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but thy more than natural, thy CHRISTIAN firmness, reaped its recompensé even here, for thou receivedst a hundredfold now, even in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters and mothers, and children; and long since, hast thou received in heaven, eternal life. Stoic fortitude, Roman daring, hide your heads before such firmness as this. Epictetus is a jest, and Regulus, “egregius exul," a fable, when compared with this plain narrative of modern heroism. Here, however, was one of the leading features of John Wesley's character, broadly portrayed, deeply coloured, boldly thrown up from the canvass, and giving happy omen of his future career.
The firmness which marked his decision here, the same which forbade discouragement and retractation at Oxford, where, after a short absence, he found his flock of twenty-seven persons reduced to five, and which made him resist the authorities at Georgia, was peculiarly shown in his relations to the Church of England throughout his life. In the line of remarks this topic opens, we shall describe simply the facts of the case, and neither apologise for Wesley nor condemn the Church. He was never a Dissenter in his own view of the word, and never wished his followers to be. Nevertheless, there is a prevailing order in the proceedings of every community, and this order, in his own church, he did not hesitate to disturb, at the instance of what he deemed sufficiently valid reasons.
Whatever his followers may urge in defence of his measures, they were obviously at odds with ecclesiastical order. We have a very remarkable conversation of John Wesley with the Bishop of Bristol, in the year 1739, on the subject of justification by faith, in which, after disposing of that topic, Wesley's proceedings are canvassed in the terms we shall presently cite, the whole going in proof of two things, the one how careful he was in the outset of his career to encroach as little as possible upon canonical order, and the other, that, at the call of apprehended duty, he was prepared to go any lengths in violation of it.
The Bishop says: “Mr. Wesley, I will deal plainly with you: I once thought you and Mr. Whitefield well-meaning men, but I cannot think so now. For I have heard more of you; matters of fact.".
Mr. Wesley.--"Pray, my Lord, what are those facts you have heard ?”
Bishop.—“I hear you administer the sacrament in your societies.”
Mr. W.-"My Lord, I never did yet, and believe never shall."
Bishop.--"I hear too, many people fall into fits in your societies, and that you pray over them.”
Mr. W.-"I do so, my Lord, when any show, by strong cries and tears, that their soul is in deep anguish; I frequently pray to God to deliver them from it, and our prayer is often heard in that hour.” Bishop.—“
—“Very extraordinary indeed! Well, Sir, since you ask my advice, I will give it you very freely. You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”
Mr. W.-"My LORD, MY BUSINESS ON EARTH IS TO DO WHAT GOOD I CAN. WHEREVER, THEREFORE, I THINK I DO MOST GOOD, THERE MUST I STAY SO LONG AS I THINK SO. AT PRESENT I THINK I CAN DO MOST GOOD HERE, THEREFORE HERE I STAY. As to my preaching here, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed to me, and woe is me if I preach not the Gospel, whereever I am in the habitable world. Your Lordship knows, being ordained a priest, by the commission I then received, I am a priest of the Church Universal ; and being ordained a fellow of a college, I was not limited to any particular cure, but have an indeterminate commission to preach the Word of God in any part of the Church of England. I do not, therefore, conceive that in preaching here by this commission I break any human law. When I am convinced I do, then it will be time to ask, Shall I obey God or man? But if I should be convinced in the meanwhile, that I could advance the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, in any other place more than in Bristol, in that hour, by God's help, I will go hence, which, till then, I may not.”
Whatever the effect of this dainty speech upon the equanimity of the good bishop, the other party was doubtless as calm as men of strong will and fixed determination usually are, and as respectful as his punctilious courtesy would constrain him to be. The incident was John Wesley to the life, and laid open with sufficient clearness the terms upon which his cooperation with the Establishment was to be retained. They were just these. If I am allowed to combat the prevailing vices of the land, the ignorance, irreligion, semibarbarism, and brutality in my own way, irregular it may be, but desperate cases require desperate remedies, and if you, clergy and bishops, will undertake to feed and watch over the restored wanderers I bring back to the fold ;-or if you will not do so much as this, but will simply not OPPOSE the measures I employ to do good—why thus and then I am yours, unreservedly and entirely yours ; but if you malign and thwart and persecute an earnest brother who would help you to do your work, and whose heart bleeds over the perishing souls of his fellow-creatures, why then be known to you, that by a commission higher than that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am
authorised and determined to persevere. Souls must be awakened, converted, saved; if in connexion with the church of my adoption, covered with its shield and sanction, well; but if not, the work must be done at all hazards.
Watson has well expressed this in his “ Memoirs of Wesley." He says of the administration of the Lord's Supper during canonical hours by the founder of Methodism in a few of his chapels, that it was sure which, like other inconsistencies of a similar kind, grew out of a sense of duty, warring with and restrained by strong prepossessions."
And this is the language of all his further acts of disconformity to the existing order of things in the Establishment. He never contemplated the formation of a sect, much less of an enemy or rival to the Church of England. A sect nevertheless grew up by stress of circumstances, frowned upon and thrown off by its mother, yet clinging with natural fondness to the parent who still disowns it, and with that sect he feared not in evil and in good repute to identify himself. Crossed in his course by those authorities he would fain have conciliated, and of whom he never allowed himself to speak evil, he would not be turned from it. His mind was made up. Opposition wrought the contrary way with him. Pressure did but confirm his resolution as it hardens concrete. His parish was the world. He would not provoke enmity ; he would not give offence; but he would call no man Master to the enslavement of his opinions or the fettering of his free action. He had a divine Master, and to Him alone would he refer his conduct—to Him alone stand or fall.
That Wesley had looked the bugbear separation in
the face, and was not to be frightened even by such a contingency from his apprehended duty, is demonstrated by the Minutes of Conference, so early as 1744, nearly fifty years before his death. In these the question is asked : “ Do you not entail a schism on the Church? that is, is it not probable that your hearers, after your death, will be scattered into all sects and parties ? or that they will form themselves into a distinct sect?" And to this the answers are : “1. We are persuaded the body of our hearers will even after our death remain in the Church, unless they be thrust out. 2. We believe, notwithstanding, either that they will be thrust out, or that they will leaven the whole Church. 3. We do, and will do, all we can to prevent those consequences which are supposed likely to happen after our death. 4. But we cannot with a good conscience neglect the present opportunity of saving souls while we live, for fear of consequences which may possibly or probably happen after we are dead.”'
Every reader of it must allow that this is a most remarkable document—more like prophecy than speculation for as it surmises so it was. If they were thrust out—these few good men in Methodism's earliest days—they were prepared to go out, with no misgivings as to their guidance, and no fears as to their fortunes ; and, we may add, with few regrets, except for those whom they were to leave behind them, who thus counted themselves unworthy of eternal life. Thus early, then, before circumstances eventuated in excision, the strong-hearted reformer showed that he did not fear the thing Dissent, although he never courted nor owned the name.
The history of Wesley's relations to the Established