« PreviousContinue »
pupil was so widely popular. It was remarkable too, that though Whitefield was already a Calvinist and an enthusiast, he was not yet a fanatic; his sermons, though sometimes they touched on unpopular topics, were not calculated in general to offend any description of persons, and he went to Georgia with the unabated approbation, not only of his friend Bishop Benson, but of Gibson, Bishop of London, and Archbishop Potter. The vessel which carried him out passed Wesley's ship in the Downs. The friends could have no personal interview, but Wesley, who had some reason for disliking America, was anxious to keep the other back from his voyage thither, and, having had recourse to his usual presumptuous custom of sortilege, sent him a note declaring, as from God, that he ought to turn back. Whitefield disregarded the omen, and found so much reason to be pleased with the people of Savannah, that he afterwards, in the course of a printed controversy with Wesley, reproached him with this failure of his divination, as a good proof of the vanity of thus tempting God. He, however, remained in Georgia only three months; he then returned to England to raise money for the erection of an orphan house in the colony, and arrived in time to co-operate in Wesley's plans, and to carry them to an extent which Wesley himself had never contemplated.
The two brothers, in the mean time, had been advancing rapidly in popularity and influence. There were, indeed, some churches where, having been once admitted to preach, John Wesley gave so much reasonable offence by the sort of new birth which he insisted on as necessary to salvation, that he was informed that he must preach there no more. And he was well and wisely warned by his ancient monitor William Law, to whom he now, in turn, addressed a letter of reproof for not having taught an 'efficient faith,' that 'the head can as easily amuse itself with a living and justifying faith in the blood of Jesus, as with any other notion, and the heart, as being the seat of self-love, is more deceitful than the head.' But he was not now in a state of mind to be reasoned with, and treated with equal neglect the sensible remonstrances of his brother Samuel, and the advice of the Archbishop and Bishop of London, two wise and good men, whose counsels (those of the latter particularly) John Wesley, in his old age, was accustomed to look back to with considerable respect, and, perhaps, with some little compunction. But among the lower and middling orders of society, Wesley's popularity was great, and the effects which he produced were well calculated to encourage him in the course which he was pursuing.
The meetings of which we have already spoken, soon became numerous and crowded. They were not new in London; since
something of the same kind had been previously set on foot, under the name of Religious Societies, to promote an adherence to the church, and the practice of Christian duties, of which the pious Nelson had been, in his day, a distinguished promoter and defender, and which the Bishops and the greater part of the London Clergy for some time continued to favour. But the meetings of the Methodists were prolonged till midnight, and even through the night; they had adopted the old exceptionable name of Love Feasts, and they encouraged each other in excesses of devotion, which, if they found the mind sane, were not likely long to leave it so. The consequence was, that not only the Governors of the Church, but many pious and moderate men among the inferior Clergy, who would have gladly promoted any unobjectionable scheme for the revival of piety, withdrew their co-operation and countenance from men who avowedly set all decorum at defiance, and who exclaimed, as John Wesley does in his journal, God deliver me and all that seek him in sincerity, from what the world calls Christian prudence.' It is strange, however, that at the moment when the brothers were thus gradually detaching themselves from the Church, they were still, in theory, such excessive High Church-men that they endeavoured to make the revival of the weekly fast on Friday obligatory on all their disciples, and quarrelled with Bishop Gibson because he did not approve of rebaptizing Dissenters.
By men so fully impressed with the truth and importance of those doctrines which they had to deliver, while their conduct had a necessary tendency to deprive them of any regular opportunities of delivering it, the establishment of separate places of worship could not have been long delayed; yet neither the erection of chapels, nor field-preaching, nor itinerancy had their commencement with Wesley himself. Whitefield had already, for some time, been practising something like the last, in his frequent visits to Gloucester and Bristol. The possibility of preaching in the open air had been suggested to him by the crowds which vainly attempted to gain entrance into the churches where he officiated; and a deep sense of compassion for the neglected ignorance of the poor colliers at Kingswood, near Bristol, a populous district without either place of worship or minister, determined him, on Saturday, February 17, 1739, to address as many as came together on a Mount called Rose Green. The congregation the first day was small; a beginning was, however, made, and the novelty of the practice, added to the previous popularity of the preacher, brought the neighbourhood together in thousands.
'The deep silence of his rude auditors was the first proof that he had impressed them; and it may be well imagined how greatly the consciousness
sciousness and confidence of his own powers must have been increased, when, as he says, he saw the white gutters made by the tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks-black as they came out of their coal-pits. "The open firmament above me," says he," the prospect of the adjacent fields, with the sight of thousands and thousands, some in coaches, some on horseback, and some in the trees, and at times all affected and drenched in tears together; to which sometimes was added the solemnity of the approaching evening, was almost too much for, and quite overcame me." ."—vol. i. p. 236.
Till now we have seen that the governing authorities of the church, far from being unfriendly to the methodists, had done almost every thing in their power to conciliate and render them useful. Whitefield in particular had been a sort of favourite, and he had been instituted just before, by the Primate and the Bishop of London, to the Rectory of Savannah in Georgia. Now, however, the Chancellor of Bristol prohibited him from preaching within the bounds of that diocese; and Whitefield, who determined to persevere, and had a considerable longing to be persecuted, began to talk of looking for nothing but afflictions and bonds; of some protestants being as ready as papists to breathe out not only threatenings but slaughters, and of his joy in the prospect of resisting unto blood for the truths of religion.
The expectations which this ardent enthusiasm produced in Whitefield were generated in Wesley, about the same time, by his strange predilection for divination by the Sortes Biblica. Whitefield was soon to return to Georgia, and begged him to come down to Bristol to keep up, in his absence, the impression which he had made in its neighbourhood. Wesley opened his Bible at a hazard to know the event of his journey; nor could any texts have been more dismally discouraging than those which he thus stumbled on; all were about death, or burial, or suffering for the sake of Christ. The journey would have been abandoned had not Wesley appealed from the Bible to the Moravian plan of casting lots; the dice came up for his going, and go he did, though with a full persuasion that he was to be martyred. Whitefield introduced him to his Kingswood congregation, and gave him, before his own departure, an example of field-preaching, which Wesley, with considerable hesitation, at length resolved to follow, in spite of the Chancellor's inhibition and the authority of the Canons; thus throwing off, in one conspicuous instance at least, his allegiance to the church of which he still professed himself a zealous member.
Yet it may be urged in his favour, that the practice which he thus adopted, and which still prevails wherever the Franciscan and Dominican friars are found, was by no means unexampled in England, and that the circumstances of the times were such as to give
at least a plausible prospect of advantage from its revival, as well as from the revival of that system of itinerancy which it supposes. During the first centuries of the Saxon Church there were no parochial divisions; the clergy resided in convents adjoining the Bishop's Cathedral, they were sent out from thence to instruct the country people, and administer the duties of religion in the few churches that existed, or, where there was no church, at a cross in the open air. When they had executed their commission they returned, and others went out to perform the same course of duty. To this occasional and precarious instruction succeeded the establishment of resident parish priests, endowed by pious Lords with the tythes of the domain of their patron; and as these became general, itinerancy fell into disuse, till the increasing ignorance and carelessness of the Parochial Clergy gave occasion to its revival in the Christian world by Francis of Assisi, and his followers or imitators, who, with the Pope's full sanction, though somewhat tardily extorted, went forth from their monasteries on foot, and in the garb of ostentatious poverty-reædificare ecclesiam quâ lapsura
The circumstance of this revival, as Mr. Hallam has well observed in his excellent work on the Middle Ages, corresponded, in a very remarkable degree, with the manner in which the cause of modern methodism has been conducted. There was the same affectation of popular eloquence and rustic plainness, the same attacks on the character and doctrines of the Parochial clergy; who, in their turn, complained of the same desertion of their churches and ministry in favour of these uncalled for auxiliaries. Erasmus, in an amusing colloquy, has represented a squabble between a village parson and two mendicant Friars; and the ludicrous ornaments usual in our gothic places of worship, are very frequently caricatures either of the regular or secular clergy, according as the building was devoted to the use of the one or other of these rival bodies. Notwithstanding these vexatious and irritating consequences of the system, it was, no doubt, productive of much advantage to the general power and stability of the Romish Church, and was as beneficial to Christianity itself as the manifold corruptions of that creed, which only the Friars had to teach, could admit of. And though the conduct and doctrine of the begging Friars themselves had become scandalous and contemptible at the time of our English reformation, it was by no means the intention of the original promoters of that measure, however unadvisable subsequent circumstances may have rendered it, to allow the system of itinerancy and field-preaching to fall into disuse and oblivion.
There were, indeed, many reasons why such measures were now even more necessary than ever. The unequal division of parishes,
VOL. XXIV. NO. XLVII.
the immoderate extent and overflowing population of some, and the insufficient maintenance afforded by others; the want of churches in some quarters, and of qualified preachers in many more; these evils which had called for such a subsidiary and equalizing force in the times of popery, were increased to an enormous extent by the profligate and predatory manner in which the reformation had been carried on; by the transfer of so considerable a part of the ecclesiastical revenues into the hands of laymen; by the destruction of so many chantries, and the secularization of so many monasteries. It is, therefore, a well known part of that plan of ecclesiastical policy which the wisdom of Craumer, and the piety of King Edward, contemplated, that a certain number of divines should travel up and down the country to instruct the people in the true principles of the reformation.* And the measure was adopted, not indeed by appointment of the state, but with full concurrence of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, in a part of the kingdom where it was greatly wanted, by the excellent Bernard Gilpin. That it was not carried into effect in every diocese is not imputable to the pious fathers of the church who designed it, but to the many misfortunes to which the church was exposed during the persecution which followed under Mary; and it is highly probable that if such a plan had been suggested in the first instance either to Laud, Wake, Potter, or any other of our more able and enlightened primates, they would have at once perceived the advantage of securing so powerful an engine to the service of the church, and employing it to remedy those inconveniences, so far as they admitted of a remedy, which the spoliations of Henry VIII. and the rise of Puritanism had occasioned by detracting from the natural influence of the clergy on the minds of men, and consigning a large share of the population of England to almost inevitable ignorance and brutality. Nor, if Wesley had appeared as the founder of such an order of Predicants, could his name have ever been recollected but as a signal benefactor to the church, and the cause of considerable advantage to England, Ireland, and the world.
The misfortune was, that this, like most other great and important measures, was not a first conception, but a proceeding which accidentally arose from previous circumstances. Those circumstances were of a kind little likely to conciliate that church which such an engine was in itself well suited to extend and strengthen; and, above all, the Wesleys had already disqualified themselves for the patronage and assistance of the Bishops, by their public pro
The number actually appointed for this end was six (not four as Mr. Southey (p. 397,) supposes.)-Harley, Bell, Horn, Grindall, Penn, and Knox, the Scottish reformer. See Burnet, Reform. p. 111, b. iv. A.D. 1553.