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THE LIFE OF THE REV. JOHN WESLEY.
could have no more prevailed in England than they did in France :) No; but by those of their own tribes; the men of their own sphere and station, who were converted to God; the men now become religious; many of whom had run with those who remained ungodly to the same excess of riot,' but whose blasphemies were now turned to praise ! Had it not been for the labours of these men of God, who thus dared to go among this ungodly mass,-the uninformed, ungovernable mass of mankind ; and who, at the peril of their lives, and to the great displeasure of those who ought to have known better, called these sons of violence and disorder to be wise, and remember their latter end;' who cried to those prodigals, even in their own haunts, and invited them to return to their Father's house ;' promising them, with an authority and a love that only God could give, the kiss of peace, and the robe of righteousness :'-Had it not been for these labourers, this favoured land might also have been, years ago, a field of blood! Religion, and religion alone, can save any land from destruction. The nation that will not serve Thee shall perish! And we may fear, lest · his wrath should not be turned away, but that he will again visit for these things.'
That the fellowship of those who are thus the called in Christ Jesus, is of vital importance to the great design of God in giving his Son, can admit of no doubt in the mind of those who know that calling; and that without it Christian discipline cannot be maintained, long experience has abundantly proved. To this discipline we are, under God, (and it was also his work,) indebted at this day for the preservation of our original principles and the moral health of our people. What else could have preserved us from the overflowing scourge which threatened all that was venerable in civil society? When the assumption of naked rights in this land seemed to threaten us with a return to savage life ! When the Divine command, • Thou shalt not covet,' seemed repealed by acclamation !-When the multitude seemed to behold a usurper in every man who was richer than themselves ; our discipline, founded on the fellowship which the Scriptures show to be essential to a Church of Christ, formed a hedge and a bulwark against these deceitful pretensions,—this fraternity of hell, the work of the old liar and murderer. If the same discipline were found among all who profess the religion of Christ, what blessed effects would follow, not only in our population at home, but in distant lands, now so pressingly invited to return to God, who has given to his Son the heathen for his inheritance, and the utter. most parts of the earth for his possession.'
We make no unscriptural pretensions. We know no promise or declaration that confers infallibility on even the purest church, or takes away responsibility from the children of men. • It must needs be that offences should coine ;' such is the weakness, corruption, and perverse. ness of man ; nor do we know any remedy for it, but in fearlessly and constantly preaching the word,' and by wholesome Christian discipline preserving those who are brought to God by it. We have been thus preserved as the visible fruits and seals of the apostolic labours of those men of God who now rest in him :' And we may humbly hope that we shall be preserved and increase till the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.'
To the Rev. Mr. John Wesley.
May, 1745. REVEREND SIR,—The labouring to bring all the world to solid, inward, vital religions is a work so truly Christian and laudable, tbat I shall ever highly esteem those who attempt this great work, even though they should appear to me to be under some errors in doctrine, some mistakes in their conduct, and some excess in their zeal. You may expect therefore in me a candid adversary, a contender for truth and not for victory: one who would be glad to convince you of any error which he apprehends himself to have discovered in you, but who will be abundantly more glad to be convinced of errors in himself. Now the best way to enable you to set me right, whereever I may be wrong, will be by pointing out to you what I have to object to those works of yours which have fallen into my hands : and for order sake I shall reduce my objections to matter of Doctrine, to matter of Phraseology, and to matter of Fact.
1. As to matter of Doctrine, I shall choose to express what I take to be your doctrine in my own words rather than in your words, that you may the more readily perceive whether I at any time mistake you. You seem then to me to contend with great earnestness for the following system, viz. That faith (instead of being a rational assent and moral virtue, for the attainment of which men ought to yield the utmost attention and industry) is altogether a divine and supernatural illapse from Heaven the immediate gift of God-the mere work of Omnipotence, given instantaneously and arbitrarily, not with any regard to the fitness of the recipient, but the absolute will of the Donor: that the moment this faith is received, the recipient's pardon is signed in heaven, or he is justified. This pardon or justification is immediately notified to him by the Holy Ghost, and that (not by his imperceptibly working a godly assurance, but) by such a perceptible, such a glaring attestation, as is as easily discernible from the dictates of reason or suggestions of fancy, as light is discernible from darkness. Upon this perceptible and infallible notification, the recipient is saved, (i. e. as you explain yourself, is sanctified,) he has immediately the mind and the power to walk as Christ walked, and is become perfect; he has a perfection indeed admitting of degrees, yet such a perfection that he cannot sin. Thus he is in a moment regenerate, upon the first sowing of the seed of faith, which, you say, you cannot conceive to be other than instantaneous, whether you consider experience, or the word of God, or the very nature of the thing.
Now so various are men's understandings, or so unenlightened am I still as to spiritual affairs, that it appears quite manifest to me that experience, the word of God, and the nature of the thing, plainly evince the exact contrary.-As to my own experience, my parents and instructers, from my first infancy, carefully instilled into me such an amiable idea of God, that I cannot remember any time when I had no more love of God than a stone : consequently I cannot go so far back as the time when God first listed up the light of his countenance upon me;' nor the day of my eating butter and honey, of soaring upon eagles' wings, or of riding upon the sky. These (I had like to have said enthusiastic; but I would willingly avoid all offensive words,
* See page 59 Vok II.
these) rapturous expressions may pass sometimes in poetry, but are too flighty, me thinks, for plain prose: neither can I remember the exact day of my espousals, as you call it; but yet I am not so carnal a person as to have no perception of things spiritual. Í have a taste for divine intercourse, a relish for the pleasures of devotion; so high a relish as to think all other pleasures low and insipid things, compared to those happy moments when we get disentangled from the world and lift our souls up unto the calm regions of heaven. I hope and believe myself to have as steady a faith in a pardoning God, as you can have; but my faith came by hearing-by hearing the word of God soberly and consistently explained, and not from any momentaneous illapse from Heaven. Thus stands my own experience.—Then, sir, if I appeal to the experience of all around me, they assure me that the case is the same with them ; insomuch, that I am not acquainted with one pious person in the world whose experience (upon being consulted) is not flatly against you.
As to the word of God, let me observe to you, it is not the sound of particular texts, but the general tenour of the whole, on which we are to frame doctrines. There are texts whose sounds may favour quite contrary doctrines. Thus St. John says in one place, 'Whosoever is born of God cannot sin ;' in another, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us :' now no doctrine of perfection or imperfection should be founded on the sound of either of these texts ; but from both of them, and the whole tenour of Scripture, we are to collect the true Scripture doctrine. In like manner there are Scriptures which declare we are saved by faith; others, that we are saved by hope ; others again, that we are saved by repentance, obedience, holiness, and many other principal parts of religion, which, by a common synedoche of pars pro toto, are put for the whole of it ; here again we are not to be carried away with the sound of particular texts, maintaining that we are saved by faith alone, or hope alone, or obedience alone; but we are to construe one text so as to be consistent with all the rest, and to make one complete body or system of religion.- Again, faith is said in Scripture to be the gift of God, and so riches are said to be the gift of God; and indeed every other good thing, whether spiritual or temporal, is said to descend from Him from whom every good and perfect gift cometh: but then whether they descend merely as an illapse from Heaven, or as God's blessing on human industry, this cannot be collected from the sound of these texts, (though ever so often or ever so emphatically repeated,) but must be gathered from the general scope, drift, and tenour of Scripture. Once more ; if there be some texts which seem to favour God's arbitrary rule of mankind, and his dispensing his grace and favours promiscuously to the just and unjust, and without any regard to the fitness of the recipient; and if there be other texts which seem to favour the contrary doctrine of his dealing with his creatures according to their works, of his conferring grace and pardon on those who sinned through ignorance and unbelief preferably to more knowing and more audacious transgressors; then we must not hang upon the sound of either of these sort of texts, but pick out a sense at once consistent with both, and with the known attributes of Almighty God.-Lastly, if the human mind be sometimes termed the candle of the Lord, if in some places God's word is said to be his lanthorn, and in others, the Holy Ghost is represented as the light of God; then we must interpret all these places consistently, and walk by the joint light, as children of the light, without pretending prismatically to separate its rays, or dogmatically asserting which which. We must not single out a few texts of Scripture of one particular cast or sound, and then call these "the word of God;" but from a careful attention to every part of the Sacred Volume, collect what is the general tenour and consistent meaning of the whole. The whole thus soberly studied, and consistently interpreted, I call “the word of God ;” and this word of God appears to me to be manifestly against you: it speaks of growth in grace, in faith, and in religious knowledge as owing to the slow methods of instruction, not to momentaneous inspiration; it directs the gentle instilling the sacred science by long labour and pious industry, the advancing line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; it compares even God's part of the work to his slow and imperceptible produce of vegetables ; that whilst one planteth and another watereth, it is God all the while who goes on giving the increase.
Then lastly, the nature of the thing (which is the third witness you appeal to) seems to testify as clearly against you as the former two. It is the nature of faith, to be a full and practical assent to truth ; but such assent arises not momentaneously, but by slow steps of ratiocination ; by attending to the evidence, weighing the objections, and solving the difficulties. In short, the experience of mankind—the general tenour of the word of God, and the nature of the thing, all, in my opinion, make evidently and flatly against you. If you shall answer, that this my opinion is not by me suffi
ciently supported and proved, I readily grant you that it is not, neither do I intend to enter farther into the proof of it. The controversies of the last century occasioned such a thorough discussion of the Calvinistical points, as settled those debates to the satisfaction of most men of learning and piety: and if young persons of the present age, instead of too hastily entering on the teaching of others, would but first give themselves the trouble to make themselves thorough masters of the points then settled, we should not have seen many of those crudities attempted to be revived at this time of day. To those writings I therefore refer you: for my present intention is, not to collect a body of divinity from the general tenour of Scripture, a work much too long for this letter, on the one hand; nor yet to cap a few texts of a contrary sound to those produced by you,-a task too triling and insignificant, on the other; but my whole meaning is this : to state the case fairly between you and your adversaries. You have appealed to men of reason and religion: I have read your Appeals, and I shall impartially give you my sentiments as to your conduct.
We are at present upon the article of doctrine. Now your doctrine of momentaneous illapse, &c, as above related, (without entering at present into the truth or falsehood of it, is represented by your adversaries as having something of singularity in it, unsupported by Scripture, or the received doctrine of the Church of England; that these singularities are your most beloved opinions and favourite tenets, more insisted upon by you than the general and uncontroverted truths of Christianity. This is their charge. Now what is your defence ? I was all attention to learn how you would maintain these singularities, these beloved opinions and favourite tenets; but what was my surprise when I found you answering that you had no singularities at all; that your notions are true religion is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves ; that these are your favourite tenets, and have been so for many years : so that, in short, instead of having any peculiar doctrines which distinguish you from other Christians, you seem to suggest, that you preach nothing but what is common to all mankind; for, say you, Are not my doctrines yours too? Do you say that any man can be a true Christian without loving God and his neighbour ? So then, Sir, it seems you teach nothing more singular than the love of God and man. Was it then for preaching this doctrine that the London clergy forbad you their pulpits? If so, I think you have had very hard rusage. But if it be notorious, tbat you frequently insist on other beloved opinions, and on other controverted favourite tenets, then I fear your adversaries will think that you have given but a shuffling and evasive answer.
Nay, I think it will appear that you yourself were not fully satisfied with the answer, of no singularities, from the texts wbich you elsewhere quote, as carrying a sound in favour of your distinguishing singularities. But this is another objection which I have to make to your manner of treating your antagonists: you seem to think that you sufficiently answer your adversary, if you put together a number of naked Scriptures that sound in your favour. But please to remember, sir, that the question between you and them is not whether such words are Scripture, but whether (both parties admitting the words) the words are to be so or so interpreted. Should à Papist, in disputing with you, entrench himself in Scripture words ; quote upon you This is my body ;' insist upon it, that they were the words of Him who could not lie; and, in a declamatory way, undertake to prove all gainsayers to be infidels : I suppose you would tell him, that he was spending his zeal impertinently, for that you were as fully convinced as he, tặat the words were the words of Christ ; but that the naked quotation of those words made nothing for his purpose, since the whole dispute between you was, not whether those words were Christ's, but whether those words of Christ were most truly and most agreeably to the whole tenour of Scripture interpreted by him in a literal, or by you in a figurative way. In like manner, if 'Seil all, and give to the poor,' be understood by Mr. Law as a precept directed to all Christians, and by you as limited to one particular person ; then the naked quotation of those words of Scripture is not gaining any ground at all, but leaves the difference between you just as it found it. Onee more, if a Churchman and a Quaker both allow that all God's children are led by the Spirit of God; but if the Churchman maintains, that this leading is by the written word, and by the gentle and imperceptible influences of the Divine Spirit on the human mind; and the Quaker, on the other hand, insists, that we are to be led by sudden, instantaneous inspirations, and by such perceptible movements of the Spirit, as are as distinguishable from the dictates of reason, or suggestions of fancy, as light is from darkness : if this be the difference between them, this difference is in no sort adjusted by barely quoting, ' As many as are led by the Spirit of God, are the sons of God:' for both acknowledge this Scripture, but differ as to their manner of interpreting it. Now,
sir, you often appear to me as attempting to adjust controversies by a bare quotation of the controverted texts.
And as you thereby fail of proving your singularities to be consistent with Scripture, so I must add, in the next place, you fail likewise of showing them consistent with the received doctrines of the Church of England. When your adversaries tax you with differing from the Church, not as it was a little before the reformation, or as it was a little after the reformation, but as it is at this day: and when you profess great deference and veneration for the Church of England; you cannot naturally be supposed to mean, that much reverence was due to the Church, and its doctors and pastors, in the year 1545, and that in the year 1745 no reverence is due at all : if then, by the Church of England be meant (as ought to be meant) the present Church, I presume it will be no hard matter to show, that your doctrines differ widely from the doctrines of the Church. But here, perhaps, you will ask me, What then, does the present Church of England differ in doctrines from the Church at the time of the reformation? I answer, I assert no such thing : but were it so, the presumption would lay in favour of the modern Church; for it would be much more probable, that some truths might be brought to light, and some first hasty errors rectified upon the increase of learning, and growth of criticism, than that every thing should at once be brought to perfection, upon the first dawn of light into the regions of darkness and superstition, and that too amidst the sparks and heats of a warmly-agitated controversy. Bishop Jewel was a wise and good man, and so was Archbishop Sharp; now if it had so happened that there was some difference of doctrine between them, the reasonable presumption would have been in favour of the latter, who had abundantly the best means of being accurate. Whatever partiality you, as a subscribing clergyman, may have for ancient sermons, published formerly under the name of homilies, others, free from all bias, must be allowed to judge quite impartially between the more ancient and more modern sermons, and to prefer those, whichever they be, which shall appear most consistent with the general tenour of Scripture. But I am not a going to examine which appear most so: we will suppose both the ancient and modern Reformed Church of England, under some variety of phrase, to teach one and the self-same doctrine. The catechism (phrase and all) is the doctrine both of the ancient and modern Church: now that teaches repentance, faith and obedience, as conditions of salvation. “ No,” say you,
we are saved by faith alone." In order to maintain this, you first give us to understand, that you mean by the word salvation, what other people mcan by the word holiness; and that you mean, by faith alone, faith preceded by repentance, and accompanied by obedience. Now, may not your adversaries reply in your own words, Alas, what trifing is this, what a mere playing upon words ! Now, if you will explain yourself after this manner, nobody I think can have any difference with you, as to matter of doctrine, but the dispute between you will be reduced to matter of mere phraseology.
2. As to phraseology, every man is at liberty to use what phrases he likes best, provided he uses them according to their common acceptation, or else gives notice that he puts upon them a singular meaning of his own: if you choose to call that faith, which other people commonly note by the word grace, or to term that salvation, which every body else styles holiness, provided you give notice of this peculiar use of the words, we may make a tolerable shift to understand you, though, in my opinion, you would have done much better to bave kept to the obvious and common sense. You may urge, perhaps, that your phraseology comes nearer to that of Scripture, and the original Reformed Church of England, and therefore is better than that in common use ; now, though some question may be made as to the absolute truth of the antecedent, yet granting the antecedent, 1 deny the consequence. For that phraseology may be quite proper at some times, and on some occasions, which may become highly improper upon a change of circumstances. To judge therefore of your propriety as to this matter, we must look back to the time of the apostles, and the time of the reformation, and carefully consider what was the state of affairs, both at the time of the first spreading, and at the time of the late revival of the gospel. At the time of the first preaching of the gospel, both Jews and Gentiles were very negligent as to internal holiness : they made light of the laws of piety and morality, but laid great stress upon external rites, and certain atoning actions, such as sacrifices, wasbings, lustrations, and other expiatory works, which, if they performed according to the due form of their respective religions, they doubted not but those works would render them acceptable to God, how free soever they made with the laws of morality and righteousness. The apostles therefore thought they could not express themselves too warmly against so wicked a persuasion, and often declare that we cannot be made righteous by works (by which they always meant such outward works as were