Page images
PDF
EPUB

Mr. Wesley's “Sacred Harmony." Thomas Walsh Mr. Wesley declares to have been the best biblical scholar with whom he was ever acquainted. Though he died at the early age of twenty-eight, yet, says Mr. Wes. ley, “ if he was questioned concerning any Hebrew word in the Old, or any Greek word in the New Testa. ment, he would tell, after a little pause, not only how often the one or the other occurred in the Bible, but also what it meant in every place. Such a master of biblic knowledge I never saw before, and never expect to see again.”* Others of them were well acquainted with the English Scriptures, with Christian theology, and especially with the nature of personal religion ; and that they were able and effective preachers is at. tested by the fruit of their labours in every part of the land. “In one thing which they profess to know," says Mr. Wesley, they are not ignorant men. I trust there is not one of them who is not able to go through such an examination in substantial, practical, experi. mental divinity, as few of our candidates for holy orders, even in the University, (I speak it with sorrow and shame, and in tender love,) are able to do. But 0, what manner of examination do most of those candi. dates go through! and what proof are the testimonials commonly brought, (as solemn as the form is wherein they run,) either of their piety or knowledge, to whom are intrusted those sheep which God hath purchased with his own blood !”

INSTITUTION OF AN ITINERANT MINISTRY. When the Wesleys began to preach the doctrine of salvation by faith, they did not confine their ministra. tions to any particular town, much less to any one con. gregation. From London, Mr. John Wesley, as we have already seen, extended his labours to Bristol, Kingswood, and Bath ; and in the course of a very few years, he visited the most populous towns and dis. tricts in England; especially Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, and the most thickly-peopled parts of Yorkshire, Staffordshire, and Cornwall. His brother Charles breathed the same spirit of holy zeal and en

* Works, vol. ii, p. 285, Am. edit.

terprise, and followed in the same path of shame and glory with equal boldness and fidelity. Personal ease and honour they appear never to have thought of. Lifo itself was with them of no account, except as it was employed in bringing souls to Christ. The want of what others would have deemed suitable places to preach in was to them no difficulty. When the chur

es were closed against them, they were ready to deliver their evangelical message in a private house, in a barn, in a public road, in the market-place, in a field; as our blessed Lord preached on a mountain, upon a plain, and in the fishing boat of Simon Peter. Preaching two or three times a day, and travelling with great rapidity, their voices were soon heard in the length and breadth of the land. The neglected populace of London, the papists of Ireland, the miners of Cornwall, the colliers of Kingswood, of Staffordshire, and of the north, with the keelmen of the Tyne, engaged the especial sympathy, and shared the labours of these apos. tolic men.

After a few years Charles became a familyman, and confined his ministry chiefly to London and Bristol. John's itinerancy continued, without abatement, to the end of his protracted life.

The ministry which was assigned to their fellow. labourers, was of a somewhat similar kind. Every one of them was required to be a " travelling preacher.” The country was divided into circuits, to each of which two or three regular fellow.labourers were generally appointed. Some of the circuits were at first very extensive, embracing a whole county, and in some cases a considerably larger space; but they became more contracted as the work spread, and the preaching-places and societies were multiplied. Still, however, the preachers were required to visit in rotation the several towns, villages, and hamlets which were committed to their care, usually preaching every evening, at least, during the week, teaching also from house to house, visiting the sick, meeting the societies, and everywhere maintaining the discipline to which the whole body was pledged. From these stations the preachers were liable to be removed every year; and they seldom romained in any of them more than two years in succes.

sion. The same order is observed to this day. Thus the various talents of the preachers were brought to bear upon the different congregations, the peculiar tastes of all were gratified, and the interest of novelty was rendered subservient to the cause of religion. Careless persons, who would not hear a preacher with whose name they were familiar, would often attend the ministry of a stranger ; and many in this manner were converted from the error of their way.

It was by means of the annual conferences that the Wesleyan itinerancy was regulated. The first conference was held in London, in the year 1744. It was attended only by six persons, five of whom were cler. gymen. The time of their several meetings was mostly occupied in the discussion of doctrinal and disciplinary questions, and the best means of extending the work of God. These assemblies have been a means of preserving a uniformity of doctrine and discipline in the body from the beginning. There the characters of the preachers have been examined, differences of theologi. cal opinion repressed, the stations of the preachers determined, and their hearts warmed and cheered by mu. tual consultation and prayer. The power of govern. ment, which Mr. Wesley possessed during his life, by his appointment devolved upon the conference after his decease ; he having nominated its members, provided for its perpetuity, and defined its powers, by the “ Deed of Declaration," of which an account will be given in a subsequent part of this narrative. In this important instrument he has shown his inviolable love of itine. rancy, by limiting the power of the conference to appoint preachers to the same chapels to three years in succession. It was his conviction, that it is next to impossible for any man permanently, to preserve his ministry in all its spiritual efficiency when he is confined to one congregation. THE ERECTION OF SEPARATE PLACES OF WORSHIP.

It has been sometimes intimated, that the erection of separate places of worship by the two Wesleys, as well as field-preaching, was occasioned solely by their exclu. sion from the churches of the Establishment. But this

is not a correct view of the subject. They had no right to the general occupancy of the churches; and to several of them they were admitted to the end of their lives, both as a matter of courtesy, and with refer. ence to the spiritual benefit of the people. But had all the churches of the land been open to them, the means which they felt it their duty to adopt, for the revival and extension of Scriptural Christianity, would have rendered other places of worship indispensably necessary. The pulpits of the national Church could not be occupied by the preachers, travelling and local, whose ministrations the brothers deemed it incumbent upon them to sanction. Accommodation also was wanting for the meetings of societies and classes ; for love-feasts, watch-night services, and prayer-meetings; as well as for week-night preaching, and preaching at five o'clock in the morning; all of which they considered necessary in order to the accomplishment of their design.

The first chapel that the Wesleys themselves erected was in Bristol ; but the first that they opened for divine worship was in London. The history of this place is not a little curious. The chapel was a large unsightly brick building, near the present site of Finsbury-square, and was known by the name of the Foundery. It had been in the occupation of government, and used for the

purpose of casting brass cannon. Its nearness to London rendered it inconvenient in consequence of the crowds of people that assembled to witness the process ; and a serious accident having occurred, by which some lives were lost, and several persons greatly injured, the business was transferred to Woolwich ; and the premises were leased to Mr. Wesley, who fitted up the principal building as a place of worship. The form and character of the erection were changed, but the name was retained. This chapel was a sort of cathedral in Methodism till the year 1777, when it was su. perseded by the very commodious and elegant chapel in the City-road, which for many years was not unfre. quently called the New Foundery. Behind the old Foundery was Mr. Wesley's dwelling.house, the entry to which was through the gallery of the chapel. Here Mr. Wesley resided when he was in London, and here

[ocr errors]

his venerated mother died in the Lord. At one end of the Foundery was a building of one story, which was occupied as a day-school ; in another spacious room was a large electrifying machine, which was used on two days every week in the case of the afflicted people who resorted thither for relief; and in another, the publications of the two brothers, in prose and verse, were kept on sale. At the top of the Foundery was a small bell which was rung as the signal of the preach. ing at five o'clock in the morning and of other religious services. This part of London was then open, and un. furnished with lamps; and the Methodist people, men and women, were regularly seen at that early hour, during the winter season, selecting their steps by the help of a small lantern, ahd wending their way to the house of prayer, drawn by the well-known sound, and anticipating those lessons of evangelical instruction which their venerated teachers were accustomed to de. liver. Mr. Wesley had often preached his morning sermon, performed his early devotions with his people, and was on his way to distant places in the country, before other people had shaken off their slumbers, and were prepared to apply themselves to the duties of life.

The opening of the Foundery in London, and of the “ Room” in Bristol, was soon followed by the Orphan. house in Newcastle ; and then by chapels of various dimensions in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, York, Hull, Birmingham, and other populous towns. In these buildings of primitive Methodism, elegance of archi. tecture was little studied. They were plain and substantial, intended for use, and not for ornament. The most remarkable circumstance connected with them was the amplitude of their accommodation for the poor. The pulpits also were large, and contained a bench of considerable length for the use of the preachers who might be expected successively to address the congre. gations at the quarterly watch-nights, and other simi. lar services. The preaching in these sanctuaries was plain, pointed, searching, and powerful. The sing, ing was lively; the body of the people generally joined in it; and not a few persons in different places were drawn by its sweetness and power to an attend

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »