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STATE OF RELIGION IN ENGLAND BEFORE THE
RISE OF METHODISM.
ip,- The ple and
Few periods of British history are of deeper interest than the early part of the eighteenth century. The army, under the command of the Duke of Marlborough, had gained a series of brilliant victories on the European continent; and at home philosophy and polite learning flourished beyond all former example. The discoveries of Newton filled the civilized world with astonishment; and the compositions
of Addison, Steele, Swift, Pope, and others, have ER CO-m secured for that period the name of the Augustan age
of English literature. While these eminent men occupied the public attention, other agents were in a | course of training, who were destined by Providence
98 to achieve victories greater than Marlborough ever ..""* i contemplated, -victories over sin and brutal igno
rance; and to produce changes in the state of society 194 more profound, momentous, and extensive, than the
most polished writers have ever been able to effect.
At the very time when patriots and politicians were 147 fired with the military success of the great General
-,... 147 fin
of the age, and gentler spirits were charmed with the smooth numbers of Pope, and the graceful simplicity of Addison, Mrs. 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 interference.
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 England, is generally acknowledged. On this subject, indeed, the evidence is fearfully strong and conclusive. It was unquestionably the most unevangelical period that had ever occurred in this country since the Reformation 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, Shaftesbury, 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 infidel 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 restrained the appetites and passions of mankind.
Strenuous efforts were also then made by several ecclesiastics 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 Arianisın; and was assisted by the erudite and indefatigable Whiston, with other writers of less note. In the west of England, Hallet and Peirce, two eminent 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 successful opponent of Clarke ; and several Dissenting Ministers laboured with honourable zeal and talent to preserve their churches in the catholic faith : yet the circumstance that Clergymen of superior learning and ability 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 scepticism.
The interests of religion must at all times depend, in a great measure, upon the character and ministrations of the Clergy. When these important functionaries 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 altogether 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, on evident departure from some of the most important theological principles of the Reformation. 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 opposite 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 modified 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, original 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,