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We have already seen this mystery of iniquity break out on particular occasions. But the deadly leaven spread far and wide ; and many of those whose hearts it had alienated from God, bad still a name to live.' Some of them were even accounted pillars in their respective congregations,* who, while the truly pious wept and prayed for them, were . at ease in Zion, having only the form of godliness, with a confidence at the same time that their state was good, because they knew not what spirit they were of.'
It may not be unacceptable, to give a picture of this fatal delusion, drawn by the same masterly hand :
“At this time, we stand particularly in danger of splitting upon the Antinomian rock. Many smatterers in Christian experience talk of finished salvation in Christ, or boast of being in a state of Justification and Sanctification, while they know little of themselves, and less of Christ. Their whole behaviour testifies, that their heart is void of humble love, and full of carnal confidence. They cry, · Lord, Lord !' with as much assurance and as little right, as the foolish virgins. They pass for sweet Christians, dear children of God, and good believers; but their secret reserves evidence them to be only such believers as Simon Magus, Ananjas, and Sapphira.
« Some with Diotrephes, love to have the pre-eminence, and prate malicious words, and not content therewith, they do not themselves receive the brethren, and forbid them that would. Some have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; they are wells without water, clouds without rain, and trees without fruit :' with Judas they try to load them. selves with thick clay, endeavour to lay up treasures on earth, and make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.' Some, with the incestuous Corinthian, are · led captive by fleshly lusts,' and fall into the greatest enormities. Others, with the language of the awakened publican in their mouths, are fast asleep in their spirits : You hear them speak of the corruptions of their hearts in as unaffected and airy a manner, as if they talked of freckles upon their faces : It seems, they run down their sinful pature, only to apologize for their sinful practices; or to appear great proficients in self-knowledge, and court the praise due to genuine humility.
Others, quietly settled on the lees' of the Laodicean state, by the whole tenour of their life say, “they are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing ;' utter strangers to hunger and thirst after righteousness,' they never importunately beg, never wrestle hard for the hidden mannå. On the contrary, they sing a requiem to their poor
say, • Soul take thine ease, thou hast goods laid up (in Christ] for many years,' yea, for ever and ever ; and thus, like Demas, they go on talking of Christ and heaven, but loying their ease, and enjoying * this present world.
many of these, like Herod, hear and entertain us gladly ; but like him also, they keep their beloved sin, pleading for it as a right eye, and saving it as a right hand. To this day their bosom-corruption is
* Mr. Southey strangely supposes, that this strong description exhibited the true state of the Wesleyan Societies ! Blessed be God, we had then, and have still, a discipline which prevents such a leaven from spreading among us. In the parishes, or congregations, it made great havoc.
not only alive, but indulged; their treacherous Delilah is hugged; and their spiritual Agag walks delicately, and boasts that the bitterness of death is past,' and he shall never be hewed in pieces before the Lord : nay, to dare so much as to talk of his dying before the body, becomes an almost unpardonable crime.
" Forms and fair shows of godliness deceive us : Many, whom our Lord might well compare to whited sepulchres,' look like angels of light when they are abroad, and prove tormenting fiends at home. them weep under sermons, we hear them pray and sing with the tongues of men and angels; they even profess the faith that removes mountains; and yet, by and by, we discover they stumble at every molehill; every trifling temptation throws them into peevishness, fretfulness, impatience, ill-humour, discontent, anger, and sometimes into loud passion.
“ Relative duties are by many grossly neglected; husbands slight their wives, or wives neglect and plague their husbands ; children are spoiled, parents disregarded, and masters disobeyed : yea, so many are the complaints against servants professing godliness on account of their unfaithfulness, indolence, pert answering again, forgetfulness of their menial condition, or insolent expectations, that some serious persons prefer those who have no knowledge of the truth, to those who make a high profession of it.
“Knowledge is certainly increased ; many run to and fro' after it, but it is seldom experimental ; the power of God is frequently talked of, but rarely felt, and too often cried down under the despicable name of frames and feelings. Numbers seek, by hearing a variety of gospel ministers, reading all the religious books that are published, learning the best tunes to our hymns, disputing on controverted points of doctrine, telling or hearing church news, and listening to or retailing spiritual scandal. But, alas! few strive in pangs of heartfelt conviction, few
deny themselves and take up their cross daily ;' few take the kingdorn of heaven by [the holy] violence' of wrestling faith and agonizing prayer ; few see,' and fewer live in, the kingdom of God,' which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.' In a word many say, · Lo! Christ is here ; and lo! he is there ;' but few can consistently witness that the kingdom of heaven is within them.'
“Many assert that the clothing of the king's daughter is of wrought gold :' but few, very few experience that she is all glorious within : and it is well, if many are not bold enough to maintain that she is alt full of corruptions. With more truth than ever we may say,
Ye different sects, who all declare,
Ye want the genuine mark of LOVE. “ The consequences of this high, and yet lifeless profession, are as evident as they are deplorable. Selfish views, sinister designs, inveterate prejudice, pitiful bigotry, party spirit, self-sufficiency, contempt of others, envy, jealousy, making men offenders for a word-possibly a Scriptural word too, taking advantage of each other's infirmities, magnifying innocent mistakes, putting the worst construction upon each other's words and actions, false accusations, backbiting, malice, revenge, persecution, and a hundred such evils, prevail among religious people, to the great astonishment of the children of the world, and the unspeakable grief of the true Israelites that yet remain among us.
« But this is not all. Some of our hearers do not even keep to the great outlines of heathen morality: Not satisfied practically to reject Christ's declaration, that it is more blessed give than to receive,' they proceed to that pitch of covetousness and daring injustice, as not to pay their just debts; yea, and to cheat and extort, whenever they have a fair opportunity. How few of our Societies are there, where this or some other evil has not broken out, and given such shakes to the ark of the gospel, that had not the Lord wonderfully interposed, it must long ago have been overset? And you know how to this day the name, and truth of God are openly blasphemed among the baptized heathen,' through the Antinomian lives of many, who say they are Jews when they are not,' but by their works declare they • are of the synagogue of Satan.' At your peril therefore, my brethren, countenance them not: I know, you would not do it designedly, but you may do it unawares ; therefore take heed—more than ever take heed to your doctrine. Let it be Scripturally evangelical ; give not the children's bread unto dogs ; comfort not people that do not mourn. When you should give emetics, do not administer cordials, and by that means strengthen the hands of the slothful and unprofitable servant.”
Mr. Wesley had from the beginning borne a faithful testimony against this delusion. In his sermon preached before the University of Oxford, so early as the year 1738, he admitted, that the doctrine of Salvation by Faith was often thus abused. Many,” says he, “will now, as in the Apostles' days, continue in sin that grace may abound.' But their blood is on their own head. The goodness of God ought to lead them to repentance ; and so it will, those who are sincere of heart.” After a trial of more than thirty years, he was abundantly confirmed in this sentiment.
Therefore, to raise a bulwark against this overflowing of ungodliness, and to prevent it from spreading among the people under his care, the evil principle which occasioned it was taken into consideration, in the Conference of the year 1770.
Minutes of this Conference were soon afterwards published, in which were inserted the following propositions :
“ Take heed to your doctrine." "We said in 1744, We have leaned too much towards Calvinism.' -Wherein ?
“1. With regard to man's faithfulness. Our Lord himself taught us to use the expression, therefore we ought never to be ashamed of it. We ought steadily to assert upon His authority, that if a man “is not faithful in the unrighteous Mammon, God will not give him the true riches.'
"2. With regard to working for life, which our Lord expressly commands us to do. Labour, (spyaless, literally work,) for the meat that endureth to everlasting life. And in fact, every believer, till he comes to glory, works for, as well as from life.
63. We have received it as a maxim, that “A man is to do nothing, in order to justification. Nothing can be more false. Whoever desires to find favour with God, should cease from evil, and learn to do well.' So God himself teaches by the prophet Isaiah. Whoever repents, should do works meet for repentance. And if this is not in order to find favour, what does he do them for ?
« Once more review the whole affair :
“ He that, according to the light he has, • feareth God and worketh righteousness. 63. Is this the same with he that is sincere ?' 6 Nearly, if not quite. 664. Is not this Salvation by works ? “ Not by the merit of works, but by works as a condition.* 65. What have we then been disputing about for these thirty years ?
“I am afraid about words : [Namely, in some of the foregoing instances. ]
“6. As to merit itself, of which we have been so dreadfully afraid : We are rewarded according to our works, yea because of our works. How does this differ from, for the sake of our works ? Ånd how differs this from Secundum merita operum ?f Which is no more than, as our works deserve ? Can you split this hair? I doubt, I cannot.
“7. The grand objection to one of the preceding propositions, is drawn from inatter of fact. God does, in fact, justify those, who, by their own confession, " neither feared God, nor wrought righteousness.' Is this an exception to the general rule ?
“ It is a doubt, whether God makes any exception at all. But how are we sure, that the person in question never did fear God and work righteousness ? His own thinking so, is no proof. For we know how all that are convinced of sin, undervalue themselves in every respect : [i. e., think their case more hopeless than it really is. ]
“8. Does not talking, without proper caution, of a justified or sanctified state, tend to mislead men; almost naturally leading them to trust in what was done in one moment? Whereas, we are every moment pleasing or displeasing to God, according to our works ; according to the whole of our present inward tempers, and outward behaviour.”
It is hardly possible to give a just idea of the noise which these propositions occasioned among the religious professors of the land. Some, whose carnal confidence was shaken by them, cried out amain, “ that they were contrary to the Gospel, and that Mr. Wesley had in them contradicted all his former declarations.” Some even of the truly pious seemed staggered at them; and though they lamented the abuse of Gospel-truths, could hardly bear so strong an antidote.
From the days of Augustine, who first introduced the question of the “ Divine Decrees” to the Christian Church, even to the present day, this question has been mooted, and has occasioned much discord. The propositions at the conclusion of the Minutes were sufficient to kindle what before was only jealousy and suspicion, into a flame of contention
* That is, “works meet for repentance ;' and faith that pleads the atonement and the promises, and which is therefore called, the work of faith, and also justifying faith. Does God justify any, who, being awakened, do not thus work ?--We see here, that these Minutes were a death-blow to Antinomianism.
† A common phrase among the ancient Fathers.
and strife. The Calvinists took the alarm, and the late Honourable and Reverend Walter Shirley wrote a circular letter to all the serious clergy and others through the land.
In June, 1771, Mr. Fletcher sent a copy of this letter to Mr. Wesley, and at the same time wrote as follows : “When I left Wales, where I had stood in the gap for peace, I thought my poor endeavours were not altogether in vain. Lady Huntingdon said, she would write civilly to you, and desire you to explain yourself about your Minutes. I
suppose you have not heard from her ; for she wrote me word since, that she believed she must not meddle in the affair. Upon receiving yours from Chester, I cut off that part of it, where you expressed your belief of, what is eminently called by us, the doctrine of FREE GRACE, and sent it to the college, desiring it might be sent to Lady Huntingdon. She hath returned it, with a letter wherein she expresses the greatest disapprobation of it: The purport of it is, to charge you with tergiversation, (the old accusation of the Antinomians !) and me with being the dupe of your impositions. She hath wrote in stronger terms to her college.
* Things, I hoped, would have remained here ; but how am I surprised, and grieved to see zeal borrowing the horn of discord, and sounding an alarm through the religious world against you! Mr. H- called upon me last night, and showed me a printed circular letter, which I suppose is, or will be, sent to the serious clergy and laity through the land. I have received none, as I have lost, I suppose, my reputation of being a real Protestant, by what I wrote on your Minutes, in Wales.
“ The following is an exact copy of the printed letter :
“SIR,—Whereas Mr. Wesley's Conference is to be held at Bristol, on Tuesday, the 6th of August next, it is proposed by Lady Huntingdon, and many other Christian friends, (real Protestants,) to have a meeting at Bristol, at the same time, of such principal persons, both clergy and laity, who disapprove of the underwritten Minutes ; and as the same are thought injurious to the very fundamental principles of Christianity, it is farther proposed, that they go in a body to the said Conference, and insist upon a formal recantation of the said Minutes; and, in case of a refusal, that they sign and publish their protest against them. Your presence, Sir, on this occasion is particularly requested : But if it should not suit your convenience to be there, it is desired that you will transmit your sentiments on the subject, to such person as you think proper to produce them. It is submitted to you, whether it would not be right, in the opposition to be made to such a dreadful heresy, to recommend it to as many of your Christian friends, as well of the Dissenters, as of the Established Church, as you can prevail on, to be there ; the cause being of so public a nature.
"I am, Sir,
66 • WALTER SHIRLEY.":
Then followed a postscript, containing the objectionable propositions, &c, &c. After stating this, Mr. Fletcher proceeds: "I think it my duty, dear Sir, to give you the earliest intelligence of this bold onset ; and assure you, that, upon the erangelical principles mentioned in your last letter to me, I, for one, shall be glad to stand by you, and your doctrine