Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

And now,

Mr.

and then set fire to it. At all events, the man who could '“ split and trim each fragment into uniform plinths and polished stones," all “ deft” and “ neat," and thus erect a beautiful and commodious temple, is unquestionably to be preferred. But our Reviewer gives additional proof of Mr. Whitefield's inferiority to his friend. He was the plodding and unreasoning “bargeman" or waggoner, who brought the timber of the house,” and Wesley was the “architect who set it up;” forming the rugged and unwieldy beams into doors, and window-frames

, and every variety of ornament and convenience. According to our Reviewer, Mr. Whitefield was as much superior to Mr. Wesley, as an eagle is superior to a trained hawk, and a summer-cloud is superior to a water-spout ; and Mr. Wesley was as much superior to Mr. Whitefield, as the man who unites in himself the qualifications of a stonemason, a house-carpenter, and an architect, is superior to a man that blasts rocks in a stone-quarry, a bargeman, or a waggoner.

Editors, if

your readers are any wiser for all this information, and are able more correctly to appreciate the characters of George Whitefield and John Wesley, verily it is more than I can say of myself.

But our Reviewer advances certain statements in plain terms, which, of course, are to be literally understood ; and it may be asked, “Do not these convey a correct impression respecting the eminent men whose names are before us?” While Mr. Whitefield, for instance, was gasping on the sofa, pale and exhausted, after preaching one of his exciting sermons, Mr. Wesley, it is said, “after his morning sermon in the Foundry, would mount his. pony, and trot and chat and gather simples, till he reached some country hamlet, where he would bait his charger, and talk through a little sermon with the villagers, and re-mount his pony and trot away again.” This is doubtless very sentimental and pretty ; but then it is not true. Think of John Wesley riding upon a pony, the pace of an ambling trot, gathering simples in the lanes, chatting to anybody that he might meet with ; and then “talking through a little sermon," while the diminutive animal was eating its corn and hay! Now the fact is, that John Wesley for thirty years was one of the most spirited horsemen in England; so that scarcely any one of his friends could accompany him for a single week. The length of his rides, and the rapidity with which he performed them, were such as few men could endure. Of this ample proof might be easily produced; but this is unnecessary ; for our critic refutes his own fancy statement. He says, “ Rising every morning at four, travelling every year upwards of four thousand miles, and preaching nearly a thousand sermons, exhorting societies, editing books, writing all sorts of letters, and giving audience to all sorts of people, the ostensible President of Methodism, and Pastor of all the Methodists, and amidst his ceaseless toils betraying no more bustle than a planet in its course, he was a noble specimen of that fervent diligence which, launched in its orbit by a holy and joyous impulse, has ever afterwards the peace of God to light it on its way.” We ask, Is this “noble example of fervent diligence," who passes through this almost incredible amount of literary, mental, and bodily labour, the chatty man upon a little pony, gathering simples in his easy progress ? So the Reviewer states ; but it is impossible he should mean what he says; for a planet and a pony do not move at the same rate of speed.

A more incorrect view of Mr. Wesley's preaching was, I believe, never given than that which is contained in the article now under investigation. No awakening power is ascribed to it. The living stones with which he built his societies are described as not only hewn out of the rock by his friend Whitefield, but as also brought to him by that faithful bargeman and waggoner. Mr. Wesley, it would seem, did little or no good in the world, except in the way of personal conversation ; taking the people one by one!” Now the fact is, that through the whole of their public career these excellent men pursued an independent course of ministerial labour. If Mr. Wesley had his Foundry, Mr. Whitefield had his Tabernacle ; and, generally speaking, Mr. Whitefield was no more a quarryman, a bargeman, and a waggoner, to Mr. Wesley, than Mr. Wesley was a quarryman, a bargeman, and a waggoner, to Mr. Whitefield. In the places where Mr. Whitefield preached, having no Tabernacle, his labours rather went to increase the Dissenting churches, and the connexion of Lady Huntingdon, than the societies of Mr. Wesley. With very few exceptions, the many thousands of people who formed Mr. Wesley's societies, were all turned to righteousness by his own ministry, and that of his sons in the Gospel, who were associated with him.

According to the Reviewer, Mr. Wesley could “talk through a little sermon with villagers ;” but it is added, he “seldom coped with the multitude.” That he preached to villagers, so as to be understood by them, as his blessed Lord had done, will not be denied ; but that he “ seldom coped with the multitude” is notoriously at variance with fact. No man was accustomed to address larger congregations, or with greater

At Moorfields, Kennington Common, Kingswood, Bristol, Newcastle, in Cornwall, Staffordshire, and Yorkshire, immense multitudes of people were accustomed to congregate around him, through a long series of years, and that with undiminished interest; and it may be fairly questioned whether any Minister, in modern ages, has been instrumental in effecting a greater number of conversions. He possessed all the essential requisites of a great Preacher; and in nothing was he inferior to his eminent friend and contemporary, except in voice and manner. In respect of matter, language, and arrangement, his sermons were vastly superior to those of Mr. Whitefield, as the specimens which they have respectively published, clearly demonstrate. Those persons who judge of Mr. Wesley's ministry from the sermons which he preached and published in the decline of life, greatly mistake his real character. Till he was enfeebled by age, his discourses were not at all remarkable for their brevity. They were often extended to a considerable length, as we learn from his Journal ; and yet, according to his oft-repeated statements, he did not know how to leave off, and dismiss the people ; for his mind was full of evangelical matter, and his heart was richly charged with heavenly zeal. In a sense higher than ever entered into the thoughts of Archimedes, as he himself states, he was often ready to exclaim, when addressing vast multitudes in his Master's name, “Give me where to stand, and I will move the world.” We are told that “Whitefield was soul, and Wesley was system.” These little antithetical sentences in the description of character, which many writers affect, are seldom true to fact, whatever wit and ingenuity they may display. Had

Wesley” then, we would ask, “soul” connected with “ system ?” Think of a man without a “soul,” producing that mighty revolution in the world, which was consequent upon John Wesley's instrumentality! Can “system,” however ingeniously constructed, in the absence of “ soul,” affect immense masses of living men?

Of Mr. Wesley it is further said, “In Christian authorship he is not entitled to rank high. Clear as occasional expositions are, there is seldom comprehension in his views, or grandeur in his thoughts, or inspiration in

no

his practical appeals; and though his direct and simple style is sometimes terse, it is often meager, and very seldom racy. His voluminous Journals are little better than a turnpike log,-miles, towns, and sermon-texts,whilst their authoritative tone and self-centring details give the record an air of arrogance and egotism which, we doubt not, would disappear, could we view the venerable writer face to face.”

The object of Christian authorship, allow me to say, is the exposition, the defence, and the practical application of Christian truth. He is the best physician who effects the greatest number of cures ; he is the best Preacher who saves the greatest number of souls; and he is the best Christian author, whose writings produce the greatest amount of spiritual and moral good. Upon these principles I claim for Mr. Wesley, with all deference to the Reviewer, a “high rank in Christian authorship.” Whether there is in his writings what is called “comprehension in his views,” “grandeur in his thoughts,” or “ inspiration in his practical appeals,” we will not at present stay to inquire. To a considerable extent, these things are matters of taste and opinion. Two things, however, we may safely assert : first, Mr. Wesley's writings are extensively read, and have been from the time of their original publication ; and, secondly, their spiritual and moral tendency is eminently and undeniably good. Take, for example, his Sermons. It is exactly one hundred years since the greater part of his doctrinal sermons were first published. During this period they have been in constant demand ; and they are at this day purchased and read with undiminished interest and avidity. No sane man will argue against clearly-ascertained fact; and that critic must have a high opinion of his own discernment, who will assign a low place to books which have been read with eagerness and edification by tens of thousands of people in both hemispheres, and which are admired in exact proportion to the spiritual-mindedness of their readers. These sermons are not intended to defend the outworks of Christianity, or the leading points of what is called orthodoxy. They are not addressed to the imagination, or the passions, nor merely to the intellect. Their great design is, to bring men through penitence and faith into a state of salvation from sin, its guilt, and misery, and power; and then to give a holy direction to their entire character and conduct, and thus prepare them for their final account. Mr. Wesley was eminently and especially the Divine of religious experience; and as expositions of the true nature of personal religion his Sermons are unrivalled. They show the way to the kingdom with clearness which no other uninspired writers have ever surpassed. They are equally free from the cloudiness of mysticism, and from Antinomian and Pelagian delusion and error.

As to Mr. Wesley's style, which our critic pronounces meager, it possesses that first of all excellencies, perspicuity. The meaning of the writer strikes at once the reader's mind, just as the light of heaven falls upon the eye. Mr. Wesley disliked excessive ornament in literary composition, thinking that evangelical truth, like the most perfect human figure, “ is when unadorned adorned the most.” In this he was not peculiar. Other eminent men, besides him, have chosen a plain style, in preference to that which is artificial and highly figurative. If no man who chooses to write in a plain style is “entitled to rank high” in authorship, the names of John Locke and Thomas Reid must be degraded from the “ rank" which they now occupy in the public estimation.

As to the alleged want of raciness in Mr. Wesley's writings, I would

[ocr errors]

say, Let the appeal be made to his controversial tracts, and occasional papers; where the wit is as delicate and keen, as the arguments are lucid and conclusive ; and in respect of power, let the appeal be made to the sermons entitled, Scriptural Christianity, the Danger of Riches, and Free Grace, and to the conclusion of the Letter to Dr. Middleton. It would be easy to produce from the writings of Mr. Wesley fifty passages, which for expression and sentiment would not suffer from a comparison with specimens of the most admired authorship in the English language. After reading the Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion, Dr. Doddridge wrote on the back of the volume, “How forcible are right words !” and when the late Earl of Liverpool read the extract from the sermon on Free Grace, which Southey inserted in the Life of Wesley, he pronounced it the most eloquent passage that he had met with in any author.

On this subject, I am happy to adduce the authority of the North British Reviewer, who has unconsciously paid the highest compliment to Mr. Wesley's authorship. He says, “Should we regard the Wesleyan system as the mere embodiment of Mr. Wesley's mind, it is a singular triumph of worth and firmness. Never has a theological idiosyncracy perpetuated itself in a church so large and stable. But though every pin and cord of the Methodistic tabernacle bears trace of the fingers, concinnate and active, which reared it, the Founder's most remarkable memorial is his living monument. Wesley has not passed away ; for, if embalmed in the Connexion, he is re-embodied in the members. Never did a leader so stamp his impress on his followers. The Covenanters were not such fac-similes of Knox, nor were the imperial guards such enthusiastic copies of their little Corporal, as are the modern Methodists the perfect transmigration of their venerated father. Exact, orderly, and active ; dissident, but not Dissenters ; connexional, but catholic ; carrying warmth within, and yet loving southerly exposures ; obliging without effort, and liberal on system; serene, contented, and hopeful ;-if we except the master-spirits, whose type is usually their own, the most of pious Methodists are cast from Wesley's neat and cheerful mould. That goodness must have been attractive, as well as imitable, which has survived in a million of living effigies.”

After reading this eloquent eulogium upon Mr. Wesley and his people, we naturally ask, How are we to account for the fact which is here so explicitly asserted ; namely, that the present race of Methodists so nearly resemble the man whose name they bear?-in other words, that John Wesley, more than fifty years after his death, should have in the world “a million of living effigies ?” Our Reviewer says the fact “is a singular triumph of worth and firmness.” This is true; but how is the fact to be accounted for? Our Reviewer further says, concerning Mr. Wesley, “ Assuredly, his power was in his presence. Such fascination resided in his saintly mien, there was such intuition in the twinkle of his mild but brilliant eye, and such dissolving influence in his lively, benevolent, and instructive talk, that enemies often left him admirers and devotees." All this also may be freely conceded ; yet still the question which we have just stated remains unanswered. His presence could only impress his contemporaries ; his eye could only affect those who saw it twinkle ; his conversation could only charm those who heard his voice. For more than half a century his presence has been withdrawn, his eye has been closed in death, and his voice has been silent in the tomb. How is it, then, that the present Methodists think as he thought, and exemplify in their several degrees the peculiarities of character by which he was distinguished? The institutions of Methodism will not account for this. Class-meetings, lovefeasts, and Conferences, conducted by other men, cannot impress upon the people generally the views and habits of John Wesley. We are compelled, then, to attribute the resemblance which the Reviewer asserts to exist, and which is the subject of our inquiry, to Mr. Wesley's writings. In his incomparable volumes he has proposed his own views of revealed truth with such clearness and force, with the pure principles upon which his own beautiful character was formed ; and his sons in the Gospel, and his spiritual children generally, read his books with such respectful deference, that the result is, to a great extent, what the Reviewer has described. Now this I cannot but regard as the “ triumph” of authorship, as well as “the triumph of worth and firmness ;” and we may fairly challenge our Reviewer to produce any other uninspired writer, of any age or nation, whose works exert as great an influence upon an equal number of living minds. After this, it is vain to say that “in Christian authorship” John Wesley “is not entitled to rank high.” Who can claim the precedence of him? Who has been honoured with equal success? We may talk as long as we please about the want of comprehension, of grandeur, of inspiration, and of raciness, in his writings; they answer the end for which they were published ; and with “ a million of living effigies in the world,” to speak disparagingly of him as a writer is as great an absurdity as to say that the “Paradise Lost” displays no genius, and that the “Pilgrim's Progress” possesses no charm.

It is a singular fact, that our Reviewer has selected Mr. Wesley's Journal as a subject of special animadversion. “ His voluminous Journals,” we are told, are little better than a turnpike-log,-miles, towns, and sermontexts,—whilst their authoritative tone and self-centring details give the record an air of arrogance and egotism,” &c. Here again I cannot but think that our critic is in error. The Journals are written with great simplicity ; but this is one of their beauties. They never offend by a mawkish sentimentality, or by inflated and pompous diction. As they are a record of personal labours and observations, the writer speaks in his own person, and therefore of necessity often uses the pronoun“I;" but never with an air of self-importance. Some writers of journals, indeed, omit this significant letter, and give their readers a series of sentences without a nominative. I cannot but think that Mr. Wesley has shown a better taste by giving every sentence in its complete form; using the terms “I” and “me," when speaking of himself; justly thinking that the omission of these terms would savour more of affectation than of true humility. Where is the harm, when a man is relating what he has done or seen, of using the recognised forms of speech?

But our critic objects to the substance and matter of the Journals, as well as to their phraseology. He discovers in them little besides“ miles, towns, and sermon-texts.” May I be permitted to state what other people have found in these volumes? They have discovered in them,

1. An important and interesting detail as to the manner in which the character of one of the greatest and best of men was formed, and in which one of the most successful Preachers that ever lived was prepared for his work. John Wesley was, on his arrival at manhood, an acute critic, a polite scholar, an accomplished collegian, a high Churchman, profoundly ignorant of the real nature and bearing of those great truths which constitute THE GOSPEL. He knew that men ought to be holy ; but how the sacrificial blood of Christ, and the promised grace of the Holy Spirit, are to

VOL. III.FOURTH SERIES,

4 o

« VorigeDoorgaan »