[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the wishes of the founder. He desired to amalgamate, -to give new life and infuse vigour into the Church. Events disturbed and destroyed his scheme. A new body grew up which might be on terms of friendship with the Church, but could not be one with it.

If the movement of Methodism had its use, we must take it with its consequences. Once admitted and established, it ensured separation. Wesley had an organizing head, and the hand of a ruler. He was prompt, pliant, and inventive. But the machine which he made had impulses and tendencies of its own, which, overruling his wishes, decided its direction. The founder was intent on his work, and sought only to complete it. He was eminently successful. The vessel was made. But when it was launched, its course was inevitable. The builder wished to see it remain within the port. Its own force and the elements carried it far to sea.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]



It was

DURING the ten years which elapsed from 1770 to 1780, the fortunes of Methodism seemed to advance. the burst of a marvellous spring. The Society had escaped many hazards, and had spread to every part of the empire. It had extended itself in the Colonies; it was robust at home. The storm, with which it had been assailed, had died away, and its preachers were now unembarrassed. The number of its members had increased, and its affairs had become so important, that the time necessary for its annual conference was fixed in 1780 at nine days.* The body still felt the able pressure of Wesley's hand, and a spirit of friendly concert prevailed. On the site of Finsbury Square, in the midst of brickfields, archery grounds and gardens, stood the Cathedral of Methodism : used after the Restoration as a foundry for cannon, then abandoned as dilapidated, it had preserved its old name of the Foundry. A ruinous

* C. Wesley's Life, ii. pp. 327, 328.

place, with a pantile roof and a few rough deal boards for a pulpit, was the shelter which John Wesley sought in London from mobs and storms. But the old building had been replaced by an imposing chapel, to which were attached Wesley's house, a school, a printing-house, and a dispensary. As soon as the bell sounded on the top of the chapel, at five in the morning, or at dusk in the evening, crowds of lanterns might be seen twinkling over the waste ground and gardens; lighting the steps of the multitude who flocked to hear Charles Wesley, or John, or some other favourite preacher. Charles Wesley became at last the settled minister, when he resided in London, in Chesterfield Street.

But though all the outward symptoms of Methodism thus spoke of vigor and progress, the sere and yellow marks betokened autumnal decay. We need not take the evidence of the envious or hostile; the clearest testimony comes from the founder himself.

In the first days of the sect, when in the midst of furious attacks a burst of revival had sprung up,* Wesley had pointed with exultation to these signs, and had pronounced it the most marvellous reformation that had arisen since the days of the apostles. When by the exercise of rare tact, energy, and patience, he had conso

* Southey, ii. p. 529. † “ Through England, Europe, and America, sinners have been thoroughly changed both in heart and life, not by tens or hundreds only, but by thousands, yea, by myriads."

[merged small][ocr errors]

lidated the system, completed the structure, and provided against decay, he marvelled to find that, in the

very strength and maturity of his work, decrepitude and weakness appeared. “Might I not have expected,” he says sadly, “a general increase of faith and love ? Truly, when I saw what God had done among his people, between forty and fifty years ago, when I saw them warm in their first love, magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God their Saviour, I could expect nothing less than that all these would have lived like angels here below.” Instead of this he found Societies weak, which he had left strong. Those, which a few years before were thriving, he found drooping, or in collapse ;—some had become so foul, that it was necessary to cleanse them; others so corrupt, that there was no remedy but to break them up. There is "more imaginary than unfeigned faith,” says Fletcher of the Methodists,“ in most of them who pass for believers.” Antinomian indulgence was, he adds, the “motto of professing congregations, societies, families, and individuals.”

As early as 1755, John Wesley descried this change, His brother had expressed a fear that the Methodists would leave the church. He

in answer :-

“ I have
no fear about this matter. I only fear the preachers
and the people leaving, not the church, but the love of
God, inward and outward holiness." *
His sanguine temper was always discovering signs

* C. Wesley's Life, ii. p. 83.

of good; and looking forward to progress, while his clear discernment discovered the disappointment, and he was too candid not to confess it. Half-a-dozen times he records with delight a revival of religion among the children in Kingswood school. As many times he confesses sadly, that all traces of good were gone. The truth is, though he was too much absorbed in his work to see it, that it is one thing to awaken feelings,—another to instil principles. A sudden shock may galvanize men into the excitement of motion. It needs a different agency to infuse and sustain a healthy life. Stimulants are not nutriment; useful to raise us out of stupor; they do not serve for daily sustenance.

Wesley's mission was a restorative; but it failed as a regimen. It is well to touch the causes, while we trace the proofs, of the failure. And we may give these in the words, and with the authority, of Wesley himself.

“How is it possible that Methodism, that is a religion of the heart, though it flourishes as a green-baytree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal. Consequently they increase in goods. Hence they perpetually increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life,” &c.*

Whatever we may think of the justice of this argument, we should notice the admission. The fact of decline is avowed. Wesley's sermons are full of the

* Southey, ii. p. 522. Wesley's Works, vii. p. 277.

« VorigeDoorgaan »