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EARLY PROGRESS OF METHODISM, GIVING THE ORIGIN OF
SEVERAL OF ITS PECULIARITIES.
THE Wesleys were now objects of special attention. They had been generally considered " over-much righteous” for several years, though they had not entirely broken loose from the prevailing errors of their times. But now that they had imbibed sentiments which, if true, involved nearly the wholo church in condemnation --- branded their righteousness as “filthy rags," and their long cherished hopes as vain and deceptive, they were supposed to be crazy. And the more so, because they professed to have demonstrated the truth of their doctrine by a joyful experience of its provisions in their own souls. Men care little about cold opinions, but, as one writer observes, “ speak of faith in such a manner as makes Christ a saviour to the utmost, a most universal help and refuge ; in such a manner as takes away glorying, but adds happiness to wretched man; as discovers a greater pollution in the best of us than we could before acknowledge, but brings a greater deliverance from it than we could before expect; if any one offers to talk at thio rate, he shall be heard with the same abhorrence as if he was going to rob mankind of their salvation, their Mediator, or their hopes of forgiveness."
But nothing moved them. Mr. John Wesley soon took a tour in Germany, for the confirmation of his faith hy inter
course with the Moravians, to whom he was much indebted already; while his brother Charles contended earnestly for the faith among formalists at home. Both obtained the object of their earnest desire, viz.: clearer views and deeper experience. And they were not without success in bringing some into the same blessed state. Their word was accom. panied by divine power. The utterance of a few simple truths, whether from the Bible, or personal experience, was like fire, "and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces."
Professional men, full of pride and conceit, became as little children.
Mr. Wesley had been refused to preach in many of the churches of London some time before, but now especially. He therefore preached as the providence of God opened his way. “In several places, while he was expounding the Scriptures, many persons trembled and fell down before him. Some cried aloud, and others appeared convulsed as in the agonies of death. Many of these were afterwards eminent professors of the holiness and happiness of religion, and declared they had at the time such a deep sense of the nature of sin, and of the just wages of it, that they were constrained to cry aloud for the disquietude of their heart.” Writing to a friend, Oct. 14th of the year of his conversion, he remarked :
“ Though my brother and I are not permitted to preach in most of the churches in London, yet, thanks be to God, there are others left, wherein we have liberty to speak the truth as it is in Jesus.
Nor hath he left himsclf without witnesses of his grace and truth. Ten ministers I know now in England, who lay the right foundation, The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. Over and above whom I have found one Anabaptist, and one, if not two, of the teachers among the Presbyterians here, who, I hope,
love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and teach the way cf God in truth.'
This was encouraging, but still the way of these good men was hedged up. What could they do?
What could they do ? Various piang were suggested, but they seemed to look more to this world than to the next, and were therefore rejected. Mr. Whitefield had now returned from America, and united with the brothers in the work of God. But were could he preach? Not in the churches, for they were closed ; not in private dwellings, for they were too small. Hence he betook himself to the fields and highways, and thus attracted thousands to hear the gospel who would not have gone to the churches had they been open. Mr. Wesley hesitated a little at this seeming irregularity, but when he came to consider the example of Christ, and that he was excluded from the churches, “ I submitted," says he, “to be yet more vile, and
, proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city [Bristol] to about three thousand people.” He did not choose this position ; he was rather averse to it; but he accepted it as the best that offered to preach Christ and save souls. And God evidently approved, for “ many who had set all laws, human and divine, at defiance, and were utterly without God in the world, now fell before the majesty of heaven, and acknowledged that a prophet was sent among them.' Cries and tears on every hand frequently drowned his voice, while many exclaimed, in the bitterness of their soul, • What must I do to be saved ?' Not a few of these were soon ' filled with peace and joy in believing,' and evidenced that the work was really of God, by holy, happy, and urblamable walking before him. Blasphemies were now turned to praise, and the voice of joy and gladness was found where wickedness and misery reigned before.”
The result of this new measure was the forization of a society in Bristol like the one in London. The object of their association was to build each other up in the faith of Christ, in order to which they agreed to meet together. But here was a difficulty, they had no place sufficiently large to accommodate them. This suggested the idea of building a room, which, having expanded into a plan of a house to accommodate such as wished to be present at the preaching as well as the society meetings, the corner-stone of the first Methodist meeting-house the world ever saw was laid on Saturday, May 12th, 1739.
The peculiar settlement of this house, and the circumstances which led to it, and justified it, explain a feature in Methodist economy that has not been well understood. We will give Mr. Wesley's account of the matter in his owr. words: “I had not at first," says he, “the least apprehen. sion or design of being personally engaged either in the expense of the work, or in the direction of it; having appointed eleven feoffees, on whom I supposed these burdens would fall, of course. But I quickly found my mistake: first, with regard to the expense ; for the whole undertaking must have stood still had not I immediately taken upon myself the payment of all the workmen ; so that before I knew where I was I had contracted a debt of more than a hundred and fifty pounds; and this I was to discharge how I could, the subscriptions of both societies not amounting to one-quarter of the sum. And as to the direction of the wcrk, I presently received letters from my friends in London, Mr. Whitefield in particular, backed with a messa ge by one just come from thence, that neither he nor they would have any thing to do with the building, nor contribute any thing towards it, unless I would instantly discharge all feoffees, and do every thing in my own name. Many reasons they gave for this ; but one was erlough, viz. : That such feoffees would always have it in their power to control me, and, if I preached not as they liked, to turn me out of the room I had built.' I accordingly yielded to their advice, and, calling all the feoffees together, cancelled [no man opposing] the instruments made before, and took the whole management into my own hands. Money, it is true, I had not, nor any human prospect or probability of procuring it. But I knew the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, and in his name set out, nothing doubting.”
From this time the work of God spread in every direction, triumphing over the prejudices and opposition of men of various ranks and conditions, and effecting such results on the hearts and lives of many as had never been seen before ; and societies were formed in many places. Says Mr. Wesley : - Such a work this hath been in many respects as neither we nor our fathers had known. Not a few whose sins were of the most flagrant kind, drunkards, swearers, thieves, whoremongers, adulterers, have been brought from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Many of these were rooted in their wickedness, having long gloried in their shame, perhaps for a course of many years, yea, even to hoary hairs. Many had not so much as a rational faith, being Jews, Arians, Deists, or Atheists. Nor has God only made bare his arm in these last days in behalf of per publicans and sinners, but many of the Pharisees also have believed on him ; of the righteous, that seemed to need no repentance ; and having received the sentence of death in themselves, have then heard the voice that raise th the dead; have been made partakers of an inward, vital religion, even righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
“ The manner wherein God hath wrought this work is as strange as the work itself. In any particular soul it has