« FöregåendeFortsätt »
THE GROWTH OF THE EARLY METHODIST
METHODISM could not exist merely in the form of religious convictions and beliefs. It necessarily assumed a corporate form and developed institutions of its own. These contributed to keep together its adherents and to conserve its peculiar doctrines.
SECTION 1. METHODIST SOCIETIES
To gain added strength in their activities of saving men, the Methodists organized themselves into religious societies. Religious societies were nothing new to England; for Josiah Woodward in his book entitled The Account of the Rise, and Progress of Religious Societies in England, published in 1698, tells of the work of Dr. Horneck and Mr. Smithies. These two men converted several young men and united them into societies pledged to lead holy lives. These societies ministered to the wants of the poor, tried to get positions of labor for others, and brought debtors out of prison. They also had two stewards to manage
Woodward testified of these societies: "It has scarce ever happened that any person who could truly be said to be of these societies hath fallen from the public communion to any sector separation.” 1 Wesley's societies were doubtless based upon these societies which had existed in the time of William and Mary, and like them, were to be strictly in communion with the Church of England. When the society at Fetter Lane was first founded, it was the custom for its members to go to St. Paul's for communion, headed by Whitefield and Charles Wesley; and when two members refused to go with the others, they were disowned by the society and classed as non-members.3
The first society was founded in 1739, and it was called the
Quoted in Simon, pp. 128-130. ? Jour., vo!, ii, p. 71, note.
United Society. In 1741, the United Bristol Society was formed, and was perhaps the third so organized." These societies were very humble affairs in their beginnings: the society at Oxford was started in June, 1741, at the home of a Mrs. Mears, while at Sykehouse the society began at the house of a farmer, William Holme, but later the people met in his farmyard. Near Brussels in an English army camp, John Haime, William Clements, and later John Evans started a society, to which officers came to listen to the preaching and two hundred soldiers joined its membership. When the camp moved to Bruges, a small hall was hired for worship. At Newcastle, Charles Wesley organized a "wild, staring, loving, society.” 8 The number of little societies was not limited; there could be more than one in a place.)
Once begun, however, these societies rapidly increased both in extent and in membership. By 1745 Wesley comments upon the strength of the several societies at Bristol and Kingswood, for the movement was well under way.10 At Keighly ten persons soon increased to a hundred. 11 At Colchester, within thrée months, a hundred and twenty persons were joined together in a society.12 In Dublin there were about two hundred and eighty members who were very teachable.13 While in London there were 1,950 members of the societies in the year 1743, and over 2,700 members by the year 1762.14 Sixty Irish soldiers still spoke of God and were not ashamed, in the society at Limerick.15 When Wesley visited Saint Ives and most of the western societies, though many statements had previously been made that Methodism was on the decline, he noted that he heard nothing of a decrease, but much of an increase.16 At Newcastle-on-Tyne, ,
*W. H. S. Proceedings, vol. iii, p. 166ff.
Ibid., vol. iii, p. 160.
Ibid., vol. ii, p. 79, and vol. iv. p. 489.
he had occasion to reject about fifty from the society, and yet after he had done this, there were about 800 left.17
So large was the attendance of the members upon the meetings of the societies, that the society rooms were scarcely ever commodious enough for the people. At Dublin many hundred attended service in the morning; but in the evening, there were far more hearers than the room could hold.18 At Hinxworth, Wesley never saw a house so full, and the people began to understand and relish what they heard.19 At Stanhope, so many crowded in, that the beams cracked, and the floor began to sink. One man jumped out of the window. But the sermon was preached out of doors to two or three times as many people as could be gathered in the house. As late as 1790, Wesley recorded of this same place, “no house could contain the congregation, so I stood in a broad place near the Church.” 20 Again, Wesley recorded, “I could not preach abroad because of the storms; and the house would not near contain the people. However, as many crowded in as could; the rest got near the doors or windows." 21 These large gatherings made it a real burden for Wesley to serve the communion, and at Bath he was glad when Mr. Shepherd offered assistance; because the number of communicants was doubled.22 This condition of affairs was continuous, so that in his old age after making a regular visit, Wesley said, “the concourse at Birstall, about four, was greater than ever was seen there before."'23 The people were evidently very glad to join themselves together in societies to promote their practices for saving men.
These people who met in these societies had to be housed. This was a real problem; yet Wesley set about the task of obtaining rooms or houses wherein his societies could meet regularly. At York a new meeting house was built in 1759.24 In 1752, a
17 Jour., vol. iii, p. 67.
Ibid., vol. vii, p. 486.
Ibid., vol. vii, p. 384.
new house was provided for the flourishing society at Leeds; while at Sheffield the society grew so rapidly that they could not wait for the completion of the house; but Wesley was obliged to preach in the shell of the new house.25 A room or "tabernacle," built by a fanatic, Macdonald, who left it and went to live in Manchester, became the first meeing house in Newcastle.26 But this room became so hot in the summer, and even hotter in the winter, that a subscription was started for a new room; because the Methodists desired to worship in comfort.27 On April 21, 1771, in London, a proper plate suitably engraved, together with a corner stone was fixed in position with due ceremony that strangely contrasted with the humility of former years.28
The task of raising suitable funds for these meeting houses was an enormous one, because nearly all of the Methodists were poor. Wesley himself was always in debt on this account. He insisted, however, on owning the land upon which the meeting house was built. He would not take a gift or a loan of land for this purpose and because of this, he frankly said that when the first stone of the house at Newcastle was laid, no one seemed to know where the money was coming from.29 When the Foundry was repaired and a few other buildings erected, the sum total of debt was £900. This large debt was later increased.30 The way in which the needed money was raised, was by personal solicitation and personal giving. In two or three days, the people of Bristol raised £230 towards strengthening and enlarging their meeting room.31 At Cork, Ireland, the people gave freely; in one day ten people subscribed one hundred pounds, and in three or four days more, the sum was doubled and a piece of ground taken.32 All of this money usually came in very small sums, for when there was a gift of three or four pounds it was usually noted. There were but few times when hundreds of pounds were con
25 Ibid., vol. iv, pp. 17-18.
tributed. 33 Nevertheless, as the societies aged, they became stronger; so that in 1776, in two meetings, one thousand pounds were subscribed toward building a new Foundry. The Methodist societies were becoming financially prosperous.34
At the beginning of the movement of building meeting houses, the officers appointed could not raise sufficient money for carrying on the work; hence Wesley took upon himself the task of paying all debts. This he did in order that he might have full liberty to preach what he wished in these houses.35 Wesley owned all of his chapels in his own name, with the exception of those in London. In London, City Road Chapel was the only one he owned-all the rest he leased.36 As a result of this, Wesley was constantly in debt and it was not until 1783, when over £3,000 were taken in, that Wesley found his income to exceed his expenditures. Of this sum, he reserved thirty pounds for himself.37 Because of this heavy responsibility, Wesley was very particular to see to it that all houses were built upon the so-called "Conference Plan". This plan gave Wesley complete jurisdiction over the preachers who were to preach and the people could not oust them, provided Wesley did not wish it. In 1788, the Conference officially ratified this plan.38 One year later, conference became even more exact and stated that no house should be begun without a majority of the building committee consenting, “and not a stone laid until the house is settled on the Methodist form verbatim. N. B. No lawyer is to altar one line.” The idea was to prevent new buildings from being erected until at least two thirds of the money was first raised for their payment, and to give Conference perfect freedom to send what preachers it would to the various houses without the interference of people who did not happen to like what the preachers said. 39 The financial phase of the Methodist societies was be
83 Jour., vol. v, p. 407.
Ibid., vol. vi, p. 216, note i.