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They spent a few days together in this general conference; in considering, what might most conduce to the general good. The result was immediately signified to all their brethren. And they soon found, that what St. Paul observes of the whole church, may be, in a measure, applied to every part of it: "The whole body being fitly framed together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, maketh increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love," Eph. iv, 16.
6. That this may be the more effectually done, they have another excellent help in the constant change of preachers: it being their rule that no preacher shall remain in the same circuit more than two years together; and few of them more than one year. Some, indeed, have imagined, that this was a hinderance to the work of God. But long experience, in every part of the kingdom, proves the contrary. This has always shown, that the people profit less by any one person than by a variety of preachers: while they
"Used the gifts on each bestow'd,
7. Together with these helps, which are peculiar to their own society, they have all those which are enjoyed in common by the other members of the church of England. Indeed they have been long pressed to separate from it; to which they have had temptations of every kind. But they cannot, they dare not, they will not separate from it, while they can remain therein with a clear conscience. It is true, if any sinful terms of communion were imposed upon them, then they would be constrained to separate; but as this is not the case at present, we rejoice to continue therein.
8. What then could God have done more for his vineyard, which he hath not done in it, with regard to spiritual helps? He has hardly dealt so with any other people in the Christian world. If it be said, He could have made them a separate people, like the Moravian brethren; I answer, This would have been a direct contradiction to his whole design in raising them up; namely, to spread scriptural religion throughout the land, among people of every denomination; leaving every one to hold his own opinions, and to follow his own mode of worship. This could only be done effectually, by leaving these things as they were, and endeavouring to leaven the whole nation with that "faith that worketh by love."
III. 1. Such are the spiritual helps which God has bestowed on this his vineyard, with no sparing hand. Discipline might be inserted among these; but we may as well speak of it under a separate head. It is certain, that in this respect the Methodists are a highly favoured people. Nothing can be more simple, nothing more rational, than the Methodist discipline: it is entirely founded on common sense, particularly applying the general rules of Scripture. Any person determined to save his soul, may be united (this is the only condition required) with them. But this desire must be evidenced by three marks: avoiding all known sin; doing good after his power; and, attending all the ordinances of God. He is then placed in such a class as is convenient for him, where he spends about an hour in a week. And the next quarter, if nothing is objected to him he is admitted into the society and therein he may continue, as long as he continues to meet his brethren, and walks according to his profession.
2. Their public service is at five in the morning, and six or seven in the evening, that their temporal business may not be hindered. Only on Sunday it begins between nine and ten, and concludes with the Lord's supper. On Sunday evening the society meets: but care is taken to dismiss them early, that all the heads of families may have time to instruct their several households. Once a quarter, the princi pal preacher in every circuit examines every member of the societies therein. By this means, if the behaviour of any one is blameable, which is frequently to be expected in so numerous a body of people, it is easily discovered, and either the offence or the offender removed in time.
3. Whenever it is needful to exclude any disorderly member out of the society, it is done in the most quiet and inoffensive manner: only by not renewing his ticket, at the quarterly visitation. But in some cases, where the offence is great, and there is danger of public scandal, it is judged necessary to declare, when all the members are present, "A. B. is no longer a member of our society." Now what can be more rational or more scriptural, than this simple discipline; attended from the beginning to the end with no trouble, expense, or delay?
IV. 1. But was it possible that all these things should be done without a flood of opposition? The prince of this world was not dead, nor asleep and would he not fight, that his kingdom might not be delivered up? If the word of the apostle be found true, in all ages and nations, "All they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." If this be true with regard to every individual Christian, how much more, with regard to bodies of men visibly united together, with the avowed design to overthrow his kingdom! And what could withstand the persecution he would not fail to stir up against a poor, defenceless, despised people, without any visible help, without money, without power, without friends?
2. In truth the god of this world was not asleep. Neither was he idle: he did fight, and that with all his power, that his kingdom might not be delivered up. He "brought forth all his hosts to war." First, he stirred up the beasts of the people. They roared like lions: they encompassed the little and defenceless on every side. And the storm rose higher and higher, till deliverance came in a way that none expected. God stirred up the heart of our late gracious sovereign to give such orders to his magistrates as, being put in execution, effectually quelled the madness of the people. It was about the same time that a great man applied personally to his majesty, begging that he would please to "take a course to stop these runabout preachers." His majesty, looking sternly upon him, answered without ceremony, like a king; " I tell you, while I sit on the throne, no man shall be persecuted for conscience' sake."
3. But in defiance of this, several who bore his majesty's commission, have persecuted them from time to time; and that under colour of law; availing themselves of what is called the conventicle act: one in particular, in Kent, who, some years since, took upon him to fine one of the preachers and several of his hearers. But they thought it their duty to appeal to his majesty's court of king's bench. The cause was given for the plaintiffs; who have ever since been permitted to worship God according to their own conscience.
4. I believe this is a thing wholly without precedent. I find no other instance of it, in any age of the church from the day of pentecost to this day. Every opinion, right and wrong, has been tolerated, almost in every age and nation. Every mode of worship has been tolerated, however superstitious or absurd. But I do not know that true, vital, scriptural religion was ever tolerated before. For this the people called Methodists have abundant reason to praise God. In their favour, he hath wrought a new thing in the earth: he hath stilled the enemy and the avenger. This then they must ascribe unto him, the author of their outward as well as inward peace.
V. I. What indeed could God have done more for this his vineyard, which he hath not done in it? This having been largely showed, we may now proceed to that strong and tender expostulation: After all that I had done, might I not have looked for the most excellent grapes; wherefore, then, brought it forth wild grapes? Might I not have expected a general increase of faith and love, of righteousness and true holiness; yea, and of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long suffering, meekness, gentleness, fidelity, goodness, temperance? Was it not reasonable to expect that these fruits would have overspread his whole church? Truly when I saw what God had done among his people between forty and fifty years ago, when I saw them warm in their first love, magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in. God their Saviour, I could expect nothing less than that all these would have lived like angels here below; that they would have walked as continually seeing him that is invisible; having constant communion with the Father and the Son; living in eternity, and walking in eternity. I looked to see" a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people," in the whole tenor of their conversation; "showing forth his praise, who had called them into his marvellous light."
2. But instead of this it brought forth wild grapes: fruit of a quite contrary nature. It brought forth error in ten thousand shapes, turning many of the simple out of the way. It brought forth enthusiasm, imaginary inspiration, ascribing to the all wise God, all the wild, absurd, self inconsistent dreams of a heated imagination. It brought forth pride, robbing the Giver of every good gift of the honour due to his name. It brought forth prejudice, evil surmising, censoriousness, judging and condemning one another; all totally subversive of that brotherly love, which is the very badge of the Christian profession: without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before God. It brought forth anger, hatred, malice, revenge, and every evil word and work: all direful fruits, not of the Holy Spirit, but of the bottomless pit!
3. It brought forth likewise in many, particularly those that are increased in goods, that grand poison of souls, the love of the world; and that in all its branches: "the desire of the flesh;" that is, the seeking happiness in the pleasures of sense ;-" the desire of the eyes;" that is, seeking happiness in dress, or any of the pleasures of imagination;and "the pride of life;" that is, seeking happiness in the praise of men; or in that which ministers to all these, laying up treasures on earth. It brought forth self indulgence of every kind, delicacy, effeminacy, softness: but not softness of the right kind, that melts at human wo. It brought such base, grovelling affections, such deep earthly mindedness, as that of the poor heathens, which occasioned the lamentation of their
own poet over them, O curva in terras animæ et cælestium inanes! "Oh souls bowed down to earth and void of God!"
4. Oh ye that have riches in possession, once more hear the word of the Lord! Ye that are rich in this world, that have food to eat, and raiment to put on, and something over, are you clear of the curse of loving the world? Are you sensible of your danger? Do you feel," How hardly will they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven?" Do you continue unburned in the midst of the fire? Are you untouched with the love of the world? Are you clear from the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life? Do you "put a knife to your throat," when you sit down to meat, lest your table should be a snare to you? Is not your belly your god? Is not eating and drinking, or any other pleasure of sense, the greatest pleasure you enjoy! Do not you seek happiness in dress, furniture, pictures, gardens; or any thing else that pleases the eye? Do not you grow soft and delicate? Unable to bear cold, heat, the wind or the rain, as you did when you' were poor? Are you not increasing in goods, laying up treasures on earth; instead of restoring to God in the poor, not so much, or so much, but all that you can spare? Surely "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven!"
5. But why will ye still bring forth wild grapes? What excuse can ye make? Hath God been wanting on his part? Have you not been warned over and over? Have ye not been fed with "the sincere milk of the word?" Hath not the whole word of God been delivered to you, and without any mixture of error? Were not the fundamental doctrines both of free, full, present justification delivered to you, as well as sanctification, both gradual and instantaneous? Was not every branch both of inward and outward holiness clearly opened, and earnestly applied; and that by preachers of every kind; young and old, learned and unlearned? But it is well if some of you did not despise the helps which God had prepared for you. Perhaps you would hear none but clergymen; or, at least, none but men of learning. Will you not then give God leave to choose his own messengers? To send by whom he will send? It is well if this bad wisdom was not one cause of your bringing forth wild grapes!
6. Was not another cause of it your despising that excellent help, union with a Christian society? Have you not read, " How can one be warm alone;" and, "Wo be unto him that is alone when he falleth?" "But you have companions enough." Perhaps more than enough; more than are helpful to your soul. But have you enough that are athirst for God, and that labour to make you so? Have you companions enough, that watch over your soul, as they that must give account; and that freely and faithfully warn you, if you take any false step, or are in danger of doing so? I fear, you have few of these companions, or else you would bring forth better fruit!
7. If you are a member of the society, do you make a full use of your privilege? Do you never fail to meet your class; and that not as matter of form, but expecting that when you are met together in his name, your Lord will be in the midst of you? Are you truly thankful for the amazing liberty of conscience, which is vouchsafed to you and your brethren; such as never was enjoyed before, by persons in your
circumstances? And are you thankful to the Giver of every good gift, for the general spread of true religion? Surely you can never praise God enough for all these blessings, so plentifully showered down upon you, till you praise him with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven!
SERMON CXIII. On Riches.
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," Matt. xix, 24.
1. In the preceding verses we have an account of a young man, who came running to our Lord, and kneeling down, not in hypocrisy, but in deep earnestness of soul; and said unto him, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" All the commandments, saith he, "I have kept from my youth: what lack I yet?" Probably he had kept them in the literal sense; yet, he still loved the world. And He who knew what was in man, knew that, in this particular case, (for this is by no means a general rule,) he could not be healed of that desperate disease, but by a desperate remedy. Therefore he answered, "Go and sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor and come and follow me. But when he heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." So all the fair blossoms withered away! For he would not lay up treasure in heaven at so high a price! Jesus, observing this, "looked round about, and said unto his disciples," Mark x, 23, &c, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God! And they were astonished out of measure, and said among themselves, Who then can be saved?" If it be so difficult for rich men to be saved, who have so many and so great advantages, who are free from the cares of this world, and a thousand difficulties, to which the poor are continually exposed!
2. It has indeed been supposed, he partly retracts what he had said concerning the difficulty of rich men's being saved, by what is added in the tenth chapter of St. Mark. For after he had said, verse 23, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" when "the disciples were astonished at his words, Jesus answered again," and said unto them, "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" verse 24. But observe, 1. Our Lord did not mean hereby, to retract what he had said before. So far from it, that he immediately confirms it, by that awful declaration: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Observe, 2. Both one of these sentences and the other assert the very same thing. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for those that have riches not to trust in them.
3. Perceiving their astonishment at this hard saying, “Jesus looking upon them," (undoubtedly with an air of inexpressible tenderness, to prevent their thinking the case of the rich desperate,) "saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible."