The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 1
"There is nothing new under the sun." Eighty-three years ago, the very objections which are now so vehemently urged against the Conference were urged against Mr. Wesley, and in the very same terms, as the following extract from the Minutes of Conference, of the year clearly show. He was accused of "tyranny," of "shackling free-born Englishmen," and of introducing "Popery."
Q. But what power is this, which you exercise over all the Methodists in Great Britain and Ireland?
A. Count Z. loved to keep all things closely. I love to do all things openly. I will, therefore, tell you all I know of the matter, taking it from the very beginning.
1. In November, 1738, two or three persons, who desired to flee from the wrath to come, and then seven or eight more, came to me in London, and desired me to advise and pray with them. I said, "If you will meet on Thursday night, I will help you as well as I can." More and more then desired to meet with them, till they were increased to many hundreds. The case was afterwards the same at Bristol, Kingswood, Newcastle, and many other parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It may be observed, the desire was on their part, not mine. My desire was, to live and die in retirement. But I did not see that I could refuse them my help, and be guiltless before God.
Here commenced my power; namely, a power to appoint, when, and where, and how, they should meet; and to remove those whose life showed that they had no desire to "flee from the wrath to come." And this power remained the same, whether the people meeting together were twelve, twelve hundred, or twelve thousand.
2. In a few days, some of them said, "Sir, we will not sit under you for nothing. We will subscribe quarterly." I said, "I will have nothing, for I want nothing. My fellowship supplies me with all, and more than I want." One replied, "Nay, but you want £115 to pay for the lease of the Foundery. And likewise a large sum of money will be wanting to put it into repair." On this consideration, I suffered them to subscribe. And page 66 when the society met, I asked, "Who will take the trouble of receiving this money, and paying it where it is needful?" One said, "I will do it, and keep the account for you." So here was the first Steward. Afterwards I desired one or two more to help me as Stewards, and, in process of time, a greater number.
Let it be remarked, it was I myself, not the people, who chose these Stewards, and appointed to each the distinct work, wherein he was to help me, as long as I desired; and herein I began to exercise another sort of power, namely, that of appointing and removing Stewards.
3. After a time, a young man came, T. Maxfield, and said he desired to help me, as a son in the Gospel. Soon after came a second, Thomas Richards, and a third, Thomas Westal. These severally desired to serve me as sons, and to labour when and where I should direct. Observe, these likewise desired me, not I them. But I durst not refuse their assistance. And here commenced my power, to appoint each of these, when, where, and how to labour; that is, while he chose to continue with me: for each had a power to go away when he pleased; as I had also to go away from them, or any of them, if I saw sufficient cause. The case continued the same when the number of Preachers increased. I had just the same power still, to appoint when, and where, and how, each should help me; and to tell any, if I saw cause, "I do not desire your help any longer." On these terms, and no other, we joined at first; on these we continue joined. But they do me no favour in being directed by me. It is true, my reward is with the Lord. But at present I have nothing from it but trouble and care; and often a burden I scarce know how to bear.
4. In 1744 I wrote to several Clergymen, and to all who then served me as sons in the Gospel, desiring them to meet me in London, to give me their advice concerning the best method of carrying on the work of God. They did not desire this meeting, but I did; knowing that "in a multitude of counsellors there is safety." And when their number increased, so that it was neither needful nor convenient to invite them all, for several years I wrote to those with whom I desired to confer, and these only met at the place appointed; till at length I gave a general permission, that all who desired it might come.
Observe: I myself sent for these of my own free choice; and I sent for them to advise, not govern, me. Neither did I at any of those times divest myself of any part of that power above described, which the providence of God had cast upon me, without any design or choice of mine.
What is that power? It is a power of admitting into, and excluding from, the societies under my care; of choosing and removing Stewards; of receiving or not receiving Helpers; of appointing them when, where, and how, to help me; and of desiring any of them to meet me, when I see good. And as it was merely in obedience to the providence of God, and for the good of the people, that I at first accepted this power, which I page 67 never sought, nay, a hundred times laboured to throw off; so it is on the same considerations, not for profit, honour, or pleasure, that I use it at this day.
5. But several gentlemen are much offended at my having so much power. My answer to them is this:
I did not seek any part of this power. It came upon me unawares. But when it was come, not daring to bury that talent, I used it to the best of my judgment.
Yet I never was fond of it. I always did, and do now, bear it as my burden; the burden which God lays upon me, and therefore I dare not yet lay it down.
But if you can tell me any one, or any five men, to whom I may transfer this burden, who can and will do just what I do now, I will heartily thank both them and you.
6. But some of our Helpers say, "This is shackling free-born English-men" and demand a free Conference; that is, a meeting of all the Preachers, wherein all things shall be determined by most votes.
I answer, It is possible, after my death, something of this kind may take place; but not while I live. To me the Preachers have engaged themselves to submit, to "serve me as sons in the Gospel." But they are not thus engaged to any man, or number of men, besides. To me the people in general will submit. But they will not yet submit to any other.
It is nonsense, then, to call my using this power "shackling free-born Englishmen." None needs to submit to it, unless he will; so there is no shackling in the case. Every Preacher and every member may leave me when he pleases. But while he chooses to stay, it is on the same terms that he joined me at first.
"But this is arbitrary power; this is no less than making yourself a Pope."
If by arbitrary power you mean a power which I exercise singly, without any colleagues therein, this is certainly true; but I see no hurt in it. Arbitrary, in this sense, is a very harmless word. If you mean unjust, unreasonable, or tyrannical, then it is not true.
As to the other branch of the charge, it carries no face of truth. The Pope affirms, that every Christian must do all he bids, and believe all he says, under pain of damnation. I never affirmed anything that bears any, the most distant, resemblance to this. All I affirm is, "The Preachers who choose to labour with me, choose to serve me as sons in the Gospel;" and "the people who choose to be under my care, choose to be so, on the same terms they were at first."
Therefore, all talk of this kind is highly injurious to me, who bear this burden merely for your sakes. And it is exceedingly mischievous to the people, tending to confound their understandings, and to fill their hearts with evil surmisings and unkind tempers towards me; to whom they page 68 really owe more, for taking all this load upon me, for exercising this very power, for shackling myself in this manner, than for all my preaching put together. Because preaching twice or thrice a day is no burden to me at all; but the care of all the Preachers and all the people is a burden indeed!*
At a later period Mr. Wesley had occasion to complain that persons who were under the deepest obligations to him, "lifted up the heel against him," because he declined to adapt his system of church order to their views. His society in Bristol shared largely in his pastoral attention; yet, in the year 1779, several persons in the society there cherished towards him a feeling of deep prejudice, and even of hostility. The ringleader of the faction said, "I think it ray duty to pray that God would take Mr. John Wesley away; that he may do no more harm in the church. It would be a great mercy, if he was dead." In the midst of the agitation Mr. Charles Wesley met the society; and after reasoning and expostulating with the disaffected members, he said, "I will leave you to your own reflections, and call upon you who love him, to join me in prayer for his life, in the following hymn:—
Jesus, thy hated servant own, And
send thy glorious Spirit down,
In answer to our prayers;
While others curse, and wish him dead.
Do Thou Thy choicest blessings shed,
And crown his hoary hairs.
Not for his death, but life, we pray,
In mercy lengthen out his day,
Our venerable guide;
Long may he live thy flock to keep,
Protect from wolves the lambs and sheep,
And in his bosom hide.
Long may he live to serve thy cause,
To spread the victory of thy cross,
To minister thy grace;
And late to' increase thy church in heaven.
With all the children thou hast given,
Appear before thy face.
Thou God that answerest by fire,
With fervent faith and strong desire,
Whom we present to Thee,
Fill with pure love his ravish'd breast,
And let the Spirit of glory rest
On all thy church—and me!
Me, me thy meanest messenger,
Admit his happiness to share,
And, intimately one
Through life, through death, together guide,
To sing with all the sanctified,
Around thy azure throne."
In a letter to his brother, describing this scene, Mr. Charles Wesley adds, "You may more easily imagine, than I describe, the effect. God bowed the hearts of all the people, as the heart of one man, towards Himself, I trust, and towards his servant. They received a large measure of love for you, as their tears witnessed. I have heard of but one exception."
These facts, which I copy from the hand-writing of Mr. Charles Wesley, show that the former days were not better than these. We have not heard that the present opponents of the Conference pray for the speedy death of its members in general, or even of its officers; yet, in the Methodist society of Bristol, prayers to this effect were recommended with respect to the venerable man who founded that society, and who watched over it with more than paternal care for half a century. Let us hope that tears, such as those which Mr. Charles Wesley describes, may be shed by some of the parties who are now taught to cherish a spirit of opposition towards their spiritual guides and Pastors.
* Minutes, vol. i., pp. 58—61