Christian Fellowship Provided for -- Bands, Love-feasts, Class-meetings -- Origin of these Means of Grace -- The Work Extends -- Epworth -- Wesley Preaches on his Fathers Tombstone; Buries his Mother -- Newcastle -- Cornwall -- Discipline --First Annual Conference -- The Organization Complete.
Christian fellowship is a leading feature of Methodist economy. It was early provided for in the band-meeting and the love-feast, where mutual edification is the object, and personal experience the subject of discourse. The poet of Methodism was felicitous and fruitful in hymns for social worship. Of the proportionally large number on the "Communion of Saints" in Methodist hymn-books, Charles Wesley is the author of more than three-fourths. "The gift which He on one bestows" is thus participated in by all.
The love-feast was taken, with little modification, from the Moravians, who had it from the agapae of the Primitive Church Christians meet apart at stated times, and after eating the simplest meal together in token of good-will, light and love are promoted by conversation on the things of God, specially as related to personal experience. Bands also were introduced from the same quarter, and passed over into Methodism. This institute provided for a close fellowship. It required a subdivision into small and select numbers. The band-meetings were always voluntary, and never a test of Society-membership. "Two, three, or four true believers, who have full confidence in each other, form a band. Only it is to be observed that in one of these bands all must be men or all women, and all married or all single." (1) The design is to obey that command of God by St. James: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed." In the rules laid down very searching inquiries were allowed to be made of each other by the members, and very free disclosures of the interior life, as to temptations and deliverances. Much cavil has been indulged in, by ignorant friends and critical enemies, against the bands; but in vain has it been attempted to find in them either the principle or the evil of the Romish Confessional. Richard Watson thus replies to certain objectors within the pale of the Established Church in his time:
What ever objection may be made to these meetings, as a formal part of discipline (though with us they are only recommended, not enjoined), the principle of them is to be found in this passage of Scripture. They have been compared to the auricular confession of the papists, but ignorantly enough, for the confession is in itself essentially different, and it is not made to a minister, but takes place among private Christians to each other, and is, in fact, nothing more than a general declaration of the religious experience of the week. Nor is the abuse of the passage in St. James to the purpose of superstition a reason sufficient for neglecting that friendly confession of faults by Christians to each other which may engage their prayers in each others behalf. The founders of the national Church did not come to this sweeping conclusion, notwithstanding all their zeal against the confession of the Romish Church. In the Homily on Repentance it is said:"We ought to confess our weakness and infirmities one to another, to the end that, knowing each others frailness, we may the more earnestly pray together unto Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, that he will vouchsafe to pardon us our infirmities, for his Son Jesus Christ's sake."
The class-meeting came later, and is a distinctive outgrowth of Methodism. This means of grace connected pastoral oversight with Christian fellowship; it came when it was needed, providentially. Wesley's itinerancy had begun. How could he watch over so many souls? In London, as early as 1741, there were over a thousand in the Society. The class-meeting is so important that Wesley's own account of it is here given:
But as much as we endeavored to watch over each other, we soon found some who did not live in the gospel. I do not know that any hypocrites were crept in, for indeed there was no temptation; but several grew cold, and gave way to the sins which had long easily beset them. We quickly perceived there were many ill consequences of suffering these to remain among us. It was dangerous to others, in as much as all sin is of an infectious nature. It brought such a scandal on their brethren as exposed them to what was not properly the reproach of Christ. It laid a stumbling-block in the way of others, and caused the truth to be evil spoken of. We groaned under these inconveniences long, before a remedy could be found. The people were scattered so wide in all parts of the town, from Wapping to Westminster, that I could not easily see what the behavior of each person iii his own neighborhood was; so that several disorderly walkers did much hurt before I was appraised of it. At length, while we were thinking of quite another thing, we struck upon a method for which we have cause to bless God ever since. I was talking with several of the Society in Bristol (Feb. 15th, 1742) concerning the means of paying the debts there, when one stood up and said: Let every member of the Society give a penny a week, till all are paid." Another answered: "But many of them are poor, and cannot afford to do it." "Then," said he, "put eleven of the poorest with me, said if they can give nothing, I will give for them as well as for myself; and each of you call on eleven of your neighbors weekly; receive what they give, and make up what is wanting." It was done. In awhile some of these informed me they found such and such a one did not live as he ought. It struck me immediately, "This is the thing, the very thing we have wanted so long." I called together all the leaders of the classes (so we used to term them and their companies), and desired that each would make a particular inquiry into the behavior of those whom he saw weekly. They did so. Many disorderly walkers were detected. Some turned from the evil of their ways, and some were put away from us.
As this took up a great deal of the leaders time, and he had seldom a suitable place to converse with the members personally, it was soon resolved that the class meet in one place at a given time, beginning and closing with song and prayer. This practice became general, and gave efficiency and organization to the Wesleyan Societies. The leaders then met Wesley or his assistant at another time every week to report any cases of sickness or disorderly conduct, and to pay the steward of the Society the sum which had been received of the class.
Thus class-meetings began. Wesley writes: "It can scarce be conceived what advantages have been reaped by this little prudential regulation. Many now experienced that Christian fellowship of which they had not so much as an idea before. They began to bear one another's burdens, and naturally to care for each others welfare. And as they had daily a more intimate acquaintance, so they had a more endeared affection for each other. Upon reflection, I could not but observe, This is the very thing which was from the beginning of Christianity." The class-meeting was thus endowed with a pastoral, financial, and devotional function. Long after "a penny a week and a shilling and a quarter" fell into disuse by the adoption of larger financial schemes among wealthier people, the inquiry how their souls prospered, and giving suitable advice in every case, remained he chief business of the class-leader. "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." Jesus is entitled to the praise, and every member to the benefit, of a work of grace in any soul. The class-meeting not only strengthened the weak, it confirmed the strong, and trained and developed laborers for wider fields. At the first, Societies were of a general character; but at the opening of the Foundry, the distinct Methodist United Society (1739) was instituted; and this form of organization spread to Bristol and elsewhere. The class-meeting began in Bristol (1742); and this closer organization soon obtained among the Societies at London and elsewhere. All organizations must have rules, and the Rules of the United Societies were framed and published at Newcastle (1743), and governed all. By and by society and class became synonymous terms, where one class included all the Society at a place. Some of the old members were at first averse to this new arrangement, regarding it not as a privilege but rather as a restraint. They objected that there were no such meetings when they joined the Society, and asked why they should be instituted now. Wesley answered that he regarded class-meetings not essential, nor of Divine institution, but merely prudential helps, which it was a pity the Society had not been favored with from the beginning. "We are always open to instruction," he said to these complainants, "willing to be wiser every day than we were before, and to change whatever we can change for the better."
The class-meeting has been the germ of thousands of Methodist churches. When, under the word, souls have been awakened in any place, or when, by immigration, a few Christians are thrown together, a class is formed. The pastor appoints the leader, who is in the pastors stead during his absence. The organization is simple and effective, at once bringing into play all necessary machinery. Weekly meetings and the fellowship that "is involved are most helpful to those, in any state of knowledge or grace, who are trying to work out their salvation. The apostolic injunction of "assembling ourselves together" is fulfilled. Prayer-meetings and preaching and the sacraments follow, and the work expands indefinitely.
"Form Societies in every place where we preach,' was Wesley's motto. Where this had not been done, his remark was: "All the seed has fallen by the way-side; there is scarce any fruit remaining." The first Societies passed readily into these classes, and thus was formed the primary and compact organism.
About this time Whitefield wrote to Wesley: "My attachment to America will not permit me to abide very long in England; consequently, I should but weave a Penelopes web if I formed Societies; and if I should form them, I have not proper assistants to take care of them. I intend therefore to go about preaching the gospel to every creature. You, I suppose, are for settling Societies everywhere." Dr. Adam Clarke says:
It was by this means (the formation of Societies) that we have been enabled to establish permanent and holy churches over the world. Mr. Wesley aw the necessity of this from the beginning. Mr. Whitefield, when he separated from Mr. Wesley, did not follow it. What was the consequence? The fruit of Mr. Whitefield's labors died with himself; Mr. Wesley's fruit remains, grows, increases, and multiplies exceedingly. Did Mr. Whitefield see his error? He did, but not till it was too late. His people, long unused to it, would not come under this discipline. Have I authority to say so? I have, and you shall have it. Forty years age I traveled in Bradford, the Wilts Circuit, with Mr. John Pool. Himself told me the following anecdote: Mr. Pool was well known to Mr. Whitefield, and having met him one day, Whitefield accosted him in the following manner: "Well, John, art thou still a Wesleyan?" Pool replied: "Yes, sir; and I thank God that I have the privilege of being in connection with him, and one of his preachers." "John," said Whitefield, "thou art in thy right place. My Brother Wesley acted wisely--the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand."
The watch-night dates back to 1740. The Kingswood colliers had been used to "watch the old year out" with riot and revelries, and now that a reformation had taken place in them, this their custom was reformed also. It was suggested by James Rogers, a collier noted among his neighbors for playing on the violin, but who, being awakened under the ministry of Charles Wesley, went home, burned his fiddle, and told his wife that he meant to be a Methodist. He became a faithful lay preacher. The people met at half-past eight; the house was filled from end to end; and "we concluded the year," says Wesley, "wrestling with God in prayer, and praising him for the wonderful work which he had already wrought upon the earth." The meeting soon became a favorite one, and was held monthly. Wesley writes: "Some advised me to put an end to this; but upon weighing the thing thoroughly, and comparing it with the practice of the ancient Christians, I could see no cause to forbid it; rather, I believed it might be made of more general use. The Church, in ancient times, was accustomed to spend whole nights in prayer, which nights were termed viqiliae, or vigils." Always watchful to promote the spiritual prosperity of his people, Wesley at a litter day introduced into his Societies the practice of renewing the covenant on the first Sunday of every year. In many places the renewal of the covenant closes the watch-night service.
During the next two years Wesley traversed many parts of the kingdom, preaching, almost daily, and sometimes four sermons on the Sabbath. Helpers were raised up, and with this assistance he was able to maintain regular worship in connection with his various Societies, and at the same time to extend the work into new districts. While he was passing and repassing between London and Bristol, with continual deviations to Southampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Bath, and Wales, Charles Wesley was scarcely less active. It required the utmost efforts of the brothers to guard their people against Moravian stillness and Antinomianism on the one hand, and Whitefield's doctrine of predestination on the other. By 1742 Wesley had not only formed numerous Societies, but saw more fruit of his labors rising up around him as able assistants. Twenty-three preachers were, during this year, regularly engaged as helpers, besides many local preachers. Ingham and the Delamottes, meantime, had been won over to "Moravian mysticism;" and it required all, and more than all, John Nelson could do in Yorkshire to keep the "German boar of stillness" from laying waste the vineyard in those parts.
In May Wesley invaded the north. The power of the gospel as exhibited at Kingswood was equal to the wants of Newcastle. The opening of his mission at this point, where one of his strongest churches was planted and an important center of operations established, deserves notice. The account exhibits all the elements of the successful evangelist. His journal (1742) says:
We came to Newcastle-upon-Tyne about six, and, after a short refreshment, walked into the town. I was surprised; so much drunkenness, cursing, and swearing(even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before, in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for Him who "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." At seven next [Sunday] morning I walked down to Sandgate, the poorest and most contempt le part of the town, and, standing at the end of the street with John Taylor, began to sing the hundredth Psalm. Three or four people came out to see what was the matter, who soon increased to four or five hundred. I suppose there might be twelve or fifteen hundred, before I had done preaching; to whom I applied those solemn words: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Observing the people, when I had done, to stand gaping and staring upon me, with the most profound astonishment, I told them: "If you desire to know who I am, my name is John Wesley. At five in the evening, with Gods help, I design to preach here again." At five, the bill on which I designed to preach was covered from the top, to the bottom. I never saw so large a number of people together either in Moorfields or at Kennington Common.
On his way southward the next month, Wesley passed through Epworth--his first visit for many years. Beginning on Sunday, he spent a few days in the neighborhood, preaching daily with uncommon tenderness and power. We quote from his journal:
A little before the service began [Sunday] I went to Mr. Romley, the curate, Bud offered to assist him either by preaching or reading prayers. But he did not care to accept of my assistance. The church was exceeding full in the afternoon, a rumor being spread that I was to preach. After sermon John Taylor stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, as the people were coming out: "Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o'clock." Accordingly at six I came, and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before. I stood near the east end of the church, upon my fathers tombstone, and cried: "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
He returned to the same pulpit on Friday, and during the sermon "lamentation and great mourning were heard God bow-jug the hearts of the people, so that on every side, as with one accord, they lifted up their voice and wept aloud."
Wesley tells of the next day: "I preached on the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith. While I was speaking, several dropped down as dead; and among the rest, such a cry was heard, of sinners groaning for the righteousness of faith, as almost drowned my voice. But many of these soon lifted up their heads with joy, and broke out into thanksgiving; being assured they now had the desire of their soul--the forgiveness of their sins. I observed a gentleman there who was remarkable for not pretending to be of any religion at all. I was informed he had not been at public worship of any kind for upward of thirty years. Seeing him stand as motionless as a statue, I asked him abruptly, 'Sir, are you a sinner?' He replied, with a deep and broken voice, 'Sinner enough;' and continued staring upward till his wife and a servant or two, who were all in tears, put him into his chaise and carried him home."
And he wound up the protracted meeting on Sunday evening: "At six I preached for the last time in Epworth church-yard (being to leave the town the next morning), to a vast multitude gathered together from all parts, on the beginning of our Lords Sermon on the Mount. I continued among them I or near three hours; and yet we scarce knew bow to part. I am well assured," writes Wesley, "that I did far more good to my Lincolnshire parishioners by preaching three days on my fathers tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit."
All this was good news for his mother, then at his house and awaiting her "release," which occurred the following month. Standing by her open grave (in Bunhill Fields, opposite City Road Chapel), he preached her funeral-sermon from the text: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; . . and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." He says: "Almost an innumerable company of people being gathered together, about five in the afternoon, I committed to the earth the body of my mother, to sleep with her fathers. It was one of the most solemn assemblies I ever saw, or expect to see on this side eternity."
Fierce persecutions occur about this time. The clergy stir up the people from their pulpits, and the houses of Methodists are mobbed, and their chapels torn down. Wesley, attending a church-service one Sunday in Staffordshire, makes this report:
On Sunday the scene began to open; I think I never heard so wicked a sermon, and delivered with such bitterness of voice and manner, as that which Mr. E--n preached in the afternoon. I knew what effect this must have in a little time; and therefore judged it expedient to prepare the poor people for what was to follow, that when it came they might not be offended. Accordingly, I strongly enforced these words of our Lord: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, ...yea, and his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
In a few days the Wednesbury mob took Wesley out of the house he was preaching in, carried him round and about for several hours with many threats of violence, but were strangely withheld, and returned him, at ten o'clock at night, to the place they took him from, as he says with no worse damage than a bruised hand and the loss of "one flap of his waistcoat." His brother met him soon after. "He looked," said Charles, "like a soldier of Christ; his clothes were torn to tatters;" a proof that Wesley's account of the loss of one flap of his waistcoat is a modest statement. Their temper of mind is exhibited in a hymn written by Charles Wesley after one of these tumults:
The hymn for opening an Annual Conference, composed afterward by Charles Wesley for that purpose, and sung on the first day wherever Conferences of itinerant preachers are held, shows the circumstances in which it had its origin and inspiration:
Charles visited Cornwall, the chapel at St. Ives at that time being the head-quarters of Methodism in the west. Here, as in Wednesbury, he found the clergy using their utmost efforts to stir up the people against the new sect. The consequence was a series of disgraceful riots, dangerous to the lives of the Methodists and their ministers, and destructive of their property. During those seasons of violence the "preaching-house" at St. Ives was gutted and the benches and furniture destroyed, the preacher and congregation being savagely assaulted. The church-warden at Pool, heading a mob, drove the preacher and congregation to the border of the parish; then, leaving them there, he returned and rewarded his followers with drink in the ale-house at Pool, in consequence of which the following entry may now be found in the parish book: "Expenses at Ann Gartrells on driving the Methodists, nine shillings." (2)
How the Methodists moved on a place, when they meant to take it, is illustrated by the manner in ~which Cornwall was subdued to Christ. Charles Wesley remained preaching in every part of the mining region with great success, notwithstanding furious persecution, until the first week in August (1743), when he returned to London. In less than a month his brother arrived at St. Ives. On this occasion John Nelson accompanied Wesley; his journal, therefore, affords information. Nelson set out from London for this journey in company with another preacher; they had but one horse between the two, and came through Oxford, and preached in the towns by the way. After preaching at Bristol and Bath, Nelson and Downes proceeded toward Cornwall with Wesley, who was accompanied by Mr. Shepherd, who had been preaching in that quarter. They appear to have had a horse each; for Nelson says, "We generally set out before Mr. Wesley and Mr.It Shepherd." Having reached St. Ives, Wesley's first care here, as in other places, was to make a thorough examination of the classes. He found about one hundred and twenty members; and near a hundred of these enjoyed peace with God
So soon as they were fairly at their journeys end, John Nelson went to work at his trade as a mason; and not long after, Downes, being taken ill of fever, was for a time laid aside. Wesley and Shepherd immediately began to preach, and were joined in these labors by Nelson in the evenings. These laborers in a short time spread the gospel most abundantly over the narrow peninsula of West Cornwall.
What they endured in the prosecution of their mission may be seen from Nelsons journal. As soon as lie had finished his job of work, he also fully devoted himself to preaching; and of this period he says: "All this time Mr. Wesley and I lay on the floor; he had my greatcoat for his pillow, and I had Burkitts 'Notes on the New Testament' for mine. After being here near three weeks, one morning about three o'clock, Mr. Wesley turned over, and, finding me awake, clapped me on the side, saying: 'Brother Nelson, let us be of good cheer; I have one whole side yet, for the skin is off but on one side.'" Nelson continues: "We usually preached on the commons, going from one common to another, and it was but seldom any one asked us to eat or drink. One day we had been at St. Hilary Downs, and Mr. Wesley had preached from Ezekiel's vision of dry bones, and there was a shaking among the people as he preached. As we returned, Mr. Wesley stopped his horse to pick the blackberries, saying: 'Brother Nelson, we ought to be thankful that there are plenty of blackberries; for this is the best country I ever saw for getting a stomach, but the worst that ever I saw for getting food. Do the people think we can live by preaching?'" Wesley says that the last morning of his stay he was waked between three and four by a company of miners, who, fearing they should be too late for the five o'clock preaching, had gathered around the house, and were singing hymns.
Fidelity and closeness of pastoral oversight was a feature of Wesleyan polity, as appears by very many journalized visitations. Take these from the latter end of 1743.--At Bristol, Wesley prosecuted a careful inquiry into the state of the Society by speaking with every member individually, and rejoiced to find them neither "barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." "On the following days," he says, "I spoke with each member of the Society in Kingswood. I cannot understand how any minister' can hope ever to give up his account with joy, unless (as Ignatius advises) he 'knows all his flock by name, not overlooking the men-servants and maid-servants." About the end of the month he went to London, where, assisted by his brother, he made a similar visitation of the London Society; at the close of it he preached a sermon, and made a collection of £50 toward the expense of building the chapel at Newcastle. In 1745 he carefully examined the Society in London one by one, and wrote a list of the whole with his own hand, numbered from one to two thousand and eight. In 1746 he repeated this operation, and wrote another list, in which the number was reduced to one thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine.
Northward he moves early in 1744. Arrived in Newcastle, between three and four hundred miles from Bristol, after preaching in the town and in adjacent places, he read the rules to the Society, and commenced a careful examination of the roll. He was particular in this inquiry because of the great revival which had taken place a few months before. The result was that seventy-six had left the Society, and sixty-four were expelled. Coming to particulars concerning those expelled, we get an insight into the moral code, as well as discipline of those days. His journal tells us: "Two for cursing and swearing; two for habitual Sabbath - breaking; seventeen for drunkenness; two for retailing spirituous liquors; three for quarreling and brawling; three for habitual, willful lying; four for railing and evil-speaking," etc.
What of those withdrawn? Wesley accounts for them, too, in his journal:
I observed the number of those who had left the Society, since December, was seventy-six; fourteen of these (chiefly Dissenters) said they left it because other wise their ministers would not give them the sacrament; nine more, because their husbands or wives were not willing-they should stay in it; twelve, because their parents were not willing; five, because their master and mistress would not let them come; seven, because their acquaintance persuaded them to leave it; five, because people said such bad things of the Society; nine, because they would not be laughed at; three, because they would not lose the poors allowance; three more, because they could not spare time to come; two, because it was too far off; one, because she was afraid of falling into fits; one, because people were so rude in the street; two, because Thomas N-- was in the Society; one, because he would not turn his back on his baptism; one, because we were mere Church of England men; and one, because it was time enough to serve God yet.
On his return to London he raised £60, to alleviate the sufferings of the persecuted Methodists in Staffordshire, whose houses could be known, as one rode along the street, by the broken doors and windows, and by other signs of violence. He visited Cornwall later in the spring. At St. Ives the preaching-house was demolished. The people had been excited to such frenzy against the Methodists that on hearing that the British Admiral Matthews had beat the Spaniards, they manifested their joy by tearing down the Methodist chapel. But at last the cause triumphed gloriously in Cornwall.
It is time for another forward step--the first Annual Conference. Wesley had been pursuing his itinerant course about five years. He had in connection with him as fellow-laborers forty-five preachers, including half a dozen ministers of the Establishment who cooperated with him. This number is exclusive of the local preachers throughout the country, of whom there was a considerable number. Societies had been formed in many of the principal towns from Lands End to Newcastle. The number of members is not known. There were nearly three thousand in London, and the aggregate number throughout the country must have been several thousand. The first Conference was a meeting of his "helpers," or lay assistants, and the pious clergymen who had sympathized with them. He requested the attendance of these persons, and has left on record his object for doing so:
In 1744 I wrote to several clergymen, and to all who then served me as sons in the gospel, desiring them to meet me in London, and to give me their advice concerning the best method of carrying on the work of God.
This original Conference was held at the Foundry, and began June 25th. There were present John Wesley, Charles. Wesley; John Hodges,- rector of Wenvo; Henry Piers, vicar of Bexley; Samuel Taylor, vicar of Quinton; and John Meriton, a clergyman from the Isle of Man. Thomas Richards, Thomas Max-field, John Bennett, and John Downes were the helpers, or lay preachers, present.
On the day before the Conference commenced, besides the ordinary preaching services, a love-feast was held; and during the day the Lords Supper was administered to the whole London Society, now numbering between two and three thousand members. The sessions were held by adjournment from Monday, June 25th till the end of the week. Great precaution was taken by Wesley in enacting suitable rules for the discussions of the Conference. It was decided "to check no one, either by word or look, even though he should say what is quite wrong; to beware of making haste, or of showing or indulging any impatience, whether of delay or contradiction;" that "every question proposed be fully debated, and 'bolted to the bran.'"
Preliminaries having been arranged, and earnest prayer offered, the design of the meeting was proposed under three heads, namely: To "consider, 1. What to teach. 2. How to teach. 3. What to do; that is, how to regulate our doctrine, discipline, and practice." Under the first head, a conversation was continued throughout this and the following day, which embraced the leading doctrines of the gospel, such as justification, saving faith, imputed righteousness, sanctification, etc.:
We began by considering the doctrine of justification; the questions relating Ia which, with the substance of the answers given thereto, were as follows: Q. What is it to be justified? A. To be pardoned, and received into Gods favor, into sach a State that if we continue therein we shall be finally saved. Q. Is faith the condition of justification? A. Yes; for every one who believeth not is condemned, and every one who believes is justified. Q. But must not repentance, and works meet for repentance, go before this faith? A. Without doubt, if by repentance you mean conviction of sin, and by works meet for repentance, obeying God as far as we can, forgiving our brother, leaving off evil, doing good, and using his ordinances according to the power we have received. Q. What is faith? A. First, a sinner is convinced by the Holy Ghost--" Christ loved me, and gave himself for me." This is that faith by which he is justified, or pardoned, the moment he receives it. Immediately the same Spirit bears witness, "Thou att pardoned, thou hast redemption in his blood." And this is saving faith, whereby the love off God is shed abroad in his heart. Q. What sins are consistent with justifying faiths A. No willful sin. If a believer willfully sins, he casts away his faith. Neither is it possible he should have justifying faith again without previously repenting. Q. Must every believer come into a state of doubt, or fear, or darkness? A. It is certain a believer need never again come into condemnation. It seems he need not come into a state of doubt, or fear, or darkness; and that (ordinarily, at least) he will not, unless by ignorance or unfaithfulness. Yet it is true that the first joy does seldom last long; that it is commonly followed by doubts and fears; and that God frequently permits ,great heaviness before any large manifestation of himself. Q. Are works necessary to the continuance of faith? A. Without doubt; for a man may forfeit the free gift of God, either by sins of omission or commission. Q. Can faith be lost but for the want of works? A. It cannot but through disobedience. Q. How Is faith made perfect by works? A. The more we exert our faith, the more it is increased. To him that hath shall be given.
Then they took up discipline. The General Rules (3) were read, and by the time adjournment was reached they not only understood each other, but were of one mind and heart. The spirit and substance of the compact made between the founder of Methodism and his preachers are contained in the Rule of Enlistment into the heroic order of itinerants, adopted at this first Conference:
Act in all things not according to your own will, but as a son in the gospel. As such it is your part to employ your time in that manner that we direct; partly in visiting the flock from house to house (the sick in particular); partly in such a course of reading, meditation, and prayer as we advise from time to time. Above all, if you labor with us in our Lords vineyard, it is needful you should do that part of the work which we direct at those times and places which we judge most for his glory. (4)
The proceedings indicate that Methodism began not in a theoretical, but in an experimental faith and this was made the basis of the plan of operations. Religion itself was the inspiring spirit of order. The inward and divine life created the external economy, and not the economy the life. Experimental piety was the first in order, and discipline the second. Five days thus spent must have had a happy effect on the minds of such men. Wesley said of them; "They desire nothing but to save their own souls, and those that hear them."
The next Conference met at Bristol, with fewer "clergy" and more "preachers." "We had our second Conference," says Wesley, "with as many of the brethren who labor in the word as could be present." On this occasion the theological doctrines mooted at the first Conference were carefully reviewed; the opinions then given, and the forms of expression in which they were conveyed, were now very carefully scrutinized, and in some cases modified. The fidelity of the preachers also, in respect of the rules that had been laid down, was considered, and suitable admonitions were administered. In regard to the suggestion that the Methodists might ultimately become a distinct sect, when their clerical leaders were no more, these servants of God declare: "We cannot with a safe conscience neglect the present opportunity of saving souls while we live, for fear of consequences which may possibly or probably happen after we are dead;" assuming that the salvation of souls is of greater importance than the maintenance of any system of ecclesiastical order whatever.
At the third Conference (1746) the call and the qualification to preach were carefully considered and defined; and this important item of Methodist economy was then determined as we now have it, in answer to the question, "How shall we try those who think they are moved by the Holy Ghost and called of God to preach?" At this Conference, also, the circuits were mapped out and first published--seven in number.
From the germ-cell of the class-meeting up to the Annual Conference, the ecclesiastical economy has been evolved, and the organic structure is complete. The first provides for the reception and supervision of members, the last for the reception and supervision of ministers.
At an early day the question was asked: "Can there be any such thing as a general union of our Societies throughout England?" It was proposed to regard the Society in London as the mother Church; and for every assistant in country circuits to inquire particularly into the state of his circuit, and send such information b the stewards of the London Circuit, who would settle a regular correspondence with all the Societies. It was also proposed that a yearly collection be established, out of which any pressing Society debts might be discharged, and any Society suffering persecution, or in real distress, might be relieved. The necessity and utility of bringing into vigorous operation the connectional principle appears to have been suggested to the mind of Wesley; and contemplating its effects, he exultingly says: "Being thus united in one body, of which Christ Jesus is the Head, neither the world nor the devil will be able to separate us in time or in eternity." In the Annual Conference this bond of union was found. To it reports were made, from it rules and regulations emanated. Not only the esprit de corps of the preachers was fostered, but their orthodoxy and pastoral fidelity were looked after. No doctrinal test was required for membership. If one desired "to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from his sins," he met the condition for entrance, and by keeping certain rules lie met the condition of continuance; and it may be safely asserted that no awakened soul following those rules will rail of coming to gospel light and liberty. The members might be Arminian or Calvinistic, they might favor Dissent or affect the Establishment--no question on those points was raised in the class-meeting or love-feast; the one thing was to help sinners to conversion and Christians to holiness. It was very different, however, in the case of preachers--they were held closely to a doctrinal as well as an experimental standard. In the beginning of Methodism, the evil of dissentient if not heretical teachers was seen--clashing, and confusion, and contradiction. Therefore, one of the most important functions of the Annual Conference is to see that the trumpet gives no uncertain sound. It began by inquiring what to teach, and it inquires, year after year, if the doctrine accepted is taught. Hence, such items as these occur in the early Minutes: "Q. Can we unite, if it be desirable, with Mr. Ingham? A. We may now behave to him with all tenderness and love, and unite with him when he returns to the old Methodist doctrine. Q. Predestinarian preachers have done much harm among us; how may this be prevented for the future? A. Let none of them preach any more in our Societies. Q. Do any among us preach Antinomianism? A. We trust not." Whereupon a wholesome tract upon that subject was read and duly commented on in open Conference.
By and by we see the Conference providing for the support of preachers and their families, for the superannuated, for education, for missions, for book and tract distribution, and, in a word, guiding affairs with united wisdom. This final development of Methodist economy destined to be repeated throughout all lands, and to be the most potent of assemblies--having been reached, henceforth we are to witness only such changes as growth makes in the spiritual body.
1. Rule of the Band Societies, drawn up for Methodist Societies, Dec. 25, 1738 The Band Rules were continued in the Methodist Discipline in America till the year 1854, when they were eliminated by the General Conference of the M. E. Church, South. The General Conference of the (Northern) M.B. Church canceled them in 1856. back
3. "The Nature, Design, and General Rules of the United Societies, in London, Bristol, Kingswood, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Price one penny." 12 pages. This, the first edition of the "Rules," is signed by John Wesley only, and bears date of February 28, 1743. A second edition was issued, signed by both John and Charles Wesley, dated May 1, 1743. (Tyerman.) back
This article was copied from: Holland N. McTyeire, A History of Methodism:, Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 1892