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It is in this light his writings as well as all his labours are to be viewed. His design in writing and in preaching was the same, viz., that he might be faithful to every talent committed to him, and that all might issue in bringing glory to God, and peace and good will to men.
But he was careful never to suffer this subordinate talent to interfere with his higher call to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Wo unto me if I preach not the Gospel, seemed to be always before him. He knew this was especially God's ordinance; and he received the Apostle's word to Timothy, not in word only, but in power.— I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom, preach the word be instant in season, out of season; convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
Mr. Wesley's writings, therefore, as they were subordinate to his ministerial duties, so they were in perfect unison with them; enforcing and confirming the same divine truths; and as it was thus his one aim to do all the good he could, it would have been strange if, a life of eighty-eight years, he had not produced many books. The number, great and small, amounts to some hundreds.
We are assured in the Holy Scriptures, that the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.' This promise, for such it is according to the gospel covenant, was fulfilled in Mr. Wesley. He began his religious course, as all sincere persons do who are convinced of sin, with placing the Holy Law of God before him, and striving to bend his spirit to its sacred precepts; resolving even to risk the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. His brother Samuel well describes him in his poetical epistle of April 20, 1732,* to Mr. C. Wesley.
Does John seem bent beyond his strength to go,
And shorten time, t' ensure eternity ? His first publication, of any note, was his edition of Kempis, elegantly printed in octavo, in the year 1735, while he was yet at Oxford, by his friend Mr. C. Rivington, already noted. He was dissatisfied with Dean Stanhope's translation, and determined to give a full view of the selfdenying purity of his favourite guide. He methodized this admirable treatise of “The Imitation of Jesus Christ," as he did the Holy Scriptures, when, as he informs us, he “began not only to read, but to study the Bible.” This edition of Kempis now lies before me, and clearly shows not only his great attention to the truths which it contains, but his admirable skill in putting into order, and thus illustrațing, its high and invaluable sentiments. This book was his constant companion ; and when his mind at all revolted at the strait path, he seemed to say, in the words of his author, “ Thou dust, learn to obey.” I need not, however, inform my readers, that in the increase of light which the Lord gave him, he, like the great apostle, became dead to the law;' his self-confidence being utterly slain by the commandment.' The faith which brings in a new creation was then placed before him, and he was not disobedient to the heavenly calling. •The righteousness of the law was fulfilled in him, walking, not after the flesh, but after the spirit, by faith in Christ Jesus.'
See vol. i, page 112
His first sermon, preached on January 1, 1733, before the university, on the circumcision of the heart, Rom. ii, 29, when he was emerging into the light of the Gospel, is a most admirable picture of the state of his own mind. It exhibits the perfection of the Christian character, which he was then ardently pursuing. But it was deficient respecting the inward life, peace, and power, of which true faith is the root. Of this defect he was unconscious in that day: he could not attain to it till he claimed it as the gift of God; and this could not be while he sought it not by faith, as a condemned sinner, through the infinitely perfect atonement of the Son of God.
His second and third sermons, preached before the University on June 18, 1738, and on July 25, 1741, though diversified in the structure, have the same design. They exhibit the new creature, with the simple and only way of attaining that blessed state—by faith. The learned assembly, who had listened with some complacency to the fair though somewhat rigid portrait of a Christian, in his first discourse, delivered while he resided among them, were amazed at the new and living way of thus . entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.' They felt that they were considered by the preacher as sinners, and, as such, condemned men. Their character as learned and wise, they saw, if this were true, availed them nothing before God, but rather increased their guilt, while they shrunk from the powerful word that showed them -all was theirs in Christ Jesus.
His fourth discourse was preached, as he has informed us,* in order to deliver his soul, as he could not expect to have these opportunities continued to him. He again placed before them the simple life divine, which should in time become the religion of the world : while he broke in pieces all the proud pretences of fallen man, however dignified. It is an admirable illustration of the apostle's word, 2 Cor. x, 4, 5: • The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God; to the pulling down of strong holds, destroying reasonings, and every high thing which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; and bringeth every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.'
After having for some years declared the same truths in every part of the land, he saw the necessity of composing a form of sound words, comprising the essential truths of the gospel, from which all men might know the doctrines which he taught, and which might remain with his associates in the work, as a concise, but clear and full “ body of divinity,” in keeping of which they could not greatly err : while the people who were raised up by their labours might, if they should continue one body, hear the same truths, and mind the same things.
After thinking much on this subject, he retired to Lewisham, to the house of his friend Mr. Blackwell, already mentioned, and taking with him, as he informed me, only the Holy Scriptures in the original tongues, he composed, at several visits, what is well known among us
6. The four volumes of Sermons,” those preached before the University being the first in order.
Of his design in composing these Discourses, as well as of his method of investigating truth in general, he has given us the following striking account in his Preface : " I design plain truth for plain people. Therefore of set purpose I
See page 22 VOL. II.
abstain from all nice and philosophical speculations, from all perplexed and intricate reasonings ; and, as far as possible, from even the show of learning, unless in sometimes citing the original Scripture. Nothing appears here in an elaborate, elegant, or rhetorical dress. I mention this, that curious readers may spare themselves the labour of seeking for what they will not find.
“My design is, in some sense, to forget all that I have ever read in my life. I mean to speak, in the general, as if I had never read one author ancient or modern, (always excepting the inspired.) I am persuaded that on the one hand this may be a means of enabling me more clearly to express the sentiments of my heart, while I simply follow the chain of my own thoughts, without entangling myself with those of other men : And that on the other, I shall come with fewer weights upon my mind, with less of prejudice and prepossession, either to search for myself, or to deliver to others, the naked truths of the Gospel.
“ To candid reasonable men I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God : Just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven : How to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it : Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri.* Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone : Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read ? Does any thing appear dark or intricate ? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights. • Lord, is it not thy word, If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God? Thou givest liberally and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, If any man be willing to do thy will, he shall knou. I am willing to do : Let me know thy will. I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God : and then the writings whereby, being dead, they get speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”
After such an account as this, to consider his sermons according to the usual mode of criticism, would be to forget, or be insensible to, his whole character, as a man who had been truly sent of God to teach the way of God. They fully answer the expectation, which the pious and sensible reader is led to form by this exordium. His first four volumes contain the substance of what he usually declared in the pulpit. He designed by them to give a view of what St. Paul calls (omu avakoav TNS TISES) the analogy of faith ; viz., the strong connexion and harmony between those grand fundamental doctrines, original sin, justification by faith in the divine atonement of the Son of God, the new birth, inward and outward holiness. They are written with great energy, and, as much as possible, in the very words of the inspired writers. He
# A man of one boot
vas fully of Luther's mind, who declared, that divinity was nothing else than a grammar of the language of the Holy Ghost.
His other sermons were written occasionally. The last four volumes (which he wrote for his Magazine) have been much admired, even by those who were not much disposed to relish his doctrines in general. They certainly contain abundance of the most necessary and interesting information; and are written, not only with his usual strength, but with more than usual elegance. Two of the last sermons which he wrote (the latter of which he finished about six weeks before his death) are inferior to nothing he ever composed, if to any thing in the English language. The subjects are remarkably striking. The former was from Psalms lxxiii, 20: Even like as a dream when one awaketh, so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city. The latter from Hebrews xi, 1 : • Faith is the evidence of things not seen. In this last discourse he has given his thoughts on the separate state, the state of souls from death to the resurrection. The thoughts are deep and high; yet rational and Scriptural ; worthy of one, who, standing on the verge of time, looked forward into that eternity which he had long and earnestly contemplated.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
Who stand upon the threshold of the new. Yet the whole is considered with that diffidence which becomes an em, bodied spirit. How deep and sacred is the subject !
Sacred how high, and deep how low,
He knew not here, but died to know ! His Appeals ("Apologies" they would have been called in the ancient church) answer the idea, which the term masterly production usually gives us : We have seen the strong opinion expressed by Dr. Doddridge respecting them.* They were written in the fulness of his heart ; while beholding the world lying in the wicked one, he wept over it.' We could almost venture to assert, that no unprejudiced person can read them without feeling their force and acknowledging their justness. It is certain, they have convinced many persons who were deeply prejudiced ; and those too of considerable learning. It has been remarked, that those who truly preach the Gospel, do it with a flaming tongue. I am ready to make a similar remark respecting these Appeals : The flame, the power, and yet the sobriety of love, are highly manifest in them ; and I cannot but earnestly recommend them to all, who desire to know what spirit he was of' while contending against almost the whole world ; and whether it really was for the truth of God he so contended.
In the year 1749, he began to select and abridge the works of the wisest and most pious men that have lived since the days of the Apostles, in order to form a Christian Library.t He began with the Epistles and other writings of the Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clemens Romanus, &c. He waded through a prodigious number of books on practical and experimental religion, in regular succession, according to the times when they were written ; and, at length, completed a work of fifty volumes. When we consider, that he reduced many folios and quartos to a pocket volume each ; that he did this in the midst of labour,
See page 62
See page 63,
which many would think in itself sufficient to wear out the most robust of mankind; that he abridged some of those volumes on horseback, and others at inns or houses, where he stayed but a few days or hours ; how astonishing will his industry and perseverance appear!
He willingly embraced any toil which might promote the wisdom or happiness of mankind. With this view, he compiled a “System of Natural Philosophy,” in five volumes, comprising therein what is known with any certainty, or is likely to profit those who have pleasure in the works of God; who consider,
These, as they change, Almighty Father! these
Are but the varied God! And his labour was not lost. Even the learned have admired this performance, as a useful and edifying compendium. Mr. Wesley received letters highly expressive of satisfaction from some of the first names in Oxford, to whom he had presented it. Considered as an illustration, for general use, of the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, it is excellent; and the moral reflections it contains are as much distinguished by their justness and elegance as by their utility. It is, upon the whole, the most useful Christian compendium of philosophy in the English language.
From the same motive he compiled his historical works. He had not time to be original in those productions. He therefore chose the best he could find, civil and ecclesiastical; and abridged, added, or altered, as he believed the truth required, and to suit the convenience of the purchaser; his chief aim being to spread religious and useful knowledge among the poor or middling class of men.
His controversial pieces he wrote as need required. First, to preserve those who were in danger of being seduced from the plain religion of the Bible ; and, secondly, if possible, to recover those who had fallen into the snare. The chief of these is his Treatise on Original Sin, in answer to Dr. Taylor, of Norwich; the most subtle, refined, plausible Arian and Pelagian of the age in which he lived ; and whose writings gained the more credit, as he was a man of good moral character and sober habits. Mr. Wesley looked upon the Doctor's system, to use his own words, as "a blow at the root of the whole of Christianity.” He felt much for the Doctor, and hoped that he might be induced to review the awful subject. But on being informed that “ Dr. Taylor declined replying to Mr. Wesley," he wrote to him as follows:
“ Hartlepool, July 3, 1759. “ REVEREND SIR,-I esteem you, as a person of uncommon sense and learning ; but
doctrine I cannot esteem: And, some time since, I believed it to be my duty to speak my sentiments at large concerning your doctrine of original sin. When Mr. Newton mentioned this, and asked whether you designed to answer, you said, You thought not; for it would only be a personal controversy between John Wesley and John Taylor.'—How gladly, if I durst, would I accept of this discharge! But, certainly, it is a controversy of the highest importance ; nay, of all those things that concern our eternal peace. It is Christianity ?-or Heathenism? For, take away the Scriptural doctrine of redemption, justification, and the new birth, the beginning of sanctification; or,