Yesterday the Church of England remembered John and Charles Wesley. Now, those who know me will know that I think the most remarkable witness about John Wesley is that he shows us how God can powerfully use even a man who was often vindictive and wicked to proclaim the Gospel with such power and divine blessing that countless are saved.
John's pathological hatred of the Doctrines of Grace (often called Calvinism) is well known and repeated in the latter part of this piece. It is ironic that in calling for not separating from the Church of England he deplores those who actually teach what the Church of England officially teaches!
Nonetheless, at a time when there is much talk of evangelicals separating from the Church of England it is perhaps worthwhile to read what John Wesley wrote concerning this matter. In the 1750's many evangelicals were clamouring for reform and schism, many clergy were not only neutral to the gospel and the truth but outright enemies of it, heavy persecution came on gospel preachers. At this time John Wesley defiantly refused to leave the Church of England. He died a member of the Church of England and till his death held the conviction that if the Methodist movement left the Church of England then God Himself would leave it! Because his thoughts may be relevant today I have taken his tract on the matter and modernised the English spelling and grammar that it might be easier to follow and understand. I do not agree with all he says (obviously not so on the Doctrines of Grace!) but it is still very thought provoking and challenging.
CHURCH of ENGLAND.
By JOHN WESLEY, A.M.
Printed in the Year 1758.
Reasons for not separating:
Whether it is lawful or not (which itself may be disputed and is not as clear as some may imagine) it is by no means expedient for us to separate from the established church:
1) Because it would contradict the solemn and repeated declarations which we have made in all manner of ways; in preaching, in print, and in private conversation.
2) Because (on this as well as on many other matters) it would give huge cause for offence to those who seek and desire offence, to all the enemies of God and his truth.
3) Because it would cause many of those who fear—who love—God to be extremely prejudiced against us. This will hinder their receiving benefit from our preaching—or perhaps even stop them listening all together.
4) Because it would hinder a great many of those who neither love nor fear God from hearing us at all.
5) Because it would occasion many hundreds—if not some thousands—of those who are now united with us to separate from us; some of those who themselves have a deep work of grace in their souls.
6) Because it would be throwing napalm grenades among those that are now quiet in the land. We are currently sweetly united together in love. We mostly think and speak the same thing. But this would cause inconceivable strife and contention between those who left and those who remained in church as well as between those who left us and those who remained with us; it would even cause this among those who remained because they would be inclined one way or the other.
7) Because at the moment controversy is asleep and by and large we can live peaceably with everyone; which means we are peculiarly at free to spend our whole time and strength in promoting and enforcing plan, practical, vital religion—O what our forefathers would have given to have enjoyed such a blessed calm! Leaving would utterly banish this peace from among us and there could be no hope of its return. It would engage me in a thousand controversies, both in public and private, because my conscience would oblige me to give reasons for my conduct and defend those reasons against my opponents. In doing this it would remove me from the more useful labours which might otherwise take up the short remainder of my life.
8 ) Because to form the plan of a new church would require infinite time and care (which might be far more profitably bestowed) with much more wisdom—and greater depth and extensiveness of thought —than any of us are capable of.
9) Because from some who have already barely entertained a distant thought of leaving we see that evil fruits have already followed; prejudice against the clergy in general, a willingness to believe the worst about them; contempt (not without a degree of bitterness) of clergymen, and a sharpness of language towards the whole order utterly unbecoming of either gentlemen or Christians.
10) Because the experiment has been so frequently tried already, and the success has never lived up to the expectation. Since the Reformation God has raised up from time to time many witnesses of pure religion. If these lived and died (like John Arndt, Robert Bolton, and many others) in the churches to which they belonged, despite the wickedness which overcame both the teachers and people within them, then why cannot we? Indeed, they spread the leaven of true religion far and wide and were more and more useful until they went to Paradise. We see that when such people separated and founded distinct parties—due to some provocation or consideration—their influence was more and more confined; they grew less and less useful to others, and generally lost the Spirit of Religion themselves in the Spirit of Controversy.
11) Because we have sad and depressing instances of this, even now before our eyes. Many have in our memory left the church and formed themselves into distinct bodies. Certainly some of them did this from a real conviction that they should do God more service in this way. But have any separated themselves and prospered? Have they been either more holy or more useful than they were before?
12) Because by separating we will throw away the unique glorying which God has given us: that we do, and will, suffer all things for the sake of our brothers and sisters even though the more we love them the less we are loved. Leaving would be in direct opposition to this end—for which we believe God has raised us up. The chief design of his providence in sending us out is, undoubtedly, to bring alive our brothers and sisters. The first message of all of preachers is to the lost sheep of the Church of England. Would it not be a plain contradiction to this design if we were to separate from the church?
All these things being considered, we cannot believe—whether it is lawful in itself or not—that it is lawful for us: even were it only on the ground that it is not expedient.
1) "Until we separate we cannot be a truly united body."
That is true, we cannot be a truly united body, if by that expression you mean a body distinct from all others. But we have no desire to be such a body.
2) "It is only cowardice and fear of persecution which makes you desire to remain united with them."
This cannot be proved. Let every one examine their own heart and not judge their brother . This is not even probably the case. We have never yet, for any persecution we were in the middle of, either turned back from the work or even slackened our pace. But this is certain: that although persecution many times proves an unspeakable blessing to them that suffer it, yet we ought not seek to bring it upon ourselves. We ought to do whatever can lawfully be done in order to prevent it. We ought to avoid it so far as we lawfully can; when persecuted in one city flee to another. If God should allow a general persecution who would be able to abide it? We know not. Perhaps those who talk loudest might flee first... remember the case of Dr. Pendleton.
3) "Upon the whole you cannot help but notice how desirable it is that everyone engaged in the same work should think and speak the same thing, be united in one judgement, and use one and the same language."
So we not all now see ourselves, the Methodists (so called) in general, the church, and the clergy in a clear light? We look upon ourselves not as the authors or ringleaders of a particular sect or party (that is the farthest thing from our thoughts!) but as messengers of God who those who are Christian in name but heathens in the heart and in life. We seek to call them back to that from which they are fallen—to real, genuine, Christianity. We are, therefore, debtors to all these, of whatever opinion or denomination, and are consequently to do all we possibly can to please all of them for their good and edification.
We look upon the Methodists (so called) not as any particular party (for this would greatly obstruct the grand design for which we believe God has raised us up) but as living witnesses in, and to, every party of that Christianity when we preach; which is hereby demonstrated to be a real thing and visibly held out to all the world
We look upon England as that part of the world, and the church as that part of England, to which all we who are born and have been brought up within it, owe our first and chief regard. We feel in ourselves a strong attachment, a kind of natural affection for our country, which we believe Christianity was never designed to either root out or to impair. We have a more particular concern for our brothers and sisters, for that part of our countrymen, with whom we have been joined together with from our youth up by both religious and civil ties. It is true that they are, in general, without God in the world (Ephesians 2.12)—because of this we are deeply moved for them. They lie in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1.79)—and so our compassion is more tender towards them. And when we have the fullest conviction that complicated wickedness which covers them as a flood, then do we feel most (and we desire to feel yet more) that expressible emotion with which our blessed Lord beheld Jerusalem and wept and lamented over it (Luke 19.41-44). It is at that moment we are the most willing to spend and be spent for them, yes, to even lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3.16).
We look upon the clergy, not only a part of these our brothers, as that part whom God in his awesome providence has called to be watchmen over the rest, for whom therefore they are to give a strict account. If these then neglect their important charge, if they do not watch over them with all their power, they will be of all men most miserable and so are entitled to our deepest compassion. To feel, and much more so to express, either contempt or bitterness towards them betrays an utter ignorance of ourselves and of the Spirit which we especially should be of.
Because this is a point of particular concern let us consider it a little farther.
The clergy, wherever we are, are either friends of the truth, or neutral to it, or enemies of it.
If they are friends of the truth we should certainly do everything, and omit everything, we can with a safe conscience which will all us to continue, and if it be possible increase, their good will towards the truth.
If they are neither furthering nor hindering the truth we should do all that we possibly can, both for their sake and the sake of their flocks, to give their neutrality the right turn so that it may change into love rather than hatred.
If they are enemies of the truth, still we should not despair of lessening, if not removing, their prejudice. We should try every means again and again. We should employ all our care, labour, prudence, joined with fervent prayer, to overcome evil with good and to melt their hardness into love.
It is true that when any of these openly distort the Scripture and deny the grand truths of the Gospel we cannot be declare and defend, at convenient opportunities, the important truths which they deny. But in this case especially we have need of all gentleness and meekness of wisdom. Contempt, sharpness, and bitterness can do no good. The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God (James 1.20). Harsh methods have been tried again and again (by two or three unsettled Railers); at Wednesbury, St Ives, Cork, and Canterbury. And how did they succeed? They always caused countless evils and often completely stopped the course of the Gospel. Therefore, were it only for prudent reasons and conscience unconcerned within, it should be a sacred rule to all our preachers: "No contempt and no bitterness to the clergy."
Another prudent rule for every Methodist preacher would be: "do not attend any dissenting meeting [non-Church of England church service]" (though we blame not those who have always been accustomed to going to them). If we go to such meetings then our people certainly will too. This is actually separating from the church. If it is not (at the least) not expedient to separate from the Church of England then neither is it expedient to attend dissenting meetings. We may attend our own assemblies and the Church of England too because they are at different hours but we cannot attend both the Meeting and the Church because they are at the same time.
4) Now some say "but at the Church of England we are fed with chaff whereas at the [non conformist] Meeting we have wholesome food."
a) The prayers of the Church are not chaff; they are substantial food for any who are alive to God.
b)The Lord's Supper is not chaff; it is pure and wholesome for all who receive it with upright hearts
c) In almost all sermons we hear there we hear many great and important truths; who ever has spiritual discernment may easily separate the chaff from the wheat within it.
d) The case it not all mended by attending the Meeting. Either the teachers are 'New Light Men' who deny the Lord that bought them and overturn his gospel from the very foundations, or they are 'Predestinarians' and so preach predestination and final perseverance more or less. Now whatever this may be to them who grew up being educated in these churches, repeated experience has shown it is not wholesome food for our brothers and sisters who recently embraced it; rather is have the effect of deadly poison. In a short time it destroys their zeal for God. They grow fond of opinions and strife of words. They despise self-denial and the daily cross, and to complete it all they totally separate from their brothers and sisters.
e) It is not expedient for any Methodist preacher to imitate the dissenters in their manner of praying: either in their tone (all particular tones in both prayer and preaching should be avoided with the utmost care), nor in their language (all our words should be plain and simple such as the lowest of our hearers both use and can understand), or in the length of their prayer (which should not usually exceed four or five minutes either before or after the sermon.) One might add, neither should we sing like them in a slow and drawling manner: we sing swiftly both because it saves time and because it tends to awaken and enliven the soul.
f) If we continue in the Church not by chance or because we have not thought it through but because of solid and carefully considered reasons, then we should never speak contemptuously of the Church or of anything pertaining it. In some sense it is the mother of us all who have been brought up within her. We ought to never make her blemishes matters of division but rather of solemn sorrow before God. We ought never to talk ludicrously of her blemishes—indeed, not at all—without clear necessity. Rather we should conceal them, as far as we possibly can, without bringing guilt upon our own conscience. And we should all use every rational and scriptural means to bring others to the same mindset and behaviour. I say 'all' because if some of us think this way while others have the opposite spirit and behaviour this will breed a real schism amongst ourselves. It will, of course, divide us into two parties; each of which will be liable to perpetual jealousies, suspicions, and animosities against the other. Therefore, on this account likewise, it is expedient in the highest degree that we should be tender towards the Church to which we belong.
g) In order to secure this end—to cut off all jealousy and suspicion from our friends and hope from our enemies of our having any plans to separate from the Church of England—it would be well to everything Methodist preacher, who has no scruple concerning it, to attend the service of the Church of England as often as he conveniently can. The more we attend it the more we love it—as constant experience shows. On the contrary, the longer we abstain from it the less desire we have to attend it at all.
h) Lastly, whilst we are surrounded on every side by those who are equally enemies to us and to the Church of England, and whilst these are long practised in this war and skilled in the objections against it, it is highly expedient for every preacher (because our brethren are quite strangers to all of this conflict and know not how to answer them) to be provided with sound answers to those objections and then to instruct the Societies where he labours on how to defend themselves against these assaults. It would be, therefore, good for you to carefully read over the 'Preservative against unsettled notions in religion' together with 'Serious thoughts concerning perseveration and predestination calmly considered.' When you are masters of these yourselves it will be easy for you to recommend and explain them to our Societies so that they are no longer tossed to and fro by every wing of doctrine (Ephesians 4.14) but rather being settled in one mind and one judgement, by solid scriptural and rational arguments, they may grow up in all things into him who is our Head, even Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4.15).
I think myself bound in duty to add my testimony to my Brother's. His twelve reasons against our ever separating from the Church of England are also mine. I subscribe to them with all my heart. I am quite clear that it is neither expedient nor lawful for me to separate: and I never had the least inclination or temptation to do so. My affection for the Church [of England] is as strong as ever. I clearly see my calling: to live and to die in her communion. This, therefore, I am determined to do with the Lord being my Helper.
I have attached these hymns for lay-preachers to further secure this end, to cut off all jealousy and suspicion from our friends, or hope from our enemies, of our having any design to ever separate from the Church of England. I have no secret reservation or distant thought of it. I never have. Would to God all the Methodist preachers were, in this respect, like minded with us.