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1766 credit for being actuated by high and conscientious motives. The wisdom of acting as he did is a fair subject for discussion; but the purity of his intentions can hardly be disputed.
Before passing to the third matter, "a thorough reform of the preachers," it is desirable to know Wesley's opinion of the people. He adds:
"I cannot but know more of the state of the Methodist preachers and people than any other person. The world says, 'The Methodists are no better than other people.' This is not true. Yet it is nearer the truth than we are willing to imagine. Personal religion is amazingly superficial amongst us. How little faith there is amongst us, how little communion with God! How little living in heaven, walking in eternity, deadness to every creature! How much love of the world! desire of pleasure, of ease, of praise, of getting money! How little brotherly love! What continual judging one another! What gossiping, evil speaking, talebearing! What want of moral honesty! What servants, journeymen, labourers, carpenters, bricklayers do as they would be done by? Which of them does as much work as he can? Set him down for a knave that does not. Who does as he would be done by, in buying and selling, particularly in selling horses? Write him knave that does not; and the Methodist knave is the worst of all knaves. Family religion is shamefully wanting, and almost in every branch. And the Methodists in general will be little better, till we take quite another course with them; for what avails preaching alone, though we could preach like angels!"
This is not a flattering picture of the first Methodists; but it is drawn by the man who knew them, and who, as he himself says, "was not prejudiced against them." In such facts, Wesley found a reason for the castigation which he now administered to the preachers. The preachers preached; but he tells them plainly, they must do something more than this, otherwise "the Methodists will be little better than other people." He continues: "We must instruct them from house to house"; and then follows an extract, from Baxter's "Reformed Pastor," on private instruction.
"Great as this labour is," says Wesley, "it is absolutely necessary; for, after all our preaching, many of our people are almost as ignorant as if they had never heard the gospel. I study to speak as plainly as I can ; yet, I frequently meet with those who have been my hearers for many years, who know not whether Christ be God or man; or that infants have any original sin. And how few are there, that know the nature of repentance, faith, and holiness! Most of them have a sort of confidence, that Christ will justify and save them, while the world has their hearts, and they live to themselves. And I have found, by experience, that one of
these has learned more from an hour's close discourse, than from ten years' public preaching. O brethren, if we would generally set this work
1766 on foot in all our societies, and prosecute it skilfully and zealously, what Age 63 glory would redound to God thereby! If the common ignorance were thus banished, and our vanity and idleness turned into the study of the way of life, and every shop and every house busied in speaking of the word and works of God, surely God would dwell in our habitations, and make them His delight. And this is necessary to the welfare of our people; many of whom neither believe nor repent to this day. Look round about, and see how many of them are still in apparent danger of damnation ! And how can you walk, and talk, and be merry with such people, when you know their case? What cause have we to bleed before the Lord this day, that have so long neglected this great and good work that have een preachers so many years, and have done so little, by personal instructions, for the saving of men's souls! If we had but set on this work sooner, how many more might have been brought to Christ! And how much holier and happier might we have made our societies before now! And why might we not have done it sooner? There were many hindrances in the way; and so there are still, and always will be. But the greatest hindrance was in ourselves, in our dulness, and littleness of faith and love.
"But it is objected, 'This course will take up so much time, that we shall have no time to follow our studies.' I answer: (1) Gaining knowledge is a good thing; but saving souls is a better. (2) By this very thing, you will gain the most excellent knowledge of God and eternity. (3) You will have abundant time for gaining other knowledge too, if you spend all your mornings therein. Only sleep not more than you need; talk not more than you need; and never be idle, nor triflingly employed. (4) If you can do but one, either follow your studies, or instruct the ignorant, let your studies alone. I would throw by all the libraries in the world, rather than be guilty of the perdition of one soul
"I. Let every preacher take an exact catalogue of those in society, from one end of each town to the other. 2. Go to each house, and give, with suitable exhortation and direction, the 'Instructions for Children.' 3. Be sure to deal gently with them, and take off all discouragements as effectually as you can. 4. Let your dealing with those you begin with be so gentle, winning, and convincing, that the report of it may move others to desire your coming.
"Perhaps in doing this it may be well, (1) After a few loving words spoken to all in the house, to take each person single into another room, where you may deal closely with them, about their sin, and misery, and duty. (2) Hear what the children have learned by heart. (3) Choose some of the weightiest points, and try, by further questions, how far they understand them. (4) Often, with the question, suggest the answer. (5) Before you leave them, engage the head of each family to call all his family every Sunday, before they go to bed, and hear what they can rehearse, and so continue until they have learned all' The Instructions' perfectly.
"Let us, in every town, and wherever it is practicable, set upon this
1766 Age 63
method in good earnest, and we shall soon find why the people are not better, namely, because we are not more knowing and more holy."
Such was Wesley's great remedy for removing evil from among the Methodists,-not only visiting, but privately and personally instructing, the people, and especially their children; and such, in his estimation, were the two great causes of the evil existing. The people were far from perfect; because preachers were defective in knowledge and in holiness. He proceeds to ask :
"Why are we not more knowing? Because we are idle. We forget the very first rule, 'Be diligent; never be unemployed a moment. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time; neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.' I fear there is altogether a fault in this matter; and, that few of us are clear. Which of you spends as many hours a day in God's work, as you did formerly in man's work? We talk, talk,—or read history, or what comes next to hand. We must, absolutely must, cure this evil, or give up the whole work. But how? (1) Spend all the morning, or at least five hours in twenty-four, in reading the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly. But I read only the Bible.' Then you ought to teach others to read only the Bible, and, by parity of reason, to hear only the Bible. But if so, you need preach no more. Just so said George Bell; and what is the fruit? Why now he neither reads the Bible, nor anything else. This is rank enthusiasm. If you need no book but the Bible, you are got above St. Paul. He wanted others too. But I have no taste for reading.' Contract a taste for it by use, or return to your trade. But different men have different tastes.' Therefore some may read less than others; but none should read less than this. But I have no books.' I will give each of you, as fast as you will read them, books to the value of £5; and I desire the assistants will take care, that all the large societies provide the Christian Library for the use of the preachers. (2) In the afternoon, follow Mr. Baxter's plan. Then you will have no time to spare; none for learning Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew: you will have work enough for all your time. Then, likewise, no preacher will stay with us, who is as salt that has lost its savour; for, to such, this employment would be mere drudgery. The sum is, go into every house, in course, and teach every one therein, young and old, if they belong to us, to be Christians inwardly and outwardly. Make every particular plain to their understanding. Fix it in their memory. Write it on their heart. Read, explain, and enforce the rules of the society; the 'Instructions for Children'; the fourth volume of . sermons; and Philip Henry's method of family prayer. Over and above, where there are ten children in a society, spend, at least, an hour with them twice a week; and do this, not in a dull, dry, formal manner, but in earnest, with your might. But I have no gift for this.' Gift or no gift, you are to do it, else you are not called to be a Methodist preacher. Do
The way to mend useless Preachers.
it as you can, till you can do it as you would. Pray earnestly for the gift; 1766 particularly studying the children's tracts."
Such was Wesley's plan to increase the preachers' knowledge: at least five hours a day spent in reading the most useful books; and every afternoon devoted to private intercourse with the people and their children.
His next aim was to increase their holiness; hence the question,
"Why are not we more holy? breathing the whole spirit of missionaries? Answer. Because we are enthusiasts; looking for the end, without using the means. In order to be thoroughly convinced of this, we need only consider the first minutes, and each examine himself upon each article. To touch only upon two or three instances. Do you rise at four? or even at five, when you do not preach? Do you fast once a week? once a month? Do you know the obligation or benefit of it? Do you recommend the five o'clock hour for private prayer? Do you observe it? Do not you find that any time is no time?"
None but a man like Wesley would have dared to use faithful dealing like this; and none but men like Wesley's itinerants would have quietly submitted to such a castigation. He was evidently determined to kill or to cure; or, to employ his own expression, to "have a thorough reform of the preachers." For the first time, we have a list of the questions proposed to every preacher on probation before his being received into full connexion.
"Have you faith in Christ? Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be perfected in love, in this life? Are you groaning after it? Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and His work? Do you know the Methodist doctrine? Have you read the sermons, and the Notes on the New Testament? Do you know the Methodist plan? Have you read the Plain Account, and the Appeals? Do you know the rules of the society, and of the bands? and do you keep them? Do you take no snuff? Tobacco? Drams? Do you constantly attend the church and sacrament? Have you read the Minutes, and are you willing to conform to them? Have you considered the twelve rules of a helper; especially the first, tenth, and twelfth; and will you keep them for conscience sake? Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God? Will you preach every morning and evening; endeavouring not to speak too loud, or too long; not lolling with your elbows? Have you read the 'Rules of Action and Utterance'? Will you meet the society, the bands, the select society, and the leaders of bands and classes in every place? Will you diligently and earnestly instruct the children, and visit from house to house? Will you recommend fasting, both by precept and example?"
1766 These questions,-with the exception of those concerning Age 63 attendance at church and sacrament, the reading of the "Rules of Action and Utterance," the meeting of the societies, etc., and an important modification of that concerning preaching every morning and every night,-are still put to all candidates for the Methodist ministry, and are expected to be answered affirmatively before such candidates are admitted to ordination. If answered sincerely and truly, the Methodist ministry, in diligence, in piety, and in success, would have no superiors.
Much space has been occupied with the proceedings of the conference of 1766, but they were far too important to be omitted, or materially abridged. Other matters claimed attention at that conference, though inferior to the foregoing. For instance, it was ascertained, that the debts on the Methodist chapels, throughout the kingdom, amounted to £11,383. “We shall be ruined," writes Wesley, "if we go on thus." It was resolved, that the obnoxious trust deed at Liverpool, which has been already mentioned, should be substituted by another; that no classes should meet in chapels; that the rules of the society should be given to every one when taken on trial; that the rules relating to ruffles, lace, snuff, and tobacco, should be calmly but vigorously enforced; and, that the sermons on wandering thoughts, indwelling sin, the Lord our Righteousness, and the Scripture way of salvation, should be carefully distributed. This was one of the most important conferences that Wesley ever held. Considering the plain dealing that had been employed, it is as gratifying as it is a matter of surprise, to find Wesley saying: "Tuesday, August 12-Our conference began, and ended on Friday evening. A happier conference we never had, nor a more profitable one. It was both begun and ended in love, and with a solemn sense of the presence of God."
On the day that Wesley opened his conference at Leeds, his house at Windmill Hill, London, was entered by burglars, and a quantity of linen and wearing apparel stolen. On the 20th of August, he reached London himself; and, on the 25th, set out for Bath, Bristol, and Cornwall.
'Minutes of Conference, 1766. Lloyd's Evening Post, Aug. 15, 1766.