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That I might not be deceived, or give you a hasty or rash account of the practice or way of life of this society, and as I have time upon my hands, I took the following method : I made a visit to an intimate friend of ChristChurch, and he brought me acquainted with two or three gentlemen of Merton, who gave me a very dismal account of the Society, and made me believe, at the best, that the persons who constitute it are miserable enthusiasts and zealots; and I found every one almost with whom I discoursed on this subject, strongly prejudiced against them. But, after all, I could not hear the least slur cast upon the morals of the young gentlemen; only, as the letter-writer in “Fog" lays to their charge, that they pretended to be more religious than their neighbours ; that they put a gloomy and melancholy face upon religion, and affected greater austerities and exemplariness than the doctrines of the Gospel required ; and that some called them in derision, “ The Holy,” or “ The Godly, Club," others, “ The Sacramentarians," &c. But, as I said, that no one offered to call in question either their morals or integrity.
After I had heard all that could be said against them by their enemies, I thought it was but fair to inquire of their friends what could be said for them ; but, alas! so strong were the prejudices against them, and so general, that I found it no easy matter to meet with any one that would own the name. Whereupon, depending upon the character which their enemies • gave them, of probity and sincerity, I made myself acquainted with one of the gentlemen, * and frankly opened my mind to him, and desired him to inform me of their motives and views, and their particular inducements to a singularity of behaviour and life, which had subjected them to the censures of so many persons of learning and capacity. And from the gentleman's answer, and the account he gave me of their original and design, I own I was greatly edified, and I doubt not but you will likewise be much pleased. In short, the account which he gave me was to the following effect; namely,
In the latter end of the year 1729, three or four serious young gentlemen agreed to pass certain evenings in every week together, in order to read and observe upon the classics, and on Sunday upon some book of devotion. The following summer one of these gentlement having called at the gaol out of curiosity, to see a man condemned for killing his wife, told his companions, that from the talk he had had with one of the debtors there, he verily believed it would do much good, if a sober person would now and then take the trouble to talk to them. That upon his pressing the matter, two of his companionst walked down with him to the castle ; and they were all so well satisfied with their conversation there, that they agreed to go thither once or twice a week. The gentleman who proposed this (who, it seems, is since dead) soon after desired one of his friends to accompany him in a visit to a poor woman in the town, who was taken sick; and, finding their advice well received, this induced them now and then to pass an hour in such charitable visits to poor people, who were taken ill; but lest offence should be given to the Minister of the parish, where such poor people lived, they thought it necessary always to apply to such Minister for his consent
----- * Mr. John Wesley. July, 1732, Mr. Wesley went to Putney, to pay Mr. Law a visit, which was the introduction to the present acquaintance. (Moore's Life of Wesley, vol. i., p. 190.)
+ Mr. William Morgan
# Messrs. John and Charles Wesley, August 24th, 1730. See Wesley's Works, 3d edit., vol. i., p. 6. See also Jackson's Life of Charles Wesley, vol. i., p. 31.
§ Mr. William Morgan died August 26th, 1732. || Mr. John Wesley.
and approbation; and, furthermore, they applied to the gentleman who had the care of such of the prisoners as were under sentence of condemnation,* and who was Chaplain to the then Lord Bishop of Oxford, for his approbation of their visits to the prisoners, and of one of the gentlemen'st design of preaching to the prisoners once a month, if his Lordship approved of it. The gentleman, for his own part, approved the design, and undertook that the Bishop would do the same; and soon after signified his Lordship's permission, and hearty wishes for the good success of it.
The gentleman assured me that they were so diffident of themselves, especially when they found a spirit of contemptuous raillery stirred up against them on these occasions, that they took advice from time to time of a worthy and venerable gentleman, a near relation of one of them, who had much knowledge and experience of the world, and, that they might have nothing to reproach themselves with, formed their conduct upon his advice; and upon the encouragement he gave them, they were determined, at all events, to persevere in the laudable course they had begun. He was so kind to show me his friend's encouraging epistles, and obliged me with a transcript of some passages, which I was the more pleased with, as it gave me, not only a testimony of the becoming modesty of the gentlemen to submit themselves to the opinion of a person of years and discretion, (which took off from them the imputation of conceit and self-opinion,) but as it gave me a high notion of the piety and good sense of the venerable author. I will give you, Sir, the transcripts, as I took them. You will find by the first, that the young gentlemen had modestly intimated their apprehensions of making enemies to themselves, by the course they had entered upon; for the old gentleman says,
“I am afraid, lest the main objection you make against your going on in the business with the prisoners, may secretly proceed from flesh and blood. For who can harm you, if you are followers of that which is so good, and which will be one of the marks by which the Shepherd of Israel will know his sheep at the last day? And though it were possible for you to suffer a little in this cause, you would have a Confessor's reward. Go on, then, in God's name, in that path to which your Saviour has directed you, and that track wherein I have gone before you; for even when I was an Undergraduate at Oxford, I visited those in the castle there, and can reflect on it with great satisfaction to this day. Walk as prudently as you can, though not fearfully; and my heart and prayers are with you.
“ Your first regular step is to consult with him, (if any such there be,) who has a jurisdiction over the prisoners; and the next is, to obtain the direction and approbation of your Bishop.||
“ - I bless God who has given you grace and courage to turn the war against the world and the devil, which is the best way to conquer them; you have but one more enemy to combat with, the flesh; which if you take care to subdue, (hy fasting and prayer,) there will be no more for you to do, but to proceed steadily in the same course, and expect the crown which fades not away.”
And to the young gentlemen's representation of the uncharitable censures
* Mr. Gerard. See Wesley's Works, 3d edit., vol. i., p. 8. + Mr. John Wesley.
The Rev. Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, aged seventy years. $ The Rev. Samuel Wesley, sen. i Wesley's Works, 3d edit., vol. i., p. 7.
and raillery to which they were exposed, the venerable old man* thus writes :
" This evening, in our course of reading, I thought I found an answer to yours, that would be more proper than any I myself could dictate : though, since it will not be easily translated, I choose to send it in the original : Torý pou kaúxnous voèp ýpôr uendýpwpai on Tapaklúoel, ÚTTEPTTEPLO o evojai tû xapa. (2 Cor. vii. 4.)—What would you be? Would you be angels? I question whether a mortal can arise to a greater state of perfection, than steadily to do good, and for that reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil. For my part, on the present view of your actions and designs, my daily prayer is, that God would keep you humble ; and then I am sure, that if you continue to suffer for righteousness' sake, though it be but in a lower degree, the Spirit of grace and glory shall in some good measure rest upon you.
“Be never weary of well-doing. Never look back ; for you know that the prize and the crown are before you! Though I can scarce think so meanly of you, as that you would be discouraged with the crackling of thorns under a pot. Be not high-minded ; but fear. Preserve an equal temper of mind under whatever treatment you meet with from a not very just or well-natured world. Bear no more sail than is necessary ; but steer steady. The less you value yourselves for these unfashionable duties, (as there is no such thing as works of supererogation,) the more all good and wise men will value you, if they see your actions are of a piece; or, what is infinitely better, He, by whom actions and intentions are weighed, will both accept, esteem, and reward you."
This, Sir, you will own, is a noble strain of piety, that savours of the primitive pattern. If the wise ones of the world account this enthusiasm, let me, I pray God, at my last hour, have no worse reflection to make upon my past life and actions, than will naturally result from having been guilty of such enthusiasm as this! How happy are these Sacramentarians, these Methodists, these Enthusiasts, as their enemies call them, to have so very excellent a director !+ And how much are they to be commended for submitting their conduct and designs to so pious and experienced a judge !
Upon these encouragements, the young gentlemen continued to meet together; and, the better to confirm themselves in the good course they had begun, they thought it requisite to communicate at the cathedral as often as they had opportunity ; which was once a week. And hence their ill-willers gave them the name of “Sacramentarians." They continued their services to the poor prisoners ; visited such of their acquaintance as were sick, and several poor families besides in town, and made collections from the well-disposed, and among one another, to procure physic, and other reliefs to the bodily necessities, as by their best advice and prayers they did to the spiritual wants, where needed ; and abridged themselves of some diversions and pleasures, in order to enable them to support the expense which attended this good course ; and not, as the gentleman assured me, from any melancholy habit, or gloominess of disposition, which this method had brought them into. For, as he declared, religion is a cheerful thing, and the satisfactions they reaped from the sense of having
* The Rev. Samuel Wesley, sen. Wesley's Works, 3d. edit., vol. i., p. 8. + Mr. John Wesley.
The Rev. Samuel Wesley, sen. Wesley's Works, vol. i., pp. 8, 9. $ Sir John Phillips and others.
performed what they took to be their duty, however imperfectly, were greater, and of a higher nature, than any they had ever before experienced. And this, Sir, no one can better account for than yourself, whose life has been so eminently spent in a regular course of doing good to all within the compass of your knowledge.
There are three points * to which these gentlemen think themselves obliged to adhere, and their practice of which has brought upon them the reproaches of all such who have been wrought upon, by more relaxed principles, or by misrepresentations of the views and actions of this little society ; for a large one, I doubt, considering the opposition they meet with, and the depravity of the age, there is little room to expect or hope it will ever be
The first is, that of visiting and relieving the prisoners and the sick, and giving away Bibles, Common-Prayer books, and the Whole Duty of Man, where they find they will be well received, and explaining the necessity and usefulness of those holy books at all opportunities, to those to whom they give them; and to the children of poor families, they give and explain the Catechism, &c., and now and then for their encouragement drop a shilling or so, where they think it needful and acceptable.
And, secondly, In order to confirm and strengthen these good dispositions in themselves, they find great comfort and use in taking the opportunities which the place gives them, as I intimated before, of a weekly communion.
And, thirdly, They observe strictly the fasts of the Church. And this has given occasion to such as do not approve of them, abusively to call them “Supererogation-Men.”
Observing the gentleman I talked with, and got these lights from, to be a very modest and ingenuous man, I threw in his way two or three objections to the method they were in, in respect to the singularity of the thing, and wished their zeal were not too warm and active, &c. But I found he was very well prepared to give solid answers to what I said, and such as showed that their notions and principles were better considered and digested than their ill-willers generally imagine them to be.
He said, “ They did not conceive that they did anything that was not required of them by the duties of the Christian religion : that the general disuse of a duty could not by any means excuse the neglect of it.” That it was true, they met with too many discouragements, and more than they could have apprehended from the disinterestedness of their designs ; and he enumerated some of them, from several men of wit in Christ-Church and Merton; and that even some gentlemen, noted for learning, and in eminent stations of life, had descended to forcible arguments and menaces, to some of their members, and had even influenced one or two of them, which had been great matter of triumph to their gav opponents; and even that a meeting of the Officers and Seniors of a certain College had been held to put a stop to the progress of enthusiasm in it, as they called it; and that it was given out thereupon, that the “ Godly Club” was to be blown up. That all these discouragements, however, had not at all disheartened the rest; and they were no otherwise concerned, than as these rubs and contumelies lessened the influences of their good design, thinking it, as he said, a sinall matter to be judged by man's judgment : that as they conceived the observation of these points was their duty, and required at their hands, they thought they ought by no means to dispense with them, but that to such as were not of the same opinion, and could not be prevailed upon to think as they did, they preserved all manner of charity. That they appealed to the
law and to the testimony, by which he conceived they ought to be judged; and, that if by them they could be proved in an error, they would willingly retract it; but if not, that they had so learned Christ, as not to renounce any part of his service, though men should say all manner of evil against them, and that with more industry, and as little truth, as they have hitherto done. That if the neglect of known duties were to be the condition of securing their reputation, fare it well; they thought there was no choice in so unequal a competition.
But, however, he owned, that they were not altogether so insensible as to be wholly unaffected with the reproaches of the world, especially as many reports had been given out of their customs, &c., which had no foundation in truth ; but that they were not concerned so much for their own sakes, as for the obstruction it gave to their good design. And because the relation in which the old gentleman* I mentioned stood to some of them, should not be thought to have made him partial to their proceedings, and that they might not seem to rely too much upon their own judgments, that they had laid open their motives and designs, and related the discouragements they met with, and craved the advice and direction of a Clergyman as eminent for wisdom and integrity, as most private men in the three kingdoms. As the answer of this worthy gentleman, who is no other than the very Reverend — may be particularly affecting to you in the disposition of your son, which was so great a motive to you to put me upon this inquiry, I obtained a copy of it, which is as follows; namely,
“Good Sir,--A pretty while after the date yours came to my hands. I waved my answer until I had an opportunity of consulting your father, who, upon all accounts, is a more proper judge of the affair than I am ; but I could never yet find a fit occasion for it.
“As to my own sense of this matter, I confess I cannot but heartily approve that serious and religious turn of mind, which prompts you and your associates to those pious and charitable offices; and can have no notion of that man's sense of religion, or concern for the honour of the University, that opposes you, so far as your design respects the Colleges. I should be loath to send a son of mine into any Seminary, where his conversing with virtuous young men, whose professed design of meeting together at proper times, was to assist each other in forming good resolutions, and encouraging one another to execute them with constancy and steadiness, was inconsistent with any received maxims, or rules of life, among the members.
“As to the other branches of your design, as the town is divided into parishes, each of which has its proper Incumbent; and as there is probably an Ecclesiastic who has the charge of the prisoners, prudence may direct you to consult them. For, though I dare not say you would be too officious, should you of your own mere motion seek out the persons that want your instructions, or charitable contributions; yet, should you have the concurrence of their proper Pastor, those good offices would be less liable to censure."
I was agreeably surprised at the circumspection wherewith these young gentlemen had proceeded in this affair, and was the more pleased with their design, as I found it a deliberate thing, and not the rash effect of intemperate zeal, youthful fire, or self-conceit, which might have pushed some persons on to pursue these methods upon false or inconsiderate motives. And the young gentleman acquainted me, that what had made them think
* The Rev. Samuel Wesley, sen.