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This work is undertaken with the conviction that the profoundest interpretation of the Methodist movement must ultimately be sociological. History may give us the facts; but one must turn to sociology for any satisfying explanation of those facts.
At the beginning of the Methodist movement, the Churchmen and the majority of the Methodists were members of the same sociological "group". There were many causes contributing toward the breaking up of this group, and not least among these was the difference in emphasis on doctrine, as well as the efficient and highly centralized organization built up by Wesley and his followers. Opposition to the organization served only to strengthen the movement. Conscious of an ever-increasing strength, and opposed on every hand, the Methodists took a series of steps: they ordained their preachers without permission from the Church; they refused to take the sacrament from the clergy, but administered it in their preaching houses; in Church hours they conducted divine worship; they registered their meeting houses as places of dissent. These steps completed the separation. The so-called Plan of Pacification and the Regulations of Leeds consciously and explicitly confirmed the break. The purpose of this work is to trace the factors resulting in disrupting the sociological group, and thereby making the separation of the Methodists from the Church of England a historical fact.
The works here used are listed in the bibliography at the back of the book; but it is necessary to explain the use of the following books: 1. All references in the footnotes to the Journal refer to John Wesley's Journal, published in eight volumes by Eaton and Mains, New York, 1909, under the editorship of the Rev. Nehemiah Curnock. This edition is the latest and most scholarly; and is especially rich in notes and documents not readily found elsewhere. 2. All references to Works indicate the Works of Rev. John Wesley, A.M., New York, 1831, edited by
John Emory and complete in seven volumes. These Works contain quite accurate copies of many of Wesley's writings otherwise practically inaccessible. 3. All references to Tyerman refer to the Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., by Rev. Luke Tyerman, New York, 1870, in three volumes. This account is quite detailed and contains many documents not published elsewhere.
This study could not have been completed without the aid of many friends: I wish to express my appreciation to Mr. George D. Brown, librarian of the General Theological Seminary Library, and the Rev. Robert E. Harned, librarian of Drew Theological Seminary. To the Library of Union Theological Seminary, and especially to Miss Cornelia T. Hudson and Miss Laura S. Turnbull, efficient and skilful members of its staff, I am grateful for their never-failing cooperation. Professor John Alfred Faulkner of Drew Theological Seminary has my
heartiest thanks for suggesting this theme, reading the proof, and giving many searching criticisms. I am indebted to Professor William A. Dunning of Columbia University, who kindly read my manuscript. Professor F. J. Foakes Jackson, formerly of Cambridge University, England, now of Union Theological Seminary, has placed me under a great debt of gratitude; for he devoted himself unsparingly to my interests in this work. To Professor William Walker Rockwell of Union Theological Seminary am I deeply grateful. During the past four years he has given me without stint of his keen criticism and inspiring counsel.
As a result of the fall of the Puritan ideals in England at the restoration of Charles II, there was a reaction toward immorality. The country, heartily tired of the iron rule of the Saints, was disposed to give itself over to a reign of license. At the time of the Revolution, however, the higher moral ideals began to prevail, and strenuous efforts were made to reform the standard of life and conduct. Christian laymen like the Hon. Robert Boyle, one of the founders of the Royal Society, who formulated the well known “Boyle's Law", worked actively to promote Christian principles. For twenty-eight years Boyle was governor of the Corporation for the Spread of the Gospel in New England, and when he died, he founded and endowed with fifty pounds a year the "Boyle Lectures,” for the defense of Christianity against unbelievers.) A small company of laymen, led and inspired by Dr. Thomas Bray, an eminent divine of the period, formed themselves into the voluntary “Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,” in order to educate the poor, and send missionaries to America. A little later, in 1701, the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel” was organized for the more distinct purpose of advancing religion in the plantations.2
The reign of Anne was marked by a distinct revival of interest in religion, though unfortunately accompanied by a recrudescence of the High Church spirit opposed to the principles of the Revolution. After the accession of George I zeal for religion cooled, especially during the long administration of Sir Robert Walpole, whose ruling idea was to leave things as they were and to avoid raising the passion of religious fanaticism. England was occupied with her increasing commercial prosperity, and consequently men desired to maintain the status quo.3 In
*Dictionary of National Biography, vol. vi, p. 121.
Allen: History of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. London, 1898, p. 15. * Dictionary of National Biography, vol. lix, p. 203.
deed all religious controversy was avoided as likely to provoke disorder.
Under these circumstances the majority in the Church of England were characterized by indifference and lack of energy.“ Zeal was repressed rather than encouraged by many of the bishops, "safe" men chosen as supporters of the government. The old High Church party were looked on coldly as Jacobites; and as yet there was no evangelical revival to compensate for their lack of influence.
The Dissenters, recruited from the trading classes, were prospering greatly by the long peace, and were characterized — though with notable exceptions—by a destructive tendency toward deism in religion. The old Puritan zeal had burned itself out; yet the Dissenters showed no desire to return to the Established Church. Dissent was in fact the expression of the feelings of a highly respectable middle class and its ministers under a voluntary system were better paid than the poorer clergy. The government regarded the Church on the whole as useful as a moral police force, encouraging the people to live peacefully under authority. It, however, discouraged manifestations of religious zeal as dangerous to itself and to the nation.
Up to the eighteenth century England had been essentially an agricultural country. Industrialism now began to be a power in the land and with it came the growth of great cities, with the result that the old parochial system collapsed. For the new centers of population no parish was endowed and scarcely a church built. There was no system of public instruction, with the result that a large proportion of the population was in a state of gross ignorance.5
In such an England as this were John Wesley and his friends born. When they realized how serious were the conditions, and how supine the Church had become, they became emphatic in expressing their views as to the deplorable condition of the country both in church and state.
* Wakeman: History of the Church of England, chap. 18.