(1) THE METHODIST MOVEMENT.
The middle part of the eighteenth century presents a somewhat curious spectacle to the student of Church history. From one point of view the Church of England seemed to be signally successful; from another, signally unsuccessful. Intellectually her work was a great triumph, morally and spiritually it was a great failure. She passed not only unscathed, but with greatly increased strength, through a serious crisis. She crushed most effectually an attack which, if not really very formidable or very systematic, was at any rate very noisy and very violent; and her success was at least as much due to the strength of her friends as to the weakness of her foes. So completely did she beat her assailants out of the field that for some time they were obliged to make their assaults under a masked battery in order to obtain a popular hearing at all. It should never be forgotten that the period in which the Church sank to her nadir in one sense was also the period in which she almost reached her zenith in another sense. The intellectual giants who flourished in the reigns of the first two Georges cleared the way for that revival which is the subject of these pages. It was in consequence of the successful results of their efforts that the ground was opened to the heart-stirring preachers and disinterested workers who gave practical effect to the truths which had been so ably vindicated. It was unfortunate that there should ever have been any antagonism between men who were really workers in the same great cause. Neither could have done the other's part of the work. Warburton could have no more moved the hearts of living masses to their inmost depths, as Whitefield did, than Whitefield could have written the 'Divine Legation.' Butler could no more have carried on the great crusade against sin and Satan which Wesley did, than Wesley could have written the 'Analogy.' But without such work as Wesley and Whitefield did, Butler's and Warburton's would have been comparatively inefficacious; and without such work as Butler and Warburton did, Wesley's and Whitefield's work would have been, humanly speaking, impossible.
The truths of Christianity required not only to be defended, but to be applied to the heart and life; and this was the special work of what has been called, for want of a better term, 'the Evangelical school.' The term is not altogether a satisfactory one, because it seems to imply that this school alone held the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. But this was by no means the case. All the great features of that system which is summed up in the term 'the Gospel' may be plainly recognised in the writings of those theologians who belonged to a different and in some respects a violently antagonistic school of thought. The fall of man, his redemption by Christ, his sanctification by the Holy Spirit, his absolute need of God's grace both preventing and following him -- these are doctrines which an unprejudiced reader will find as clearly enunciated in the writings of Waterland, and Butler, and Warburton as by those who are called par excellence Evangelical writers. And yet it is perfectly true that there is a sense in which the latter may fairly claim the epithet 'Evangelical' as peculiarly their own; for they made what had sunk too generally into a mere barren theory a living and fruitful reality. The truths which they brought into prominence were not new truths, nor truths which were actually denied, but they were truths which acquired under the vigorous preaching of the revivalists a freshness and a vitality, and an influence over men's practice, which they had to a great extent ceased to exercise. In this sense the revival of which we are to treat may with perfect propriety be termed the Evangelical Revival. The epithet is more suitable than either 'Methodist' or 'Puritan,' both of which are misleading. The term 'Methodist' does not, of course, in itself imply anything discreditable or contemptuous; but it was given as a name of contempt, and was accepted as such by those to whom it was first applied. Moreover, not only the term, but also the system with which it has become identified was repudiated by many -- perhaps by the majority -- of those who would be included under the title of 'Evangelical.' It was not because they feared the ridicule and contempt attaching to the term 'Methodist' that so many disowned its application to themselves, but because they really disapproved of many things which were supposed to be connoted by the term. Their adversaries would persist in confounding them with those who gloried in the title of 'Methodists,' but the line of demarcation is really very distinct.
Still more misleading is the term 'Puritan.' The 'Evangelicalism' of the eighteenth century was by no means simply a revival of the system properly called Puritanism as it existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There were, of course, certain leading features which were common to the two schemes. We can recognise a sort of family likeness in the strictness of life prescribed by both systems, in their abhorrence of certain kinds of amusement, in their fondness for Scriptural phraseology, and, above all, in the importance which they both attached to the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. But the points of difference between them were at least as marked as the points of resemblance. In Puritanism, politics were inextricably intermixed with theology; Evangelicalism stood quite aloof from politics. The typical Puritan was gloomy and austere; the typical Evangelical was bright and genial. The Puritan would not be kept within the pale of the National Church; the Evangelical would not be kept out of it. The Puritan was dissatisfied with our liturgy, our ceremonies, our vestments, and our hierarchy; the Evangelical was not only perfectly contented with every one of these things, but was ready to contend for them all as heartily as the highest of High Churchmen. The Puritans produced a very powerful body of theological literature; the Evangelicals were more conspicuous as good men and stirring preachers than as profound theologians. On the other hand, if Puritanism was the more fruitful in theological literature, both devotional and controversial, Evangelicalism was infinitely more fruitful in works of piety and benevolence; there was hardly a single missionary or philanthropic scheme of the day which was not either originated or warmly taken up by the Evangelical party. The Puritans were frequently in antagonism with 'the powers that be,' the Evangelicals never; no amount of ill-treatment could put them out of love with our constitution both in Church and State.
These points will be further illustrated in the course of this chapter; they are touched upon here merely to show that neither 'Methodist' nor 'Puritan' would be an adequate description of the great revival whose course we are now to follow; only it should be noted that in terming it the 'Evangelical' revival we are applying to it an epithet which was not applied until many years after its rise. When and by whom the term was first used to describe the movement it is difficult to say. Towards the close of the century it is not unusual to find among writers of different views censures of those 'who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive title of Evangelical,' as if there were something presumptuous in the claim, and something uncharitable in the tacit assumption that none but those so called were worthy of the designation; but it is very unusual indeed to find the writers of the Evangelical school applying the title to their own party; and when they do it is generally followed by some apology, intimating that they only use it because it has become usual in common parlance. There is not the slightest evidence to show that the early Evangelicals claimed the title as their own in any spirit of self-glorification.
Thus much of the name. Let us now turn to the thing itself. How did this great movement, so fruitful in good to the whole community, first arise?
It is somewhat remarkable that, so far as the revival can be traced to any one individual, the man to whom the credit belongs was never himself an Evangelical. 'William Law' (1686-1761) 'begot Methodism,' wrote Bishop Warburton; and in one sense the statement was undoubtedly true, but what a curious paradox it suggests! A distinctly High Churchman was the originator of what afterwards became the Low Church party -- a Nonjuror, of the most decidedly 'Orange' element in the Church; a Quietist who scarcely ever quitted his retirement in an obscure Northamptonshire village, of that party which, above all others, was distinguished for its activity, bodily no less than spiritual, a clergyman who rarely preached a sermon, of the party whose great forte was preaching!
As Law had no further share in the Evangelical movement beyond writing the 'Serious Call,' there is no need to dwell upon his singular career. We may pass on at once from the master to one of his most appreciative and distinguished disciples.
If Law was the most effective writer, John Wesley (1703-91) was unquestionably the most effective worker connected with the early phase of the Evangelical revival. If Law gave the first impulse to the movement, Wesley was the first and the ablest who turned it to practical account. How he formed at Oxford a little band of High Church ascetics; how he went forth to Georgia on an unsuccessful mission, and returned to England a sadder and a wiser man; how he fell under the influence of the Moravians; how his whole course and habits of mind were changed on one eventful day in 1738; how for more than half a century he went about doing good through evil report and good report; how he encountered with undaunted courage opposition from all quarters from the Church which he loved, and from the people whom he only wished to benefit; how he formed societies, and organised them with marvellous skill; how he travelled thousands of miles, and preached thousands of sermons throughout the length and breadth of England, in Scotland, in Ireland, and in America; how he became involved in controversies with his friends and fellow-workers -- is not all this and much more written in books which may be in everybody's hands -- in the books of Southey, of Tyerman, of Watson, of Beecham, of Stevens, of Coke and Moore, of Isaac Taylor, of Julia Wedgwood, of Urlin, and of many others? It need not, therefore, be repeated here. Neither is it necessary to vindicate the character of this great and good man from the imputations which were freely cast upon him both by his contemporaries (and that not only by the adversaries, but by many of the friends and promoters of the Evangelical movement), and also by some of his later biographers. The saying of Mark Antony --
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones --
has been reversed in the case of John Wesley. Posterity has fully acquitted him of the charge of being actuated by a mere vulgar ambition, of desiring to head a party, of an undue love of power. It has at last owned that if ever a poor frail human being was actuated by pure and disinterested motives, that man was John Wesley. Eight years before his death he said, 'I have been reflecting on my past life; I have been wandering up and down between fifty and sixty years, endeavouring in my poor way to do a little good to my fellow-creatures.' And the more closely his career has been analysed, the more plainly has the truth of his own words been proved. His quarrel was solely with sin and Satan. His master passion was, in his own often-repeated expression, the love of God and the love of man for God's sake. The world has at length done tardy justice to its benefactor. Indeed, the danger seems now to lie in a different direction -- not indeed, in over-estimating the character of this remarkable man, but in making him a mere name to conjure with, a mere peg to hang pet theories upon. The Churchman casts in the teeth of the Dissenter John Wesley's unabated attachment to the Church; the Dissenter casts in the teeth of the Churchman the bad treatment Wesley received from the Church; and each can make out a very fair case for his own side. But meanwhile the real John Wesley is apt to be presented to us in a very one-sided fashion. Moreover, his character has suffered from the partiality of injudicious friends quite as much as from the unjust accusations of enemies. It is peculiarly cruel to represent him as a faultless being, a sort of vapid angel. We can never take much interest in such a character, because we feel quite sure that, if the whole truth were before us, he would appear in a different light. John Wesley's character is a singularly interesting one, interesting for this very reason, that he was such a thorough man -- full of human infirmities, constantly falling into errors of judgment and inconsistencies, but withal a noble specimen of humanity, a monument of the power of Divine grace to mould the rough materials of which man is made into a polished stone, meet to take its place in the fabric of the temple of the living God.
The best interpreter of John Wesley is John Wesley himself. He has left us in his own writings a picture of himself, drawn by his own hand, which is far more faithful than that which has been drawn by any other.
The whole family of the Wesleys, including the father, the mother, and all the brothers and sisters without exception, was a very interesting one. There are certain traits of character which seem to have been common to them all. Strong, vigorous good sense, an earnest, straightforward desire to do their duty, a decidedness in forming opinions, and a plainness, not to say bluntness, in expressing them, belong to all alike. The picture given us of the family at Epworth Rectory is an illustration of the remark made in another chapter that the wholesale censure of the whole body of the parochial clergy in the early part of the eighteenth century has been far too sweeping and severe. Here is an instance -- and it is not spoken of as a unique, or even an exceptional, instance -- of a worthy clergyman who was, with his whole family, living an exemplary life, and adorning the profession to which he belonged. The influence of his early training, and especially that of his mother, is traceable throughout the whole of Wesley's career; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that Wesley's unflinching attachment to the Church, his reluctance to speak ill of her ministers, and the displeasure which he constantly showed when he observed any tendency on the part of his followers to separate from her communion, may have been intensified by his recollections of that good and useful parson's family in Lincolnshire in which he passed his youth.
The year 1729 is the date which Wesley himself gives of the rise of that revival of religion in which he himself took so prominent a part. It is somewhat curious that he places the commencement of the revival at a date nine years earlier than that of his own conversion; but it must be remembered that in his later years he took a somewhat different view of the latter event from that which he held in his hot youth. He believed that before 1738 he had faith in God as a servant; after that, as a son. At any rate, we shall not be far wrong in regarding that little meeting at Oxford of a few young men, called in derision the Holy Club, the Sacramentarian Club, and finally the Methodists, as the germ of that great movement now to be described. No doubt the views of its members materially changed in the course of years; but the object of the later movement was precisely the same as that of the little band from the very first -- viz. to promote the love of God and the love of man for God's sake, to stem the torrent of vice and irreligion, and to fill the land with a godly and useful population.
This, it is verily believed, was from first to last the master key to a right understanding of John Wesley's life. Everything must give way to this one great object. In subservience to this he was ready to sacrifice many predilections, and thereby to lay himself open to the charge of changeableness and inconsistency.
As an illustration let us take the somewhat complicated question of John Wesley's Churchmanship. That he was most sincerely and heartily attached to the Church of England is undeniable. In the language of one of his most ardent but not undiscriminating admirers, 'he was a Church of England man even in circumstantials; there was not a service or a ceremony, a gesture or a habit, for which he had not an unfeigned predilection.' He was, in fact, a distinctly High Churchman, but a High Churchman in a far nobler sense than that in which the term was generally used in the eighteenth century. Indeed, in this latter sense John Wesley hardly falls under the denomination at all. As a staunch supporter of the British Constitution, both in Church and State, he was no doubt in favour of the establishment of the National Church as an essential part of that Constitution. But it was not this view of the Church which was uppermost in his mind. On several occasions he spoke and wrote of the Church as a national establishment in terms which would have shocked the political High Churchmen of his day. He 'can find no trace of a national Church in the New Testament;' -- it is 'a mere political institution;' the establishment by Constantine was a gigantic evil:' 'the King and the Parliament have no right to prescribe to him what pastor he shall use;' he does not care to discuss the question as to whether all outward establishments are a Babel. But does it follow from this and similar language that he taught, as the historians of the Dissenters contend, the principles and language of Dissent? Very far from it. The fact is, John Wesley in his conception of the Church was both before and behind his age. He would have found abundance of sympathisers with his views in the seventeenth, and abundance after the first thirty years of the nineteenth, century. But in the eighteenth century they were quite out of date. Here and there a man like Jones of Nayland or Bishop Horsley might express High Church views of the same kind as those of John Wesley, but they were quite out of harmony with the general spirit of the times. Wesley's idea of the Church was not like that of high and dry Churchmen of his day; that Church which was always 'in danger' was not what he meant; neither was it, like that of the later Evangelical school, the Church of the Reformation period. He went back to far earlier times, and took for his model in doctrine and worship the Primitive Church before its divisions into East and West. Thus we find him recording with evident satisfaction at Christmastide, 1774, 'During the twelve festival days we had the Lord's Supper daily -- a little emblem of the Primitive Church.' When he first appointed district visitors he looked with great satisfaction upon the arrangement, because it reminded him of the deaconesses of the Primitive Church. In the very act which tended most of all to the separation of Wesley's followers from the Church he was still led -- or, as some will think, misled -- by his desire to follow in what he conceived to be the steps of the Primitive Church. His ideas of worship are strictly in accordance with what would now be called High Church usages. He would have no pews, but open benches alike for all; he would have the men and the women separated, as they were in the Primitive Church; he would have a hearty congregational service. When it was seasonable to sing praise to God, they were to do it with the spirit and the understanding also; 'not in the miserable, scandalous doggerel of Sternhold and Hopkins, but in psalms and hymns which are both sense and poetry, such as would sooner provoke a critic to turn Christian than a Christian to turn critic;' they were to sing 'not lolling at their ease, or in the indecent posture of sitting, but all standing before God, praising Him lustily and with a good courage;' there was to be 'no repetition of words, no dwelling on disjointed syllables.' Wesley was much struck with the remarkable decorum with which public worship was conducted by the Scotch Episcopal Church, which has always been more inclined to High Church usages than her English sister. The Fasts and Festivals of the Church Wesley desired to observe most scrupulously: every Friday was to be kept as a day of abstinence; the very children at Kingswood school were, if healthy, to fast every Friday till 3 P.M. All Saints' Day was his favourite festival, and he made it his constant practice on that day to preach on the Communion of Saints. He distinctly implies that he considers the celebration of the Holy Communion an essential part of the public service at least on every Lord's Day, and adduces this as a proof that the service at his own meetings must necessarily be imperfect. From his private memoranda, quoted by Mr. Urlin, we find that he believed it to be a duty to observe so far as he could the following rules: -- (1) to baptize by immersion; (2) to use the mixed chalice; (3) to pray for the faithful departed; (4) to pray standing on the Sunday in Pentecost. He thought it prudent (1) to observe the stations [Wednesday and Friday], (2) to keep Lent and especially Holy Week, (3) to turn to the east at the Creed. It is useless to speculate upon what might have been; but can it be doubted that if John Wesley's lot had been cast in the nineteenth instead of the eighteenth century, he would have found much to fascinate him in another revival, which, like his own, began at Oxford?
But how was it that if John Wesley showed this strong appreciation of the aesthetic and the symbolical in public worship, this desire to bring everything to the model of the Primitive Church, he never impressed these views upon his followers? How is it that so few traces of these predilections are to be found in his printed sermons? John Wesley had so immense an influence over his disciples that he could have led them to almost anything. How was it that he infused into them nothing whatever of that spirit which was in him?
The answer to these questions is to be found in the fact which, it may be remembered, led to these remarks. There is but one clue to the right understanding of Wesley's career. It is this: that his one great object was to promote the love of God and the love of man for God's sake. Everything must give way to this object of paramount importance. His tastes led him in one direction, but it was a direction in which very few could follow him. Not only was there absolutely nothing congenial to this taste either inside or outside the Church in the eighteenth century, but it would have been simply unintelligible. If he had followed out this taste, he would have been isolated.
Moreover, it is fully admitted that Wesley was essentially a many-sided man. Look at him from another point of view, and he stands in precisely the same attitude in which his contemporaries and successors of the Evangelical school stood -- as the homo unius libri, referring everything to Scripture, and to Scripture alone. There would be in his mind no inconsistency whatever between the one position and the other; but he felt he could do more practical good by simply standing upon Scriptural ground, and therefore he was quite content to rest there.
It was precisely the same motive which led Wesley to the various separations which, to his sorrow, he was obliged to make from those who had been his fellow-workers. He has been accused of being a quarrelsome man, a man with whom it was not easy to be on good terms. The accusation is unjust. Never was a man more ready to forgive injuries, more ready to own his failings, more firm to his friends, and more patient with his foes.
Nevertheless it is an undoubted fact that he was frequently brought into collision with men whom he would have been the first to own as God's faithful servants -- with William Law, with the Moravians, with Whitefield and the Calvinists, and with several of the Evangelical parish clergymen. It also cannot be denied that he showed some abruptness -- nay, rudeness -- in his communications with some of these.
But in each and all of these cases the clue to his conduct is still the same; his one desire was to do all the good he could to the souls of men, and to that great object friends, united action, and even common politeness must give way. To come to details. In 1738 he wrote an angry letter, and in 1756 an angry pamphlet, to William Law. Both these effusions were hasty and indiscreet; but, in spite of his indiscretion and discourtesy, it is easy to trace both in the letter and the pamphlet the one motive which actuated him. Law was far more than a match for Wesley in any purely intellectual dispute. But Wesley's fault, whatever it may have been, was a fault of the head, not of the heart. It is thoroughly characteristic of the generous and forgiving nature of the man that, in spite of their differences, Wesley constantly alluded to Law in his sermons, and always in terms of the warmest commendation.
The same motive which led Wesley to dispute with Law actuated him in his separation from the Moravians. In justice to that exemplary body it must be remembered that they were not well represented in London when Wesley split from them. The mischievous notion that it was contrary to the Gospel for a man to search the Scriptures, to pray, to communicate -- in fact, to use any ordinances -- before he had faith, that it was his duty simply to sit still and wait till this was given him, would, if it had gained ground, have been absolutely fatal to Wesley's efforts. He could not even tacitly countenance those who held such tenets without grievous hindrance to his work. One is thankful to learn that he resisted his besetting temptation, and did not send to the Herrnhut brethren a rude letter which he had written, and thankful also to find that he did full justice to the good qualities of Count Zinzendorf. But as to his separation from the London Moravians, Wesley could not have acted otherwise without seriously damaging the cause which he had at heart. His dispute with Whitefield will come under our notice in connexion with the Calvinistic controversy, which forms a painfully conspicuous feature in the Evangelical movement. It is sufficient in this place to remark that the Antinomianism which, as a plain matter of fact, admitted even by the Calvinists themselves, did result from the perversion of Calvinism, was, if possible, a more fatal hindrance to Wesley's work than the Moravian stillness itself. This was obviously the ground of Wesley's dislike of Calvinism, but it did not separate him from Calvinists; so far as a separation did ensue the fault did not lie with Wesley.
His misunderstanding with some of the Evangelical clergy of his day arose from the same cause as that which led him into other disputes. An overpowering sense of the paramount importance of the great work which he had to do made him set aside everything which he considered to be an obstacle to that work without the slightest hesitation. Now, much as Wesley loved the Church of England, he never appreciated one of her most marked features, the parochial system. Perhaps under any circumstances such a system would have found little favour in the eyes of one of Wesley's temperament. To a man impatient of immediate results the slowly but surely working influence of a pastor resident in the midst of his flock, preaching to them a silent sermon every day and almost every hour by his example among them, would naturally seem flat, tame and impalpable when compared with the more showy effects resulting from the rousing preaching of the itinerant. Such a life as that of the parish priest would have been to Wesley himself simply unbearable. He was of opinion -- surely a most erroneous opinion -- that if he were confined to one spot he should preach himself and his whole congregation to sleep in a twelvemonth. He never estimated at its proper value the real, solid work which others were doing in their respective parishes. He bitterly regretted that Fletcher would persist in wasting his sweetness on the desert air of Madeley. He had little faith in the permanency of the good which the apostolic Walker was doing at Truro. Much as he esteemed Venn of Huddersfield, he could not be content to leave the parish in his hands. He expressed himself very strongly to Adam of Winteringham on the futility of his work in his parish. He utterly rejected Walker's advice that he should induce some of his itinerant preachers to be ordained and to settle in country parishes. He thought that this would not only narrow their sphere of usefulness, but also cripple their energies even in that contracted sphere. Mistaken as we may believe him to have been in these opinions, we cannot doubt his thorough sincerity. In the slight collision into which he was necessarily brought with the Evangelical clergy by acting upon these views he was actuated by no vulgar desire to make himself a name by encroaching upon other men's labours, but solely by the conviction that he must do the work of God in the best way he could, no matter whom he might offend or alienate by so doing. Order and regularity were good things in their way, but better do the work of God irregularly than let it be half-done or undone in the regular way. He predicted that even the earnest parochial clergy of his day would prove a mere rope of sand -- a prophecy which subsequent events will scarcely endorse.
Not that John Wesley ever desired to upset the parochial system. From first to last he consistently maintained his position that his work was not to supplant but to supplement the ordinary work of the Church. This supplementary agency formed so important a factor in the Evangelical revival, and its arrangement was so characteristic of John Wesley, that a few words on the subject seem necessary. It would fill too much space to describe in detail the constitution of the first Methodist societies. It is now purposed to consider them simply in their relation to their founder. The most superficial sketch of the life and character of John Wesley would be imperfect if it did not touch upon this subject; for, after all, it is as the founder, and organiser, and ruler of these societies that John Wesley is best known. There were connected with the Evangelical revival other writers as able, other preachers as effective, other workers as indefatigable, as he was; but there were none who displayed anything like the administrative talent that he did. From first to last Wesley held over this large and ever-increasing agency an absolute supremacy. His word was literally law, and that law extended not only to strictly religious matters, but to the minutest details of daily life. It is most amusing to read his letters to his itinerant preachers, whom he addresses in the most familiar terms. 'Dear Tommy' is told that he is never to sit up later than ten. In general he (Mr. Wesley) desires him to go to bed about a quarter after nine. 'Dear Sammy' is reminded, 'You are called to obey me as a son in the Gospel. But who can prove that you are so called to obey any other person?' Another helper is admonished, 'Scream no more, at the peril of your soul. Speak with all your heart, but with a moderate voice. It is said of our Lord, |He shall not cry| -- literally, scream.' The helpers generally are commanded 'not to affect the gentleman. You have no more to do with this character than with that of a dancing-master.' And again, 'Do not mend our rules, but keep them,' with much more to the same effect. His preachers in Ireland are instructed how they are to avoid falling into the dirty habits of the country and the most minute and delicate rules about personal cleanliness are laid down for them.
The congregations are ruled in almost the same lordly fashion as the preachers. Of a certain congregation at Norwich Wesley writes, 'I told them in plain terms that they were the most ignorant, self-conceited, self-willed, fickle, untractable, disorderly, disjointed society that I knew in the three kingdoms. And God applied to their hearts, so that many were profited, but I do not find that one was offended.' At one time he had an idea that tea was expensive and unwholesome, and his people are commanded to abstain from the deleterious beverage, and so to 'keep from sickness and pay their debts.' 'Many,' he writes, 'tell me to my face I can persuade this people to anything;' so he tried to persuade them to this. In the same year (1746) he determines to physic them all. 'I thought,' he says, 'of a kind of desperate experiment. I will prepare and give them physic myself.' This indefatigable man provided for their minds as well as for their souls and bodies. He furnished them with a 'Christian library,' writing, abridging, and condensing many books himself, and recommending and editing others; and few, probably, of the early Methodists read anything else.
As to the Conference, Wesley clearly gave its members to understand that his autocracy was to be in no way limited by their action. 'They did not,' he writes, 'desire the meeting, but I did, knowing that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. But,' he adds significantly, 'I sent for them to advise, not to govern me. Neither did I at any of those times divest myself of any part of that power which the providence of God cast upon me without any desire or design of mine. What is that power? 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.' They never dreamt of disobeying him. So great was the awe which he inspired that when the Deed of Declaration was drawn up in 1784, and Wesley selected, somewhat arbitrarily, one hundred out of one hundred and ninety-two preachers to be members of the Conference, though several murmured and thought it hard that preachers of old standing should be rejected, yet when the time came none durst oppose him. 'Many,' writes one of the malcontents, 'were averse to the deed, but had not the courage to avow their sentiments in Conference. Mr. Wesley made a speech and invited all who were of his mind to stand up. They all rose to a man.'
It certainly was an extraordinary power for one man to possess; but in its exercise there was not the slightest taint of selfishness, nor yet the slightest trace that he loved power for power's sake. His own account of its rise is perfectly sincere, and artless, and, it is honestly believed, perfectly true. 'The power I have,' he writes, 'I never sought; it was the unadvised, unexpected result of the work which God was pleased to work by me. I therefore suffer it till I can find some one to ease me of my burthen.' He used his power simply to promote his one great object -- to make his followers better men and better citizens, happier in this life and thrice happier in the life to come. If it was a despotism it was a singularly useful and benevolent despotism, a despotism which was founded wholly and solely upon the respect which his personal character commanded. Surely if this man had been, as his ablest biographer represents him, an ambitious man, he would have used his power for some personal end. He would at least have yielded to the evident desire of some of his followers and have founded a separate sect, in which he might have held a place not much inferior to that which Mahomet held among the faithful. But he spoke the truth when he said, 'So far as I know myself, I have no more concern for the reputation of Methodism than for the reputation of Prester John.' When he heard of accusations being brought against him of 'shackling free-born Englishmen' and of 'doing no less than making himself a Pope,' he defended his power with an artless simplicity which was very characteristic of the man. 'If,' he said, 'you mean by arbitrary power a power which I exercise singly, without any colleague therein, this is certainly true; but I see no harm in it. Arbitrary in this sense is a very harmless word. I bear this burden merely for your sakes.' It is a defence which one could fancy an Eastern tyrant making for the most rigorous of 'paternal governments.' But Wesley was no tyrant; he had no selfish end in view; it was literally 'for their sakes' that he ruled as he did; and since he was infinitely superior to the mass of his subjects (one can use no weaker term) in point of education, learning, and good judgment, it was to their advantage that he did so.
At any rate a Churchman may be pardoned for thinking this, for one effect of his unbounded influence was to prevent his followers from separating from the Church. His sentiments on this point were so constantly and so emphatically expressed that the only difficulty consists in selecting the most suitable specimens. Perhaps the best plan will be to quote a few passages in chronological order, written at different periods of his life, to show how unalterable his opinions were on this point, however much he might alter them in others. At the very first Conference -- in 1744, only six years after his conversion -- we find him declaring (for of course the dicta of Conference were simply his own dicta), 'We believe the body of our hearers will even after our death remain in the Church, unless they are thrust out. They will either be thrust out or leaven the Church.' A few years later, 'In visiting classes ask everyone, |Do you go to church as often as you did?| Set the example and immediately alter any plan that interfereth therewith. Are we not unawares, by little and little, tending to a separation from the Church? Oh, remove every tendency thereto with all diligence. Receive the Sacrament at every opportunity. Warn all against niceness in hearing, a great and prevailing evil; against calling our society a Church or the Church; against calling our preachers ministers and our houses meeting-houses: call them plain preaching-houses. Do not license yourself till you are constrained, and then not as a Dissenter, but as a Methodist preacher.' In 1766, 'We will not, we dare not, separate from the Church, for the reasons given several years ago. We are not seceders.... Some may say, |Our own service is public worship.| Yes, in a sense, but not such as to supersede the Church service. We never designed it should! If it were designed to be instead of the Church service it would be essentially defective, for it seldom has the four grand parts of public prayer -- deprecation, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. Neither is it, even on the Lord's Day, concluded with the Lord's Supper. If the people put ours in the place of the Church service, we hurt them that stay with us and ruin them that leave us.' In 1768, 'We are, in truth, so far from being enemies to the Church that we are rather bigots to it. I dare not, like Mr. Venn, leave the parish church where I am, and go to an Independent meeting. I advise all over whom I have any influence to keep to the Church.' In 1777, in the remarkable sermon which he preached on laying the foundation of the City Road Chapel, after having given a succinct but graphic account of the rise and progress of Methodism, 'we,' he concludes, 'do not, will not, form any separate sect, but from principle remain, what we have always been, true members of the Church of England.' In 1778, 'To speak freely, I myself find more life in the Church prayers than in any formal extempore prayers of Dissenters.' In 1780, 'Having had opportunity of seeing several Churches abroad, and having deeply considered the several sorts of Dissenters at home, I am fully convinced our own Church, with all her blemishes, is nearer the Scriptural plan than any other Church in Europe.' In 1783, 'In every possible way I have advised the Methodists to keep to the Church. They that do this most prosper best in their souls. I have observed it long. If ever the Methodists in general leave the Church, I must leave them.' In 1786, 'Wherever there is any Church service I do not approve of any appointment the same hour, because I love the Church of England, and would assist, not oppose it, all I can.' In 1788, 'Still, the more I reflect the more I am convinced that the Methodists ought not to leave the Church. I judge that to lose a thousand -- yea, ten thousand -- of our people would be a less evil than this. |But many had much comfort in this.| So they would in any new thing. I believe Satan himself would give them comfort therein, for he knows what the end must be. Our glory has hitherto been not to be a separate body. |Hoc Ithacus velit.|' And finally, within two years of his death, in his striking sermon on the ministerial office, 'In God's name stop!... Ye are a new phenomenon on the earth -- a body of people who, being of no sect or party, are friends to all parties, and endeavour to forward all in heart-religion, in the knowledge and love of God and man. Ye yourselves were at first called in the Church of England; and though ye have and will have a thousand temptations to leave it, and set up for yourselves, regard them not; be Church of England men still; do not cast away the peculiar glory which God hath put upon you and frustrate the design of Providence, the very end for which God raised you up.'
But some years before John Wesley uttered these memorable words had he not himself done the very thing which he deprecated? Consciously and intentionally, No! a thousand times no; but virtually and as a matter of fact we must reluctantly answer, Yes. Lord Mansfield's famous dictum, 'Ordination is separation,' is unanswerable. When, in 1784, John Wesley ordained Coke and Ashbury to be 'superintendents,' and Whatcoat and Vasey to be 'elders,' in America, he to all intents and purposes crossed the Rubicon. His brother Charles regarded the act in that light and bitterly regretted it. How a logical mind like John Wesley's could regard it in any other it is difficult to conceive. But that he had in all sincerity persuaded himself that there was no inconsistency in it with his strong Churchmanship there can be no manner of doubt.
The true explanation of John Wesley's conduct in this matter may perhaps be found in the intensely practical character of his mind. His work in America seemed likely to come to a deadlock for want of ordained ministers. Thus we come back to the old motive. Everything must be sacrificed for the sake of his work. Some may think this was doing evil that good might come; but no such notion ever entered into John Wesley's head; his rectitude of purpose, if not the clearness of his judgment, is as conspicuous in this as in the other acts of his life.
It should also be remembered (for it serves to explain this, as well as many other apparent inconsistencies in his career) that Wesley attached very little value to the mere holding of right opinions. Orthodoxy, he thought, constituted but a very small part, if a part at all, of true religion. 'What,' he asks, 'is faith? Not an opinion nor any number of opinions, be they ever so true. A string of opinions is no more Christian faith than a string of beads is Christian holiness.' Opinions were 'feathers light as air, trifles not worth naming.' Controversy was his abhorrence; he thought 'God made practical divinity necessary, but the Devil controversial.' When he entered into controversy with Tucker in 1742, 'I now, he wrote, 'tread an untried path with fear and trembling -- fear not of my adversary, but of myself.' Just twenty years later he records with evident satisfaction that he has entirely lost his taste for controversy and his readiness in disputing, and this he takes to be a providential discharge from it. 'I am sick,' he writes on another occasion, 'of opinions; I am weary to bear them: my soul loathes this frothy food. Give me solid, substantial religion. Give me an humble, gentle lover of God and man. Whosoever thus doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is brother, and sister, and mother.' He was anxious to promote a union between all the Evangelical clergy, but it must be on the condition that the points of difference between them should not be discussed. He was quite ready to hand over his opponents to Fletcher, or Sellon, or Olivers, or anyone whom he judged strong enough to take them in hand. He prided himself on the fact that Methodism required no agreement on disputed points of doctrine among its members. 'Are you in earnest about your soul?' That was the one question that must be answered in the affirmative. 'Is thine heart right as my heart is with thy heart? If so, then give me thine hand.' Or, as he elsewhere expresses it, 'The sum is, One thing I know: whereas I was blind, now I see -- an argument of which a peasant, a woman, a child, may feel all the force.'
This almost supercilious disregard of mere orthodoxy was all very well in Wesley's days, but it would never have done in the earlier part of the century; for it tacitly assumed that the main truths of Christianity had been firmly established; and the assumption was justifiable. The work of the apologists had prepared the way for the work of the practical reformer. If the former had not done their work, the latter could not have afforded to think so lightly as he did of sound doctrine.
Feeling thus that opinions were a matter of quite secondary consideration, Wesley had no hesitation about modifying, or even totally abandoning, opinions which he found to be practically injurious. He confessed, as we have seen, that he was quite wrong in his theory of the Divine origin of Episcopacy, and in his estimate of his own state of mind previous to his conversion in 1738. He very materially modified his doctrine of Christian perfection when he found it was liable to practical abuse, and appended notes to an edition of hymns in which that doctrine was too unguardedly stated. He confessed his error on the subject of Christian assurance in a characteristically outspoken fashion. 'When,' he wrote in old age, 'fifty years ago, my brother Charles and I, in the simplicity of our hearts, taught the people that unless they knew their sins were forgiven they were under the wrath and curse of God, I marvel they did not stone us. The Methodists, I hope, know better now. We preach assurance, as we always did, as a common privilege of the children of God, but we do not enforce it under pain of damnation denounced on all who enjoy it not.' He thought it idle to discuss the question of regeneration in baptism when it was obvious that baptized persons had practically as much need as heathens to be born again. It was quite as much their fondness for controversy as their rigid Calvinism which put him out of love with the Scotch and made him feel that he could do no good among them.
In accounting for Wesley's repugnance to religious controversy it should not be forgotten that in the latter half of his life controversial divinity had sunk to a low ebb, at least among those with whom he would most naturally come into contact. A man of his logical mind, clear common sense, and extensive reading could hardly fail to be disgusted with much that passed for religious literature. He shrunk with a horror which is almost amusing from the task of reviewing religious publications in the 'Arminian Magazine.' 'I would not,' he said, 'read all the religious books that are now published for the whole world.' He protested against 'what were vulgarly called Gospel sermons.' 'The term,' he says, 'has now become a mere cant word. I wish none of our Society would use it. It has no determinate meaning. Let but a pert, self-sufficient animal that has neither sense nor grace bawl out something about Christ and His blood, or justification by faith, and his hearers cry out, |What a fine Gospel sermon!|'
In fact, Wesley in his later years was very much alienated from what was called 'the religious world.' He had received some of his severest wounds in the house of his friends. Not Warburton, nor Lavington, nor Gibson had spoken and written such hard things against him as many of the most decidedly Evangelical clergy. He clung to the poor and unlettered, not, as it has been asserted, because he desired to be a sort of Pope among them, but because he really felt that his work was there less hampered by the disturbing influence of conflicting opinions, which were barren of practical effects upon the life. As usual, he made no secret whatever of his preference. A nobleman accustomed to flattery on all sides must have been rather taken aback on the receipt of this very outspoken rebuff from plain John Wesley: 'To speak the rough truth, I do not desire any intercourse with any persons of quality in England. They can do me no good, and I fear I can do none to them.' One can fancy the amazement of Lady Huntingdon, who exacted and received no small amount of homage from her proteges, when she received a letter from John Wesley so different from those which were usually addressed to her. 'My Lady, for a considerable time I have had it in my mind to write a few lines to your ladyship, though I cannot learn that your ladyship has ever enquired whether I was living or dead. By the mercy of God I am still alive and following the work to which He has called me, although without any help, even in the most trying times, from those I might have expected it from. Their voice seemed to be rather, Down with him! down, even to the ground! I mean (for I use no ceremony or circumlocution) Mr. Madan, Haweis, Berridge, and (I am sorry to say) Whitefield.' Had it been to an earl instead of a countess the letter would probably have been rougher still; but John Wesley was a thorough gentleman in every sense of the word, and could not insult a female -- only if the female had been plain Sarah Ryan instead of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, she would have had more chance of being treated with deference; for Wesley positively disliked the rich and noble. 'In most genteel religious people,' he said, 'there is so strange a mixture that I have seldom much confidence in them. But I love the poor; in many of them I find pure, genuine grace, unmixed with paint, folly, and affectation.' And again, 'Tis well a few of the rich and noble are called. May God increase the number. But I should rejoice, were it the will of God, if it were done by the ministry of others. If I might choose, I would still, as hitherto, preach the Gospel to the poor.' He had the lowest opinion both of the intellectual and moral character of the higher classes. 'Oh! how hard it is,' he once exclaimed, 'to be shallow enough for a polite audience!' And on another occasion he records with some bitterness of a rich congregation to which he had preached at Whitehaven, 'They all behaved with as much decency as if they had been colliers.' 'I have found,' he says again, 'some of the uneducated poor who have exquisite taste and sentiment, and many, very many, of the rich who have scarcely any at all.' He wrote to Fletcher, in what one must call an unprovoked strain of rudeness, on the danger of his conversing with the 'genteel Methodists.' Indeed, the leading members of the Evangelical school -- Lady Huntingdon, Sir Richard and Rowland Hill, Venn, Romaine, and others -- were, quite apart from their Calvinism, never cordially in harmony with John Wesley. As years went on Wesley must have felt himself more and more a lonely man so far as his equals were concerned, for in point of breeding and culture he was fully the equal of the very best. It must not be supposed that Wesley did not feel this isolation. There is a sadness about the strain in which he wrote to Benson in 1770. 'Whatever I say, it will be all one. They will find fault because I say it. There is implicit envy at my power (so called) and jealousy therefrom.' Wesley was not demonstrative, but he was a man of strong affections and acute feelings, and he felt his loneliness, and more so than ever after the death of his brother Charles. There is a touching story that a fortnight after the death of the latter Wesley was giving out in chapel his dead brother's magnificent hymn,
Come, O thou traveller unknown,
and when he came to the lines,
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee,
the old man (then in his eighty-fourth year) burst into tears and hid his face in his hands.
One feature in Wesley's character must be carefully noted by all who would form a fair estimate of him. If it was a weakness, and one which frequently led him into serious practical mistakes, it was at any rate an amiable weakness -- a fault which was very near akin to a virtue. A guileless trustfulness of his fellow-men, who often proved very unworthy of his confidence, and, akin to this, a credulity, a readiness to believe the marvellous, tinged his whole career. 'My brother,' said Charles Wesley, 'was, I think, born for the benefit of knaves.' It is in the light of this quality that we must interpret many important events of his life. His relations with the other sex were notoriously unfortunate; not a breath of scandal was ever uttered against him; and the mere fact that it was not is a convincing proof, if any were needed, of the spotless purity of his life; for it is difficult to conceive conduct more injudicious than his was. The story of his relationship with Sophia Causton, Grace Murray, Sarah Ryan, and last, but not least, the widow Vazeille, his termagant wife, need not here be repeated. In the case of any other man scandal would often have been busy; but Wesley was above suspicion. His conduct was put down to the right cause -- viz. a perfect guilelessness and simplicity of nature. The same tone of mind led him to take men as well as women too much at their own estimates. He was quite ready to believe those who said that they had attained the summit of Christian perfection, though, with characteristic humility, he never professed to have attained it himself. He was far more ready than either his brother Charles or Whitefield to see in the physical symptoms which attended the early movement of Methodism the hand of God; but, in justice to him, it should be added that he was no less ready than they were to check them when in any case he was convinced of their imposture. The same spirit led him to attribute to the immediate interposition of Providence events which might have been more reasonably attributed to ordinary causes; this laid him open to the merciless attacks of Bishops Lavington and Warburton. The same spirit led him to the superstitious and objectionable practice of having recourse to the 'Sortes Biblicae,' by which folly he was more than once misled against his own better judgment; the same spirit tempted him to lend far too eager an ear to tales of witchcraft and magic.
But, after all, these weaknesses detract but little from the greatness and nothing from the goodness of John Wesley. He stands pre-eminent among the worthies who originated and conducted the revival of practical religion which took place in the last century. In particular points he was surpassed by one or other of his fellow-workers. In preaching power he was not equal to Whitefield; in saintliness of character he was surpassed by Fletcher; in poetical talent he was inferior to his brother; in solid learning he was, perhaps, not equal to his friend and disciple Adam Clarke. But no one man combined all these characteristics in so remarkable a degree as John Wesley; and he possessed others besides these which were all his own. He was a born ruler of men; the powers which under different conditions would have made him 'a heaven-born statesman' he dedicated to still nobler and more useful purposes. Among the poor at least he was always appreciated at his full worth. And one is thankful to find that towards the end of his life his character began to be better understood and respected by worthy men who could not entirely identify themselves with the Evangelical movement. There is a pleasing story that Wesley met Bishop Lowth at dinner in 1777, when the learned Bishop refused to sit above Wesley at table, saying, 'Mr. Wesley, may I be found sitting at your feet in another world.' When Wesley declined to take precedence the Bishop asked him as a favour to sit above him, as he was deaf and desired not to lose a sentence of Mr. Wesley's conversation. Wesley, though, as we have seen, he had no partiality for the great, fully appreciated this courtesy, and recorded in his journal, 'Dined with Lowth, Bishop of London. His whole behaviour was worthy of a Christian bishop -- easy, affable, and courteous -- and yet all his conversation spoke the dignity which was suitable to his character.' In 1782, at Exeter, Wesley dined with the Bishop in his palace, five other clergy being present. In 1784, at Whitehaven, Wesley 'had all the Church ministers to hear him, and most of the gentry of the town.'
Still to the last Wesley had the mortification of seeing his work occasionally thwarted by that Church which he loved so dearly. One of the last letters which he wrote was a manly appeal to the Bishop of Lincoln on the subject.
A few months later the noble old man was at rest from his labours. When the clergyman who officiated at his funeral came to the words, 'Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother here departed,' he substituted the word 'father' for 'brother,' and the vast multitude burst into tears. It remained for the present generation to do justice to his memory by giving a place in our Christian Walhalla among the great dead to one who was certainly among the greatest of his day.
The next great leader of the early Evangelical movement who claims our attention is George Whitefield (1714-1770). Whitefield, like Wesley, appears from first to last to have been actuated by one pure and disinterested motive -- the desire to do as much good as he could in the world, and to bring as many souls as possible into the Redeemer's kingdom. But, except in this one grand point of resemblance, before which all points of difference sink into insignificance, it would be difficult to conceive two men whose characters and training were more different than those of Wesley and Whitefield. Instead of the calm and cultured retirement of Epworth Rectory, Whitefield was brought up amidst the vulgar bustle of a country town inn. His position was not very much improved when he exchanged the drawer's apron at the 'Bell Inn,' Gloucester, for the degrading badge of a servitor at Pembroke College, Oxford. After two or three years' experience in this scarcely less menial capacity than that which he had filled at home, he was at once launched into the sea of life, and found himself, at the age of twenty-two, with hardly any intellectual or moral discipline, without having acquired any taste for study, without having ever had the benefit of associating on anything like terms of equality with men of intellect or refinement, suddenly elevated to a degree of notoriety which few have attained. Scarcely one man in a thousand could have passed through such a transformation without being spoiled. But Whitefield's was too noble a spirit to be easily spoiled. Nature had given him a loving, generous, unselfish disposition, and Divine grace had sanctified and elevated his naturally amiable qualities and given him others which nature can never bestow. He went forth into the world filled with one burning desire -- the desire of doing good to his fellow-men and of extending the kingdom of his Divine Master.
It is needless here to repeat the story of the marvellous effects produced by his preaching. Nothing like it had ever been seen in England before. Ten thousand -- twenty thousand -- hearers hung breathless upon the preacher's words. Rough colliers, who had been a terror to their neighbourhood, wept until the tears made white gutters down their cheeks -- black as they came from the colliery -- and, what is still more to the purpose, changed their whole manner of life and became sober, God-fearing citizens in consequence of what they heard; sceptical philosophers listened respectfully, if not to much purpose, to one who hardly knew what philosophy meant; fine gentlemen came to hear one who, in the conventional sense of the term, had very little of the gentleman about him; shrewd statesmen, who had a very keen appreciation of the value of money, were induced by the orator to give first copper, then silver, then gold, and then to borrow from their friends when they had emptied their own pockets.
What was the secret of his fascination? His printed sermons which have come down to us are certainly disappointing. They are meagre compositions enough, feeble in thought and badly expressed; and what is known of Whitefield's mental powers would hardly lead us to expect them to be anything else. But it is scarcely necessary to remark that to judge of the effects of any address delivered by the way in which it reads is misleading; and it should also be remembered that what would sound to us mere truisms were new truths to the majority of those to whom Whitefield preached. A man of simple, earnest, loving spirit, utterly devoid of self-consciousness and filled with only one thought -- how best to recommend the religion which he loves -- may produce a great effect without much theological learning. Such a spirit Whitefield had, if any man ever had. Moreover, if the first qualification of an orator be action, the second action, and the third action, Whitefield was undoubtedly an orator. A fine presence, attractive features, and a magnificent voice which could make itself heard at an almost incredible distance, and which he seems to have known perfectly well how to modulate, all tended to heighten the effect of his sermons. As to the matter of them, there was at least one point in which Whitefield was not deficient. He had the descriptive power in a very remarkable degree.
If it were not that the expression conveyed an idea of unreality -- the very last idea that should be associated with Whitefield's preaching -- one might say that he had a good eye for dramatic effect. On a grassy knoll at Kingswood; in the midst of 'Vanity Fair' at Basingstoke or Moorfields, where the very contrast of all the surroundings would add impressiveness to the preacher's words; in Hyde Park at midnight, in darkness which might be felt, when men's hearts were panic-stricken at the prospect of the approaching earthquake, which was to be the precursor of the end of the world; on Hampton Common, surrounded by twelve thousand people, collected to see a man hung in chains -- the scenery would all lend effect to the great preacher's utterances. Outdoor preaching was what he loved best. He felt 'cribbed, cabined, and confined' within any walls. 'Mounts,' he said, 'are the best pulpits, and the heavens the best sounding-boards.' 'I always find I have most power when I speak in the open air -- a proof to me that God is pleased with this way of preaching.' 'Every one hath his proper gift. Field-preaching is my plan. In this I am carried as on eagle's wings. God makes way for me everywhere.'
In dwelling upon these secondary causes of Whitefield's success as a preacher it is by no means intended to lose sight of the great First Cause. God, who can make the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, could and did work for the revival of religion by this weak instrument. But God works through human agencies; and it is no derogation to the power of His grace, but simply tracing out the laws by which that grace works, when we note the human and natural agencies which all contributed to lend a charm to Whitefield's preaching. The difficulty of accounting for that charm is not so great as would at first sight appear. Indeed, immeasurably superior as Wesley's printed sermons are to Whitefield's in depth of thought, closeness of reasoning, and purity of diction, it is more difficult to explain the excitement which the older and far abler man produced than to explain that which attended the younger man's oratory. For Wesley -- if we may judge from his printed sermons -- carefully eschewed everything that would be called in the present day 'sensational.' Plain, downright common sense, expressed in admirably chosen but studiously simple language, formed the staple of his preaching. One can quite well understand anyone being convinced and edified by such discourses, but there is nothing in them which is apparently calculated to produce the extraordinary excitement which, in a second degree only to Whitefield, Wesley did in fact arouse.
Preaching was Whitefield's great work in life, -- and his work was also his pleasure. 'O that I could fly from pole to pole,' he exclaimed, 'preaching the everlasting Gospel.' When he is ill, he trusts that preaching will soon cure him again. 'This,' he says, 'is my grand Catholicon. O that I may drop and die in my blessed Master's work.' His wish was almost literally fulfilled. When his strength was failing him, when he was worn out before his time in his Master's work, he lamented that he was 'reduced to the short allowance of one sermon a day, and three on Sundays.' He preached when he was literally a dying man. His other work scarcely claims a passing notice in a short sketch like the present, especially as his peculiar opinions and his relationship with the Wesleys and others will again come under our notice in connection with the Calvinistic controversy. With the exception of letters to his friends and followers, and the inevitable journal (almost every member of the Evangelical school in the last century kept a journal), he wrote comparatively little; and what he did write, certainly need not cause us to regret that he wrote no more. On one of his voyages from America, Whitefield employed his leisure in abridging and gospelising Law's 'Serious Call.' Happily the work does not appear to have been finished; at any rate, it was not given to the world. Law's great work would certainly bear 'gospelising,' but Whitefield was not the man to do it. William Law improved by George Whitefield would be something like William Shakspeare improved by Colley Gibber. But the incident suggests the very different qualities which are required for the preacher and the writer. What was the character of Law's preaching we do not know, except from one sermon preached in his youth; but we may safely assume that he could never have produced the effects which Whitefield did. On the other hand, one trembles at the very thought of Whitefield meddling with Law's masterpiece, for he certainly could not have touched it without spoiling it.
Whitefield's Orphan House in Georgia was his hobby; it was only one out of a thousand instances of his benevolence; but his enthusiastic efforts in behalf of it hardly form a part of the Evangelical revival, and therefore need not be dwelt upon.
The individuality of Charles Wesley (1708-1788), the sweet psalmist of Methodism, is perhaps in some danger of being merged in that of his more distinguished brother. And yet he had a very decided character of his own; he would have been singularly unlike the Wesley family if he had not. Charles Wesley was by no means the mere fidus Achates, or man Friday, of his brother John. Quite apart from his poetry, the effects of which upon the early Methodist movement it would be difficult to exaggerate, he played a most important part in the revival. As a preacher, he was almost as energetic as John; and before his marriage he was almost as effective an itinerant. His elder brother always spoke of the work which was being done as their joint work; 'my brother and I' is the expression he constantly used in describing it.
As a general rule, the two brothers acted in complete harmony; but differences occurred sometimes, and, when they did, Charles Wesley showed that he had a very decided will of his own; and he could generally make it felt. For instance, in 1744, when the Wesleys were most unreasonably suspected of inclining to Popery, and of favouring the Pretender, John Wesley wrote an address to the king, 'in the name of the Methodists;' but it was laid aside because Charles Wesley objected to any act which would seem to constitute them a sect, or at least would seem to allow that they were a body distinct from the National Church. Again, from the first, Charles Wesley looked with great suspicion on the bodily excitement which attended his brother's preaching, and it is more than probable that he helped to modify John Wesley's opinions on this subject. On the ordination question, Charles Wesley felt very strongly; he never fell in with his brother's views, but vehemently disapproved of his whole conduct in the matter. He would probably have interfered still more actively, but for some years before the ordination question arose he had almost ceased to itinerate, partly, Mr. Tyerman thinks, because he was married, and partly because of the feeling in many societies, and especially among many preachers, against the Church. In 1753, when John Wesley was dangerously ill, Charles Wesley distinctly told the societies that he neither could nor would stand in his brother's place, if it pleased God to take him, for he had neither a body, nor a mind, nor talents, nor grace for it. In 1779, he wrote to his brother in terms as peremptory as John himself was wont to use, and such as few others would have dared to employ in addressing the founder of Methodism. 'The preachers,' he writes, 'do not love the Church of England. When we are gone, a separation is inevitable. Do you not wish to keep as many good people in the Church as you can? Something might be done now to save the remainder, if only you had resolution, and would stand by me as firmly as I will stand by you. Consider what you are bound to do as a clergyman, and what you do, do quickly.' It has been already stated that Charles was, if possible, even more attached to the Church than John. John, on his part, fully felt the need of his brother's help. In 1768, he wrote to him, 'I am at my wits' end with regard to two things: the Church and Christian perfection. Unless both you and I stand in the gap in good earnest, the Methodists will drop them both. Talking will not avail, we must do, or be borne away. |Age, vir esto! nervos intende tuos.|' On another occasion, John rescued his brother from a dangerous tendency which he showed towards the stillness of the Moravians. He wrote to him, 'The poison is in you, fair words have stolen away your heart;' and made this characteristic entry in his journal: -- 'The Philistines are upon thee, Samson; but the Lord is not departed from thee; He shall strengthen thee yet again, and thou shalt be avenged for the loss of thine eyes.'
There is an interesting letter from Whitefield to Charles Wesley, dated December 22, 1752, from which it appears that there was a threatened rupture between the two brothers, the cause of which we do not know. 'I have read and pondered your kind letter with a degree of solemnity of spirit. What shall I say? Really I can scarce tell. The connection between you and your brother hath been so close and continued, and your attachment so necessary to him to keep up his interest, that I could not willingly for the world do or say anything that may separate such friends. I cannot help thinking that he is still jealous of me and my proceedings; but I thank God I am quite easy about it.' The last sentence is characteristically injudicious, if Whitefield desired, as undoubtedly he did, to heal the breach; but the letter is valuable as showing that, in the opinion of Whitefield, who must have known as much about the matter as anyone, the co-operation of the two brothers was essential to their joint work.
Indeed, if for no other reason, Charles Wesley occupies a most important place in the history of early Methodism, as forming the connecting link between John Wesley and Whitefield. In October, 1749, he wrote, 'George Whitefield and my brother and I are one; a threefold cord which shall no more be broken;' but he does not add, as he might have done, that he himself was the means by which the union was effected. The contrast between Whitefield and John Wesley, in character, tastes, culture, &c., was so very great that, quite apart from their doctrinal differences, there could probably never have been any real intimacy between them, had there not been some common friend who had in his character some points of contact with both. That common friend was Charles Wesley. Full of sterling common sense, highly cultured and refined, possessed of strong reasoning powers, and well read like his brother, he was impulsive, demonstrative in his feelings, and very tenderhearted like Whitefield. Whitefield never quite appreciated John Wesley, but Charles he loved dearly, and so did John. As we have seen, the one solitary instance of the strong man's breaking down was on the death of his brother. And Charles Wesley was thoroughly worthy of every good man's love. His fame (except as a poet) has been somewhat overshadowed by the still greater renown of his brother, but he contributed his full share towards the success of the Evangelical Revival.
If John Wesley was the great leader and organiser, Charles Wesley the great poet, and George Whitefield the great preacher of Methodism, the highest type of saintliness which it produced was unquestionably John Fletcher (1729-1785). Never, perhaps, since the rise of Christianity has the mind which was in Christ Jesus been more faithfully copied than it was in the Vicar of Madeley. To say that he was a good Christian is saying too little. He was more than Christian, he was Christlike. It is said that Voltaire, when challenged to produce a character as perfect as that of Jesus Christ, at once mentioned Fletcher of Madeley; and if the comparison between the God-man and any child of Adam were in any case admissible, it would be difficult to find one with whom it could be instituted with less appearance of blasphemy than this excellent man. Fletcher was a Swiss by birth and education; and to the last he showed traces of his foreign origin. But England can claim the credit of having formed his spiritual character. Soon after his settlement in England as tutor to the sons of Mr. Hill of Terne Hall, he became attracted by the Methodist movement, which had then (1752) become a force in the country, and in 1753 he was admitted into Holy Orders. The account of his appointment to the living of Madeley presents a very unusual phenomenon in the eighteenth century. His patron, Mr. Hill, offered him the living of Dunham, 'where the population was small, the income good, and the village situated in the midst of a fine sporting country.' These were no recommendations in the eyes of Fletcher, and he declined the living on the ground that the income was too large and the population too small. Madeley had the advantage of having only half the income and double the population of Dunham. On being asked whether he would accept Madeley if the vicar of that parish would consent to exchange it for Dunham, Fletcher gladly embraced the offer. As the Vicar of Madeley had naturally no objection to so advantageous an exchange, Fletcher was instituted to the cure of the large Shropshire village, in which he spent a quarter of a century. There is no need to record his apostolical labours in this humble sphere of duty. Madeley was a rough parish, full of colliers; but there was also a sprinkling of resident gentry. Like his friend John Wesley, Fletcher found more fruits of his work among the poor than among the gentry. But none, whether rich or poor, could resist the attractions of this saintly man. In 1772 he addressed to the principal inhabitants of the Parish of Madeley 'An appeal to matter of fact and common sense,' the dedication of which is so characteristic that it is worth quoting in full. 'Gentlemen,' writes the vicar, 'you are no less entitled to my private labours than the inferior class of my parishioners. As you do not choose to partake with them of my evening instructions, I take the liberty to present you with some of my morning meditations. May these well-meant efforts of my pen be more acceptable to you than those of my tongue! And may you carefully read in your closets what you have perhaps inattentively heard in the church! I appeal to the Searcher of hearts, that I had rather impart truth than receive tithes. You kindly bestow the latter upon me; grant me the satisfaction of seeing you receive favourably the former from, gentlemen, your affectionate minister and obedient servant, J. Fletcher.'
When Lady Huntingdon founded her college for the training of ministers at Trevecca, she invited Fletcher to undertake a sort of general superintendence over it. This Fletcher undertook without fee or reward -- not, of course, with the intention of residing there, for he had no sympathy with the bad custom of non-residence which was only too common in his day. He was simply to visit the college as frequently as he could; 'and,' writes Dr. Benson, the first head-master, 'he was received as an angel of God.' 'It is not possible,' he adds, 'for me to describe the veneration in which we all held him. Like Elijah in the schools of the Prophets, he was revered, he was loved, he was almost adored. My heart kindles while I write. Here it was that I saw, shall I say an angel in human flesh? -- I should not far exceed the truth if I said so' -- and much more to the same effect. It was the same wherever Fletcher went; the impression he made was extraordinary; language seems to fail those who tried to describe it. 'I went,' said one who visited him in an illness (he was always delicate), 'to see a man that had one foot in the grave, but I found a man that had one foot in heaven.' 'Sir,' said Mr. Venn to one who asked him his opinion of Fletcher, 'he was a luminary -- a luminary did I say? -- he was a sun! I have known all the great men for these fifty years, but none like him.' John Wesley was of the same opinion; in Fletcher he saw realised in the highest degree all that he meant by 'Christian Perfection.' For some time he hesitated to write a description of this 'great man,' 'judging that only an Apelles was proper to paint an Alexander;' but at length he published his well-known sermon on the significant text, 'Mark the perfect man,' &c. (Ps. xxxvii.37), which he concluded with this striking testimony to the unequalled character of his friend: 'I was intimately acquainted with him for above thirty years; I conversed with him morning, noon, and night without the least reserve, during a journey of many hundred miles; and in all that time I never heard him speak one improper word, nor saw him do an improper action. To conclude; many exemplary men have I known, holy in heart and life, within fourscore years, but one equal to him I have not known -- one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God. So unblamable a character in every respect I have not found either in Europe or America; and I scarce expect to find another such on this side of eternity.' Fletcher, on his part, was one of the few parish clergymen who to the end thoroughly appreciated John Wesley. He thought it 'shameful that no clergyman should join Wesley to keep in the Church the work God had enabled him to carry on therein;' and he was half-inclined to join him as his deacon, 'not,' he adds with genuine modesty, 'with any view of presiding over the Methodists after you, but to ease you a little in your old age, and to be in the way of receiving, perhaps doing, more good.' Wesley was very anxious that Fletcher should be his successor, and proposed it to him in a characteristic letter; but Fletcher declined the office, and had he accepted, the plan could never have been carried out, for the hale old man survived his younger friend several years. The last few years of Fletcher's life were cheered by the companionship of one to whom no higher praise can be awarded than to say that she was worthy of being Fletcher's wife. Next to Susanna Wesley herself, Mrs. Fletcher stands pre-eminent among the heroines of Methodism. In 1785 the saint entered into his everlasting rest, dying in harness at his beloved Madeley. His death-bed scene is too sacred to be transferred to these pages.
Indeed, there is something almost unearthly about the whole of this man's career. He is an object in some respects rather for admiration than for imitation. He could do and say things which other men could not without some sort of unreality. John Wesley, with his usual good sense, warns his readers of this in reference to one particular habit, viz. 'the facility of raising useful observations from the most trifling incidents.' 'In him,' he says, 'it partly resulted from nature, and was partly a supernatural gift. But what was becoming and graceful in Mr. Fletcher would be disgustful almost in any other.' An ordinary Christian, for example, who, when he was having his likeness taken, should exhort 'the limner, and all that were in the room, not only to get the outlines drawn, but the colourings also of the image of Jesus on their hearts;' who, 'when ordered to be let blood,' should, 'while his blood was running into the cup, take occasion to expatiate on the precious blood-shedding of the Lamb of God;' who should tell his cook 'to stir up the fire of divine love in her soul,' and intreat his housemaid 'to sweep every corner in her heart;' who, when he received a present of a new coat, should, in thanking the donor, draw a minute and elaborate contrast between the broadcloth and the robe of Christ's righteousness -- would run the risk of making not only himself, but the sacred subjects which he desired to recommend, ridiculous. Unfortunately there were not a few, both in Fletcher's day and subsequently, who did fall into this error, and, with the very best intentions, dragged the most solemn truths through the dirt. Fletcher, besides being so heavenly-minded that what would seem forced and strained in others seemed perfectly natural in him, was also a man of cultivated understanding and (with occasional exceptions) of refined and delicate taste; but in this matter he was a dangerous model to follow. Who but Fletcher, for instance, could, without savouring of irreverence or even blasphemy, when offering some ordinary refreshment to his friends, have accompanied it with the words, 'The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ,' &c., and 'The Blood of our Lord,' &c.? But extraordinary as was the spiritual-mindedness of this man of God, he could, without an effort, descend to earthly matters on occasion. One of the most beautiful traits of his character was illustrated on one of these occasions. He had done the Government good service by writing on the American Rebellion, and Lord Dartmouth was commissioned to ask him whether any preferment would be acceptable to him. 'I want nothing,' answered the simple-hearted Christian, 'but more grace.' His love of children was another touching characteristic of Fletcher. 'The birds of my fine wood,' he wrote to a friend, 'have almost done singing; but I have met with a parcel of children whose hearts seem turned towards singing the praises of God, and we sing every day from four to five. Help us by your prayers.'
Having described the leader, the orator, the poet, and the saint of Methodism, it still remains to say something about the patroness of the movement. Methodism won its chief triumphs among the poor and lower middle classes. The upper classes, though a revival of religion was sorely needed among them, were not perceptibly affected. To promote this desirable object, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), sacrificed her time, her energies, her money, and her social reputation.
It is impossible to help respecting a lady whose whole life was devoted to so noble an aim. In one sense she gave up more than any of the promoters of Methodism had the opportunity of doing. For, in the first place, she had more to give up; and, in the second, it required more moral courage than the rest were called upon to exercise to run counter to all the prejudices of the class to which she naturally belonged. Both by birth and by marriage she was connected with some of the noblest families in the kingdom, and, by general confession, religion was at a very low ebb among the nobility in Lady Huntingdon's day. The prominent part which she took in the Evangelical Revival exposed her to that contempt and ridicule from her own order which are to many harder to bear than actual persecution. To the credit, however, of the nobility, it must be added that most of them learnt to respect Lady Huntingdon's character and motives, though they could not be persuaded to embrace her opinions. With a few exceptions, chiefly among her own sex, Lady Huntingdon was not very successful in her attempts to affect, to any practical purpose, the class to which she belonged; but she was marvellously successful in persuading the most distinguished persons in the intellectual as well as the social world to come and hear her favourite preachers. No ball or masquerade brought together more brilliant assemblies than those which met in her drawing-room at Chelsea, or her chapel at Bath, or in the Tabernacle itself, to hear Whitefield and others preach. To enumerate the company would be to enumerate the most illustrious men and women of the day. The Earl of Chatham, Lord North, the Earl of Sandwich, Bubb Doddington, George Selwyn, Charles Townshend, Horace Walpole, Lord Camden, Lord Northington, the Earl of Chesterfield, Viscount Bolingbroke, the Earl of Bath, Frederick, Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cumberland, John, Lord Hervey, the Duke of Bolton, the Duke of Grafton, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, the Duchess of Buckingham, Lady Townshend, were at different times among the hearers. Horace Walpole tells us that in 1766 it was quite the rage at Bath among persons in high life to form parties to hear the different preachers who 'supplied' the chapel. The bishops themselves did not disdain to attend 'incognito;' curtained seats were placed immediately inside the door, where the prelates were smuggled in; and this was wittily called 'Nicodemus's corner.' The Duchess of Buckingham accepted an invitation from Lady Huntingdon to attend her chapel at Bath in the following words: 'I thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers; their doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding. I shall be most happy to come and hear your favourite preacher.' Horace Walpole (who, however, is not always to be trusted when he is writing on religious matters) wrote to Sir Horace Mann, March 23, 1749: 'Methodism is more fashionable than anything but brag; the women play very deep at both -- as deep, it is much suspected, as the Roman matrons did at the mysteries of Bona Dea. If gracious Anne were alive she would make an admirable defendress of the new faith, and would build fifty more churches for female proselytes.' It is fair to add, however, that some of the ablest among the hearers were the most impressed. David Hume's opinion of Whitefield's preaching has already been noticed. David Garrick was certainly not disposed to ridicule it. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Lord Bolingbroke's sentiments expressed in a private letter to the Earl of Marchmont: 'I hope you heard from me by myself, as well as of me by Mr. Whitefield. This apostolical person preached some time ago at Lady Huntingdon's, and I should have been curious to hear him. Nothing kept me from going but an imagination that there was to be a select auditory. That saint, our friend Chesterfield, was there, and I heard from him an extreme good account of the sermon.' Lord Bolingbroke afterwards did hear Whitefield, and said to Lady Huntingdon: 'You may command my pen when you will; it shall be drawn in your service. For, admitting the Bible to be true, I shall have little apprehension of maintaining the doctrines of predestination and grace against all your revilers.' We do not hear that this new defender of the faith did employ his pen in Lady Huntingdon's service, and few perhaps will regret that he did not. The extreme dislike of Lords Bolingbroke and Chesterfield for the regular clergy, whom they would be glad to annoy in any way they could, might have had something to do with their patronage of the 'new lights,' as the Methodists were called. But this cannot be said of others. The Earl of Bath, for instance, accompanied a donation of 50l. to Lady Huntingdon for the Tabernacle at Bristol with the following remark: 'Mocked and reviled as Mr. Whitefield is (1749) by all ranks of society, still I contend that the day will come when England will be just, and own his greatness as a reformer, and his goodness as a minister of the Most High God.' Lord Chesterfield gave 20l. to the same object.
Lady Huntingdon was not content with enlisting the nobility in favour of her cause. She made her way to the Court itself. She was scandalised by the gaiety of Archbishop Cornwallis's household, and, after having fruitlessly remonstrated with the primate, she laid her case before the King and the Queen. She was not only successful in the immediate object of her visit -- the King, in consequence, writing a sharp letter to the archbishop, desiring him to desist from his unseemly routs -- but was told by George III. that he was happy in having an opportunity of assuring her ladyship of the very good opinion he had of her, and how very highly he estimated her character, her zeal, and her abilities, which could not be consecrated to a more noble purpose. He then referred to her ministers, who, he understood, were very eloquent preachers. The bishops were jealous of them; and the King related a conversation he had lately had with a learned prelate. He had complained of the conduct of some of her ladyship's students and ministers, who had created a sensation in his diocese; and his Majesty replied, 'Make bishops of them -- make bishops of them.' 'That might be done,' replied the prelate; 'but, please your Majesty, we cannot make a bishop of Lady Huntingdon.' The Queen replied, 'It would be a lucky circumstance if you could, for she puts you all to shame.' 'Well,' said the King, 'see if you cannot imitate the zeal of these men.' His lordship made some reply which displeased the King, who exclaimed with great animation, 'I wish there was a Lady Huntingdon in every diocese in the kingdom!'
We have as yet seen only one side of Lady Huntingdon's energy; she was no less industrious in providing hearers for her preachers, than preachers for her hearers. She almost rivalled John Wesley himself in the influence which she exercised over her preachers; and she was as far removed as he was from any love of power for power's sake, although, like him, she constantly had this accusation brought against her. The extent of her power cannot be better stated than in the words of her biographer: 'Her ladyship erected or possessed herself of chapels in various parts of the kingdom, in which she appointed such persons to officiate as ministers as she thought fit, revoking such appointments at her pleasure. Congregations who worshipped here were called |Lady Huntingdon's Connexion,| and the ministers who officiated |ministers in Lady Huntingdon's Connexion.| Over the affairs of this Connexion Lady Huntingdon exercised a moral power to the time of her death; not only appointing and removing the ministers who officiated, but appointing laymen in each congregation to superintend its secular concerns, called the |committee of management.|'
The first thing that obviously occurs to one in reference to this position is, that it should more properly belong to a man than a woman. Even in women of the strongest understanding and the deepest and widest culture, there is generally a want of ballast which unfits them for such a responsibility; and Lady Huntingdon was not a lady of a strong understanding, and still less of a deep and wide culture. But she possessed what was better still -- a single eye to her Master's glory, a truly humble mind, and genuine piety. The possession of these graces prevented her from falling into more errors than she did. Still, it is certainly somewhat beyond a woman's sphere to order Christian ministers about thus: 'Now, Wren, I charge you to be faithful, and to deliver a faithful message in all the congregations.' 'My lady,' said Wren, 'they will not bear it.' She rejoined, 'I will stand by you.' On another occasion she happened to have two young ministers in her house, 'when it occurred to her that one of them should preach. Notice was accordingly sent round that on such an evening there would be preaching before the door. At the appointed time a great many people had collected together, which the young men, seeing, inquired what it meant. Her ladyship said, |As I have two preachers in my house, one of you must preach to the people.| In reply, they said that they had never preached publicly, and wished to be excused. Shipman was ready, Matthews diffident. Lady Huntingdon, therefore, judged it best for Mr. Shipman to make the first attempt. While he hesitated she put a Bible into his hand, insisting upon his appearing before the people, and either telling them that he was afraid to trust in God, or to do the best he could. On the servant's opening the door, her ladyship thrust him out with her blessing, |The Lord be with you -- do the best you can.|' At Trevecca -- a college which she founded and supported solely at her own expense -- her will was law. 'Trevecca,' wrote John Wesley, 'is much more to Lady Huntingdon than Kingswood is to me. I mixes with everything. It is my college, my masters, my students!' When the unhappy Calvinistic controversy broke out in 1770, Lady Huntingdon proclaimed that whoever did not wholly disavow the Minutes should quit her college; and she fully acted up to her proclamation. Fletcher's resignation was accepted, and Benson, the able head-master, was removed. John Wesley himself was no longer suffered to preach in any of her pulpits.
Her commands, however, were not always obeyed. Thus, for instance, we find Berridge good-naturedly rallying her on a peremptory summons he had received to 'supply' her chapel at Brighton. 'You threaten me, madam, like a pope, not like a mother in Israel, when you declare roundly that God will scourge me if I do not come; but I know your ladyship's good meaning, and this menace was not despised. It made me slow in resolving. Whilst I was looking towards the sea, partly drawn thither with the hope of doing good, and partly driven by your Vatican Bull, I found nothing but thorns in my way,' &c. On a similar occasion the same good man writes to her with that execrably bad taste for which he was even more conspicuous than Whitefield: 'Jesus has been whispering to me of late that I cannot keep myself nor the flock committed to me; but has not hinted a word as yet that I do wrong in keeping to my fold. And my instructions, you know, must come from the Lamb, not from the Lamb's wife, though she is a tight woman.' John Wesley plainly told her that, though he loved her well, it could not continue if it depended upon his seeing with her eyes. Rowland Hill rebelled against her authority.
These, however, were exceptional cases. As a rule, Lady Huntingdon was in far more danger of being spoiled by flattery than of being discouraged by rebuffs. Poor Whitefield's painful adulation of his patroness has been already alluded to; and it was but natural that the students at her college, who owed their all to her, should, in after-life, have been inclined to treat her with too great subservience.
One is thankful to find no traces of undue deference on the part of those parochial clergymen who were made her chaplains, and who at irregular intervals, when they could be spared from their own parishes, supplied her chapels. But though these good men did not flatter her, they felt and expressed the greatest respect for her character and exertions, as did also the Methodists generally. Fletcher described an interview with her in terms which sound rather overstrained, not to say irreverent, to English ears; but allowance should be made for the 'effusion' in which foreigners are wont to indulge. 'Our conversation,' he writes to Charles Wesley, 'was deep and full of the energy of faith. As to me, I sat like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel; I passed three hours with a modern prodigy -- a pious and humble countess. I went with trembling and in obedience to your orders; but I soon perceived a little of what the disciples felt when Christ said to them, It is I -- be not afraid.' John Wesley, in spite of his differences with her, owned that 'she was much devoted to God and had a thousand valuable and amiable qualities.' Rowland Hill, when a young man, wrote in still stronger terms: 'I am glad to hear the Head is better. What zeal for God perpetually attends her! Had I twenty bodies, I could like nineteen of them to run about for her.'
The good countess was not unworthy of all this esteem. In spite of her little foibles, she was a thoroughly earnest Christian woman. Her munificence was unbounded. 'She would give,' said Grimshaw, 'to the last gown on her back.' She is said to have spent during her life more than 100,000l. in the service of religion.
Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, like John Wesley's societies, drifted away rather than separated from the National Church. In consequence of some litigation in the Consistorial Court of London about the Spa Fields Chapel, it became necessary to define more precisely the 'status' of Lady Huntingdon's places of worship. If they were still to be considered as belonging to the Church of England, they were, of course, bound to submit to the laws of the Church. In order to find shelter under the Toleration Act, it was necessary to register them as Dissenting places of worship. Thus Lady Huntingdon, much against her will, found herself a Dissenter. She expressed her regret in that extraordinary English which she was wont to write. 'All the other connexions seem to be at peace, and I have ever found to belong to me while we were at ease in Zion. I am to be cast out of the Church now, only for what I have been doing these forty years -- speaking and living for Jesus Christ; and if the days of my captivity are now to be accomplished, those that turn me out and so set me at liberty, may soon feel what it is, by sore distress themselves for those hard services they have caused me.' Still she could not make up her mind to call herself and those in connexion with her, Dissenters. She tried to find some middle term; it was not a separation from the Church, but a 'secession;' which looks very like a distinction without a difference. 'Our ministers must come,' writes her ladyship in 1781, 'recommended by that neutrality between Church and Dissent -- secession;' and to the same effect in 1782: 'Mr. Wills's secession from the Church (for which he is the most highly favoured of all from the noble and disinterested motives that engaged his honest and faithful conscience for the Lord's unlimited service) brings about an ordination of such students as are alike disposed to labour in the place and appointed for those congregations. The method of these appears the best calculated for the comfort of the students and to serve the congregations most usefully, and is contrived to prevent any bondage to the people or minister. The objections to the Dissenters' plan are many, and to the Church more; that secession means the neutrality between both, and so materially offensive to neither.'
One result of this 'secession' was the withdrawal from the Connexion of those parochial clergymen who had given their gratuitous services to Lady Huntingdon -- Romaine, Venn, Townsend, and others; but they still maintained the most cordial intimacy with the countess, and continued occasionally to supply her chapels.
It must be admitted, in justice to the Church rulers of the day, that the difficulties in the way of co-operation with Lady Huntingdon were by no means slight. Her Churchmanship, like that of her friend Whitefield, was not of the same marked type as that of John Wesley. It will be remembered that John Wesley, in his sermon at the foundation of the City Road Chapel in 1777 -- four years, be it observed, before Lady Huntingdon's secession -- described, in his own vigorous language, the difference between the attitude of his followers towards the Church, and that of the followers of Lady Huntingdon and Mr. Whitefield. So far as the two latter were concerned, he did not overstate the case. The college at Trevecca could hardly be regarded in any other light than that of a Dissenting Academy. Berridge saw this, and wrote to Lady Huntingdon: 'However rusty or rickety the Dissenters may appear to you, God hath His remnant among them; therefore lift not up your hand against them for the Lord's sake nor yet for consistency's sake, because your students are as real Dissenting preachers as any in the land, unless a gown and band can make a clergyman. The bishops look on your students as the worst kind of Dissenters; and manifest this by refusing that ordination to your preachers which would be readily granted to other teachers among the Dissenters.' Berridge also thought that the Wesleyans would not retain their position as Churchmen. In the very same year (1777) in which Wesley gloried in the adhesion of his societies to the Church, Berridge wrote to Lady Huntingdon: 'What will become of your students at your decease? They are virtual Dissenters now, and will be settled Dissenters then. And the same will happen to many, perhaps most, of Mr. Wesley's preachers at his death. He rules like a real Alexander, and is now stepping forth with a flaming torch; but we do not read in history of two Alexanders succeeding each other.'
But to return to Trevecca. The rules of the college specified that the students after three years' residence might, if they desired, enter the ministry either of the Church or any other Protestant denomination. Now, as Trevecca was essentially a theological college, it is hardly possible to conceive that the theology taught there could have been so colourless as not to bias the students in favour either of the Church or of Dissent; and as the Church, in spite of her laxity, still retained her liturgy, creeds, and other forms, which were more dogmatic and precise than those of any Dissenting body, such a training as that of Trevecca would naturally result, as the Vicar of Everton predicted, in making the students, to all intents and purposes, Dissenters. The only wonder is that Lady Huntingdon's Connexion should have retained so strong an attachment to the Church as they undoubtedly did, and that, not only during her own lifetime, but after her death. 'You ask,' wrote Dr. Haweis to one who desired information on this point, 'of what Church we profess ourselves? We desire to be esteemed as members of Christ's Catholic and Apostolic Church, and essentially one with the Church of England, of which we regard ourselves as living members.... The doctrines we subscribe (for we require subscription, and, what is better, they are always truly preached by us) are those of the Church of England in the literal and grammatical sense. Nor is the liturgy of the Church of England performed more devoutly in any Church,' &c.
The five worthy Christians whose characters and careers have been briefly sketched were the chief promoters of what may be termed the Methodist, as distinguished from the Evangelical, movement, in the technical sense of that epithet. There were many others who would be worthy of a place in a larger history. Thomas Walsh, Wesley's most honoured friend; Dr. Coke ('a second Walsh,' Wesley called him), who sacrificed a good position and a considerable fortune entirely to the Methodist cause; Mr. Perronet, the excellent Vicar of Shoreham, to whom both the brothers Wesley had recourse in every important crisis, and who was called by Charles Wesley 'the Archbishop of Methodism;' Sir John Thorold, a pious Lincolnshire baronet; John Nelson, the worthy stonemason of Birstal, who was pressed as a soldier simply because he was a Methodist, and whose death John Wesley thus records in his Journal: 'This day died John Nelson, and left a wig and half-a-crown -- as much as any unmarried minister ought to leave;' Sampson Stainforth, Mark Bond, and John Haine, the Methodist soldiers who infused a spirit of Methodism in the British Army; Howell Harris, the life and soul of Welsh Methodism; Thomas Olivers, the converted reprobate, who rode one hundred thousand miles on one horse in the cause of Methodism, and who was considered by John Wesley as a strong enough man to be pitted against the ablest champions of Calvinism; John Pawson, Alexander Mather and other worthy men -- of humble birth, it may be, and scanty acquirements, but earnest, devoted Christians -- would all deserve to be noticed in a professed history of Methodism. In a brief sketch, like the present, all that can be said of them is, 'Cum tales essent, utinam nostri fuissent.'
(2) THE CALVINISTIC CONTROVERSY.
The Methodists met with a vast amount of opposition; but, after all, there was a more formidable enemy to the progress of the Evangelical revival than any from without. The good men who made so bold and effectual a stand against vice and irreligion in the last century might have been still more successful had they presented a united front to the common foe; but, unfortunately, a spirit of discord within their ranks wasted their strength and diverted them from work for which they were admirably adapted to work for which they were by no means fitted. Hitherto our attention has been mainly directed to the strength of the movement. The pure lives and disinterested motives of the founders of Methodism, their ceaseless energy, their fervent piety -- in a word, their love of God and their love of their neighbour for God's sake -- these are the points on which one loves to dwell; these are traits in their characters which posterity has gratefully recognised, though scant justice was done them by the men of their own generation. In their quarrel with sin and Satan all good men will sympathise with them. It is painful to turn from this to their quarrels among themselves; but these latter occupy too large a space in their history to be lightly passed over.
It has frequently been remarked in these pages that the eighteenth century, or at least the first half of it, was essentially an age of controversy; but of all the controversies which distracted the Church and nation that one which now comes under our consideration was the most unprofitable and unsatisfactory in every way. The subject of it was that old, old difficulty which has agitated men's minds from the beginning, and will probably remain unsettled until the end of time -- a difficulty which is not confined to Christianity, nor even to Deism, but which meets us quite apart from theology altogether. It is that which, in theological language, is involved in the contest between Calvinism and Arminianism; in philosophical, between free-will and necessity. 'The reconciling,' wrote Lord Lyttelton, 'the prescience of God with the free-will of man, Mr. Locke, after much thought on the subject, freely confessed that he could not do, though he acknowledged both. And what Mr. Locke could not do, in reasoning upon subjects of a metaphysical nature, I am apt to think few men, if any, can hope to perform.' It would have been well if the Methodists had acted according to the spirit of these wise words; but, unfortunately, they considered it necessary not only to discuss the question, but to insist upon their own solution of it in the most positive and dogmatic terms.
One would have thought that John Wesley, at any rate, considering his expertness in logic, would have been aware of the utter hopelessness of disputing upon such a point; but the key to that great man's conduct in this, as in other matters, is to be found in the intensely practical character of his mind, especially in matters of religion. He felt the practical danger of Antinomianism, and, feeling this, he did not, perhaps, quite do justice to all that might be said on the other side. In point of fact, however, he shrank, especially in his later years, from the controversy more than others did, who were far less competent to manage it.
In other controversies which agitated the eighteenth century there is some compensation for the unkindly feelings and unchristian and extravagant language generated by the heat of dispute in the thought that if they did not solve, they at any rate contributed something to the solution of, pressing questions which clamoured for an answer. The circumstances of the times required that the subjects should be ventilated. Thus, for example, the relations between Church and State were ill understood, and some light, at any rate, was thrown upon them by the tedious Bangorian controversy. The method in which God reveals His will to man was a subject which circumstances rendered it necessary to discuss. This subject was fairly sifted in the Deistical controversy. The pains which were bestowed upon the Trinitarian controversy were not thrown away. But it is difficult to see what fresh light was thrown upon any subject by the Calvinistic controversy. It left the question exactly in the same position as it was in before. In studying the other controversies, if the reader derives but little instruction or edification on the main topic, he can hardly fail to gain some valuable information on collateral subjects. But he may wade through the whole of the Calvinistic controversy without gaining any valuable information on any subject whatever. This is partly owing to the nature of the topic discussed, but partly also to the difference between the mental calibre of the disputants in this and the other controversies. We have at least to thank the Deists and the Anti-Trinitarians for giving occasion for the publication of some literary masterpieces. Through their means English theology was enriched by the writings of Butler, Conybeare, Warburton, Waterland, Sherlock, and Horsley. But the Calvinistic controversy, from the beginning to the end, contributed not one single work of permanent value to theology.
This is a sweeping statement, and requires to be justified. Let us, then, pass on at once from general statements to details.
The controversy seems to have broken out during Whitefield's absence in America (1739-1740). A correspondence arose between Wesley and Whitefield on the subject of Calvinism and collateral questions, in which the two good men seem to be constantly making laudable determinations not to dispute -- and as constantly breaking them. The gist of this correspondence has been wittily summed up thus: 'Dear George, I have read what you have written on the subject of predestination, and God has taught me to see that you are wrong and that I am right. Yours affectionately, J. Wesley.' And the reply: 'Dear John, I have read what you have written on the subject of predestination, and God has taught me that I am right and you are wrong. Yours affectionately, G. Whitefield.'
If the dispute between these good men was warm while the Atlantic separated them, it was still warmer when they met. In 1741 Whitefield returned to England, and a temporary alienation between him and Wesley arose. Whitefield is said to have told his friend that they preached two different Gospels, and to have avowed his intention to preach against him whenever he preached at all. Then they turned the one to the right hand and the other to the left. As in most disputes, there were, no doubt, faults on both sides. Both were tempted to speak unadvisedly with their lips, and, what was still worse, to write unadvisedly with their pens. It has already been seen that John Wesley had the knack of both saying and writing very cutting things. If Whitefield was rash and lost his temper, Wesley was certainly irritating. But the details of the unfortunate quarrel may be found in any history of Wesley or Whitefield. It is a far pleasanter task to record that in course of time the breach was entirely healed, though neither disputant receded one jot from his opinions. No man was ever more ready to confess his faults, no man ever had a larger heart or was actuated by a truer spirit of Christian charity than George Whitefield. Never was there a man of a more forgiving temper than John Wesley. 'Ten thousand times would I rather have died than part with my old friends,' said Whitefield of the Wesleys. 'Bigotry flies before him and cannot stand,' said John Wesley of Whitefield. It was impossible that an alienation between two such men, both of whom were only anxious to do one great work, should be permanent.
From 1749 the Calvinistic controversy lay comparatively at rest for some years. The publication of Hervey's 'Dialogues between Theron and Aspasio,' in 1755, with John Wesley's remarks upon them, and Hervey's reply to the remarks, reawakened a temporary interest in the question, but it was not till the year 1771 that the tempest broke out again with more than its former force.
The occasion of the outburst was the publication of Wesley's 'Minutes of the Conference of 1770.' Possibly John Wesley may have abstained for some years, out of regard for Whitefield, from discussing in Conference a subject which was calculated to disturb the re-established harmony between him and his friend. At any rate, the offending Minutes, oddly enough, begin by referring to what had passed at the first Conference, twenty-six years before. 'We said in 1744, We have leaned too much towards Calvinism.' After a long abeyance the subject is taken up at the point at which it stood more than a quarter of a century before.
The Minutes have often been quoted; but, for clearness' sake, it may be well to quote them once more.
'We said in 1744, We have leaned too much towards Calvinism. Wherein --
'1. With regard to man's faithfulness, our Lord Himself taught us to use the expression; and we ought never to be ashamed of it. We ought steadily to assert, on His authority, that if a man is not |faithful in the unrighteous mammon| God will not |give him the true riches.|
'2. With regard to working for life, this also our Lord has expressly commanded us. |Labour| ([Greek: Ergazesthe] -- literally, |work|) |for the meat that endureth to everlasting life.| And, in fact, every believer, till he comes to glory, works for, as well as from, life.
'3. We have received it as a maxim that |a man can do nothing in order to justification.| Nothing can be more false. Whoever desires to find favour with God should |cease to do evil and learn to do well.| Whoever repents should do |works meet for repentance.| And if this is not in order to find favour, what does he do them for?
'Review the whole affair.
'1. Who of us is now accepted of God?
'He that now believes in Christ, with a loving, obedient heart.
'2. But who among those that never heard of Christ?
'He that feareth God and worketh righteousness, according to the light he has.
'3. Is this the same with |he that is sincere|?
'Nearly if not quite.
'4. Is not this salvation by works?
'Not by the merit of works, but by works as a condition.
'5. What have we, then, been disputing about for these thirty years?
'I am afraid about words.
'6. As to merit itself, of which we have been so dreadfully afraid, we are rewarded according to our works -- yea, because of our works.
'How does this differ from |for the sake of our works|? And how differs this from secundum merita operum, |as our works deserve|? Can you split this hair? I doubt I cannot.
'7. The grand objection to one of the preceding propositions is drawn from matter of fact. God does in fact justify those who, by their own confession, |neither feared God nor wrought righteousness.| Is this an exception to the general rule?
'It is a doubt if God makes any exception at all. But how are we sure that the person in question never did fear God and work righteousness? His own saying so is not proof; for we know how all that are convinced of sin undervalue themselves in every respect.
'8. Does not talking of a justified or a sanctified state tend to mislead men, almost naturally leading them to trust in what was done in one moment? Whereas we are every hour and every moment pleasing or displeasing to God, according to our works, according to the whole of our inward tempers and our outward behaviour.'
So great was the alarm and indignation caused by these Minutes that a 'circular printed letter' was, at the instigation of Lady Huntingdon, sent round among the friends of the Evangelical movement, the purport of which was as follows: -- 'Sir, whereas Mr. Wesley's Conference is to be held at Bristol on Tuesday, August 6, next, it is proposed by Lady Huntingdon and many other Christian friends (real Protestants) to have a meeting at Bristol at the same time, of such principal persons, both clergy and laity, who disapprove of the under-written Minutes; and, as the same are thought injurious to the very fundamental principles of Christianity, it is further proposed that they go in a body to the said Conference, and insist upon a formal recantation of the said Minutes, and, in case of a refusal, that they sign and publish their protest against them. Your presence, sir, on this occasion is particularly requested; but, if it should not suit your convenience to be there, it is desired that you will transmit your sentiments on the subject to such persons as you think proper to produce them. It is submitted to you whether it would not be right, in the opposition to be made to such a dreadful heresy, to recommend it to as many of your Christian friends, as well of the Dissenters as of the Established Church, as you can prevail on to be there, the cause being of so public a nature. I am, &c., Walter Shirley.'
The first thing that naturally strikes one is, What business had Lady Huntingdon and her friends to interfere with Mr. Wesley and his Conference at all? But this obvious objection does not appear to have been raised. It would seem that there was a sort of vague understanding that the friends of the Evangelical movement, whether Calvinist or Arminian, were in some sense answerable to one another for their proceedings. The Calvinists evidently thought it not only permissible but their bounden duty not merely to disavow but to condemn, and, if possible, bring about the suppression of the obnoxious Minutes. Mr. Shirley said publicly 'he termed peace in such a case a shameful indolence, and silence no less than treachery.' John Wesley did not refuse to justify to the Calvinists what he had asserted. He wrote to Lady Huntingdon in June 1771 (the Conference did not meet till August), referring her to his 'Sermons on Salvation by Faith,' published in 1738, and requesting that the 'Minutes of Conference might be interpreted by the sermons referred to.' Lady Huntingdon felt her duty to be clear. She wrote to Charles Wesley, declaring that the proper explanation of the Minutes was 'Popery unmasked.' 'Thinking,' she added, 'that those ought to be deemed Papists who did not disavow them, I readily complied with a proposal of an open disavowal of them.'
All this augured ill for the harmony of the impending Conference; but it passed off far better than could possibly have been expected. Very few of the Calvinists who were invited to attend responded to the appeal. Christian feeling got the better of controversial bitterness on both sides. John Wesley, with a noble candour, drew up a declaration, which was signed by himself and fifty-three of his preachers, stating that, 'as the Minutes have been understood to favour justification by works, we, the Rev. John Wesley and others, declare we had no such meaning, and that we abhor the doctrine of justification by works as a most perilous and abominable doctrine. As the Minutes are not sufficiently guarded in the way they are expressed, we declare we have no trust but in the merits of Christ for justification or salvation. And though no one is a real Christian believer (and therefore cannot be saved) who doth not good works when there is time and opportunity, yet our works have no part in meriting or purchasing our justification from first to last, in whole or in part.' Lady Huntingdon and her relative Mr. Shirley were not wanting, on their part, in Christian courtesy. 'As Christians,' wrote Lady Huntingdon, 'we wish to retract what a more deliberate consideration might have prevented, as we would as little wish to defend even truth itself presumptuously as we would submit servilely to deny it.' Mr. Shirley wrote to the same effect.
But, alas! the troubles were by no means at an end. Fletcher had written a vindication of the Minutes, which Wesley published. Wesley has been severely blamed for his inconsistency in acting thus, 'after having publicly drawn up and signed a recantation [explanation?] of the obnoxious principles contained in the Minutes.' This censure might seem to be justified by a letter which Fletcher wrote to Lady Huntingdon. 'When,' he says, 'I took up my pen in vindication of Mr. Wesley's sentiments, it never entered my heart that my doing so would have separated me from those I love and esteem. Would to God I had never done it! To your ladyship it has caused incalculable pain and unhappiness, and my conscience hath often stung me with bitter and heartcutting reproaches.' But, on the other hand, Fletcher himself, in a preface to his 'Second Check to Antinomianism,' entirely exonerated Wesley from all blame in the matter, and practically proved his approbation of his friend's conduct by continuing the controversy in his behalf.
The dogs of war were now let slip. In 1772 Sir Richard Hill and his brother Rowland measured swords with Fletcher, and drew forth from him his Third and Fourth Checks. In 1773 Sir R. Hill gave what he termed his 'Finishing Stroke;' Berridge, the eccentric Vicar of Everton, rushed into the fray with his 'Christian World Unmasked;' and Toplady, the ablest of all who wrote on the Calvinist side, published a pamphlet under the suggestive title of 'More Work for John Wesley.' The next year (1774) there was a sort of armistice between the combatants, their attention being diverted from theological to political subjects, owing to the troubles in America. But in 1775 Toplady again took the field, publishing his 'Historic Proof of the Calvinism of the Church of England.' Mr. Sellon, a clergyman, and Mr. Olivers, the manager of Wesley's printing, appeared on the Arminian side. The very titles of some of the works published sufficiently indicate their character. 'Farrago Double Distilled,' 'An Old Fox Tarred and Feathered,' 'Pope John,' tell their own tale.
In fact, the kindest thing that could be done to the authors of this bitter writing (who were really good men) would be to let it all be buried in oblivion. Some of them lived to be ashamed of what they had written. Rowland Hill, though he still retained his views as to the doctrines he opposed, lamented in his maturer age that the controversy had not been carried on in a different spirit. Toplady, after he had seen Olivers, wrote: 'To say the truth, I am glad I saw Mr. Olivers, for he appears to be a person of stronger sense and better behaviour than I had imagined.' Fletcher (who had really the least cause of any to regret what he had written), before leaving England for a visit to his native country, invited all with whom he had been engaged in controversy to see him, that, 'all doctrinal differences apart, he might testify his sincere regret for having given them the least displeasure,' &c.
It will be remembered that the Deistical controversy was conducted with considerable acrimony on both sides; but the Deistical and anti-Deistical literature is amenity itself when compared with the bitterness and scurrility with which the Calvinistic controversy was carried on. At the same time it would be a grievous error to conclude that because the good men who took part in it forgot the rules of Christian charity they were not under the power of Christian influences. The very reverse was the case. It was the very earnestness of their Christian convictions, and the intensity of their belief in the directing agency of the Holy Spirit over Christian minds, which made them write with a warmth which human infirmity turned into acrimony. They all felt de vita et sanguine agitur; they all believed that they were directed by the Spirit of God: consequently their opponents were opponents not of them, the human instruments, but of that God who was working by their means; in plain words, they were doing the work of the Devil. Add to this a somewhat strait and one-sided course of reading, and a very imperfect appreciation of the real difficulties of the subject they were handling (for all, without exception, write with the utmost confidence, as if they understood the whole matter thoroughly, and nothing could possibly be written to any purpose on the other side), and the paradox of truly Christian men using such truly unchristian weapons will cease to puzzle us.
Two only of the writers in this badly managed controversy deserve any special notice -- viz., Fletcher on the Arminian and Toplady on the Calvinist side.
Fletcher's 'Checks to Antinomianism' are still remembered by name (which is more than can be said of most of the literature connected with this controversy), and may, perhaps, still be read, and even regarded as an authority by a few; but they are little known to the general reader, and occupy no place whatever in theological literature. Perhaps they hardly deserve to do so. Nevertheless, anything which such a man as Fletcher wrote is worthy at least of respectful consideration, if for nothing else, at any rate for the saintly character of the writer. He wrote like a scholar and a gentleman, and, what is better than either, like a Christian. Those who accuse him of having written bitterly against the Calvinists cannot, one would imagine, have read his writings, but must have taken at second hand the cruelly unjust representation of them given by his opponents. 'If ever,' wrote Southey, with perfect truth, 'true Christian charity was manifested in polemical writing, it was by Fletcher of Madeley.' There is but one passage in which Fletcher condescends to anything like personal scurrility, in spite of the many grossly personal insults which were heaped upon him and his friends.
This self-restraint is all the more laudable because Fletcher possessed a rich vein of satirical humour, which he might have employed with telling effect against his opponents.
He also showed an excellent knowledge of Scripture and great ingenuity in explaining it on his own side. He was an adroit and skilful disputant, and, considering that he was a foreigner, had a great mastery over the English language.
What, in spite of these merits, makes the 'Checks' an unsatisfactory book, is the want of a comprehensive grasp of general principles. In common with all the writers on both sides of the question. Fletcher shows a strange lack of philosophical modesty -- a lack which is all the stranger in him because personally he was conspicuous for extreme modesty and thoroughly genuine humility. But there is no appearance, either in Fletcher's writings or in those of any others who engaged in the controversy, that they adequately realised the extreme difficulty of the subject. Everything is stated with the utmost confidence, as if the whole difficulty -- which an archangel might have felt -- was entirely cleared away. If one compares Fletcher's writings on Calvinism with the scattered notices of the subject in Waterland's works, the difference between the two writers is apparent at once; there is a massiveness and a breadth of culture about the older writer which contrasts painfully with the thinness and narrowness of the younger. Or, if it be unfair to compare Fletcher with an intellectual giant like Waterland, we may compare his 'Checks' with Bishop Tomline's 'Refutation of Calvinism.' Bishop Tomline is even more unfair to the Calvinists than Fletcher, but he shows far greater maturity both of style and thought. All the three writers took the same general view of the subject, though from widely different standpoints. But Tomline is as much superior to Fletcher as he is inferior to Waterland.
If Fletcher was pre-eminently the best writer in this controversy on the Arminian side, it is no less obvious that the palm must be awarded to Toplady on the Calvinist side. Before we say anything about Toplady's writings, let it be remembered that his pen does not do justice to his character. Toplady was personally a pious, worthy man, a diligent pastor, beloved by and successful among his parishioners, and by no means quarrelsome -- except upon paper. He lived a blameless life, principally in a small country village, and died at the early age of thirty-eight. It is only fair to notice these facts, because his controversial writings might convey a very different impression of the character of the man.
Toplady is described by his biographer as 'the legitimate successor of Hervey.' There are certain points of resemblance between the two men. Both were worthy parish priests, and the spheres of duty of both lay in remote country villages; both died at a comparatively early age; both were Calvinists; and both in the course of controversy came into collision with John Wesley. But here the resemblance ends. To describe Toplady as the legitimate successor of Hervey is to do injustice to both. For, on the one hand, Toplady (though his writings were never so popular) was a far abler and far more deeply read man than Hervey. There was also a vein of true poetry in him, which his predecessor did not possess. Hervey could never have written 'Rock of Ages.' On the other hand, the gentle Hervey was quite incapable of writing the violent abuse, the bitter personal scurrilities, which disgraced Toplady's pen. A sad lack of Christian charity is conspicuous in all writers (except Fletcher) in this ill-conducted controversy, but Toplady outherods Herod.
One word must be added. Although, considered as permanent contributions to theological literature, the writings on either side are worthless, yet the dispute was not without value in its immediate effects. It taught the later Evangelical school to guard more carefully their Calvinistic views against the perversions of Antinomianism. This we shall see when we pass on, as we may now do, to review that system which may be termed 'Evangelicalism' in distinction to the earlier Methodism.
(3) THE EVANGELICALS.
Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
It is with a real sense of relief that we pass out of the close air and distracting hubbub of an unprofitable controversy into a fresher and calmer atmosphere.
The Evangelical section of the English Church cannot, without considerable qualification, be regarded as the outcome of the earlier movement we have been hitherto considering. It is true that what we must perforce call by the awkward names of 'Evangelicalism' and 'Methodism' had many points in common -- that they were constantly identified by the common enemies of both -- that they were both parts of what we have termed in the widest sense of the term 'the Evangelical revival' -- that they, in fact, crossed and interlaced one another in so many ways that it is not always easy to disentangle the one from the other -- that there are several names which one is in doubt whether to place on one side of the line or the other. But still it would be a great mistake to confound the two parties. There was a different tone of mind in the typical representatives of each. They worked for the most part in different spheres, and, though their doctrines may have accorded in the main, there were many points, especially as regards Church order and regularity, in which there was no cordial sympathy between them.
The difficulty, however, of disentangling Evangelicalism from Methodism in the early phases of both confronts us at once when we begin to consider the cases of individuals.
Among the first in date of the Evangelicals proper we must place James Hervey (1714-1758), the once popular author of 'Meditations and Contemplations' and 'Theron and Aspasio.' But then Hervey was one of the original Methodists. He was an undergraduate of Lincoln College at the same time that John Wesley was Fellow, and soon came under the influence of that powerful mind; and he kept up an intimacy with the founder of Methodism long after he left college. Yet it is evidently more correct to class Hervey among the Evangelicals than among the Methodists; for in all the points of divergence between the two schools he sided with the former. He was a distinct Calvinist; he was always engaged in parochial work, and he not only took no part in itinerant work, but expressed his decided disapproval of those clergy who did so, venturing even to remonstrate with his former Mentor on his irregularities.
There are few incidents in Hervey's short and uneventful life which require notice. It was simply that of a good country parson. The disinterestedness and disregard for wealth, which honourably distinguished almost all the Methodist and Evangelical clergy, were conspicuous features in Hervey's character. His father held two livings near Northampton -- Western Favell and Collington; but, though the joint incomes only amounted to 180l. a year, and though the villages were both of small population and not far apart, Hervey for some time scrupled to be a pluralist; and it was only in order to provide for the wants of an aged mother and a sister that he at length consented to hold both livings. He solemnly devoted the whole produce of his literary labours to the service of humanity, and, though his works were remunerative beyond his most sanguine expectations, he punctually kept his vow. He is said to have given no less than 700l. in seven years in charity -- in most cases concealing his name. Nothing more need be said about his quiet, blameless, useful life.
It is as an author that James Hervey is best known to us. The popularity which his writings long enjoyed presents to us a curious phenomenon. Almost to this day old-fashioned libraries of divinity are not complete without the 'Meditations' and 'Theron and Aspasio,' though probably they are not often read in this age. But by Hervey's contemporaries his books were not only bought, but read and admired. They were translated into almost every modern language. The fact that such works were popular, not among the uneducated, but among those who called themselves people of culture, almost justifies John Wesley's caustic exclamation, 'How hard it is to be superficial enough for a polite audience!' Hervey's style can be described in no meaner terms than as the extra-superfine style. It is prose run mad. Let the reader judge for himself. Here is a specimen of his 'Meditations among the Tombs.' The tomb of an infant suggests the following reflections: 'The peaceful infant, staying only to wash away its native impurity in the layer of regeneration, bid a speedy adieu to time and terrestrial things. What did the little hasty sojourner find so forbidding and disgustful in our upper world to occasion its precipitate exit?' The tomb of a young lady calls forth the following morbid horrors: -- 'Instead of the sweet and winning aspect, that wore perpetually an attractive smile, grins horribly a naked, ghastly skull. The eye that outshone the diamond's brilliancy, and glanced its lovely lightning into the most guarded heart -- alas! where is it? Where shall we find the rolling sparkler? How are all its sprightly beams eclipsed!' The tongue, flesh, &c., are dwelt upon in the same fashion.
It is hard to believe that this was really considered fine writing by our ancestors, but the fact is indisputable. The 'Meditations' brought in a clear gain of 700l. Dr. Blair, himself a model of taste in his day, spoke in high terms of approbation of Hervey's writings. Boswell records with evident astonishment that Dr. Johnson 'thought slightingly of this admired book' (the 'Meditations'); 'he treated it with ridicule, and parodied it in a |Meditation on a Pudding.|' Most modern readers will be surprised that any sensible people could think otherwise than Dr. Johnson did of such a farrago of highflown sentiment clothed in the most turgid language.
It is a pity that Hervey could not learn to be less bombastic in his style and less vapid in his sentiments, for, after all, he had an eye for the sublime and beautiful both in the world around him and in the heavens above his head -- a faculty very rare in the age in which he lived, and especially in the school to which he belonged. Occasionally he condescends to be more simple and natural, and consequently more readable. Here and there one meets with a passage which almost reminds one of Addison, but such exceptions are rare.
Ten years after the publication of the first volume of the 'Meditations' (1745) Hervey published (1755) three volumes of 'Dialogues between Theron and Aspasio,' with a view to recommend to 'people of elegant manners and polite accomplishments' the Calvinistic theology, and more especially the doctrine of Christ's imputed righteousness stated Calvinistically. The style of these 'Dialogues' is not quite so absurd as that of the 'Meditations,' but still it is inflated enough. The disputants always converse in the highly genteel manner. But the book was suited to the public taste, and was almost as successful as its predecessor. 'I write for the poor,' wrote Whitefield to the author, 'you for the polite and noble.' The aim of the treatise is expressed in the work itself. 'Let us endeavour to make religious conversation, which is in all respects desirable, in some degree fashionable.'
Hervey seems to have felt that he was treading upon debatable ground when he wrote this work; and therefore, acting upon the principle that 'in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom,' he distributed different parts of his manuscript among his friends before publication, and adopted, on their advice, a variety of alterations. Among others he consulted John Wesley -- of all men in the world -- Wesley, who never used two words where one would suffice, and never chose a long word where he could find a short one to express his meaning -- Wesley, too, who disliked everything savouring of Calvinism, and who was not likely, therefore, to regard with a favourable eye a Calvinistic treatise written in a diffuse and turgid style. Hervey's biographer tells us that Wesley gave his opinion without tenderness or reserve -- condemned the language, reprobated the doctrines, and tried to invalidate the proofs. The writer owns that there was 'good sense in some of the remarks,' but thinks that 'their dogmatical language and dictatorial style entirely prevented their effect.' Toplady also censures the 'rancour with which Mr. Hervey and his works were treated by Wesley.' We may well believe that Wesley, one of whose infirmities it was to write rough letters, would not be particularly complimentary. But surely Hervey should have known his man better than to have placed him in such an awkward predicament. It should be remembered, too, that Wesley looked upon Hervey as his spiritual son, and therefore felt himself to some extent responsible for his theological views and literary performances. It should also be borne in mind that Hervey was an undergraduate at Lincoln College when Wesley was a don. All who know the relationship which exists or existed between dons and undergraduates will be aware that the former often feel themselves privileged to address their quondam pupils with a freedom which others would not venture to use.
Those who judge of Hervey by his works might be tempted to think that he was affected and unreal. In fact, he was quite the reverse. When writing for the polite world, his style was odiously florid; but his sermons for his simple parishioners were plain and natural both in style and substance. Personally he was a man of simple habits and genuine piety, a good son and brother, an excellent parish priest, and a patient sufferer under many physical infirmities. He had no exaggerated opinion of his own intellectual powers. 'My friend,' he said to Mr. Ryland, 'I have not a strong mind; I have not powers fitted for arduous researches; but I think I have a power of writing in somewhat of a striking manner, so far as to please mankind and recommend my dear Redeemer.' This was really the great object of his life, 'to recommend his dear Redeemer;' and if he effected this object by writing what may appear to us poor stuff, we need not quarrel with him, but may rather be thankful that he did not write in vain.
Grimshaw of Haworth (1708-1763) was another clergyman of the last century who formed a connecting link between the Methodists proper and the later Evangelical school. On the one hand, he was an intimate friend of the Wesleys and other leaders of the Methodist movement, both lay and clerical; he welcomed them at Haworth and lent them his pulpit; he took part in the work of itinerancy, and, in fact, threw himself heart and soul into the Methodist cause. On the other hand, he was, from the beginning to the end of his ministerial career, a parochial clergyman; he does not appear to have been indebted to Methodism for his first serious impressions, and he maintained his position as a moderate Calvinist, though he wisely kept quite clear of the controversy and never came into collision with his friend Wesley on this fruitful subject of dispute. The scenes of his energetic and successful labours were the moors about Haworth, the bleak physical desolation of which was only too true a picture of the moral and spiritual desolation of their population before this good man awakened them to spiritual life. The eccentricities of 'mad Grimshaw' have probably been exaggerated; for one knows how, when a man acquires a reputation of this sort, every ridiculous story which happens to be current is apt to be fathered upon him. No doubt he was eccentric; he possessed a quaint humour which was not unusual in the early Evangelical school; but he never allowed himself to be so far carried away by this spirit as to bring ridicule upon the cause which he had at heart.
If it were the object of these sketches to make people laugh, Grimshaw's life would furnish us with a fruitful subject of amusement. How he dressed himself up as an old woman in order to discover who were the disturbers of his cottage lectures; how he sold his Alderney cow because 'she would follow him up into the pulpit;' how a visitor at Haworth looked out of his bedroom window one morning and saw to his horror the vicar cleaning his guest's boots; how he is said (though this anecdote is rather apocryphal) once to have made his congregation sing all the 176 verses of the 119th Psalm, while he went out to beat up the wanderers to attend public worship; how he once interrupted a preacher who was congratulating the Haworth people on the advantages they enjoyed under a Gospel ministry, by crying out in a loud voice, 'No, no, sir, don't flatter them; they are most of them going to Hell with their eyes open;' these and many other such stories might be told at full length. But it is more profitable to dwell upon the noble, disinterested work which he did, quite unrecognised by the great men of his day, in a district which had sore need of such apostolical labours. His last words were, 'Here goes an unprofitable servant' -- words which are no doubt true in the mouths of the best of men; but if any man might have boasted that he had done profitable service in his Master's cause, that man would have been William Grimshaw.
There is a strong family likeness between Grimshaw and Berridge of Everton (1716-1793), but the marked features of the character were more conspicuous in the latter than in the former. Both were energetic country parsons, and both itinerated; but Berridge went over a wider field than Grimshaw. Both were oddities; but the oddities of Berridge were more outrageous than those of Grimshaw. Both were stirring preachers; but the effects of Berridge's preaching were more startling if not more satisfactory than those which attended Grimshaw. Both were Calvinists; but Berridge's Calvinism was of the more marked type of the two. Moreover, Berridge rushed into the very thick of the Calvinistic controversy, from which Grimshaw held aloof. Berridge was the better read and the more highly trained man of the two. He was a Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and before his conversion he was much sought after, and that by men of great eminence, as a wit and an amusing boon companion. The parish church of Everton was constantly the scene of those violent physical symptoms which present a somewhat puzzling phenomenon to the student of early Methodism. Berridge's eccentricities, both in the pulpit and out of it, caused pain to the more sober-minded of the Evangelical party. Thus we find John Thornton expostulating with him in the following terms: 'The tabernacle people are in general wild and enthusiastic, and delight in anything out of the common, which is a temper of mind, though in some respect necessary, yet should never be encouraged. If you and some few others, who have the greatest influence over them, would use the curb instead of the spur, I am persuaded the effects would be very blessed. You told me you was born with a fool's cap on. Pray, my dear sir, is it not high time it was pulled off?' Berridge, in his reply, admits the impeachment, but cannot resist giving Thornton a Roland for his Oliver. 'A fool's cap,' he writes, 'is not put off so readily as a night-cap. One cleaves to the head, and one to the heart. It has been a matter of surprise to me how Dr. Conyers could accept of Deptford living, and how Mr. Thornton could present him to it. Has not lucre led him to Deptford, and has not a family connection ruled your private judgment?'
Specimens of Berridge's odd style and occasionally bad taste have already been given in connection with Lady Huntingdon, and need not here be multiplied. It was no doubt questionable propriety to say that 'nature lost her legs in paradise, and has not found them since,' or that 'an angel might preach such doctrine as was commonly preached till his wings dropped off without doing any good,' or to tell us that 'he once went to Jesus as a coxcomb and gave himself fine airs.' But it is far more easy to laugh at and to criticise the foibles of the good man than to imitate his devotedness to his Masters service, and the moral courage which enabled him to exchange the dignified position and learned leisure of a University don for the harassing life and despised position of a Methodist preacher -- for so the Vicar of Everton would have been termed in his own day.
The Evangelical revival drew within the sphere of its influence men of the most opposite characters. It would be difficult to conceive a more complete contrast than that which William Romaine (1714-1795) presented to the two worthies last mentioned. Grave, severe, self-restrained, and, except to those who knew him intimately, somewhat repellent in manners. Romaine would have been quite unfitted for the work which Grimshaw and Berridge, in spite -- or, shall we say, in consequence? -- of their boisterous bonhomie and occasionally ill-timed jocularity were able to do. The farmers and working men of Haworth or Everton would assuredly have gone to sleep under his preaching, or stayed away from church altogether. One can scarcely fancy Romaine itinerating at all; but if he had done so, the bleak moors of Yorkshire or the cottage homes of Bedfordshire would not have been suitable spheres for his labours. But where he was, he was the right man in the right place. Among the grave and decorous citizens who attended the city churches, and among the educated congregations who flocked to hear him at St. George's, Hanover Square, Romaine was appreciated. Both in his character and in his writings Romaine approached more nearly than any of the so-called Puritans of his day to the typical Puritan of the seventeenth century. He was like one born out of due time. One can fancy him more at home with Flavel, Howe, and Baxter than with Whitefield, Berridge, and Grimshaw. Did we not know its date, we might have imagined that the 'Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith' was written a hundred years before it actually was. Its very style and language were archaic in the eighteenth century, Romaine, indeed, thoroughly won the sympathy of the generation in which he lived, or at any rate of the school to which he belonged. But it was a work of time. He was at Oxford at the time of the rise of Methodism, but appears to have held no communication with its promoters. In another respect he differed from almost all the Evangelicals. There was apparently no transition, either abrupt or gradual, in his views. The only change which we can trace in his career is the change in his outer life from the learned leisure of a six years' residence at Oxford and ten years in a country curacy to the more active sphere of duty of a London clergyman. The mere fact that a man of his high reputation for learning and his irreproachable life should have been left unbeneficed until he had reached the ripe age of fifty-two, is another proof of the suspicion with which Methodism was regarded; for no doubt he was early suspected of being tainted with Methodism. He belonged to Lady Huntingdon's Connexion until the 'secession' of 1781, when, like Venn and other parochial clergymen, he was compelled to withdraw from formal union, though he still retained the closest intimacy with her. He was for some time her senior chaplain, and her adviser and assistant on all occasions. Although he differed from John Wesley on the disputed points of Arminianism and sinless perfection more widely than any of his co-religionists, he appears to have retained the affection of that great man after others had lost it; for we find Wesley writing to Lady Huntingdon in 1763: 'Only Mr. Romaine has shown a truly sympathising spirit, and acted the part of a brother.' Indeed, although Romaine was quite ready to enter into the lists of controversy with Warburton and others whom he considered to be outside the Evangelical pale, he seems to have held aloof from the disputes which distracted those within that pale. 'Things are not here' [in London], he writes to Lady Huntingdon, 'as at Brighthelmstone; Foundry, Tabernacle, Lock, Meeting, yea and St. Dunstan's itself [his own church], has each its party, and brotherly love is almost lost in our disputes. Thank God, I am out of them.'
Romaine's Calvinism was of a more extreme type than that of most of the Evangelicals. He was no Antinomian himself, but one can well believe that his teaching might easily be perverted to Antinomian purposes. Wilberforce has an entry in his journal for 1795: -- 'Dined with old Newton, where met Henry Thornton and Macaulay. Newton very calm and pleasing. Owned that Romaine had made many Antinomians.' It seems not improbable that Thomas Scott, when he spoke of 'great names sanctioning Antinomianism,' had Romaine in view; at any rate, there is no contemporary 'great name' to whom the remark would apply with equal force. It should be added that the 'Life, &c., of Faith' possesses the strength as well as the defects of early Puritanism. It is, perhaps, on the whole, the strongest book, as its author was the strongest man of any who appeared among the Evangelicals. To find its equal we must go back to the previous century.
We have hitherto been tracing the work of the Evangelical clergy in remote country villages and in London. We have now to turn to one whose most important work was done in a different sphere from either. Henry Venn (1724-1797) is chiefly known as the Vicar of Huddersfield, though he only held that post for twelve out of the seventy-three years of his life. Like all the rest of the Evangelical clergy whom we have noticed, Venn was a connecting link between the Methodists and the Evangelicals proper. Like Romaine, he belonged to Lady Huntingdon's Connexion until the secession of 1781. He was also in the habit of itinerating during the early part of his Evangelical ministry. He was on the most intimate terms with the Wesleys and Whitefield, and thoroughly identified himself with their practical work. But his son tells us in his most interesting biography that his views changed on this matter. 'Induced,' he writes, 'by the hope of doing good, my father in certain instances preached in unconsecrated places. But having acknowledged this, it becomes my pleasing duty to state that he was no advocate for irregularity in others; that when he afterwards considered it in its different bearings and connections, he lamented that he had given way to it, and restrained several other persons from such acts by the most cogent arguments.' The dispute between Venn and John Wesley as to whether the Methodist preachers should be withdrawn from parishes where an Evangelical incumbent was appointed has been already noticed.
The career of Henry Venn is particularly interesting and important, because it shows us not only the points of contact between the Methodists and Evangelicals, but also their points of divergence. In spite of his itinerancy and his strong sympathy with the Methodist leaders, Venn furnishes a more marked type of the rising Evangelical school than any whom we have yet noticed. Apart from his literary work, it was as a parish priest rather than as an evangelist that Venn made his mark. His preaching at Huddersfield was unquestionably most effective; but its effect was at least as much due to the great respect which he inspired, the disinterestedness of his whole life and work, the affectionate earnestness and sound practical sense of his counsel -- in short, to his pastoral efforts -- as to his mere oratory. Again, the Calvinism of Henry Venn was distinctly that of the later Evangelical school rather than that of Whitefield and Romaine. He was a Calvinist of precisely the same type as Newton, and Scott, and Cecil, and the two Milners.
His closing years were very calm and happy. Worn out before his time in his Master's work, he was obliged to exchange at the early age of forty-seven the harass of a large town parish for the quiet of a country village. More than a quarter of a century he passed in the peaceful retirement of Yelling; but he was not idle. He faithfully attended to his little parish, he trained up his family with admirable judgment in the principles of piety, and had the satisfaction of living to see his sons walking in his steps. One of them, John, became the respected and useful rector of Clapham, to which place Henry Venn retired to die. There are few names which are more highly esteemed among the Evangelical party than the honoured name of Venn.
Henry Venn earned an honourable name as a writer no less than as a pastor and preacher. It is not necessary here to dwell upon the few sermons of his which are extant, and which probably give us a very inadequate idea of his preaching power; nor yet upon his correspondence, although it deserves a high place among those letters which form a conspicuous feature in the literature of the eighteenth century. But he wrote one work which requires further notice. The 'Complete Duty of Man' would, if nothing else did, prevent his name from sinking into oblivion. It deserves to live for its intrinsic merits. It is one of the few instances of a devotional book which is not unreadable. It is not, like some of the class, full of mawkish sentimentality; nor, like others, so high-flown that it cannot be used for practical purposes by ordinary mortals without a painful sense of unreality; nor, like others, so intolerably dull as to disgust the reader with the subject which it designs to recommend. It is written in a fine, manly, sensible strain of practical piety. Venn's Huddersfield experience no doubt stood him in good stead when he wrote this little treatise; the faithful pastor had been wont to give advice orally to many an anxious inquirer, and he put forth in print the counsel which he had found to be most effectual among his appreciative parishioners. It is this fact, that it is evidently the work of a man of practical experience, which constitutes the chief merit of the book. Regarded as a literary composition, it by no means attains a high rank, for its style is somewhat heavy and its arguments are not very deep. If we would appreciate its excellence we must take it simply as the counsel of a sincere and affectionate friend. Among the devotional books of the century it stands perhaps only second -- longo sed proximus intervallo -- to the great work which, more than any other, originated the Evangelical revival. This, after all, is not necessarily very high praise; for the devotional books of the eighteenth century do not reach a very high degree of excellence; with the single exception of the 'Serious Call,' not one of them can be compared with the best of the preceding century -- with Jeremy Taylor's 'Holy Living and Holy Dying,' for instance, or Baxter's 'Call to the Unconverted,' or his 'Saint's Everlasting Rest,' or Howe's 'Living Temple.'
But there is an historical interest in the 'Complete Duty of Man' quite apart from its intrinsic merits. It may be regarded generally as a sort of manifesto of the Evangelical party; and specially as a counterblast against the defective theology of what Whitefield called 'England's greatest favourite, |The Whole Duty of Man.|' The very title of Venn's work indicates its relationship to that once famous book. The 'Whole Duty of Man' was written anonymously in the days of the Commonwealth, when Calvinism had in too many cases degenerated into Antinomianism. It has been seen how Whitefield with characteristic rashness declared that its author knew no more of Christianity than Mahomet; and afterwards, with equally characteristic candour, owned that he had been far too severe in his condemnation. Cowper called it 'that repository of self-righteousness and pharisaical lumber.' Berridge equally condemned it. Much more testimony to the same effect might be given. There was, then, ample room for a treatise which should aim at the same purpose as the 'Whole Duty of Man,' but which should enforce its teaching on different principles. This want the 'Complete Duty' supplied, and in its day supplied well. It was written from a Calvinistic point of view; but its Calvinism differed widely from that, for instance, of Romaine. A comparison between it and the 'Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith' marks the decided difference between two types of Calvinists. Both books, it is presumed, were intended to be practical treatises; but, whereas the one treats but very little of directly practical duties, the full half -- and the best and most interesting half -- of the other is exclusively concerned with them. Having fully stated in his opening chapters the distinctive doctrines upon which alone he thinks sound morality can be based, Venn in the rest of his treatise enters with the utmost minuteness into the practical duties of the Christian to God and man. Truthfulness, honesty, meekness, courtesy, candour, the relative duties in various capacities -- of masters towards their servants and servants towards their masters, of parents towards their children and children towards their parents, and the like, are all fully dwelt upon.
For convenience' sake we have spoken of the later Evangelicalism as distinguished from the earlier Methodism. But it would be inaccurate to represent the one simply as the successor of the other. The two movements were, to a certain extent, contemporaneous, and were for a time so blended together that it is difficult to separate them. Besides the clergy already noticed, there were several others scattered throughout the country who clearly belonged to the Evangelicals rather than to the Methodists. Such a one was Walker of Truro (1714-1761), who, by his own personal work and by his influence over other clergy, contributed largely to the spread of the Evangelical revival in the West of England. Such a one was Adam of Winteringham, the author of a once very popular devotional book, entitled 'Private Thoughts,' and his friend and neighbour Archdeacon Bassett of Glentworth. Such a one was Augustus Toplady, about whom enough has been said in connection with the Calvinistic controversy. On the crucial test, which separated Methodism proper from Evangelicalism proper, these and several others of less note were decidedly on the, side of Evangelicalism. While agreeing thoroughly with Methodist doctrines (we may waive the vexed question of Calvinism), they thoroughly disapproved of the Methodist practice of itinerancy, which they regarded as a mark of insubordination, a breach of Church order, and an unwarrantable interference with the parochial system. We find Hervey, and Walker, and Adam all expostulating with Wesley on his irregularities, and endeavouring to persuade him, though quite ineffectually, to submit to Church discipline and listen to the commands of Church rulers. Wesley, on his part, thought that such clergy were a mere rope of sand. Berridge predicted that, after the death of the individuals, their congregations would be absorbed in the Dissenting sects. Neither seems to have contemplated the possibility of what actually took place, viz. the formation of a strong party within the Church, quite as much attached to parochial order and quite as obedient to the Church rulers as the highest of High Churchmen. It has been asserted, and apparently not without reason, that these early Evangelicals found more sympathy among the pious Dissenters than they did among the Methodists, though they were constantly confounded with the latter.
It was not, however, until the later years of the century that the scattered handful of clergy who held these views swelled into a large and compact body, which, to this day, has continued to form a great and influential section of the Church of England.
The first name which claims our attention in this connection is that of John Newton (1725-1807). No character connected with the Evangelical revival is presented to us with greater vividness and distinctness than his, and no character is on the whole a more lovable one. It has frequently been objected that Christians of the Puritan and Evangelical schools, when describing their conversion, have been apt to exaggerate their former depravity. There may be some force in the objection, but it does not apply to John Newton. The moral and even physical degradation from which he was rescued can hardly be exaggerated. An infidel, a blasphemer, a sensualist, a corrupter of others, despised by the very negroes among whom his lot was cast, such was Newton in his earlier years. Those who desire to learn the details of this part of his life may be referred to his own harrowing -- sometimes even repulsive -- narrative, or to the biography written by his accomplished friend, Mr. Cecil. None of the Evangelical leaders passed through such an ordeal as he did; but the experience which he underwent as a slave-trader, and as the menial servant of a slave-trader, stood him in good stead after he had become an exemplary and respected clergyman. It enabled him to enter into and sympathise with the rude temptations of others; he had felt them all himself; he had yielded to them, and by the grace of God he had overcome them. The grossest of profligates found in him one who had sunk to a lower depth than themselves; and so they dared to unburthen their very hearts to him; and few who did so went away without relief. They would hardly have ventured to make so clean a breast before men who, like the majority of the Evangelical leaders, had always lived at least outwardly respectable lives; and if they had ventured to do so, these good men could hardly have appreciated their difficulties. But Newton had been one of them; scarcely a sin could they mention but he had either committed it himself, or been brought into close contact with those who had committed it. It was not so much as a preacher that Newton's forte lay; for though his sermons were full of matter and read well, it is said that they were not well delivered; and, perhaps, they are in themselves a little heavy, and deficient in the lighter graces of oratory. But as an adviser and personal director of those who had been heinous sinners, and had learnt to cry in the agony of their souls, 'What must I do to be saved?' Newton was unrivalled. Nor was it only to the profligate that Newton's advice was seasonable and effective. Many who were living outwardly decorous lives derived inestimable benefit from it. Thomas Scott, Joseph Milner, William Cowper, William Wilberforce, and Hannah More were all more or less influenced by him. Newton was in every way adapted to be a spiritual adviser. In spite of his rough exterior he was a man of a very affectionate nature. This at his worst he never lost. In his darkest hours there was still one bright spot. His love for Mary Catlett, first conceived when she was a child of thirteen, continued unabated to the day of her death and beyond her death. This plain, downright, homely man not only professed, but felt, an ardour of attachment which no hero of romance ever exceeded. His conscience reproached him for making an idol of his 'dear Mary.' Oddly enough, he took the public into his confidence. The publication of his 'Letters to a Wife,' breathing as they do the very spirit of devoted love, in his own life-time, may have been in questionable taste; but they indicate a simplicity very characteristic of the man. His letters upon her death to Hannah More and others are singularly plaintive and beautiful; and the verses which he wrote year by year on each anniversary of that sad event are more touching than better poetry.
His name is specially connected with that of the poet Cowper. At first sight it would seem difficult to conceive a greater contrast than that which existed between the two men. Cowper was a highly nervous, shy, delicate man, who was most at home in the company of ladies in their drawing-room, who had had no experience whatever of external hardships, who had always lived a simple, retired life, and had shrunk with instinctive horror from the grosser vices. He was from his youth a refined and cultured scholar, and had associated with scarcely any but the pure and gentle. Newton was a plain, downright sailor, with nerves of iron, and a mind and spirit as robust as his frame. He had little inclination for the minor elegancies of life. He was almost entirely self-taught. What could there be in common between two such men?
In point of fact, these differences were all merely superficial. Penetrate a little deeper, and it will be found that in reality they were thoroughly kindred spirits. On the one side, Cowper's apparent effeminacy was all on the surface; his mind, when it was not unstrung, was of an essentially masculine and vigorous type. All his writings, including his delightful letters as well as his poetry, are remarkably free from mawkishness and mere sentimentality. On the other side, Newton's roughness was merely superficial. Within that hard exterior there beat a heart as tender and delicate as that of any child. It is the greatest mistake in the world to confound this genial, sociable man, full of quiet, racy humour, smoking that memorable pipe of his, which was the occasion of so much harmless fun between him and Cowper and the worthy sisters More -- with the hard surly Puritan of the Balfour of Burley type. Newton had a point of contact with every side of Cowper's character. He had at least as strong a sympathy with the author of 'John Gilpin' as with the author of 'The Task.' For one of the most marked features of John Newton's intellectual character was his strong sense of humour. Many of his 'ana' rival those of Dr. Johnson himself; and now and then, even in his sermons, glimpses of his humorous tendency peep forth. But his wit never degenerated into buffoonery, and was never unseasonable like that of Berridge and Grimshaw. Again, he could fully appreciate Cowper's taste for classical literature; considering how utterly Newton's education had been neglected, it is perfectly marvellous how he managed, under the most unfavourable circumstances, to acquire no contemptible knowledge of the great classical authors. Add to all this that Newton's native kindness of heart made him feel very deeply for the misfortune of his friend, and it will be no longer a matter of wonder that there should have been so close a friendship between the two men. It is readily granted that there was a certain amount of awe mingled with the love which Cowper bore to Newton, but Newton was the very last man in the world to abuse the gentle poet's confidence.
The part which William Cowper (1731-1800) took in the Evangelical movement is too important to pass unnoticed. The shy recluse of Olney and Weston Underwood contributed in his way more towards the spread of the Evangelical revival than even Whitefield did with all his burning eloquence, or Wesley with all his indomitable activity. For those who despised Whitefield and Wesley as mere vulgar fanatics, those who would never have read a word of what Newton or Romaine wrote, those who were too much prejudiced to be affected by the preaching of any of the Evangelical clergy, could not refrain from reading the works of one who was without question the first poet of his day. This is not the place to criticise Cowper's poetry; but it may be remarked that that poetry exercised an influence greater than that which its intrinsic merits -- great though these were -- could have commanded, owing to the fact that Cowper was the first who gave expression to the reaction which had set in against the artificial school of Pope. Men were becoming weary of the smooth rhymes, the brilliant antitheses, the flash and the glitter, the constant straining after effect, carrying with it a certain air of unreality, which had long been in vogue. They welcomed with delight a poet who wrote in a more easy and natural, if a rougher and less correct, style. Cowper was, in fact, the father of a new school of poetry -- a school of which Southey, and Coleridge, and Wordsworth were in the next generation distinguished representatives. But almost all that Cowper wrote (at least of original composition) was subservient to one great end. He was essentially a Christian poet, and in a different sense from that in which Milton, and George Herbert, and Young were Christian poets. As Socrates brought philosophy, so Cowper brought religious poetry down from the clouds to dwell among men. Not only does a vein of piety run through all his poetry, but the attentive reader cannot fail to perceive that his main object in writing was to recommend practical, experimental religion of the Evangelical type. He himself gives us the keynote to all his writings in a beautiful passage, in which he describes the want which he strove to supply.
Pity, religion has so seldom found
A skilful guide into poetic ground!
The flowers would spring where'er she deigned to stray, And every muse attend her in her way.
Virtue, indeed, meets many a rhyming friend,
And many a compliment politely penned;
But unattired in that becoming vest
Religion weaves for her, and half undressed.
Stands in the desert, shivering and forlorn,
A wintry figure, like a withered thorn.
But while he never loses sight of his grand object, Cowper's poems are not mere sermons in verse. He not only passes without an effort 'from grave to gay, from lively to severe,' but he blends them together with most happy effect. Gifted with a rare sense of humour, with exquisite taste, and with a true appreciation of the beautiful both in nature and art, he enlists all these in the service of religion. While the reader is amused with his wit and charmed with his descriptions, he is instructed, proselytised, won over to Evangelicalism almost without knowing it. 'My sole drift,' wrote Cowper in 1781, a little before the publication of his first volume, 'is to be useful; a point at which, however, I know I should in vain aim, unless I could be likewise entertaining. I have, therefore, fixed these two strings to my bow; and by the help of both have done my best to send my arrow to the mark. My readers will hardly have begun to laugh before they will be called upon to correct that levity and peruse me with a more serious air. I cast a sidelong glance at the good-liking of the world at large, more for the sake of their advantage and instruction than their praise. They are children; if we give them physic we must sweeten the rim of the cup with honey,' &c. To this principle he faithfully adhered in all his original poems. He felt the difficulty of the task which he had proposed to himself. He knew that he would have to break through a thick, hard crust of prejudice before he could reach his readers' hearts. He saw the necessity of peculiar delicacy of treatment, lest he should repel those whom he desired to attract. And nothing marks more strongly the high estimate which Cowper formed of Newton's tact and good judgment than the fact that the poet asked his friend to write the preface to his first volume. When he made this request he was fully aware that any injudiciousness, any want of tact, would be fatal to his object. But he applied to Newton expressly because he thought him the only friend who would not betray him by any such mistakes.
It is from the nature of the case difficult to estimate the services which Cowper's poetry rendered to the cause which lay nearest to the poet's heart. Poems do not make converts in the sense that sermons do; nevertheless, it is doing no injustice to the preaching power of the Evangelical school to assert that Cowper's poetry left a deeper mark upon the Church than any sermons did. Through this means Evangelical theology in its most attractive form gained access into quarters into which no Evangelical preachers could ever have penetrated. The bitterest enemy of Evangelicalism who read Cowper's poems could not deny that here was at least one man, a scholar and a gentleman, with a refined and cultured mind and a brilliant wit, who was not only favourably disposed to the obnoxious doctrines, but held them to be the very life and soul of Christianity. Of course, to those who wished to find it, there was the ready answer that the man was a madman. But the mind which produced 'The Task' was certainly not unsound, at least at the time when it conceived and executed that fine poem. Every reader of discernment, though he might not agree with the religious views expressed in it, was obliged to confess that the author's powers were of the first order; and if William Cowper did no other service to the Evangelical cause, this alone was an inestimable one -- that he convinced the world that the Evangelical system was not incompatible with true genius, ripe scholarship, sparkling wit, and a refined and cultivated taste.
* * * * *
If pilgrimages formed part of the Evangelical course, the little town or large village of Olney should have attracted as many pilgrims as S. Thomas's shrine at Canterbury did five centuries before. For with this dull, uninteresting spot are connected the names not only of Newton, and Cowper, and Mrs. Unwin, but also those of two successive vicars, Mr. Moses Brown and Mr. Bean, both worthy specimens of Evangelicals, and last, but by no means least, the name of Scott, the commentator.
Thomas Scott (1746/7-1821) was the spiritual son of Newton, and succeeded him in the curacy of Olney. There was a curious family likeness between the two men. Both were somewhat rough diamonds. The metal in both cases was thoroughly genuine; but perhaps Newton took polish a little more easily than Scott. Both were self-taught men, and compensated for the lack of early education by extraordinary application. Although Scott did not pass through so terrible an ordeal as Newton, still he had a sufficiently large experience, both of the moral evils and outward hardships of life, to give him a very wide sympathy. Both were distinguished for a plain, downright, manly independence, both of thought and life; both were thoroughly unselfish and disinterested; both held a guarded Calvinism without the slightest tincture of Antinomianism; both lived, after their conversion, singularly pure and blameless lives; both struggled gallantly against the pressure of poverty, though Scott was the more severely tried of the two. As a writer, perhaps Scott was the more powerful; Newton wrote nothing equal to the 'Commentary' or the 'Force of Truth;' on the other hand, there was a tenderness, a geniality, and, above all, a very strong sense of humour in Newton which were wanting in Scott. Scott had not the popular qualities of Newton, a deficiency of which he was himself fully conscious; but he was a noble specimen of a Christian, and deserved a much wider recognition than he ever received in this world. The 'Force of Truth' is one of the most striking treatises ever published by the Evangelical school, though we cannot go quite so far as to say, with Bishop Wilson, of Calcutta, that it is equal to the 'Confessions of Augustine.' It is simply a frank and artless but very forcible account of the various stages in the writer's mental and spiritual career, through which he was led to the adoption of that moderate Calvinism in which he found a permanent home. The treatise is specially interesting because it contains the history of a spiritual progress through which, in all probability, many (mutatis mutandis) passed in the eighteenth century. During the earlier years of his ministerial career Scott wavered between Socinianism and Arianism, and he showed the same conscientious disinterestedness which distinguished him through life, by sacrificing his chance of preferment, at a time when his circumstances sorely needed it, because he could not with a clear conscience sign those articles which plainly declared the doctrine of the Trinity. Slowly and laboriously, and without help from any living man, except perhaps Newton, whose share in the matter will be noticed presently, Scott worked his way from point to point until he was finally established in the Evangelical faith. Burnet's 'Pastoral Care,' Hooker's 'Discourse on Justification,' Beveridge's 'Sermons,' Law's 'Serious Call' (of course), Venn's 'Essay on the Prophecy of Zacharias,' Hervey's 'Theron and Aspasio,' and De Witsius' 'Two Covenants,' contributed each its share towards the formation of his opinions. He describes with the utmost candour his obstinacy, his prejudices, and his self-sufficiency. Even while he was adopting one by one the obnoxious doctrines, he made amends by sneering at and publicly abusing the Methodists for holding those remaining doctrines which he still denied, till at last he became in all points a consistent Calvinistic Methodist (so called). The 'Force of Truth' enables us to estimate at their proper value the judiciousness, forbearance, and gentleness of Newton. Scott tells us that he had heard of Newton as a benevolent, disinterested, inoffensive person, and a laborious minister.' 'But,' he adds, 'I looked upon his religious sentiments as rank fanaticism, and entertained a very contemptible opinion of his abilities, natural and acquired.' He heard him preach, and 'made a jest of his sermon;' he read one of his publications, and thought the greater part of it whimsical, paradoxical, and unintelligible. He entered into correspondence with him, hoping to draw him into controversy. 'The event,' he says, 'by no means answered my expectations. He returned a very friendly and long answer to my letter, in which he carefully avoided the mention of those doctrines which he knew would offend me. He declared that he believed me to be one who feared God and was under the teaching of his Holy Spirit; that he gladly accepted my offer of friendship, and was no way inclined to dictate to me.' In this spirit the correspondence continued. 'I held my purpose,' writes Scott, 'and he his. I made use of every endeavour to draw him into controversy, and filled my letters with definitions, enquiries, arguments, objections, and consequences, requiring explicit answers. He, on the other hand, shunned everything controversial as much as possible, and filled his letters with the most useful and least offensive instructions.' The letters to 'the Rev. T.S.' in Newton's correspondence fully bear out all that Scott here relates; and one scarcely knows which to admire most, the truly Christian forbearance of the older man, or the truly Christian avowal of his faults by the younger. The whole of Newton's subsequent intercourse with his spiritual son and successor at Olney indicates the same Christian and considerate spirit. Newton had, on the whole, been very popular at Olney. Scott was unpopular. There are few more delicate relationships than that of a popular clergyman to his unpopular successor, especially when the former still keeps up an intimate connection with his quondam parishioners. Such was the relationship between Newton and Scott; and Newton showed rare tact and true Christian courtesy under the delicate circumstances. Cowper was, perhaps, not likely to welcome very warmly any successor to his beloved Newton. At any rate, he appears never to have cordially appreciated Scott. Scott complains, not without reason, of the poet charging him with scolding the people at Olney, when neither he nor Mrs. Unwin, nor their more respectable friends, had ever heard him preach. Still the coldness between the poet and the new curate could hardly have been so great as Southey represents it, for Scott tells us that 'The Force of Truth' was revised by Mr. Cowper, and as to style and externals considerably improved by his advice.
Though Scott was unpopular at Olney, it must not be supposed that the fault was altogether his. Possibly he may not have had the elements in his character which, under any circumstances, could have made him popular. Indeed, he frankly owns that he had not. 'Some things,' he writes, 'requisite for popularity I would not have if I could, and others I could not have if I would.' But at Olney his unpopularity redounded to his credit. No man could have done his duty there without being unpopular. The evils against which Scott had to contend were of a more subtle and complicated kind than simple irreligion and immorality. Spiritual pride, and the combination of a high profession with a low practice, were the dominant sins of the place.
Scott's warfare against the perversions of Calvinism forms a conspicuous feature in his ministerial career. On his removal to the chaplaincy of the Lock Hospital in London, he met with the same troubles as at Olney, on a larger scale, and in an aggravated form. 'Everything,' he writes, 'conduced to render me more and more unpopular, not only at the Lock, but in every part of London ... but my most distinguishing reprehensions of those who perverted the doctrines of the Gospel to Antinomian purposes, and my most awful warnings, were the language of compassionate love, and were accompanied by many tears and prayers.' His printed sermons show us how strongly he felt the necessity of making a bold stand against the pernicious principles of some of the 'professors' who attended his ministry. It required far greater moral courage to wage such a warfare as this than to fight against open sin and avowed infidelity. And when it is also remembered that Scott was a needy man, and that his bread depended upon his keeping on good terms with his congregation, and, moreover, that he had to fight the battle alone, for he was too much identified with the 'Methodists' to receive any help from the 'Orthodox,' his difficult position will be understood. But the brave man cared little for obloquy or desertion, or even the prospect of absolute starvation, when the cause of practical religion was at stake. There is very little doubt that it was. Many who called themselves Calvinists were making the doctrines of grace a cloak for the vilest hypocrisy; and the noble stand which Scott made against these deadly errors gives him a better claim to the title of 'Confessor' than many to whom the name has been given.
In spite of opposition, the good man worked on, with very small remuneration. His professional income (and he had little or nothing else) hardly exceeded 100l. a year. For this miserable stipend he officiated four times every Sunday in two churches, between which he had to walk fourteen miles, and ministered daily to a most disheartening class of patients in a hospital. To eke out his narrow income he undertook to write annotations on the Scriptures, which were to come out weekly, and to be completed in a hundred numbers. The payment stipulated was the magnificent sum of a guinea a number! This was the origin of the famous Commentary. There is no need to make many remarks on this well-known work. As a practical and devotional commentary it did not perhaps attain to the permanent popularity of Matthew Henry's commentary, and in point of erudition and acuteness it is not equal to that of Adam Clarke. But it holds an important place of its own in the Evangelical literature of its class, and its usefulness extended beyond the limits of the Evangelical school. Its immediate success was enormous, perhaps almost unparalleled in literary history, or at least in the history of works of similar magnitude; 12,000 copies of the English edition and 25,250 of the American, were produced in the lifetime of the author. The retail price of the English copies amounted to 67,600l. and of the American 132,300l. One would have been glad to learn that the author himself was placed in easy circumstances by the sale of his work. But this was not the case; on the contrary, it involved him for some time in very serious embarrassments. Scott died, as he lived, a poor man. But one is thankful to know that his old age was passed in comparative peace. His change from London to Aston Sandford, if it was not a remunerative, was at least a refreshing change. In the pure air of his country living he was liberated from the unsatisfactory wranglings, the bitter jealousies, and vexatious interference of his London patrons, whose self-sufficiency and spiritual pride were, like those of many amateur theologians at the present day, in inverse ratio to their knowledge and ability. He had the satisfaction of seeing a son grow up to be worthy of his father. To that son we are indebted for the very interesting biography of Thomas Scott, a biography in which filial piety has not tempted the writer to lose sight of good sense and honesty, and which is therefore not a mere panegyric, but a true and vivid account of its subject.
From Newton and Scott we naturally turn to one who was the friend of both and the biographer of the former.
Richard Cecil (1748-1810) differed widely in point of natural character from his two friends. He was perhaps the most cultured and refined of all the Evangelical leaders. Nature had endowed him with an elegant mind, and he improved his natural gifts by steady application. He was not trained in the school of outward adversity as Newton and Scott had been; but he had trials of his own, mostly of an intellectual character, which were sharp enough. His delicate health prevented him from taking so busy a part as his friends did in the Evangelical movement. But in a different way he contributed in no slight degree to its success. There was a stately dignity, both in his character and in his style of writing, which was very impressive. His 'Remains' show traces of a scholarly habit of mind, a sense of humour, a grasp of leading principles, a liberality of thought, and capacity of appreciating good wherever it might be found, which render it, short though it is, a valuable contribution to Evangelical literature.
There are yet two names among the clerical leaders of the. Evangelical party in the last century which were at least as influential as any which have been mentioned. The two brothers, Joseph and Isaac Milner, were both in their different ways very notable men.
Joseph Milner, the elder brother (1744-1797), lived a singularly uneventful life. After having taken a good degree at Cambridge, he was appointed, at a very early age, headmaster of the grammar school at Hull, in which town he spent the remainder of his comparatively short life. He was in course of time made Vicar of North Ferriby, a village near Hull; and, first, lecturer, and then, only a few weeks before his death, Vicar, of Holy Trinity, the parish church of Hull. Both his scholastic and ministerial careers were successful and useful, but do not call for any particular notice. His Calvinistic views rendered him for a time unpopular, but he outlived his unpopularity, and died, at the age of fifty-three, generally respected, as he deserved to be.
But it is as a writer that Joseph Milner claims our chief regard. His 'Church History' may contend with Scott's 'Commentary,' for the first place among the Evangelical literature of the last century. The plan of this important work was a happy and an original one -- original, that is, so far as execution was concerned; for the first idea was not original -- it was suggested by a fragment written by Newton at Olney. Having observed with regret that most Church histories dwelt mainly, if not exclusively, upon the disputes of Christians, upon the various heresies and schisms which in all ages have distracted the Christian Church, Milner felt that they were calculated to impress their readers with a very unfavourable view of the Christian religion, as if the chief result of that religion had been to set men at variance with one another. Mosheim, the fullest historian of the Church in that day, seemed to Milner a notable offender in this respect. Milner therefore purposed to write a 'History of the Church of Christ,' the main object of which should be to set forth the blessed effects which Christianity had produced in all, even the darkest ages, and which should touch but slightly and incidentally, and only so far as the subject absolutely required it, upon the heresies and disputes which formed the staple of most Church histories. His history, in fact, was to be a history of real not nominal Christians. He thought that too much had been said about ecclesiastical wickedness, and that Deists and Sceptics had taken advantage of this against Christians. Such a work was a 'desideratum,' and had the execution been equal to the conception, it would have been simply invaluable. If genuine piety, thorough honesty, a real desire to recognise good wherever it could be found, and a vast amount of information, in the amassing of which he was aided by a wonderfully tenacious memory and great industry, were sufficient to ensure success, Milner certainly possessed all these qualifications in an eminent degree. But in others, which are equally essential, he was deficient. In the first place, his work laboured under the fatal defect of dulness. Of all writers, perhaps the ecclesiastical historian has most need of a lively, racy style, of the art of selecting really prominent facts and representing them with vividness and picturesqueness. The nature of his subject is drier than that of the civil historian. He must write much which to the majority of readers will be heavy reading, unless they are carried along by the grace and attractiveness of the composition. Milner has not the art of setting off his characters in the most effective manner. There is a want of spring and dash about his style which has prevented many from doing justice to his real merits.
Then again, he was rather too much of a partisan, to make a good historian. With every wish to give honour where honour was due, his mind was not evenly balanced enough for his task. Holding, as Milner did, the very strongest and most uncompromising views of the utter depravity of mankind, he can allow no good at all to what are termed 'mere moral virtues.' Indeed, he will hardly allow such virtues to be 'splendid sins.' He is far too honest to suppress facts, but his comments upon facts are often tinged with a quite unconscious unfairness. Thus, he admits the estimable qualities which Antoninus Pius possessed, but 'doubtless,' he adds, 'a more distinct and explicit detail of his life would lessen our admiration: something of the supercilious pride of the Grecian or of the ridiculous vain-glory of the Roman might appear.'
A kindred but graver defect is Milner's incessant depreciation of all schools of philosophy. Instead of seeing in these great thinkers of antiquity a yearning after that light which Christianity gives, he can see in them nothing but the deadliest enmity to Christianity. 'The Church of Christ is abhorrent in its plan and spirit from the systems of proud philosophers.' 'Moral philosophy and metaphysics have ever been dangerous to religion. They have been found to militate against the vital truths of Christianity and corrupt the gospel in our times, as much as the cultivation of the more ancient philosophy corrupted it in early ages.' The minister of Christ is warned against 'deep researches into philosophy of any kind,' and much more to the same effect. It was this foolish manner of talking and writing which gave the impression that the religion which the Evangelicals recommended was a religion only fitted for persons of weak minds and imperfect education. Such sweeping and indiscriminate censures of 'human learning' (at least of one important branch of it) not only encouraged contemptuous opinions of Evangelicalism among its enemies, but also tended to make many of its friends think too lightly of those gifts which, after all, come as truly from 'the Father of lights' as these which are more strictly termed spiritual. It was a very convenient doctrine for those who could certainly never have attained to any degree of intellectual eminence, to think that they were quite on a level with those who could and did: nay, that they had the advantage on their side because intellectual eminence was a snare rather than a help to Christianity. It is all the more provoking to find such passages as those which have been quoted from Milner in Evangelical writings (and they are not uncommon) because the Evangelical leaders themselves were very far indeed from being deficient either in abilities or attainments. Perhaps none of them can be classed among the first order of divines; but those who assert that the Wesleys, Romaine, Newton, Scott, Cecil, and the Milners were fools and ignoramuses, only show their own folly and ignorance.
Another defect of Milner as a historian is, that he is rather too anxious 'to improve the occasion.' Whatever century he is treating of, he always seems to have one eye steadily fixed upon the latter part of the eighteenth century. He takes every possible and impossible opportunity of dealing a sideblow to the Arminians and Schismatics of his own day: for Milner, though he was called a Methodist, was a most uncompromising stickler for every point of Church order.
His Calvinism led him to give undue prominence to those Christians of the past who held the same views. Thus, for instance, although the great Bishop of Hippo richly deserves all the honour which a Church historian can bestow upon him, yet surely he was not so immeasurably superior to the other Fathers, that he should have 145 pages devoted to him, while Chrysostom has only sixteen and Jerome only eleven. But 'the peculiar work for which Augustine was evidently raised up by Providence, was to restore the doctrines of divine grace to the Church.'
Having frankly owned these defects, we may now turn to the more pleasing task of recognising Milner's real merits.
Strong Protestant as Milner was, he showed a generous appreciation of the real good which existed in the Church of Rome: a most unusual liberality in theologians of the eighteenth century -- High Church as well as Low. He warned his readers most seasonably, that they 'should not be prejudiced against the real Church, because she then [in the time of Gregory I.] wore a Roman garb,' for 'superstition to a certain degree may co-exist with the spirit of the Gospel.' And he certainly acted up to the spirit of his warning. Of course, his chief heroes are those who were more or less adverse to the claims of the Roman See, such as Grossteste, Bradwardine, Wickliff, and Jerome of Prague. But he can fully appreciate the merits of an Anselm, for instance, whose 'humble and penitent spirit consoles the soul with a glance of Christian faith in Christ;' of Bernard, of whom he writes, 'There is not an essential doctrine of the Gospel which he did not embrace with zeal, defend by argument, and adorn by his life;' of Bede, who 'alone knew more of true religion, both doctrinal and practical, than numbers of ecclesiastics put together at this day.' And he owns that 'our ancestors were undoubtedly much indebted, under God, to the Roman See.'
The excellence of his plan, to which he faithfully adheres, might atone for more faults than Milner is guilty of. We may well bear with a few shortcomings in a Church history which, instead of perplexing the mind with the interminable disputes of professing Christians, makes it its main business to detect the spirit of Christ wherever it can be found. It is a real refreshment, no less than a real strengthening of our faith, to turn from Church histories which might be more correctly termed histories of the abuses and perversions of Christianity, to one which really is what it professes to be -- a history of the good which Christianity has done.
Joseph Milner died when his history had only reached the middle of the thirteenth century; but his pen was taken up by a hand which was, at least, equally competent to wield it. The fourth volume of the history, carrying the work down to about the middle of the sixteenth century, was compiled by his younger brother Isaac, of whom we may now say a few words.
Isaac Milner (1751-1820) was the one solitary instance of an avowed and uncompromising adherent of the Evangelical school, in the last century, attaining any high preferment in the Church. Indeed, his claims could not have been ignored without glaring injustice. He was the Senior Wrangler of his year, and First Smith's Prizeman, and the epithet 'incomparabilis' was attached to his name in the Mathematical Tripos. He continued to reside at the University after he had taken his degree, and was appointed Professor of Mathematics, President of his college (Queen's), and finally, Dean of Carlisle. Isaac Milner's services to the Evangelical cause were invaluable. Holding a prominent position at Cambridge, he was able to establish a sort of School of the Prophets, where Evangelical ministers in embryo were trained in the system of their party. But, besides this, he helped the cause he had at heart by becoming a sort of general adviser and referee in cases of difficulty. For such an office he was admirably adapted. His reputation for erudition, and his high standing at Cambridge, commanded respect; and his sound, shrewd sense, his thorough straightforwardness and hatred of all cant and unreality, his genial manner and his decidedness, made his advice very effective. He acquired a reputation for conversational powers not much inferior in his own circle to that of Dr. Johnson in his; and this, no doubt, added to his influence.
There was only one man at Cambridge whose services to Evangelicalism at all equalled those of Isaac Milner. It need scarcely be said that that man was Charles Simeon, the voluntary performer of that work for which, of all others, our universities ought most carefully to provide, but which, at least during the eighteenth century, they most neglected -- the training of our future clergymen. As Simeon's work, however, is more connected with the nineteenth than with the eighteenth century, it need not further be referred to.
It is difficult to know where to draw the line, in noticing the clerical leaders of the Evangelical party. If all the worthy men who helped on the cause were here commemorated, this chapter would swell into outrageous dimensions. Dr. Conyers of Helmsley, and subsequently of Deptford, the friend and brother-in-law of J. Thornton; Mr. Richardson of York, the intimate friend of Joseph Milner and the editor of his sermons; Mr. Stillingfleet of Hotham, another friend of Milner's; Mr. Jowett, a voluminous and once much admired writer, would claim at least a passing notice. But there is one more Evangelical clergyman whose work must not be ignored.
Thomas Robinson of Leicester (1749-1813) was the friend of all the Evangelical leaders of his day. Having taken his degree with credit at Cambridge -- he was said to be the best general scholar of his time -- he served for a short while the curacy of Witcham, a village near Cambridge. Here he raised, by his reputed Methodism, a sensation which extended to the whole neighbourhood, and even to the University itself. 'His tutor and friend, Mr. Postlethwaite, hearing that he was bent on turning Methodist, from the kindest motives took him seriously to task, exhorting him to beware, to consider what mischief the Methodists were doing, and at what a vast rate they were increasing. |Sir,| said Robinson, |what do you mean by a Methodist? Explain, and I will ingenuously tell you whether I am one or not.| This caused a puzzle and a pause. At last Mr. Postlethwaite said, |Come then, I'll tell you. I hear that in the pulpit you impress on the minds of your hearers, that they are to attend to your doctrines from the consideration that you will have to give an account of them, and of your treatment of them, at the Day of Judgment.| |I am surprised,| rejoined Robinson, |to hear this objected. It is true.| Robinson got no further explanation from the tutor, but that the increase of Methodism was an alarming thing.' From Witcham, Robinson was removed to Leicester, where he spent the remainder of his life, and where he passed through very much the same sort of experience which attended most of the Evangelical clergy of the period: that is, his 'Methodistical' views raised great opposition at the outset; but he lived it down, became a very popular preacher, and took a leading part in every scheme for the amelioration of the temporal and spiritual condition of Leicester. Mr. Robinson was also well known as an author. His 'Christian System' and 'Scripture Characters' were once much read and much admired books, especially the former, which is still found in most libraries of divinity collected in the early part of the present century.
It was said above that Dean Milner was the solitary instance of an Evangelical clergyman of the last century, who gained any high preferment. Some may think that Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, also formed an exception to the rule. But, strictly speaking, Bishop Porteus can scarcely be said to have identified himself with the Evangelical school. It is true that he did not share the prejudices which many of his brother prelates conceived against the Evangelical clergy, but, on the contrary, was on terms of the closest intimacy with many of them, and always used the commanding influence which his position gave him in their favour. He threw himself heartily into all their philanthropical schemes -- the promotion of Sunday-schools, the agitation for the abolition of negro slavery, and the newly reawakened zeal for foreign missions. But he never so far committed himself as to incur the reproach of Methodism; he did not bear the brunt of the battle as the Evangelicals did, and therefore can hardly be reckoned among their number.
Hitherto, our attention has been turned mainly to the clergy who took part in the Evangelical movement. But this sketch would be very imperfect if it failed to notice the eminent laymen who helped the cause. The two Thorntons, father and son, William Wilberforce, Lord Dartmouth, Lord Teignmouth and others, who regularly or occasionally attended the ministry of John Venn, the worthy Rector of Clapham, were called in derision, 'the Clapham sect.' The phrase implies a sort of reproach which was not deserved. These good men had no desire to form a sect. They were all, in their way, loyal sons of the Church of England, content with her liturgy, attached to her doctrines, and ready to conform to her order. Perhaps, like most laymen who take up strong views on theological subjects, they were inclined to be a little narrow. None of them had, or professed to have, the slightest pretensions to be called theologians. Still, they learned and practised thoroughly the true lessons of Christianity, and shed a lustre upon the Evangelical cause by the purity, disinterestedness, and beneficence of their lives.
Of the two Thorntons little need be said, except that they were wealthy merchants who in very truth looked upon their riches not as their own, but as talents entrusted to them for their Master's use. The princely liberality of these two good men was literally unbounded. It has been seen that the Evangelical clergy were almost to a man debarred from the emoluments of their profession, and lived in very straitened circumstances. The extent to which their lack was supplied by John and Henry Thornton is almost incredible. John Thornton regularly allowed Newton, during the sixteen years the latter was at Olney, 200l. a year for charitable purposes, and urged him to draw upon him for more when necessary. Henry Thornton, the son, is said to have divided his income into two parts, retaining only one-seventh for his own use, and devoting six-sevenths to charity; after he became the head of a family, he gave two-thirds away and retained one-third for himself and his family. It appeared after his death, from his accounts, that the amount he spent in the relief of distress in one of his earlier years considerably exceeded 9,000l.
The character and career of William Wilberforce (1759-1831) are too well known to need description; it will be sufficient here to touch upon those points in which the great philanthropist was directly concerned in the Evangelical revival. Only it should be distinctly borne in mind that the main work of his life cannot be separated from his Evangelical principles. His earnest efforts in behalf of the negro were as plainly the result of Evangelicalism as was the munificence of the Thorntons or the preaching of Venn. When Wilberforce was first impressed seriously, and was in doubt what plan of life to adopt, he consulted, like many others, John Newton. He could not have had recourse to a better adviser. Newton counselled him not to give up his proper position in the world, but to seek in it opportunities for employing his wealth, talents, and influence for his Master's work. The wise old man saw that the young enthusiast could help the cause far more effectually as a member of Parliament and friend of the Minister, than ever he could have done as a parochial clergyman or as an itinerant. Hence, Wilberforce, instead of becoming a second Rowland Hill, as he might easily have been persuaded to do, became the staunch supporter of the Evangelical cause in Parliament, and the successful recommender of its principles in general society.
Evangelicalism had been gradually making its way upwards among the social strata. The earlier Methodism had been influential almost exclusively among the lower and lower middle classes. Good Lady Huntingdon's efforts are a proof, rather than an exception to the rule, that Methodism in this form was out of harmony with the tastes of the upper classes, and had little practical efficacy with them. But Evangelicalism was beginning to excite, not a mere passing curiosity such as had been created by Whitefield's preaching, but a really practical interest among the aristocracy. No one contributed more largely to this result than William Wilberforce. Here was a man of rare social talents, a thorough gentleman, a brilliant orator, and an intimate friend of some of the most eminent men of the day, not only casting in his lot with the 'calumniated school' (as Hannah More calls it), but straining every nerve to recommend its principles. It has been said, indeed, that Wilberforce was not, properly speaking, an Evangelical. This is so far true, that Wilberforce did not identify himself entirely with any religious party, and that he was, as Thomas Scott observes, 'rather afraid of Calvinism.' But it would be robbing Evangelicalism of its due, to deny that Wilberforce's deep religious convictions were solely derived (so far as human agency was concerned) from the Evangelical school. He was early impressed by the preaching, and perhaps the private counsel, of his schoolmaster, Joseph Milner. These impressions were afterwards revived and deepened by his intercourse with Isaac Milner, whom he accompanied on a continental tour just before the decisive change in his character. He was then led to consult John Newton, and was advised by him to attend the ministry of Thomas Scott at the Lock Hospital, from which he himself tells us that he derived great benefit; and he afterwards attended regularly the ministry of J. Venn. Surely these facts speak for themselves. The religious character of Wilberforce was moulded by the Evangelical clergy, and he was himself to all intents and purposes an Evangelical.
If further proof were needed, it would only be necessary to refer to Wilberforce's best known publication, entitled in full, 'A Practical View of the prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in this country, contrasted with real Christianity.' No book, since the publication of the 'Serious Call,' had exerted so wide and deep an influence as the 'Practical View.' Wilberforce took up very much the same position as Law had done; and it would be difficult to award higher praise to the later work than to say, as one justly may, that it will bear comparison with the earlier. Not that as mere compositions the two works can for one moment be compared. In depth of thought, strength of argument, and beauty of language, Law's is immeasurably superior. But, on the other hand. Wilberforce had on many points a distinct advantage. To begin with, the mere fact that the 'Practical View' was written by a layman -- and such a layman! -- gave it a weight which no book of the kind written by a clergyman could possess. The force of the latter might always be broken by the objection that the writer was swayed by professional bias, and that his arguments, whatever might be their intrinsic merits, must be taken cum grano by the lay mind. But besides this 'coign of vantage' from which Wilberforce wrote, there were also points in the books themselves in which, for the purposes for which they were written, the preference must be given to the later work. It was not unnaturally objected against Law, that he did not sufficiently base his arguments upon distinctly Gospel motives. No such objection can be raised against Wilberforce. Then again, though Wilberforce was a thoroughly unworldly man, he was in the good sense of the term a thorough man of the world, and knew by experience what course of argument would tell most with such men. What Law writes from mere theory, Wilberforce writes from practical knowledge. It would be difficult to conceive men of powerful intellect like Dr. Johnson and John Wesley, who had really thought, deeply and seriously on such subjects, being so strongly affected by the 'Practical View' as these were by the 'Serious Call.' But men of powerful intellect who had thought deeply and seriously on religious subjects, were rare. The 'Practical View' is strong enough food for the general reader, while at the same time its unpretentious earnestness disarmed the criticism and won the hearts of men of genius like Edmund Burke. Wilberforce was no theologian; he was simply a good man who read his New Testament in a guileless spirit, and expostulated affectionately with those who, professing to take that book as their standard, were living lives plainly repugnant to its principles. The success of Wilberforce's attempt was as great as it was unexpected. The publisher had so poor an opinion of the project, that he would consent to issue five hundred copies only on condition that Wilberforce would give his name. But the first edition was sold off in a few days; within half-a-year the book had passed through five editions, and it has now passed through more than fifty. The rest of Wilberforce's useful life, extending as it did some way into the nineteenth century, does not fall within the scope of the present inquiry.
Among Evangelical laymen, Lord Dartmouth held an honoured place. He did good service to the cause by advocating its interests both among the nobility and at Court; he was one of the very few who had the opportunity and will to advance the Evangelical clergy; and among others, he had the honour of promoting John Newton to the rectory of S. Mary Woolnoth. He himself was a standing witness that 'Methodism' was not a religion merely for the coarse and unrefined, for he was himself so polished a gentleman that Richardson is reputed to have said that 'he would have realised his own idea of Sir Charles Grandison, if he had not been a Methodist.' It was Lord Dartmouth of whom Cowper wrote, 'he wears a coronet and prays:' an implied reflection upon a large order, which the poet was scarcely justified in making.
Lord Teignmouth was another Evangelical nobleman; but, strictly speaking, he does not come within the range of our subject; for it was not until the nineteenth century had commenced that he settled at Clapham, and became a distinguished member of the so-called Clapham sect, and the first president of the newly-formed Bible Society.
Among Evangelical laymen are we to place the revered name of Samuel Johnson. His prejudices against Whitefield and the early Methodists have already been noticed; and the supposed antagonism between 'Methodism' and 'orthodoxy' would probably always have prevented one so intensely orthodox from fully identifying himself with the movement. But, without entering into the controversy which raged, so to speak, round the body of the good old man, there can be little doubt that towards the close of his life he was largely influenced by the Evangelical doctrines. His well-known fear of death laid him open to the influence of those who had clearly learned to count the last enemy as a friend; and there is no reason to doubt the story of his last illness, which rests upon unimpeachable testimony. 'My dear doctor,' he said to Dr. Brocklesby, 'believe a dying man: there is no salvation but in the sacrifice of the Son of God.' 'I offer up my soul to the great and merciful God. I offer it full of pollution, but in full assurance that it will be cleansed in the blood of the Redeemer.'
It will have been noticed that, with the exception of Lady Huntingdon, no female has been mentioned as having taken any prominent part in the Evangelical Revival. The mother of the Wesleys, Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Newton, Mrs. Cecil, and perhaps Mrs. C. Wesley, were all excellent specimens of Evangelical Christians; but their influence was exercised solely in private. Neither by writing nor in any other way did they come prominently forward. This is all the more noteworthy, because, so far as the principles of Evangelicalism were concerned, there was no reason why there should not have been many Lady Huntingdons among the Evangelical leaders. That there were not, is, perhaps, owing to the fact that there was a certain robustness of character common to all the chiefs of the party. One can scarcely conceive Venn, or Newton, or Scott, or the Milners being led by women. There is, however, one exception to the rule.
Hannah More (1745-1833), by her writings and by her practical work in a sphere where such work was sorely needed, won an honourable place among the Evangelical worthies. Her accomplishments and attainments, her ready wit and social talents, gave her a place in society higher than that to which her birth entitled her, long before she came under the influence of the Evangelical party. It was by slow degrees that she embraced one by one the peculiar tenets of that school. Perhaps to the very end she never thoroughly identified herself with it, though her religious character was unquestionably formed under Evangelical influences. She formed a sort of link between Evangelicalism and the outer world. The intimate friend of David and Mrs. Garrick, of Dr. Johnson, of Horace Walpole, of Bishop Horne and Bishop Shute Harrington on the one hand, of John Newton, Wilberforce, the two Thorntons and Bishop Porteus on the other, she had points of contact with people of very different ways of thinking. It was this wide sympathy which enabled her to gain the ear of the public. 'You have a great advantage, madam,' wrote Newton to her; 'there is a circle by which what you write will be read; and which will hardly read anything of a religious kind that is not written by you.' The popularity of her writings, which were very numerous, was extraordinary. Her 'Thoughts on the Manners of the Great' (1788) showed much moral courage. It was published anonymously, not because she was afraid of being known as the author, but simply because 'she hoped it might be attributed to a better person, and so might produce a greater effect.' The secret of the authorship was, however, soon discovered, and the effect was not spoiled. To the credit also of the fashionable world, it must be added that her popularity was not diminished. The success of her effort exceeded her most sanguine expectations. Seven large editions were sold in a few months, the second in little more than a week, the third in four hours. Its influence was traceable in the abandonment of many of the customs which it attacked. In 1790 a sort of sequel appeared, entitled 'An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World,' which was bought up and read as eagerly as its predecessor. Nine years later another work on a kindred subject, entitled 'Strictures on Female Education,' was equally successful. Nor was it only on the subject of the higher classes that Hannah More was an effective writer. The wild licence of the French Revolution, while it filled sober, respectable people with perhaps an extravagant alarm, seemed at one time not unlikely to spread its contagion among the disaffected classes in England. One result was, the dissemination among the multitude of cheap literature full of speculative infidelity, as well as of abuse of the constituted authorities in this country. To furnish an antidote, Hannah More published, in 1792, a popular work entitled 'Village Politics, by Will Chip,' the object of which was to check the spread of French revolutionary principles among the lower classes. So great was the effect of this work that it was said by some, with a little exaggeration, no doubt, to have contributed essentially to prevent a revolution in England. Her success in this department of literature encouraged her to write a series of tracts which she published periodically, until 1798, under the title of the 'Cheap Repository Tracts.' Hannah More was well fitted for this latter work by her practical experience among the poor. Like most of the Evangelicals, she was a thorough worker. The spiritual destitution of Cheddar and the neighbourhood so affected her, that she formed the benevolent design of establishing schools for the children and religious instruction for the grown-up. Such efforts are happily so common at the present day, that it is difficult to realise the moral courage and self-denial which the carrying out of such a plan involved, or the difficulties with which the projector had to grapple. Some parents objected to their children attending the schools, lest Miss More should acquire legal control over them and sell them as slaves. Others would not allow the children to go unless they were paid for it. Of course, the cuckoo-cry of Methodism was raised. The farmers were bitterly opposed to the education of their labourers, and the clergy, though generally favourable, were not always so. But Miss More was not without friends. Her sister Patty was an invaluable assistant. Wilberforce and Thornton helped her with their purses. Newton, Bishop Porteus and other clergy strengthened her with their counsel and rendered her personal assistance; and at the close of the eighteenth century, the neighbourhood of Cowslip Green wore a very different aspect from what it had worn twenty years earlier.
If we were to judge of Hannah More's writings by their popularity, and the undoubted effects which they produced, or by the testimony which men of approved talents and discernment have borne to their value, we should place her in the very first rank of eighteenth century writers. 'Her style and manner are confessedly superior to those of any moral writer of the age.' She is 'one of the most illustrious females that ever was in the world. 'One of the most truly Evangelical divines of this whole age, perhaps almost of any age not apostolic.' Bishop Porteus actually recommended her writings both in a sermon and in a charge. A feeling of disappointment will probably be raised in most readers who turn from these extravagant eulogies to the works themselves. They are full of somewhat vapid truisms, and their style is too ornate for the present age. Like so many writers of her day, she wrote Johnsonese rather than English. She loved long words, and amplified where she should have compressed. However, it is an ungracious task to criticise one who did good work in her time. After all, the truest test of the merits of a writer who wrote with the single object that Hannah More did, is the effect she produced. Her writings were once readable and very influential. If the virtue now appears to have gone out of them, we may be thankful that it lasted so long as it was needed.
To conclude this long chapter. If any think that the picture here drawn of the leaders of the Evangelical Revival is too highly coloured, and that in this, as in all human efforts, frailties and mistakes might be discovered in abundance, the writer can only reply that he has not knowingly concealed any infirmities to which these good men were subject, though he frankly admits that he has touched upon them lightly and reluctantly. He feels that they were the salt of the earth in their day; that their disinterestedness, their moral courage in braving obloquy and unpopularity, their purity of life, the spirituality of their teaching, and the world of practical good they did among a neglected people, render them worthy of the deepest respect. It would have been an ungracious task ruthlessly to lay bare and to descant upon their weaknesses. That was done mercilessly by their contemporaries and those of the next generation. There is more need now to redress the balance by giving due weight to their many excellences.
It seems all the more necessary to bring out into full prominence their claims upon the admiration of posterity, because they have scarcely done justice to themselves in the writings they have left behind them. They were not, as they have been represented, a set of amiable and well-meaning but weak and illiterate fanatics. But their forte no doubt lay more in preaching and in practical work than in writing.
Again, the stream of theological thought has to a great extent drifted into a different current from that in which it ran in their day, and this change may have prevented many good men from sympathising with them as they deserved. The Evangelicals of the last century represented one side, but only one side, of our Church's teaching. With the spirituality and fervency of her liturgy and the 'Gospel' character of all her formularies, they were far more in harmony than the so-called 'orthodox' of their day. But they did not, to say the least of it, bring into prominence what are now called, and what would have been called in the seventeenth century, the 'Catholic' features of the English Church. They simply regarded her as one of many 'Protestant' communions. Distinctive Church principles, in the technical sense of the term, formed no part of their teaching. Daily services, frequent communions, the due observance of her Fasts and Festivals, all that is implied in the terms 'the aestheticism and symbolism of worship,' found no place in their course. The consequence was that while they formed a compact and influential body which still remained within the pale of the Church, they also revived very largely, though unintentionally, the Dissenting interest, which was at least in as drooping a condition as the Church of England before the Evangelical school arose. But every English Churchman has reason to be deeply grateful to them for what they did, however much he may be of opinion that their work required supplementing by others no less earnest, but of a different tone of thought.
[Footnote 708: More true than the assertion which follows -- 'and Count Zinzendorf rocked the cradle.']
[Footnote 709: He was, however, sometimes tempted to use unseemly language of the clergy. See extracts from his journals quoted in Warburton's Doctrine of Grace.]
[Footnote 710: 'Remarks on the Life and Character of John Wesley,' by Alexander Knox, printed at the close of Southey's Life of Wesley, vol. iii. p.319.]
[Footnote 711: In the Minutes of Conference, 1747, 'What instance or ground is there in the New Testament for a |national| Church? We know none at all,' &c. 'The greatest blow,' he said, 'Christianity ever received was when Constantine the Great called himself a Christian and poured in a flood of riches, honour, and power upon the Christians, more especially upon the clergy.' 'If, as my Lady says, all outward establishments are Babel, so is this establishment. Let it stand for me. I neither set it up nor pull it down.... Let us build the city of God.']
[Footnote 712: But he asserts the rights of the civil power in things indifferent, and reminds a correspondent that allegiance to a national Church in no way affects allegiance to Christ. -- (Letter in answer to Toogood's Dissent Justified, 1752. Works, x.503-6.)]
[Footnote 713: See Bogue and Bennett's History of Dissenters, vol. i. p.73.]
[Footnote 714: Bishop Horsley, in his first Charge to the Diocese of St. David's, 1790, expressly distinguishes between a High Churchman in the sense of 'a bigot to the secular rights of the priesthood,' which he declares he is not, and a High Churchman in the sense of an 'upholder of the spiritual authority of the priesthood,' which he owns that he is; and he adds, 'We are more than mere hired servants of the State or laity.']
[Footnote 715: To the same effect in 1777.]
[Footnote 716: So late as 1780 he wrote, 'If I come into any new house, and see men and women together, I will immediately go out.' This was, therefore, no youthful High Church prejudice, which wore off with years.]
[Footnote 717: See Southey's Life of Wesley, ii.85.]
[Footnote 718: Id.101.]
[Footnote 719: John Wesley's Place in Church History, by R. Denny Urlin, p.70.]
[Footnote 720: 'You have often,' said Wesley to the Moravians in Fetter Lane, 'affirmed that to search the Scripture, to pray, or to communicate before we have faith, is to seek salvation by works, and that till these works are laid aside no man can have faith. I believe these assertions to be flatly contrary to the word of God. I have warned you hereof again and again, and besought you to turn back to the law and to the testimony.']
[Footnote 721: 'Do you not neglect joint fasting? Is not the Count all in all? Are not the rest mere shadows?... Do you not magnify your Church too much?' &c., &c.]
[Footnote 722: 'I labour everywhere to speak consistently with that deep sense which is settled in my heart that you are (though I cannot call you, Rabbi, infallible, yet) far, far, better and wiser than me.']
[Footnote 723: And also his strong feeling that the doctrine of reprobation was inconsistent with the love of God. 'I could sooner,' he wrote, 'be a Turk, a Deist -- yea, an atheist -- than I could believe this. It is less absurd to deny the very existence of a God than to make Him an almighty tyrant.']
[Footnote 724: In March 1741 Mr. Whitefield, being returned to England, entirely separated from Mr. Wesley and his friends, because he did not hold the decrees. Here was the first breach which warm men persuaded Mr. Whitefield to make merely for a difference of opinion. Those who believed universal redemption had no desire to separate, &c. -- Wesley's Works, vol. viii. p.335.]
[Footnote 725: 'If there be a law,' he wrote in 1761, 'that a minister of Christ who is not suffered to preach the Gospel in church should not preach it elsewhere, or a law that forbids Christian people to hear the Gospel of Christ out of their parish church when they cannot hear it therein, I judge that law to be absolutely sinful, and that it is sinful to obey it.']
[Footnote 726: See Tyerman's Life of Wesley, ii.545.]
[Footnote 727: See Tyerman's Life of Wesley, ii.334.]
[Footnote 728: Southey, ii.71. In 1780 Wesley wrote, 'You seem not to have well considered the rules of a helper or the rise of Methodism. It pleased God by me to awaken first my brother, then a few others, who severally desired of me as a favour to direct them in all things. I drew up a few plain rules (observe there was no Conference in being) and permitted them to join me on these conditions. Whoever, therefore, violates these conditions does ipso facto disjoin himself from me. This Brother Macnab has done, but he cannot see that he has done amiss. The Conference has no power at all but what I exercise through them' (the preachers).]
[Footnote 729: Letter of Mr. J. Hampson, jun., quoted by Rev. L. Tyerman, Life of Wesley, vol. iii. p.423.]
[Footnote 730: Robert Southey, passim.]
[Footnote 731: In a letter to Mr. Walker, of Truro, 1756.]
[Footnote 732: To the same effect in his Short History of Methodism Wesley wrote, 'Those who remain with Mr. Wesley are mostly Church of England men. They love her articles, her homilies, her liturgy, her discipline, and unwillingly vary from it in any instance.']
[Footnote 733: See also Wesley's Works, vol. xii. p.446, &c.]
[Footnote 734: For this reason, among others, not much has been said in this sketch about Wesley's opinions, because they were different at different stages of his life. Moreover, though Wesley was an able man and a well-read man, and could write in admirably lucid and racy language, he can by no means be ranked among theologians of the first order. He could never, for instance, have met Dr. Clarke, as Waterland did; or, to compare him with one who was brought into contact with him, he could never have written the Serious Call, nor have answered Tindal, as Law did.]
[Footnote 735: 'I retract several expressions in our hymns which imply impossibility; of falling from perfection; I do not contend for the term |sinless,| though I do not object against it.' And in a sermon on the text, 'In many things we offend all,' 'We are all liable to be mistaken, both in speculation and practice,' &c. 'Christian perfection certainly does admit of degrees,' &c.]
[Footnote 736: But, as a staunch Churchman, he agreed with the Baptismal Service. In his Treatise on Baptism he writes, 'Regeneration, which our Church in so many places ascribes to baptism, is more than barely being admitted into the Church. By water we are regenerated or born again; a principle of grace is infused which will not be wholly taken away unless we quench the Spirit of God by long-continued wickedness.' The same sentiments are expressed in his sermon on the 'New Birth.']
[Footnote 737: See inter alia, T. Somerville's My Own Life and Times (1741-1841). 'He [J. Wesley] had attended, he told me, some of the most interesting debates at the General Assembly, which he liked |very ill indeed,| saying there was too much heat,' &c., pp.253-4.]
[Footnote 738: See Tyerman, iii.278.]
[Footnote 739: Southey, i.301, &c.]
[Footnote 740: So said Charles (see Jackson's Life of C. Wesley). John, however, gave a different account. 'My brother,' he said to John Pawson, 'suspects everybody, and he is continually imposed upon; but I suspect nobody, and I am never imposed upon.']
[Footnote 741: 'I seldom,' he wrote to Fletcher in 1768, 'find it profitable for me to converse with any who are not athirst for perfection and big with the earnest expectation of receiving it every moment.' -- Tyerman, iii.4.]
[Footnote 742: 'With my latest breath will I bear testimony against giving up to infidels one great proof of the unseen world; I mean that of witchcraft and apparitions, confirmed by the testimony of all ages.' -- Id.11. See also T. Somerville's My own Life and Times, p.254. 'On my asking him if he had seen Farmer's Essays on Demoniacs, then recently published, I recollect his answer was, |Nay, sir, I shall never open that book. Why should a man attend to arguments against possessions of the Devil, who has seen so many of them as I have?|']
[Footnote 743: Tyerman, iii.252. It should not be forgotten that at the beginning as well as at the end of their career the Wesleys met with great consideration from some of the bishops. Charles Wesley speaks in the very highest terms of the 'affectionate' way in which Archbishop Potter treated him and his brother, and John seems never to have forgotten the advice which this 'great and good man' (as he calls him) gave him -- 'not to spend his time and strength in disputing about things of a disputable nature, but in testifying against open vice and promoting real holiness.']
[Footnote 744: Id.384.]
[Footnote 745: Id.411.]
[Footnote 746: Mr. Curteis (Bampton Lectures for 1871, p.382) calls Wesley 'the purest, noblest, most saintly clergyman of the eighteenth century, whose whole life was passed in the sincere and loyal effort to do good.']
[Footnote 747: This passage on the contrast between Wesley and Whitefield was written before the author had read Tyerman's Life of Whitefield; a similar contrast will be found in that work, vol. i. p.12.]
[Footnote 748: For some well-selected specimens of Whitefield's sermons see Tyerman's Life of Whitefield, vol. i. pp.297-304, and ii.567, &c.]
[Footnote 749: Life and Times of the Rev. G. Whitefield, by Robert Philip, p.130, &c.]
[Footnote 750: Whitefield's Letters; a Select Collection written to his Intimate Friends and Persons of Distinction in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America, from 1734 to 1770, vol. i. p.277, &c.]
[Footnote 751: See Whitefield's Letters (ut supra), passim.]
[Footnote 752: Even Warburton owned, 'of Whitefield's oratorical powers, and their astonishing influence on the minds of thousands, there can be no doubt. They are of a high order.' -- Life of Lady Huntingdon, i.450.]
[Footnote 753: See Memoirs of the Rev. C. Wesley, by Thomas Jackson, passim.]
[Footnote 754: See Tyerman's Life of John Wesley, vol. iii. p.310.]
[Footnote 755: This was written before the author had read Mr. Tyerman's Life of Whitefield; indeed, before that life was published. Mr. Tyerman informs us that the dispute arose because some of the preachers informed Wesley that his brother Charles did not enforce discipline so strictly as himself, and that Charles agreed with Whitefield 'touching perseverance, at least, if not predestination too.' -- Tyerman's Life of Whitefield, ii.288.]
[Footnote 756: Gledstone's Life of Whitefield, p.439, but surely Mr. Gledstone is scarcely justified in adding quite gratuitously, 'John Wesley was not a man with whom it was easy to be on good terms; his lofty claims must have fretted his brother and created uneasiness.' Charles Wesley was quite equal to cope with John if he had preferred any 'lofty claims' beyond those which an elder brother might naturally have upon a younger. But, in point of fact, there is no trace of any such rivalry between the brothers.]
[Footnote 757: See Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, by a member of the houses of Shirley and Hastings, vol. ii. pp.71, 72.]
[Footnote 758: For a fuller list of the 'brilliant assemblies' which Lady Huntingdon gathered together, see Tyerman's Life of Whitefield, ii.209, &c., and 407, &c. Mr. Tyerman takes a more hopeful view of the good that was done among these classes than is taken in the text.]
[Footnote 759: See Gledstone's Life of Whitefield, p.304.]
[Footnote 760: Letters of Horace Walpole, from 1744 to 1753.]
[Footnote 761: Not so Garrick's brother actor, Foote. The 'Minor' was a cruel attack upon Whitefield. Foote spoke an epilogue in the character of Whitefield, 'whom he dressed and imitated to the life.' -- (See Forster's Essays, 'Samuel Foote.') Foote defended himself on the ground that Whitefield was 'ever profaning the name of God with blasphemous nonsense,' &c.]
[Footnote 762: Marchmont Papers, ii.377.]
[Footnote 763: Lady Huntingdon's Life (ut supra), ii.379.]
[Footnote 764: See the Christian Observer, Oct.1857, p.707.]
[Footnote 765: Indeed, Lady Huntingdon appears to have been the originator of lay preaching among the Methodists. Of Maxwell, the first lay preacher, she wrote to John Wesley: 'The first time I made him expound, expecting little from him, I sat over against him,' &c. -- See Life and Times of Lady Huntingdon, i.33.]
[Footnote 766: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.490.]
[Footnote 767: Id. i.309.]
[Footnote 768: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.126, note.]
[Footnote 769: Id. ii.325.]
[Footnote 770: Id. ii.236.]
[Footnote 771: Id. i.324.]
[Footnote 772: Life of the Rev. Rowland Hill, by the Rev. E. Sidney, p.65.]
[Footnote 773: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.315.]
[Footnote 774: Id. ii.467.]
[Footnote 775: Gladstone's Life of Whitefield, p.465.]
[Footnote 776: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.423.]
[Footnote 777: Id. ii.521.]
[Footnote 778: Lord Lyttelton's Letter to Mr. West, quoted in A Refutation of Calvinism, by G. Tomline, Bishop of Winchester, p.253.]
[Footnote 779: Not, of course, that he waited until the death of Whitefield before reopening the question; for Conference met in August, and Whitefield did not die until September 1770.]
[Footnote 780: Extracts from the Minutes of some late Conversations between the Rev. Mr. Wesley and others at a Public Conference held in London, August 7, 1770, and printed by W. Pim, Bristol. 'Take heed to your doctrine.']
[Footnote 781: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.236.]
[Footnote 782: Id.240.]
[Footnote 783: Id.240, 241.]
[Footnote 784: Life of Lady Huntingdon, ii.243, &c.]
[Footnote 785: Id.245. Berridge said the contest at Bristol turned upon this hinge, whether it should be Pope John or Pope Joan.]
[Footnote 786: And of his own writings he said: 'A softer style and spirit would have better become me.' -- See Life of Rev. R. Hill, by Rev. G. Sidney, pp.121, 122.]
[Footnote 787: Id. p.122.]
[Footnote 788: Southey's Life of Wesley, ii.180.]
[Footnote 789: See the abuse quoted in the Fourth Check, pp.11, 42, 121.]
[Footnote 790: See Fourth Check, p.155.]
[Footnote 791: Works of A.M. Toplady, with Memoir of the Author, in six volumes, vol. i. p.100.]
[Footnote 792: But at the same time a very modest and moderate one. 'Predestination,' he wrote, 'and reprobation I think of with fear and trembling; and, if I should attempt to study them, I would study them on my knees.' (Letter, dated Miles's Lane, March 24, 1752, quoted by Mr. Tyerman in his Oxford Methodists, p.270.) And again: 'As for points of doubtful disputation, those especially which relate to particular or universal redemption, I profess myself attached neither to the one nor the other. I neither think of them myself nor preach of them to others. If they happen to be started in conversation, I always endeavour to divert the discourse to some more edifying topic. I have often observed them to breed animosity and division, but never knew them to be productive of love and unanimity.... Therefore I rest satisfied in this general and indisputable truth, that the Judge of all the earth will assuredly do right,' &c. This, however, was written in 1747 (see Tyerman, 254). Perhaps when he wrote Theron and Aspasio some years later his views were somewhat changed.]
[Footnote 793: Mr. Tyerman, however, thinks otherwise. 'After the lapse of a hundred years,' he writes (Oxford Methodists, p.201), 'since the author's death, few are greater favourites at the present day.']
[Footnote 794: Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. v. p.93.]
[Footnote 795: See especially Meditations among the Tombs, p.29, the passage beginning, 'Since we are so liable to be dispossessed of this earthly tabernacle,' &c.]
[Footnote 796: 'I dare no more write in a fine style,' he said, 'than wear a fine coat.... I should purposely decline what many admire -- a highly ornamental style.']
[Footnote 797: Hervey's Letters in answer to Wesley were published after his death, against his own wish expressed when he was dying.]
[Footnote 798: Hervey's Meditations, &c., ut supra, Life.]
[Footnote 799: Toplady's Works, i.102.]
[Footnote 800: 'My writings,' he wrote to Lady F. Shirley, 'are not fit for ordinary people: I never give them to such persons, and dissuade this class of men from procuring them. O that they may be of some service to the more refined part of the world!']
[Footnote 801: Life of Hervey, prefixed to his Meditations, ut supra.]
[Footnote 802: See Kyle's Christian Leaders of the Last Century.]
[Footnote 803: See Life of Lady Huntingdon, i.374.]
[Footnote 804: Life of Wilberforce, by his Sons, vol. ii. p.137.]
[Footnote 805: See Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith, by W. Romaine, especially pp.28, 40, 98, 99, 102, 149, 158, 182, 192, 227, 229, 232, 233, 274, 275, 286, 287, 321.]
[Footnote 806: 'Memoir of the Author,' prefixed to Venn's Complete Duty of Man (new ed. London, Religious Tract Society), p. xiii. preface 3.]
[Footnote 807: Or perhaps we should have said 'of the Evangelical school;' only, Law can hardly be said to have belonged to that school. Bishop Wilson's Sacra Privata, and other devotional works, and some of Bishop Ken's devotional works, rank, intellectually at any rate, far above Venn's Complete Duty of Man.]
[Footnote 808: Here again we must except Bishop Wilson, who hardly seems to belong to the eighteenth century. He was as one born out of due time. We must except, too, some of the works of those High Churchmen of the old type, who lived on into the eighteenth century, but who, in their lives and writings, reflected the spirit of a past age -- a spirit which breathes in every prayer of our Liturgy, but which is very rarely seen in the eighteenth century, or, for the matter of that, in the nineteenth.]
[Footnote 809: Southey's Life of Cowper, i.117.]
[Footnote 810: See 'Biographical Sketches' in the Christian Observer for 1877.]
[Footnote 811: Christian Observer for February, 1877.]
[Footnote 812: See, inter alia, William Wilberforce, his Friends, and his Times, by J.C. Colquhoun, pp.90, 98.]
[Footnote 813: See Newton's Works, in six volumes, edited by Cecil, passim.]
[Footnote 814: See especially his fourth sermon on 'The Messiah' in the series suggested by Handel's Oratorio. There is not a taint of irreverence, but no one but a man who had an exquisite sense of humour could have written the first two pages of that sermon.]
[Footnote 815: See Taylor's Life of Cowper, p.426.]
[Footnote 816: Id. p.139.]
[Footnote 817: Not, of course, a 'Methodist' as distinguished from an 'Evangelical,' but according to the indiscriminate use of the term common in his day.]
[Footnote 818: Life of Scott, 216.]
[Footnote 819: Id.127.]
[Footnote 820: Id.261.]
[Footnote 821: Id.238.]
[Footnote 822: See Milner's History of the Church of Christ (new ed. four vols. Cadell, 1834), passim, and especially Introduction, and vol. i.110, 131, 136, 137, 156; ii.415; iii.73.]
[Footnote 823: i.156. -- See also i.131, &c.]
[Footnote 824: See i.136, 137, 325, 457.]
[Footnote 825: ii.597, &c.]
[Footnote 826: iii.73.]
[Footnote 827: ii.441.]
[Footnote 828: See the Life of the Rev. T. Robinson, Vicar of St. Mary's, Leicester, and sometime Fellow of Trin. Coll., Camb., by Rev. E.T. Vaughan, p.50, &c.]
[Footnote 829: See Wilberforce, His Friends, and His Times, by J.C. Colquhoun, p.102.]
[Footnote 830: Sir James Stephen, Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography.]
[Footnote 831: 'Mr. Wilberforce's |Practical View,|' writes Thomas Scott, 'is a most noble and manly stand for the Gospel; full of good sense and most useful observations on subjects quite out of our line, and in all respects fitted for usefulness; and coming from such a man, it will probably be read by many thousands who can by no means be brought to attend either to our preaching or writings, especially the rich.' -- Life of T. Scott, 311.]
[Footnote 832: Newton's 'Letters to a Nobleman,' published in his works, were addressed to Lord Dartmouth.]
[Footnote 833: See Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More, by W. Roberts, Esq., i.395. The Quarterly Review vehemently combated the notion of Dr. Johnson's conversion. In reference to the passage in Roberts' Life of H. More, it said, 'This attempt to persuade us that Dr. Johnson's mind was not made up as to the great fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion, until it was enforced on him in extremis by sectarian or Methodistical zeal, cannot redound to the credit of Mr. Roberts' understanding,' &c. Those who care to enter into this bygone controversy may be referred to the Christian Observer for May 1843, pp.281-287.]
[Footnote 834: One of Newton's bon-mots was, 'The place of honour in an army is not with the baggage or among the women.']
[Footnote 835: See one of Newton's characteristically tender and sympathetic letters in answer to Hannah More's description of her spiritual state: 'What you are pleased to say, my dear madam, of the state of your mind, I understand perfectly well; I praise God on your behalf, and I hope I shall earnestly pray for you. I have stood upon that ground myself. I see what you want, to set you quite at ease; and though I cannot give it you, I trust that He who has already taught you what to desire will in His own best time do everything for you and in you which is necessary to make you as happy as is compatible with our present state of infirmity and warfare; but He must be waited on and waited for, to do this.' Hannah More had before this expressed her liking for Newton's 'Cardiphonia, though not for every sentiment or expression which it contains.' See Roberts' Life, i.236.]
[Footnote 836: Roberts, ii.260.]
[Footnote 837: See Life of H. More, by H. Thompson, p.81.]
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