"FECISTI nos ad Te, Domine; et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in Te." It is in satisfying this universal longing that the Catholic Church realizes the end of her being. For it is by her sacraments that her members have assurance of that communion between the soul and God, for which the spiritual side of man has cried out in voiceless craving and entreaty from the beginning of the world. This spiritual side, which is the seat of the will and the affections, is common to all, and, although they know it not, is alike the heritage of the refined and the degraded, the intellectual and the uncultured. Because then the Catholic Faith is a religion for all, because it is a spiritual religion, it does not touch necessarily the understanding of man, for it is still true to say, "dianoia auth ouqen kinei," intellect never leads men to action. But rather is the appeal made to the motives, which are at the heart of action, the sense of gratitude, and the emotion of love or fear. Christianity sets before every man the spectacle of a perfect human life lived by man for men, by One who was alike their Brother and their God, and further it claims and promises that all who believe and are faithful shall at last attain to the standard of Perfection, and by attainment enter upon that heritage of communion with God for which they were created. If it is those who believe and are faithful who shall come to the / vision of God, then the work of the Divine Society of the Church is first to teach right doctrine, and then to inculcate the need of personal holiness. And the road to the attainment of this last, which is not in itself an end, is long and painful, but can surely be won through the grace of sacrament and prayer.
Some there have been outside the Church, who have sought to reach the goal more quickly, and who, in their intense desire for unfettered communion, being without the historical sense, have impatiently ignored the great body of spiritual experience behind them, and have lightly disregarded the known means of grace. But in that they made their intense appeal to the spiritual side of man, they were, nevertheless, nearer to Catholicity than perhaps they desired or deserved.
But without going into the wild places of heresy, the professors of which have often erred from self-will, not in their idea of the end to be attained, but of the method of attainment, there have been from time to time, within the Church, those who have alike tended to ignore not only the method, but the end. These individuals, for they cannot be called a sect, have represented two very opposite tendencies, a deadening orthodoxy and an equally deadening rationalism. For the most part they have not separated from the Church at any time, and therefore the danger of their existence has been all the more insidious, for from within they have threatened the very stronghold of faith. Orthodoxy in its first conception must be held a virtue, but when it comes to be an end in itself, or a cover for gross neglect of the realities of religion, then its professors are in more evil case than if they had never known faith.
The opposite error, which may be called rationalism, is equally dangerous. It is an attempt unblushingly to rationalize religion, and to explain away the unexplainable. To encourage scientific discussion, as being the best method of proving the reasonableness of faith to those outside the Church, is a different matter from attempting to demonstrate to the faithful that the "Virgin Birth" is capable of scientific explanation.
IT was into these two errors of over-orthodoxy and rationalism that the Church of England fell for over a hundred years, or, roughly speaking, from the accession of the House of Hanover until the great Tractarian movement of the last century, which reintroduced the spiritual ideal into the Church. The Oxford Reformers realized, first that the end of all religion must be communion with God, and in the second place, that the Church was divinely instituted for the very purpose of bringing about this consummation. They therefore appealed to primitive practice as shown forth by the Fathers, and they traced the Church of England's claim to Catholicity through the Caroline divines, through the Reformation, back into the dim ages of a still united Church.
But this claim to a direct lineage to be found in the Caroline divines is a little spoilt by the fact that between the non-jurors and the immediate precursors of the Oxford Reformers, Alexander Knox and Bishop Jebb, for nearly fifty years evidence of a Catholic spirit, either in priest or layman, seems wanting altogether, or at least so it is commonly supposed. But Alexander Knox, the Irish recluse, whose name is now hardly known, but whose staunch Catholicity was recognized and revered by the Tractarians and their immediate successors, was the pupil of John Wesley, from whom, by his own confession, he received his religious views. If this be the case, and if John Wesley can be proved to have been throughout a Catholic and an Anglican, then the lineage need not be broken.
The age in which John Wesley lived, the Church into which he was born, very much resembled the Church of 1830, except that its features were, if possible, more pronounced. Its dead orthodoxy may roughly be said to have been the result of the close union between Church and State, and its rationalizing spirit to have been partly a reaction after Puritan fanaticism in favour of natural religion, and partly quite an honest, but a very mistaken attempt to combat Deism with its own weapons. Voltaire said of the Church in England at this time, "There is only just enough religion left in England to distinguish Tories, who have little, from Whigs, who have less;" and Paley, a very different critic, wrote, "We are setting up a kind of philosophical morality detached from religion and independent of its influence, which may be cultivated, it is said, without Christianity as well as with it; and which if cultivated, renders religion and religious institutions superfluous." At the Act of Settlement the Church had, as a body, given in its allegiance to the Protestant succession. A Roman Catholic sovereign threatened the existence of the reformed faith, and from a worldly point of view the clergy had everything to lose by refusing to take the oath of allegiance. It was highly fortunate for the wives and families of that large majority, who discovered that they would tread the path to heaven more surely under the protection of the House of Hanover. But some few there were who could not find it in their consciences to abjure that theory of Divine right, in which they had been brought up, and which in Restoration days had been preached so gladly and so glibly. The question which the non-juring schism solved unflinchingly was bound to lower the tone of morality among the clergy; and the universities, from which relief might have come, were indifferent, and fallen into disrepute. They, too, were sold to politics. For the generality such a doctrine as that which William Law, the non-juror, preached in his "Serious Call" was too high. Christianity, the Catholic Faith) claims the whole man at any cost. There can be no quibbling, no holding, back a part, no refusal to face a question of conscience. And the priests of the Catholic Church said it is a hard saying, who shall hear it, and so they made haste to cover up the doctrines of the Church as raising uncomfortable discussion, and taught morality and moderation as an educated Roman might have conceived them. They took care to be very orthodox, that is to say, they hated popery and dissent. Their politics required this of them. It was a critical period in the history of a Church which could view ^ with equanimity the profanity of the "Tale of a Tub," written by one of its priests, and could hail as its champion, Bolingbroke, the avowed disciple of scepticism. Underneath political orthodoxy Deism itself was rampant within the Church. The greatest divines of the time, who exhausted their powers in conflict with Collins, Toland, Chubb, and Tindall, were themselves tainted with the heresy against which they wrote. The Latitudinarian bishops have not unjustly been accused of Arianism. Burnet, Chillingworth, Tillotson, all yielded to the tendency of rationalism, and so threatened the truth of the Incarnation. The trend of all their teaching was to advise the expediency of moral rectitude, but we do not find the claim to absolute dedication and saintliness, which the bishops of the seventeenth century would have made.
One of the last of the clergy to teach the simplicity of the Catholic Faith was William Law the non-juror. He is commonly known as a mystic, though anything more practical than his "Serious Call" it would be difficult to find. His motive is laid in an intensely evangelical and personal devotion to our Lord, and his method to attain and hold fast this devotion is so practical and of so uncompromising a nature that few would care to put themselves entirely under its direction. He claims that "devotion signifies a life given or devoted to God," that "any ways of life, any employment of our talents whether of our parts, our time, or money that is not strictly according to the Will of God, that is not for such ends as are suitable to His glory, are as great absurdities and failings as prayers that are not according to the Will of God."
He elaborates the daily sacrifice of the individual will by laying down stringent rules for the expenditure of a man's time and money, and he claims that method in the spiritual life is necessary for bringing all actions before the test of devotion, and so at last securing for the soul the end for which it was created, the conscious realization of the love of God. In his own words he says, "All prayer and devotion, fastings and repentance, meditation and retirement, all sacraments and ordinances are but so many means to render the soul thus Divine and conformable to the Will of God, to fill it with thankfulness and praise for everything that comes from God."
This was the book which exercised a profound impression upon John Wesley. He read it in 1729 in conjunction with St. Thomas à Kempis and Jeremy Taylor's "Holy Living and Holy Dying." From this time he changed his whole manner of life. He had learnt from William Law an ideal and a method, and the time came to put: it into practice.
In 1729 John Wesley was made Fellow of Lincoln College, and he immediately started to live his life at Oxford according to a strict rule. In this he was joined by his younger brother, Charles Wesley, student of Christ Church; Morgan, commoner of the same college; and Kirkham, of Merton College. They tried to live the good life, they endeavoured to fill each his vocation by adhering to strict hours of work, and then, in such time and opportunity as was given them, to do good to others. They sought the mainspring in prayer and meditation, for which strict hours were set apart, and, above all, in weekly communion. The following letter, written by John Wesley to his sister, shows how strongly this little society was permeated with the spirit of William Law--
"A little while ago," he writes, "Bob Kirkham took a fancy into his head that he would lose no more time and waste no more money, in pursuance of which he first resolved to breakfast no longer on tea; next, to drink no more ale in an evening, or, however, but to quench his thirst; then to read Latin or Greek for prayers in the morning till noon, and from dinner till five at night."
It was their custom to rise at 4 a.m. for prayer and meditation; they observed the canonical hours through the day, made constant use of the ejaculatory acts of faith, hope, and love, and were constant in intercession.
Very early also did the Methodists, as they began to be called from their strict observance of rule, tend to exhibit a burning zeal to preach the faith to those who had it not. The castle at that time was used as a prison for debtors, and the prisoners were without any kind of priestly ministration. In the parish of St. Thomas-the-Martyr, which then as now included some of the lowest parts of Oxford, they also found a field for their labours, and systematically visited a number of poor people.
It was not possible that the doings of this little society should -pass unnoticed in a college life, in which, perhaps mercifully, individuals are not allowed to depart from the beaten path, or to exhibit any signs of eccentricity with impunity. Merton called them the "Holy Club," and "the House" styled them "Sacramentarians." This last title is very familiar. It was said of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, "they substitute the sacraments for Christ." But with persecution the club grew. They were joined by Ingham, John Gambold, James Hervey, Hutchins, and Clayton, and it would seem also that some ladies were admitted to a kind of membership. A close friendship grew up between Mr. Clayton and John Wesley, and from their correspondence we notice a growing desire to follow more closely the universal practice of the Church, and to seek their authority for so doing, in the Fathers. Mr. Clayton recommended the use of the collection of the writings of the Fathers made by Cotelier. John Wesley writes in this year, "The two points where-unto, by the blessing of God, we had before attained, we endeavoured to hold fast. I mean the doing what good we can, and in order thereto, communicating as often as we have opportunity. To these, by the advice of Mr. Clayton, we added a third, the observing the fasts of the Church, the general neglect of which we can by no means apprehend to be a lawful excuse for neglecting them." On Fridays and fast days they took no food until 3 p.m., and they set apart this day specially for self-examination and preparation for the Holy Eucharist. Mr. Clayton writing to John Wesley on this subject says, "My own rule is to spend an hour every Friday in looking over my diary, and observing the difference between it and the preceding week; after which I examine the resolutions set down in the account of my last weekly examination, and inquire how I have kept them, and then see what others are necessary to be formed."
This greater exactitude was observed partially under the direction of Mr.. Clayton's friend, a certain Dr. Deacon, a non-juror, and also no doubt by the advice of William Law, whom John Wesley consulted as their guide. To show what manner of counsellor was Dr. Deacon, it is only necessary to refer to a complete collection of Devotions, of which he was the author. In this book may be found, among other things, prayers for the dead, and a form of private confession.
Spincke's "Devotions" was the book with which "the members of the society usually supplemented their private prayers. It might perhaps be noted that this book was simply a collection from the writings of the Caroline bishops, particularly of Andrewes and Laud. Mr. Tyerman, John Wesley's Methodist biographer, sums up this period in the following way: "Under such circumstances it is not surprising to find them plunging into the authentic and unauthentic writings of the Christian Fathers--listening to apostolical and other canons as to the voice of oracles, displaying a ridiculous anxiety about sacramental wine being mixed with water, and assuming an arrogant willingness to become auricular confessors." There can be no doubt that the leaders of the little Methodist Society now began to advocate openly auricular confession. There is a letter from Emily Wesley on this subject, which, from its tone of perhaps pardonable irritation, would prove conclusively that the use of Confession had been urged by her brother not wisely but too well. She writes, "To open the state of my soul to you, or any of our clergy, is what I have no inclination to at present--and I believe I never shall. I shall not put my conscience under the direction of mortal man, frail as myself."
This is a link in an unexpected quarter, and bears out what Dr. Pusey writes: "Frequent or habitual confession is not a novel practice, it is only the revival of a practice which was common before the decay of piety in the last unhappy century." Wesley and his friends were thus trying to keep alive the teaching of the Caroline divines. It was Bishop Andrewes who said, "One we must have to know thoroughly the state of our land and goods, One we must have entirely acquainted with the state of our body, in our souls it holdeth not--I say no more, it were good it did."
If Wesley had needed further support, and further continuity of opinion, it was Latimer, the Oxford martyr, who exclaimed of Penance, "I would to God it were kept in England." John Wesley's views at this time as to the Holy Communion are better known; but as he retained them entire in later life, they will be stated fully in due course.
Doubtless it will be said that the religious views which a young man may hold, in the comparative shelter of Oxford, prove nothing. In that city, which has seen a greater promise of fair things to come than any other in the world, it is possible for her young men to dream dreams, and to undream them at leisure in the press and struggle of after life. But after all, this is an easy and a cheap criticism, which would show a deeper knowledge of human nature if it were applied to those years which immediately follow such a period of receptivity and enthusiasm as that in which John Wesley lived in residence as a fellow of Lincoln College.
John Wesley had come to an end of that time of which he was probably speaking, when he said, "As a young man, I was sure of everything; but in a few years, not half so sure of most things." The man whose very name seems to us to be bound up with faith and zeal was uncertain in his own spiritual life. He had reached a crisis in which, in spite of his longing to win souls for Christ, he yet knew himself to doubt his own salvation, and to be in fear of death, and this after six years of struggle in sacrament and prayer after that inward life of holiness which was always associated in his mind with the peace of God. If these facts as to his own life be remembered, John Wesley's connection with the Moravians, with which it will next be necessary to deal, need not present any special difficulty. It will easily be seen that, at such a time, any exaggeration of his views cannot be taken too seriously; and certainly they ought not to be set against the steady practice and devotion of the forty years which followed, in which in all essentials it will be shown he retained and developed his Catholic principles.
But to return to some detail. In 1733 John Wesley refused to leave Oxford, and to take his father's living at Epworth; but in 1735 with the advice of William Law and of his friend Clayton, he finally decided to go on a mission to Georgia. On the outward voyage he came in contact with some Lutheran Christians, called Moravians, bound on the same missionary enterprise as himself. These mystics, with their tranquil piety, were likely to be extremely interesting and attractive to any one in Wesley's unsettled frame of mind. Their outward observance was often more Catholic than that which John Wesley had found exhibited in the English Church. They held a strict doctrine as to the Eucharist, and insisted on fasting, intercession, and a kind of public confession at their class meetings. Their chief peculiarity lay in their doctrine of justifying faith, and of the necessity of abstaining from all ordinances until such faith had been received. The whole Georgian mission is really only remarkable for the present purpose because of the influence which Peter Bohler, their leader, gradually came to exercise over Wesley's mind. It might, however, be noticed in passing, that in his priestly ministrations among the Indians, John Wesley insisted on two points in particular of primitive usage. In the mission services he made use of the mixed chalice at the Holy Communion, which was celebrated as the chief service on Sunday at n o'clock, being preceded at 5 a.m. by morning service.
In 1737 he returned to England in company with Peter Böhler. During the voyage his distress of mind reached a climax, and he went so far as to accuse himself of unbelief. This idea was the result of an exaggeration of the Moravian tenet of justifying faith, which seems to have demanded that the work of conversion should be instantaneous, after which the soul was entirely delivered from all doubt and fear, and was free to live in constant communion with God. After a severe storm, Wesley confessed to having been in great fear of death, and therefore it seemed to him he was still unconverted. Soon after, in London, there took place that which has been called John Wesley's conversion, but which does not seem to have been wholly satisfactory even to himself. The immediate result, however, was an open breach with William Law, who was attacked by his former disciple in the most discourteous language for having led him astray, by teaching him the hope of being saved by his own works.
It was singularly unjust and' futile to attack William Law for placing trust in himself or his own works. In his writings he has said, "All man's good works are as tinkling cymbals, unless they be solely the work and fruit of the spirit of God;" and again, writing in reply to John Wesley, he says, "I have been governed through all that I have written and done by these two common, fundamental, unchangeable maxims of our Lord, 'Without Me ye can do nothing;' 'If any man will come after Me and be My disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me.'" For the time being John Wesley had forgotten that faith is the greatest of all works, for he was face to face with the ultra-Protestant doctrine of there being no necessity for works after conversion, except as occasion shall occur.
That he was not a very satisfactory convert is shown by the censure passed upon him by the Moravians on the Continent, whom he visited in 1738. They refused him communion on the ground of his being "homo perturbatus." He was still doubtful also about the doctrine of there being no degrees of faith, and in this matter he found support and comfort in an unexpected quarter. "Christian David," the Lutheran mechanic, one of the foremost of Moravian teachers, told him out of his own experience that "he had the forgiveness of sins and a measure of the peace of God for many years before he had that witness of the Spirit which shuts out all doubt and fear;" and again, speaking more generally, he assured Wesley that "many were children of God and heirs of the promises long before they were comforted by the abiding witness of the spirit, melting their souls into all gentleness and meekness, and much more before they were pure in heart from all self-will and sin." This Catholic teaching was by no means taught by the London Moravians, and although on his return John Wesley identified himself with them, and even drew up a set of rules for their band societies, the connection only lasted for about a year. At the end of that time he cut himself adrift, for "his soul was sick of their sublime divinity." In 1739 he was free to begin to develop his own movement, and it is of this third period that he speaks when he says, "I simply described the plain old religion of the Church of England, which was now almost everywhere spoken against under the new name of Methodism."
It must be remembered, however, that it was only that part of the Methodist movement which was under John Wesley's personal leadership, which could be said to represent the "plain old religion of the Church of England." Wesley taught a doctrine which was alike Arminian, Anglican, and Sacramental; but this was not accepted by his friend Whitefield and his followers, who formed a large section among the Methodists under the patronage of the Countess of Huntingdon, and were openly Calvinistic and Puritan in their belief. If Wesley influenced the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century, it is as true to say that Whitefield was a very powerful factor in the revival at the latter end of the eighteenth century, wrongly termed Evangelical. Between the Arminian and the Calvinist, the Puritan and the Sacramentalist, compromise is, and always was, impossible. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that among the Methodists themselves there raged a deep and bitter warfare, and that the movement from the year 1740 was divided into two opposite camps.
Wesley refused to believe that the noblest creature in the visible world was only a fine piece of clockwork, as he expressed it. In 1770 he took definite action by calling his preachers together at a conference at Bristol. He there admitted that he had once strayed in leaning too much towards Calvinism, and repudiated altogether the doctrine that works are merely incidental, and therefore need not be pursued. He says, "Whoever desires to find .favour with God should cease from evil and learn to do well." The theory of "Justification," which he proceeded to set forth, was the same as that which Bull, Jeremy Taylor, and the other great Anglican divines of the seventeenth century had taught. It was the doctrine of William Law, and not of Peter Böhler, which had conquered. John Wesley's Sacramentalism is proved best from his own writings and sermons. In 1756 after he had been engaged in his mission work for twenty-six years, we find him using language as regards baptismal regeneration such as any High Churchman of to-day would accept and use, "By water, then, as a means--the water of baptism--we are regenerated or born again, whence it is also called by the Apostle, the washing of regeneration. Herein a principle of grace is infused, which will not be wholly taken away unless we quench the Holy Spirit of God by long continued wickedness."
No Tractarian could have insisted more strenuously than Wesley on the need of frequent communion.
In Oxford in 1733 he had written a discourse for the use of his pupils, of which, fifty-five years later, he wrote, "I have not yet seen cause to alter my sentiments in any point, which is therein delivered." The following is an extract:--
"Let every one, who has either any desire to please God, or any love for his own soul, obey God and consult the good of his own soul by communicating every time he can. Like the first Christians with whom the Christian Sacrament was a constant part of the service of the Lord's day. And for several centuries they received it almost every day, four times a week always, and every saint's day beside."
It was the custom for many of the London Methodists to communicate at St. Paul's, others at their parish churches. In order that the Methodist meetings might not clash with any Church service, they were held at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wesley wrote in this connection, "If it were designed to be a Church service, it would be essentially defective . . . neither is it even on the Lord's day concluded with the Lord's Supper."
It is very interesting and instructive to compare John Wesley's note after two successive Christmas seasons, in 1773 and 1774, with the criticism of his biographer, Mr. Tyerman.
J. W., Dec., 1773: "December 25th and on the following days we had many happy opportunities of celebrating the solemn feast days according to the design of their institution."
Mr. Tyerman: "To some it may seem strange that Wesley the Methodist should observe such festivals as these, but in such matters Wesley was still a Churchman."
J. W., Dec., 1774: "During the twelve festival days we had the Lord's Supper daily, a little emblem of the primitive Church."
Mr. Tyerman: "What would be said of the Methodists of the present day, were they to imitate the example of their founder?" What indeed?
John Wesley's belief in the "Real Presence," and in the sacrificial aspect of the Holy Communion, could not be better shown than by the following extracts taken from some of his hymns, the two first of which have made one controversial tract writer call the poet an "Unconscious Romanist," although the third conclusively proves that Wesley believed in the more reverent Anglican doctrine of the Holy Mysteries.
The cup of blessing, bless'd by Thee,
Let it Thy Blood impart,
The bread Thy mystic Body be,
And cheer each languid heart.
Now, Lord, on us Thy Flesh bestow,
And let us drink Thy Blood;
Till all our souls are filled below,
With all the life of God.
Victim divine, Thy grace we claim,
While thus Thy precious death we show;
Once offered up a spotless lamb,
In Thy great temple here below.
Thou dids't for all mankind atone,
And standest now before the Throne.
God still respects Thy Sacrifice,
Its savour sweet doth always please;
The Offering smokes through earth and skies,
Diffusing life and joy and peace.
To these Thy lower courts it comes,
And fills them with Divine perfumes.
To every faithful soul appear,
And show Thy real presence here.
O the depth of love divine,
Th' unfathomable grace;
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys?
How the bread His Flesh imparts,
How the wine transmits His Blood;
Fills His faithful people's hearts
With all the life of God?
Let the wisest mortal show
How we the grace receive,
Feeble elements bestow
A power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous why,
These the virtue did convey,
Yet still remain the same.
The language of these hymns is common enough at the present time, but in the reign of George the Third, J. H. Newman, in Tract 81, says that the only teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice to be found at all was somewhat feebly given by the compilers of the American Prayer-book, who were under non-juring influence.
Alexander Knox, the disciple of Wesley, writing in 1814, pertinently remarks, "Is it not curious that in exact proportion as the notion of strict Catholicity has been dropped, the sacrificial idea of the Lord's Supper has been also abandoned? "
In the preceding century there is plenty of language to be found to resemble Wesley's.
Bishop Andrewes writes, "The Sacrifice of Christ's death is available for present, living and dead." And again Donne, who is perhaps less well known, writes, "Beloved, in the blessed and glorious, and mysterious Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, thou seest Christum Domini, the Lord's Salvation, and thy Salvation, and that thus far with bodily eyes." Closely associated with the idea of sacrifice was John Wesley's belief in the Christian priesthood. In a well-known sermon at Cork, he took for his text, "No man taketh to himself this honour save he that is called of God, as was Aaron."
The lay preachers, whom he began to send out as early as 1740, were simply intended to make the doctrine of the Church of England known, like modern lay readers in a crowded district at the present time. Writing of the year previous, Mr. Tyerman is again our authority. He says, "He was firm in his attachment to the principles and practices of the English Church and was far from being indifferent to the prerogatives of its priests. He still retained his High Church nonsense, and made a difference between Church of England ministers and Anabaptist and Presbyterian teachers."
The view of auricular confession, which, as has been said, John Wesley held at Oxford, was not entirely discarded by him in later life, but underwent a curious change. It may possibly be yet another proof of Wesley's devotion to primitive practice that he should have sought to get behind private confession, and to reintroduce a system which certainly bore some points of resemblance to that which was known in the Early Church as "public penance." Public confession of sin had been proved to be an impossible, if an ideal practice, and its place had therefore been taken by private confession to a priest. But it was consistent with Wesley's character that he should have unflinchingly tried to bring it back in his class meeting. He realized that, with the receiving of the gift of faith, the life of the converted had only just begun, and that some strenuous and far-reaching system was needed to keep the converts together, and build them up in the spiritual life. The members might be told to observe Friday as a fast day and to receive the Sacrament at church on Sunday, but it was the class meeting which ensured the carrying out of the rule. The plan was to divide up the societies at the different centres into classes, which met usually once a week under a leader, chosen for his piety and devotion. If any of the members were ill or in need, they were visited by special visitors set apart for the purpose. As a matter of fact, the actual class very soon became nothing more than a meeting for the interchange of- that which was called spiritual experience, seasoned with the delights of social intercourse. This docs not, however, in any way disprove the intention of the founder, but merely serves to show that among ordinary men and women the practice of public confession was utterly unworkable, and calculated to produce a positively intolerable state of affairs.
Mr. Tyerman, in treating of the class meeting, entirely endorses this view of Wesley's own intention. He writes, "Five of the questions to be asked of every member at every weekly meeting savour far too much of the popish confessional to be admired. We give them as an indication of 'the still unhealthy tone of Wesley's piety.
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What have you thought, said, or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not? etc.
As helps to devotion, we find John Wesley, as at Oxford, recommending the works of the great masters of the spiritual life, especially St. Thomas à Kempis, St. Francis de Sales, Jeremy Taylor, and the Cambridge Platonists.
To the end of his life he fasted most rigidly, and at eighty years old recommended the Friday fast as a cure for nervous disorders.
Although, unfortunately for his own comfort in this world, he decided to marry, he was not insensible of the advantages of the celibate state, for writing on this matter he says, "We may safely say 'Blessed are they, who abstain from things lawful in themselves in order to be more devoted to God.'" Herein, surely, John Wesley was summing up not only the principle of celibacy but of asceticism in general.
In his ideas of public worship, it has been said that Wesley was in advance of his time. As a detail, he always insisted on the separation of the sexes; and at Norwich on one occasion, he went so far as to threaten to withhold his presence, unless his wishes in the matter were complied with. He was a believer in short services, which he thought should not exceed an hour, if possible. With his brother Charles he fully realized the power of music as an accompaniment to worship, and like many other reformers, the Methodists were noted for their hymn singing. John Wesley was even so far in front of, or behind, his age, as to like music and singing at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
His own sermons did not, as a rule, exceed twenty minutes, at the ordinary Methodist services, and were usually taken from the Gospel or Epistle for the day; an almost unknown custom, probably, at a time when the sermon had become a political discourse, or, at the best, an ornate dissertation on the advantages of morality.
But if the sermons of the Methodists were directed to the heart rather than to the intellect, Wesley, with his strong common sense, did his utmost to stop anything like ranting among his preachers. With very often uneducated if zealous men, this must have been a difficult task, and we find Wesley descending to such practical details as forbidding them "to scream," or "to thump the Bible."
We should expect to find Wesley insisting strongly on the education of children in Christian doctrine. His own particular attempts were not very successful, though this is hardly surprising when we find that all toys and amusements were forbidden the scholars, lest their minds should be diverted from true religion! The great reformer failed as an educationalist.
It is very striking to read of John Wesley's firm belief in Prayers for the Dead. This doctrine he had held in Oxford in company with his friend Clayton, who afterwards, when a parish priest in Manchester, was accused of the same belief, because the unfortunate man was seen to stand bareheaded in front of the ghastly spectacle of the heads of his sons, which were sent to their native town to be exposed as a warning after the rebellion of '45. Wesley's own words best express his belief. He wrote, "It has in all ages been allowed that the Communion of Saints extends to those in Paradise as well as those on earth, as they are all one body united under one head." Again, when in 1750 he was reproached by Bishop Lavington for holding the popish doctrine of Prayers for the Dead, he replied, "Your fourth argument is that in a collection of prayers, I cite the words of an ancient liturgy 'for the faithful departed.' Sir, whenever I use those words in the Burial Service, I pray to the same effect, ' that we with all those who are departed in Thy faith and fear, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul,' yea, and whenever I say, 'Thy Kingdom come'--for I mean both the Kingdom of grace and glory."
It is probably more or less accepted at the present time that Wesley himself never dreamt of separation from the Church, although his action in regard to the American Methodists, considered apart from his repeated assertions to the contrary, might have given his followers some excuse for cutting themselves adrift. It is only possible to state the facts.
For a long while it had been a perplexing question how the Methodist converts in America were to receive the sacraments. In England, where there was a Methodist society there was a parish church; but in America, parish churches were few and far between, and there were no American bishops to confer priests' orders. In 1785 Wesley was driven into action by the timid counsels of the English bishop, which still prevailed, and he finally decided to set apart two priests to act as Bishops in America. Ten weeks later there was a Scottish consecration and bishops were sent out. Mr. Tyreman says the ceremony was simply a formality, likely to recommend his delegates, and that Wesley never intended to consecrate.
It is a little difficult to understand Wesley's intention, unless the whole matter be explained as a moral failure, and a lack of patience under trying circumstances. We know that Charles Wesley declared that his brother was surprised into the rash act, and that he himself feared for the future consequences. John Wesley throughout refused to admit that he had done anything which in any way entailed separation. In 1783 he wrote, "If ever the Methodists in general were to leave the Church, I must leave them." Again in 1791, only nine months before his death, he wrote, "In God's name stop there! Be Church of England men still. Do not cast away the peculiar glory which God hath put upon you and frustrate the design of providence."
In view of these facts, there cannot be much room for doubt that if John Wesley could have seen through the years, he would have claimed as his spiritual children not those, who so soon after his death dared to take his name and reject his principles, but the few men who, some forty years later, began in Oxford to give back to the Church of England her primitive doctrine and her spiritual ideal. In all essentials it has been shown that this doctrine and this ideal was Wesley's, and his not only in the shelter of Oxford, but in the middle of active mission work up and down England. His interpretation of Justification, Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence, and the sacrificial aspect of the Holy Communion would place him among the High Churchmen of Caroline or Victorian days, while in his insistence on the life of personal holiness, his teaching is not behind that of such masters of the spiritual life as St. Francis de Sales, Bishop Andrewes, and Dr. Pusey.
If all this be so, it may reasonably be asked how was it possible for Wesley's followers to stray so far from the path their teacher trod, and why was this teacher not merely the father of the Tractarians, but himself the first Tractarian? Professor Stokes, in an appreciation of Alexander Knox, has made a suggestion which may possibly prepare the way for a solution of the difficulty.
Although we know that Wesley sought on every possible occasion to justify his practices by appealing to primitive custom, yet his learning and scholarship were not sufficiently profound to lead him to make the discovery, which his pupil Knox afterwards made, and which the Tractarians in turn adopted as their own. Alexander Knox, looking about for a weapon with which to defend himself against the Calvinists, lighted upon the test of antiquity, commonly known as the Vincentian rule, "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est." If the doctrine of the Church of England, which was Wesley's doctrine, could stand this test, then she was exultingly vindicated from the attacks of Romanists and Dissenters alike. The one would make a Book infallible, interpreted by an unguided private judgment, the other a visible Society interpreted by a fallible human being, while the Church of England makes her appeal to a Divine Person, Who founded the Society, and Who inspired the Book, and Who Himself taught the Apostles the truths the Fathers held.
As it was, John Wesley's appeal to primitive practice had only the weight of a single opinion, was disputed in his lifetime, and entirely disregarded after his death for nearly half a century. But the appeal had once been made, and it could not be really lost. His real children heard it, and still hear it through the years, and remember that the "Alma Mater," who prepared him for his great work, was founded "ad propagandam Christianam fidem, et extirpandas haereses."