Page images

whole sympathies flowed out towards the preacher. They flocked to hear one who told them such new things, new in fact to many, and in the manner of the telling, new to all.

Wesley himself, though better known to us as the founder of a sect, was no mean preacher. His labors in this part of his vocation were prodigious, and no one knew how to turn them to better effect. His earnest address, his self-possession, and his logical acuteness, sometimes carried conviction when the appeals of Whitefield were entirely ineffectual. "As soon as he got upon his stand," said one of his hearers in Moorfields, who afterwards became one of his preachers," he stroked back his hair, and turned his face towards where I stood, and I thought fixed his eyes upon me. His countenance struck such an awful dread upon me, before I heard him speak, that it made my heart beat like the pendulum of a clock; and when he did speak, I thought his whole discourse was aimed at me."

Charles Wesley too, by his great fervor and sincerity, by his rich thoughts and copiousness of expression, attracted hearers of education and refinement, while the fervor of his devotion went to the deepest hearts of the serious. A dissenter who heard him thus described the effect : “ Never did I hear such praying; never did I see such evident marks of fervency in the service of God. At the close of every petition a serious amen, like a gentle rushing sound of waters, ran through the whole audience, with such a solemn air as quite distinguished it from whatever of that nature I have heard attending the responses in the church service.

He was standing on a table board in an erect posture, with his hands and eyes listed up to heaven. He preached about an hour in such a manner as I scarce ever heard any man preach: though I have heard many a fine sermon, according to the common taste or acceptation of sermons, I never heard any man discover such evident signs of a vehement desire, or labor so earnestly to convince his hearers that they were all by nature in a sinful, lost, undone state.

And though he used no notes, nor had any thing in his hand but a Bible, yet he delivered his thoughts in a rich variety of expression and with so much propriety, that I could not observe any thing incoherent or inanimate through the whole performance.

If there be such a thing as heavenly music upon earth, I heard it there. As for my own part, I do not remember my heart 10 have been so

[ocr errors]





elevated in divine love and praise as it was then and there for many years past, if ever; and an affecting sense and savor thereofabode in my mind many weeks after."

Besides these, was a chosen company of preachers selected by Wesley himself, than whom no one ever judged more wisely of the fitness of the men for their office. Napoleon could not better select his generals than Wesley his preachers. Both were sometimes deceived, but not often. Whatever be the faults of democracy it usually has the virtue of giving “ the tools to those who can use them.” It may be foolish, may be passionate and rash, may be ungenerous and ungrateful, but seldom weak. In Wesley's scheme of government, there was a skilful mixture of freedom and constraint, of authority and independence. He himself was amenable to no man. He did not appoint himself the head of the sect, hut came to it by the providence of God, and he bore himself like a King and Priest. His preachers did not choose him but he chose them. They were not obliged to bear the burdens which he laid

upon Were they grieved at his measures? there was an easy remedy: when they entered the society they gave no pledge, and they might leave it without opposition. Did they become restless under his orders and seek to subvert his plans? they must leave the society. He gave them permission to preach in bis chapels, and when they abused that permission, he withdrew it. His magnanimity never descended to annoying restrictions, nor to a capricious exercise of authority for the sake of authority, but neither would it allow the great plans which he had formed to be thwarted by the folly or pride of those who had no plans at all beyond the present day, and their own congregation. No dictator was ever more jealous of authority, yet none ever assumed it with a stronger feeling of his divine right to rule, nor used it more wisely. He did not justify himself by arbitrary determination, but by appeal to the course of Providence, and he sustained his measures by unanswerable arguments, by the power of a strong mind over weak ones. He selected his preachers wherever he could find them. Did a man who gave evidence of conversion find himself gifted with the power of speaking and feel impelled to call his fellow men to repentance, he had an opportunity to display his gifts before Wesley, and if approved,

was forthwith sent to some of the widely extended circuits. No pride of birth, no previous education, no want of it, stood in the way or prejudiced the ca

reer of the candidate for these irregular orders. He who was unfit for one service, was found useful in another.

It is doubtless one mark of the profound policy of the Roman Catholic church, that it affords to individuals in all classes, who are moved to devote themselves to the extension of the faith, an appropriate sphere for their labors, and each is sure of honor according to what he does. The monk who goes barefoot, and wears nothing but a gown of coarse serge, may be doing a great duty for which the benignant mother smiles upon him. Though born in poverty, he may aspire to the Popedom.* The passion of every man and every woman is turned to a wise account. Every one feels a personal interest in the triumph of the faith. Thus are secured the distinguishing virtues of despotism and democracy, unity and perseverance in design, vigor and self-devotion in execution.

This was the plan of Wesley. He was the head and heart of the association, but his instruments, chosen wherever and whenever presented, were directed with consummate prudence, inspired by the most untiring zeal. Hence the most earnest and sincere and self-devoted flocked to his standard. Their own experience was many times most affecting, sometimes terrible. They seemed to be expressly called of God; they had been snatched from the jaws of the bottomless pit; they had been mysteriously turned from courses of desperate and heart-hardening sin; they had felt the terrible burden of a wounded conscience; they had bent under the prostrating load for months or years; they had agonized in prayer; they had wrestled with the angel even till break of day; they had rejoiced with joy unspeakable; they had heard and seen and felt what no man could tell to his fellow-man. Why should we doubt the reality of such joyful or bitter experience? Its truth and their honesty were sometimes attested by a laborious and almost uncompensated career of twenty years. The self-devotion, the enthusiasm, the fidelity and boldness of some of the early preachers would have secured them, in the Papal church, honors, authority, and perhaps a saintship. They sought and obtained only a decent (we should think scanty) subsistence, a humble and useful life. Their own experience made them ardent and fearless. They warned men of dangers which they themselves had seen; of sorrows which they themselves had

* See on a kindred subject Macaulay's review of Ranke. SECOND SERIES, VOL. IX. NO. II.


felt. There was no affectation, no illusion. They did not gather their feelings at second hand; all was real and most painfully personal to them. They were like the man whom Christian saw at the house of the Interpreter, just rising from his bed all shaking and trembling, for he had dreamed of the day of judgment, of the flames of a burning world, and the yawning pit of hell. They had more than dreamed of them. They had hung over the gulf of despair, expecting every moment that the brittle thread would be cut and they fall forever. But now they were saved, and while they walked soberly, as in constant remembrance of the fearful past, they could not help calling upon men with tears to save themselves from a doom whose bare anticipation was so terrible.

The power of Wesley's preachers was economized by the system of itinerating. They must be emphatically pilgrims, without an abiding place. At first he allowed them to preach at one station but one or two months; subsequently, one, or at the utmost, two years. They must always stand ready to be sent to the barren wastes of Cornwall, or the mountains of Wales, or the great Riding of Yorkshire. We might suppose that such a restless and harassing life would deter men from the office of preacher. It did no such thing. It afforded the very trial into which many an enthusiastic mind was ready to leap. He afforded them very little which would allure a selfish heart, but very much to stimulate a magnanimous one. “Do you ask me what


shall have ?he had once written to Whitefield; “Food to eat, and raiment to put on; a house to lay your head in, such as your Lord had not; and a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” The honor of the conquest is proportioned to its difficulty. The same lofty feeling of selfdevotion animated his preachers, which would prompt the soldier to volunteer as one of the forlorn hope. Many a soldier has applied the torch to the mine which would destroy him as well as the enemy, not from a fear of punishment if he failed, but under the deep impulse of the heroic self-sacrifice to which his duty called him. Many a missionary, among the mingled feelings which find a home in his bosom, has been somewhat sustained by a high sense of the perilous service in which he has enlisted, and a conscious freedom from all the ordinary forms of selfishness. There is a peculiar joy in being truly disinterested ; in undertaking any service, however severe, which we know to be uncontaminated by the bane of selfish

ness. We very much mistake, if we suppose that a luxurious and effeminate life will attract the best minds. A sense of degradation attends a life of mere pleasure, that few can submit to, while intrepid exploits and laborious services bring with them a satisfaction which is their greatest reward. Danger itself has a charm. We rush into it, not to risk our lives or our happiness, but to conquer it, and enjoy the glory and delight of victory. Make the object difficult of attainment and worthy of effort

, if you would excite ardent and lofty minds. Ease and comfort would no doubt seduce many, but they were not the sort which Wesley wanted. His followers must shrink from no labor, and be deterred by no danger. He himself avoided nothing which he imposed upon others. After his eightieth year he used to travel four or five thousand miles annually.

Besides this, the system of itinerating was necessary both for the success of his measures and the real advantage of his preachers. It was necessary for the preservation and extension of the sect. Like many other of the peculiarities of the order, it had sprung

from the necessities of the case, and when time had proved its usefulness was incorporated into the rules. The preachers must be itinerants, for otherwise the founder of the order would soon lose control over his subordinates. They would become independents and schismatics, instead of useful parts of one grand whole. The great design would thus be entirely frustrated. No less useful and important was it for the preachers themselves to improve their resources by the opportunities which change of place would necessarily offer. For the most part, men of no education, men who trusted to their feelings and the plainest truths of the Bible, they could not be expected to interest or instruct any congregation for many years in succession. It was well for them to exchange the listless countenances of an old audience for the curious faces of a new one. Thus they would feel that they were doing good, and their sermons were unquestionably improved by repetition. Franklin tells us that he heard Whitefield repeat the same discourse to different audiences, and could witness the progressive improvement in thought and delivery, in metaphor and illustration. Not till after he had preached it twenty times did he rise to the highest pitch of fervor and freedom; and so far were his highwrought pleadings and expostulations, and his consummate action from appearing theatrical though heard a score of times, that they were expected and received with as much delight the


« PreviousContinue »