield had been arraigned, for some misdemeanour not specified; but Wesley spoke in his defence, and silenced his accusers.1 Still Wesley was in doubt concerning him, and wrote him a long letter, telling him mildly all he heard or feared concerning him. Maxfield resented, and said he had no thought of a separation, and that Wesley was at liberty to call him John or Judas, Moses or Korah, as he pleased. He alleged, that Wesley and his brother contradicted the highest truths; and that almost all who "called themselves ministers of Christ, or preachers of Christ, contended for sin to remain in the heart as long as we live, as though it was the only thing Christ delighted to behold in His members."
George Bell, a native of Barningham, near Barnardcastle, had been a corporal in the Life Guards. He was converted in the year 1758, and pretended to be sanctified in the month of March, 1761. A few days afterwards, he wrote an account of this to Wesley, in a letter tinged with a frenzy, which Wesley was too ready to regard as the breathings of a superior
1 Wesley's Works, vol. iii., p. 120.
1762 piety.1 Bell soon developed into a full blown enthusiast, and Age 59 helped to taint not a few of his Methodist associates. He began to hold meetings of his own, declaring, that God had done with all preachings and sacraments, and was to be found nowhere but in the assemblies of himself and his London friends. He diligently propagated the principle, that "none could teach those who are renewed in love, unless they were in the state themselves."3 His admirers fancied themselves more holy than our first parents, and incapable of falling. They professed to have the gift of healing, and actually attempted to give eyesight to the blind, and to raise the dead.* From a misconstrued text in the Revelation, they inferred, that they were to be exempt from death. Wesley writes, on November 24, 1762: "Being determined to hear for myself, I stood where I could hear and see, without being George Bell prayed, in the whole, pretty near an hour. His fervour of spirit I could not but admire. I afterwards told him what I did not admire; namely, (1) his screaming, every now and then, in so strange a manner, that one could scarce tell what he said; (2) his thinking he had the miraculous discernment of spirits; and, (3) his sharply condemning his opposers."
Meanwhile, Wesley and his brother had an interview with Maxfield, and found that, in some things, he had been blamed without, a cause; other things he promised to alter. On November 1, 1762, Wesley sent to Maxfield, Bell, and others, a written statement of what he liked and disliked in their doctrine, spirit, and behaviour. In reference to the first, he says, he liked their "doctrine of perfection or love excluding sin; their insisting that it is merely by faith; that it is instantaneous, though preceded and followed by a gradual work; and, that it may be now, at this instant." But he disliked their "supposing man may be as perfect as an angel; that he can be absolutely perfect; that he can be infallible, or above being tempted; or, that the moment
1 Methodist Magazine, 1780, p. 674.
Wesley admonishing Fanatics.
he is pure in heart, he cannot fall from it." He disliked 1762 their "depreciating justification, by saying a justified person Age 59 is not born of God, and that he cannot please God, nor grow in grace." He disliked their doctrine, that a sanctified person needs no self examination, no private prayer; and that he cannot be taught by any one who is not in the same state as himself.
Then, in reference to their spirit, he told them, that he liked their confidence in God, and their zeal for the salvation of sinners; but he disliked (1) their appearance of pride, of overvaluing themselves, and undervaluing others; (2) their enthusiasm, namely, overvaluing feelings and impressions, mistaking the mere work of the imagination for the voice of the Spirit, expecting the end without the means, and undervaluing reason, knowledge, and wisdom in general; (3) their antinomianism, in not magnifying the law enough, in not sufficiently valuing tenderness of conscience, and in using faith rather as contradistinguished from holiness than as productive of it; and (4), their littleness of love to their brethren, their want of union with them, their want of meekness, their impatience of contradiction, their counting every man an enemy who reproved or admonished them in love, their bigotry and narrowness of spirit, and their censoriousness or proneness to think hardly of all who did not agree with them.
As to their outward behaviour, he liked "the general tenour of their life, devoted to God, and spent in doing good"; but he disliked their slighting any of the rules of the society; their appointing meetings which hindered people attending the public preaching; their spending more time in their meetings than many of them could spare from the duties of their calling; the speaking or praying of several of them at once; their praying to the Son of God only, or more than to the Father; their using bold, pompous, magnificent, if not irreverent, expressions in prayer; their extolling themselves rather than God, and telling Him what they were, not what they wanted; their using poor, flat, bald hymns; their never kneeling at prayer, and using postures or gestures highly indecent; their screaming so as to make what they said. unintelligible; their affirming people will be justified or