« AnteriorContinuar »
travestie the Grand Lewis's terse egotism, “The State! that is I,” and put it into our reformer's mouth at the commencement of his career- Religion! that is I.” The religious sensibility of England lay dead or chained in "the breathless, hushed, and stony sleep" of the Princess Dormita and her retinue in the fairy tale. He alone seemed awake to the exigencies of the times, the responsibilities of the ministry, the corruption of manners, and the value of souls. This statement will of course be understood with all the qualification truth demands on behalf of some exemplary parish clergymen who sparsely enlightened the darkness around them, but who never passed into the broad sunshine of general reputation or extensive influence. There were those, we gladly own, who bowed not the knee to the prevailing dissoluteness or indifference; but, like angels' visits, these were few and far between. And it is not to be denied that in many non-conformist places of Worship, under the combined influence of the persecutions of earlier years, general contempt, and their close-borough constitution and government which took them out of the healthful and conservative current of public opinion, vital religion was becoming a name, and the doctrine of the Cross passing into “another Gospel" in which the Cross had no place. Arianism, with stealthy steps, was creeping in upon the fold of Presbyterianism for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy;" while Independency either withered into a cold protest against the established episcopacy, shot into seed in the unhealthy luxuriance of hyper-Calvinism, or was too insignificant to be of any account whatever in an ecclesiastical notice of the period.
The general condition of the Church of England was deplorable. There was no lack of learning and respectability in many quarters, but as a whole its state could not satisfy a conscientious observer. The study of the Greek language, and the introduction of the theology of the Greek school since the Reformation, together with various political causes, had combined to produce a latitudinarian and moderated style of preaching and acting amongst the clergy at large. The best men were most entirely under the influences we have named. Their learning, their enlightened hatred of the fanaticism under the Commonwealth, and an honourable sense of the advantages of their position, made them carefully shun the excesses of non-conforming zeal, and generously avoid giving offence to conscientious dissenters. The names of Tillotson and Tennison, Doctors Samuel Clark and Jortin, will tolerably fairly represent the reigning spirit of the better part of the clerical body about the commencement of the eighteenth century, while others were contented to be as devoid of evangelical unction as they, without their accomplishments and decent behaviour. But in the ministry of souls moderation is madness, and want of zeal death. Men betake themselves to a formal minister as they do to the gravedigger, an inevitable but unpleasant functionary, whose services they never relish, and whose inane moralities cannot edify. Such unfortunately was the ecclesiastical condition of England when the Wesleys arose, and it is no breach of charity to aver, that, weighed in the balances of heaven, the existing ministry throughout the country was found at that period, as to its most exalted aims and divine results, utterly wanting. We are not blind to the subor. dinate advantages a widely-established corporation of more or less educated men must entail upon a land, men by their profession the friends of order, decency, and humanity; but at the same time we cannot forget that the church is neither a police-court, a philosophical school, nor an almonry. Men may be mild magistrates, wise teachers, exemplary country gentlemen, without fear and without reproach on the score of morals and manners, and yet be destitute of the spirit of their office and ignorant of its claims. We draw the veil over anything worse which presents itself for comment in the clerical profession at that period. There was enough in the aspect of the times, even upon the most indulgent showing, to make the mission of some such agent as John Wesley a necessity as imperative as the mission of one of the judges in the straits and abjectness of Israel, or the requisitions of the economic law that the demand regulates the supply.
There is a story told of one of the curates of Wesley, the father, too illustrative of this statement, and too provocative of moderate mirth, to be omitted.
Just after one of the rector of Epworth's visits to London, he was waited on by one of his parishioners, who complained of the teaching of his curate in his absence—how
8—how destitute of the doctrines of the gospel-how he seemed to preach nothing to his congregation except the duty of paying their debts, and behaving well among their neighbours; adding, as he charged him with this fault, “Surely, sir, there is more in the gospel than this." The rector replied, "There certainly is; I will hear and it pro
him myself.” He accordingly sent for the curate, and when that miserably incompetent functionary made his appearance, he told him that he wished him to preach next Sunday, and said, “ You can have no objection, I suppose,
prepare a sermon on any text I give you.” The curate consented, of course, and the text assigned him was that important and evangelical one, containing, as it were, the very marrow of the gospel—“WITHOUT FAITH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD,” Heb. xi. 6. When the Lord's-day came round, Mr. Wesley read the prayers, and the curate preached the sermon. The text was given out with due solemnity, and the exordium pursued the following course :—“It must be confessed, friends, that FAITH is a most excellent virtue; duces other virtues also. In particular, it makes a man pay his debts as soon as he can,” &c. Thus launched upon his familiar element, this ill-taught divine prosed away his quarter of an hour, enforcing his old and only theme. No wonder that enlightened piety was revolted, and religion starved, by such poverty-stricken fare as this; yet there is reason to believe this to be a sample, rather than an exceptional case, of the teaching in the Established Church at this period. Samuel Wesley and his wife knew better; but they were bred Nonconformists.
In such circumstances was Providence nurturing a man for the hour, while the hour was as divinely and obviously prepared for the man. And neither from kingly courts nor cloistered cells was the hero of “this strange eventful history” to come—the man that was to work wider change upon the religious and social aspect of England than has ever been effected by any Reformer since Christianity visited our shores. In truth, his sympathies were neither with the monk nor the monarch, but, a child of the people, as all great Reformers have been, his sympathies were with the masses—the men from whom he sprung. He was reared amid obscurity, poverty, and rebuke-rebuke that implied no disgrace, poverty which piety hallowed, obscurity that bred no discontent-and he never forgot the discipline of his childhood, nor the tradition of his poor but godly parentage, and his heart ever found its most genial soil amid the humble, holy, and enduring people of God. Of ambition, with which he has been most recklessly charged, he seems to have been absolutely incapable, except the ambition of doing good. He had rather suffer any day than shine; in fact, to suffer, if by that be meant to labour to fatigue, and self-denial to austerity, became a necessity of his nature, while to shine was as deliberately rejected as this was pursued. And it was this thorough oneness of mind, propension, and condition with the people which prompted and controlled his career. He looked at the Man through the frieze jacket of careful thrift and “the looped and windowed raggedness" of abject penury; yea, he looked at him in the haunts of vice and the prison-house of the criminal, and saw written upon him, even there, in indubitable presence, the image, though sorely mutilated, of God, just as beneath the jewelled cap of maintenance and the purple of nobility, he saw no more. Not knowing, therefore, , or not heeding the distinctions that obtain among men, the object of his ministry was—man. swayed by no class predilections, or unsocial partialities, save that his high sense of duty and the