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son; these should be the guides for man's action.56 Many Churchmen had the idea that Methodist enthusiasm consisted in uncommon degrees of illumination which showed itself in "a religious distemper” and often in a "downright frenzy.” “It pretends to hold an intimate communion with God. . . . it sets up for voices and visions and dreams, for new lights and new paths, in derogation and opposition to the written word. . . . It aims at pitches of devotion, at heights and ecstasies, besides the common rate. . . . it despises the rational way of serving God by sober signs and solid effects of unaffected piety and the conscientious practise of good Christian morality.”57
The argument ran: If the Methodists have direct revelation, why do they not give proof? If the Methodists have this direct revelation, why do they live bad lives? The anonymous author of Principles and Practices of Methodists said that the Methodists for all their outward signs of enthusiasm, "yet seem not, so far as people can judge from outward demeanor, to be reclaimed from habits of vice . . . though they have experienced such agonies of mind and body yet several of them still continue to give offense to serious persons, by a loose, disorderly behavior."58
The zeal of Methodists certainly led them into indiscretions which provoked the accusations that they had “inherited the extraordinary light of the Gnostics," as Downes ironically put it; but in all of their accusations against the enthusiasm of the Methodists their opponents never seemed to have been able to substantiate the charge of immorality.59
The enthusiasm of George Whitefield drew forth vigorous protests from the clergy, especially when he claimed the sanction of the Holy Ghost for his preaching. He was challenged to produce evidence for this claim.60 Whitefield and his associates caused further offense by their depreciation of reason. 61
Whitefield's journals were the cause of much offense.
Thoughtful clergymen hated them. “Don't you think they are all damned cant?" Wesley was asked. His inquirer felt that these journals dealt with “joy and stuff, and inward feeling.' The contents of these journals were quite repulsive in the eyes of sober-minded clergymen. As for instance when Whitefield rather extravagantly said that it was good providence that he and his sister-in-law could not agree when they worked together at Bell Inn, his enemies could not contain themselves. "He has certainly struck a bold note,” they said, “in making God the direct author of the ridiculous squabbles between him and his
Josiah Tucker in his work entitled, The Genuine Secret Memoires of George Whitefield, reached the high water mark of bitterness in his ungenerous allusions to Whitefield having been a "common drawer" in a public house in early life. “There,” said Tucker, “he appeared to be acting in his proper sphere, and there are several notable improvements in the profession ascribed to him; he is said to have frothed a mug of ale a tenth deeper than any tapster in the three kingdoms, to have been the first to have soaped the edges of the pot, in order to make the beer retain its head."64 Whitefield's narrative of his own birth and the premonitions to his mother telling her of what great comfort he should be to her was ridiculed by Tucker.65 He does not scruple to impute much to Whitefield that does not appear in his journal, but can be inferred only by reading between the lines. 66 Tucker ends by saying that Whitefield's journals did not show that he had any intimate communion with God; but rather with the devil, and if he was inspired at all, he was inspired only by the devil. 67
It must be confessed that Whitefield's journals do give an opening for attack; and when it was declared that when Whitefield left the movement one more enthusiast was disposed of, one cannot forbear thinking that this was correct.68 Neverthe
Jour., vol. ii, p. 319.
less, when the attackers of these journals went so far as to accuse Whitefield of immorality and his writings as tainted with obscenity, they brought no evidence to prove their contention.
The opposition of the Church to enthusiasm was not based upon a doctrinal basis alone. It objected to certain enthusiastic habits which the Methodists indulged in. It did not like the disposition to allegorize and spiritualize the most plain and obvious texts which was common among the Methodists, and the practice of claiming that extemporaneous prayer was inherently of a higher order than set forms as proceeding from the direct influence of the Holy Ghost.70
Few wished to have their children come under the influence of Methodist enthusiasm. It displeased parents to hear such language from them after their having been to hear John Wesley: “God has pardoned my sins through the blood of the atonement.” They complained not without a cause: “that the minds of youth should be imbued with this tincture of fanaticism before they know how to distinguish truth from falsehood, when reason is beginning to dawn and the passions to play, is an evil, pregnant with most fatal consequences."71
A clergyman accused the Methodists of preaching that the millennium was soon to come, in which the Methodists, as the saints, were going to live in peace upon the earth.72 In this he misunderstood Methodism as did those who classed the Methodists with Cotton Mather of Boston,73 or confounded their enthusiasm with the fanaticism of a certain Christian George, who after claiming to be a prophet in North Carolina, shot up the town where he lived, killed the justice of the peace, indulged in adultery, etc. 74
Rumor gained in intensity as it traveled. When the reports of the Methodists reached the bishops they were doubtless exaggerated. The bishops, as might be expected, opposed the current enthusiasm.
On the frontispiece of Bishop Gibson's
Evans: Op. cit., pref., p. xix.
work, Observations of Methodism, is a picture of a Methodist service, in which are faints, love making, witches, devils, rabbits, and the like. This shows the episcopal conception of Methodism in some degree, but it is nevertheless quite untrue to fact.
In this same work the bishop attacks the Methodists in a more orderly fashion. He objects to the flowery language used in their writings, to their communications with God, to their extravagant flights and illusions.75 Bishop Lavington was not as moderate as Gibson. Of this enthusiasm he said: “If there be anything in it exceeding the power of nature, known or secret; anything beyond the force of distemper, or of imagination and enthusiasm artfully worked up. . . . I see no reason against concluding that it is the work of some evil spirit; a sort of magical operation, or other diabolical illusion."76 The Methodists never forgave Lavington for this senseless onslaught almost wholly unsupported by evidence. Vincent Perronet roundly rebuked the bishop and declared it to be scandalous that he should claim the emotions of the Methodists to be physical instead of spiritual."
In spite of this able defense, the clergy held to their opinion. They hated the intrusion of the Methodist preacher into sick rooms where the patient was excited with new terrors or with groundless hopes.78 They continued to think of conversion as the sum of a number of bodily passions; as an abnormality taking place in experience.79 They still insisted that enthusiasm was a danger to the throne as puritanism had been in the days of Oliver Cromwell; and as such they maintained that it ought to be suppressed as seditious.80 Certainly Whitefield's preaching tended to make men Dissenters rather than Churchmen.81
Thus most of the clergy had little sympathy with enthusiasm, and many opposed it openly. It was, in fact, a leading
77 Third Letter to Author of Enthus. of Meth. and Papists Compared, passim.
& Wills : p. 100.
Scott: Op. cit., p. 6.
Overton: Evangelical Revival in 18th Century, p. 154.
cause in the severance of Methodism from the Church. In a contest between two entirely incompatible ideals, one must yield or depart from the other. Neither the Churchmen nor the Methodists would yield. SECTION III. METHODIST ATTEMPTS TO CHECK EXTREME
ENTHUSIASM One cannot but surmise that John Wesley saw the situation, and in spite of his inconsistent stand on the matter of enthusiasm in the abstract, was determined that fanaticism in the concrete should not dominate his societies.
The first ultra-enthusiasts to trouble the early Methodists were the French Prophets. These sought refuge in England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. 82 But little is known of them until the year 1706. In that year three French Camisards came to England. J. Cavalier, who was portrayed as a villain, trickster, and scamp, was the first. Durant Fage, "a mechanic who gave off incoherent stuff for prophecy,” was the second. Elias Marion, who was a good actor, was the third. All three were said to be Roman Catholics. They joined the French church at Savoy. They played fraud upon many, and when they were discovered suddenly received orders from the Holy Spirit to return to France. Nevertheless, they had a good time before they went, for they were lionized and rode about in coaches.83 Gilbert Burnet said that for the most part these "prophets” were poor, ignorant people.8 This was the first appearance of the French Prophets; but at the beginning of the Methodist movement they came into greater prominence.
The French Prophets not only tried to ingratiate themselves into the good graces of the Methodists, but they troubled the Nonconformists as well. Leger narrates the following in this connection: "Le mercredi précédent à la clôture d'une réunion annuelle de Nonconformists, d'éminénts prédicateurs haranguaient l'auditoire quand se dresse dans la tribune une femme qui, dépouillant ses vêtements de dessus, apparaît dans une sorte
Leger: Jeunesse de Wesley, p. 421.