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Wesley at Epworth, in obscurity, poverty, and sorrow, by her prayers, example, and assiduous instructions, was forming the character of her sons, two of whom were among the principal instruments of reviving Christianity in its primitive spirituality and power.
The centenary of this great revival of religion, to which the name of Methodism has been given, is intended to be celebrated in the year 1839 by the Wesleyan body, as a subject of grateful acknowledgment to the God of all grace; and the design of the present publication is to trace the leading facts connected with the rise and progress of this work, which is conceived to present striking proofs of divine interfer
That some extraordinary means were then necessary to bring the truths of Christianity more effectually to bear upon the spirit and conduct of the people of Eng. land is generally acknowledged. On this subject, in. deed, the evidence is fearfully strong and conclusive. It was unquestionably the most unevangelical period that had ever occurred in this country since the Re. formation was completed, in the reign of Elizabeth. Infidelity was extensively prevalent, both in the form of downright blasphemy and of philosophical speculation. Of this no doubt can be entertained, when it is remembered that the pernicious and wicked writings of Hobbes, Toland, Blount, Collins, Mandeville, Shaftsbury, Tindal, Morgan, Woolston, and Chubb, were then in full circulation; and that the higher and more influential classes of society were especially corrupted by their poison. The evil was aggravated by the appearance, about the middle of the century, of the infi. del speculations of Bolingbroke. By many it was regarded as a settled point that Christianity was a fable, which they were justified in holding up to public reprobation and scorn, for the manner in which it had re. strained the appetites and passions of mankind.
Strenuous efforts were then made by several ecclesi. astics to introduce deadly heresy into the church of God. The learned Dr. Samuel Clarke, occupying the influential post of rector of St. James's, and enjoying the friendship of Sir Isaac Newton and the patronage
of the queen, openly appeared as the advocate of Ari. anism, and was assisted by the erudite and indefatigable Whiston, with other writers of less note. In the west of England, Hallet and Pearce, two able ministers among the dissenters, espoused the same cause, in which they were supported by some of their brethren in London. Waterland came forward as the success. ful opponent of Clarke ; and several dissenting minis. ters laboured with honourable zeal and talent to preserve their churches in the catholic faith : yet the circumstance that clergymen of superior learning and talent were themselves disputing about the very substance of Christianity, must have had a very injurious influence upon the minds of the common people, and still more upon speculative libertines, in an age of profanity and skepticism. u-yans
would doubtless be ready to justify their unbelief and indifference by saying, “ It will be soon enough for us to listen to the in. structions and remonstrances of Christians, when they have agreed among themselves whether the author of their religion was a divine or only a super-angelic being ; whether he is to be worshipped as God, or regarded as a mere creature like ourselves."
A noisy prelate, Bishop Hoadley, the friend of Clarke, appears to have given up all that is peculiar in Christianity, in compliment to the deists, who cannot endure mysteries, and to have e poused substantially the Socinian heresy, while, at the same time, he retained his office and preferment in the Established Church. He was an end. less writer of polemical pamphlets and treatises, the spirit and tendency of which are thoroughly secular.
The interests of religion must at all times depend, in a great measure, upon the character and ministra. tions of the clergy. When these important functiona. ries live in the spirit of their holy vocation, preach the truth with fidelity and affection, and pay due attention to their pastoral charge, their labours cannot be alto. gether unsuccessful ; for they are sanctioned by the promised blessing of God, which will never be withheld. In the times of which we are speaking, there was, on the part of the great body of the Episcopal clergy, an evident departure from some of the most
important theological principles of the Reformation. No man, for instance, can read the works of such wri. ters as Tillotson, Bull, and Waterland, without being struck with the discrepancy between the teaching of these great and learned men, and the doctrine of the homilies which were drawn up by Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Jewell, especially on the vital question of a snner's justification before God. Yet Tillotson, Bull, and Waterland are to be classed with the very best of their clerical contemporaries; and the two last, as advocates of the catholic doctrine of the Trinity, have acquired imperishable honours, and will be for ever entitled to the gratitude of mankind. The generality of their brethren fell immensely short of them, not only in natural talents and profound erudition, but in zeal and devotion. Not a few were notoriously ignorant of the science which they were appointed to teach, and therefore utterly incompetent to grapple with the errors and wickedness of the times. They were deficient also in that weight of moral character which is always necessary to ministerial success. Many were despised for their inefficiency, while they were hated for the sake of their office.
The dissenting ministers, in general, professed to hold the peculiar tenets of Calvinism ; but not a few of them, at the period in question, ran into the oppo. site extreme, and preached a gospel-if gospel it may be called-in which the great truths of the Christian revelation had little or no place. They seem to have thought that Christianity was to be checked and modi. fied by what they, in common with the deists, called " the light of nature;” and as that “light” discovered to them nothing concerning a trinity of persons in the Godhead, Adam's federal relation to his posterity, ori. ginal sin, the atonement of Christ, justification by faith, and the offices of the Holy Spirit, these teachers maintained a corresponding silence on all subjects of this nature. In many volumes of sermons by dissenting ministers, which were published during this period, however we may admire the learning, ingenuity, and eloquence of the writers, we look in vain for any such answer to the question, " What must I do to be saved ?"
as is at all consistent with St. Paul's epistles, or can satisfy the conscience of a man who is convinced of his guilt, and of the sinfulness of his own nature. Among the dissenters there was a great decay of spiritual reli. gion, arising, perhaps, partly from the very high Calvinism which some of them maintained, but chiefly from the unevangelical ministry which had been introduced among them. It is probable that the writings and ex. ample of Locke exerted a very injurious influence upon several of their churches. His high intellectual character filled them, as it did many other men, with admiration ; his political publications generally accorded with their views : and hence they were prepared to receive his most defective theology. Two of their ministers carried on his very misleading work on the Apostolical Epistles.
These facts are stated, not for any party or sinister purpose, but to show that the nation was on the brink of ruin, both with regard to religion and public morals; and that unless God in his merciful providence had raised up some extraordinary means of counteracting the evils which were then in full operation, the consequences must have been most disastrous. was not so remarkable for any one particular vice or crime, as for a general abandonment to ungodliness, and to profligacy of manners. Persons of rank and fashion laughed at religion, and the common people wallowed in sin. To prove that the statements which have been just given are not only substantially correct, but correct in every part, we adduce the following testimonies. It will be observed that they are not selected from modern writers, but are given by unex. ceptionable witnesses, who lived in the times which they describe.
BISHOP BURNET, 1713. 6 I am now in the seventieth year of my age ; and as I cannot speak long in the world in any sort, so I cannot hope for a more solemn occasion than this, of speaking with all due freedom; both to the present and to the succeeding ages. Therefore, I lay hold on it, to give a free vent to those sad thoughts that lie on
my mind both day and night, and are the subject of many secret mournings. I dare appeal to that God to whom the secrets of my heart are known, and to whom I am shortly to give an account of my ministry, that I have the true interests of this Church ever before my eyes, and that I pursue them with a sincere and fervent zeal. If I am mistaken in the methods I follow, God, to whom the integrity of my heart is known, will not lay that to my charge. I cannot look on without the deepest concern, when I see the imminent ruin hanging over this church, and, by consequence, over the whole Reformation. The outward state of things is black enough, God knows ; but that which heightens my fears rises chiefly from the inward state into which we are unhappily fallen. I will, in examining this, confine myself to
the clergy “Our Ember-weeks are the burden and grief of my life. The much greater part of those who come to be ordained are ignorant to a degree not to be appre. hended by those who are not obliged to know it. The easiest part of knowledge is that to which they are the greatest strangers : I mean, the plainest part of the Scriptures, which they say, in excuse for their igno. rance, that their tutors in the universities never mention the reading of to them ; so that they can give no account, or, at least, a very imperfect one, of the contents even of the gospels. Those who have read some few books yet never seem to have read the Scriptures. Many cannot give a tolerable account even of the Cate. chism itself, how short and plain soever. They cry, and think it a sad disgrace to be denied orders; though the ignorance of some is such, that, in a well-regulated state of things, they would appear not knowing enough to be admitted to the holy sacrament.
“ This does often tear my heart. The case is not much better in many who, having got into orders, come for institution, and cannot make it appear that they have read the Scriptures,, or any one good book, since they were ordained ; so that the small measure of knowledge upon which they got into holy orders, not being improved, is in a way to be quite lost : and then they think it a great hardship, if they are told