Whitefield’s “New Methodism”

The breach between the young methodists and older religious societies in England can be partially traced to Whitefield’s epistle sent November 1739. Though tensions existed with the established clergy in 1737-8, mainly for the publication of his sermon titled ‘The New Birth’, Whitefield’s visit to Kingswood (in the Bristol area) would leave an irreparable gap.

Inspired by the example of Howell Harris’ who already enjoyed outdoor rivals in South Wales, Whitefield’s first open-air sermon was given to a crowd of 200 miners, bereft of both school and church. As a popular and newly ordained priest in the Church of England, Whitefield imagined it not far to preach outside when crowds were already spilling-out into church-yards to hear his pulpit preaching.

The ‘new methodists’ differed somewhat in both structure and content. Not only was the lively experienced of conversion stressed, but new Methodists were willing to forgo the so-called ‘Woodwardian’ liturgy common to the older societies in exchange for extemporaneous prayer and sermons without notes. I’ve taken a bit of time to highlight some differences apparently arising with the older groups as Whitefield explains them. For example Whitefield says,

“If it be lawful for more than five to meet in a private vestry, it is equal lawful for more than five to meet in a private house; as is the practice of some of the societies who are under the government of those called the Twelve Stewards.If it be inquired of you, by what authority you use sometimes to pray without a premeditated form of words; you may inquire, ‘By what authority any one reads the church forms, who is not commissioned so to do, and that in any place but in the church,’ where only they are appointed to be read, and only by one so commissioned? If they reply, ‘We have doctor Woodward’s form;’ you may answer them with this question, ‘What difference is there, in respect to others, between a person’s reading a form, which few that hear it know beforehand, and a person’s praying extempore, as the Holy Spirit gives him utterance?’ If they laugh a the mention of ‘praying by the Spirit’, brethren, I hope you know better. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free; and be not afraid, by such a practice, to make innovations in the church, which does not confine its members to forms, but within the church walls, nor even there altogether. In private assemblies, such as yours, all are left to their liberty; and therefore, as many as would hinder you in this, at once discover their pitiable ignorance of that constitution they pretend to promote, and an unhappy estrangement from the spirit and privileges of the gospel.”

 

Experiential faith also marked the young methodists from the older Woodwardian groups. Of it, Whitefield says

“you ought to be very cautious, my brethren, whom you admit into fellowship with you. Examine them again and again, not barely whether they receive the sacrament, and go to church; but whether they be in the faith. Set them upon proving their own selves; and by no means receive them into your brotherhood, unless they can produce sufficient evidences of their having tasted the good word of life, and felt the powers of the world to come. This, some may object, is not a very good way to increase and multiply you as to number; but it is the best, the only way, to establish and increase a communion of true saints. And such a society, consisting of a few solid Christians, is far preferable to one that is filled with a multitude of such as do not bring forth fruit unto holiness, but have only the fig-leaves of an outward profession. Formal hypocrites will do any society more harm than good: and however they may endure for a while, and receive the word with joy; yet, having no root in themselves, in time of temptation they will shamefully fall away.”

Or this similar advice by Whitefield,

“Further, my brethren, content not yourselves with reading, singing and praying together; but set some time apart to confess your faults and communicate your experiences one to another. For want of this (which I take to be one chief design of private meetings) most of the old societies in London,  I fear, are sunk into dead formality, and have only a name to live. They meet on a sabbath evening, read a chapter, and sing a psalm; but seldom, if ever, acquaint each other with the operations of God’s spirit upon their souls; notwithstanding this was the great end and intention of those who first began these societies. Hence it is that they have only the form of godliness left amongst them, and continue utter strangers to the state of one another’s hearts. How love, or the power of religion can subsist in such a lukewarm and superficial way of proceeding, is very hard to conceive. My brethren, let not your coming together be thus altogether in vain, but plainly and freely tell one another what God has done for your souls.

 

The new methods often rationalized their practices by a sense of gospel urgency. Usually this boiled down to: 1) the Church of England would soon ban revival preachers from established pulpits; and, 2) as urban and commercial populations grew, immanent and overwhelming vice threatened church and state. Nonetheless, the new methods didn’t sit well with high ranked ministers who promoted the quieter organizations. Nor was the exchange of words always polite. Often times Whitefield refers to the established churchmen  as ‘blind zealots’ or even ‘enemies of the Cross’. I’ve highlighted these particular polemics for the sake of the reader.

But, there is also the assurance by Whitefield that the new methods intend no rabble-rousing:

“Now, the end of your meeting, brethren, is not that you may think yourselves more holy than your neighbors, much less to form a sect or party, or promote a schism or sedition in the church or state. No: such thoughts, I trust, are far from you: for they are earthly, sensual, devilish. And, if ever such designs should be set on foot, I earnestly pray God the abettors of them may be detected, and all their schemes, though never so plausibly concerted, fall to the ground. The only end which, I hope, you all propose by your assembling yourselves together, is the same for which you were redeemed, ‘The renewing of your depraved natures, and promoting the hidden life of Jesus Christ in your souls’. “

Yet the Lord Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, was hardly convinced. In Observations against the Methodists Gibson includes this complaint among many:

“Whether the same exalted Strains and Notions do not tend to weaken the natural and civil Relations among Men, by leading the inferiors, into whose heads those notions are infused, to a disesteem of their superiors; while they consider them as in a much lower dispensation than themselves; though those superiors are otherwise sober and good Men, and regular Attendants on the Ordinances of Religion” (p. 10, Observations)

Not surprisingly, the old societies had the support of the clergy and often the latitudinarian Bishops. However, as the revival progressed, most of the older holy groups would join the methodists as awakened leaders searched for a common ground and organizational structure within the Church. Regarding the development of “United Societies”, we likewise register something of a growing conflict between Arminian v. Calvinist holy clubs when Whitefield presses:

“..contend earnestly for the doctrine of Justification by faith only, because so many blind guides are lately gone out into the world. My brethren, it is much to be feared that many of our present preachers are no better than doctrinal papists.”

But a tone of conciliatory then follows– a pendulum that swing between violent accusation and irenic sincerity so typical of Wesley and Whitefield’s methodism throughout the 1740’s:

“Let not bigotry or party zeal be so much as once named amongst you; for it becometh not saints…Be followers then of him, my brethren, as dear children; and love all who love our Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth, although they should not in all things follow with us… From the beginning, it hath been his policy to divide christians into sects and parties, hoping not only to weaken their interest, but to make them thereby believe, that religion wholly consists in being of this or that particular communion…How dare we not freely converse with those who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we?”

But doesn’t Whitefield sound ‘Wesleyan’ here?

Fulfill all righteouness, by constantly attending on every ordinance of God. Use, but not abuse the means of grace, by resting on them; knowing that ‘The kingdom of God is not meats and drinks, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’. Think that day lost, wherein you do not make an advance in some of these. The work of regeneration, though instantaneous at first, is progressive afterwards. The seed sown in the heart must be continually watered, otherwise it will not grow into a great tree.

There’s more than meets the eye with the methodists. And, now the letter:

______

‘A Letter to the Religious Societies in England’. 

The Apostle in his epistle to the Hebrews, chap. x.23, exhorts them to hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering; and soon after adds, as a most effectual means to so desirable an end, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love, and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.

As Christianity was not then the national religion, I suppose the assemblies here intended, were not such as our public congregations, but rather little private societies, or associations, or churches, as was the custom of the primitive Christians, who, we are told, continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine, and in fellowship one with another.

This was the Apostle’s exhortation to the christians of those times; and I am fully persuaded there never was more occasion for renewing it, than the age wherein we live.

Nothing hath of late more alarmed the enemies of the cross of Christ, than the zeal that God hath stirred up in the hearts of many to put in practice this apostolic injunction. Balls, plays, horse-races, and such like unchristian and fatal entertainments, are countenanced and supported by public authority. And few as yet have had courage to speak, preach, or write for the suppressing of them, so plainly and publicly as they ought; but, if the children of God meet (as they are required) to build up each other in their most holy Faith, almost every one’s mouth is open against them. Nay, with grief it must be spoken, even many of our masters in Israel, who ought to be patterns, and promote every good word and work, are not content with countenancing the polite and sinful diversions of the age by their presence and approbation, but are generally most bitter in their invectives against religious societies. The former, though directly contrary to our baptismal vow, are deemed innocent, if not useful, by them: the latter, they are continually crying down (especially if any life or divine power be amongst them) as schismatical, seditious, and tending to destroy the present established constitution.

For these, and many such like reasons, I, as present with you in spirit, though absent in body, thought it my duty to put you in mind, zealously to persist in your obedience to the forementioned injunction once delivered to the saints; and so much the more, as in all probability the day of persecution nearer and nearer approaches.

God has given a harvest, and there has been a gathering in: a winnowing time will come. His fan is already in his hand. Yet a little while, and (if the work lately begun be carried on) I am persuaded he will thoroughly purge his flour. The shephereds must first be smitten; and next, endeavors will be used to scatter the sheep. The religious societies Satan has undoubtedly desired to have, that he may sift them as wheat. My brethren, watch and pray one for another, that you may be enabled to stand in such an hour of temptation, and having done all, to stand.

Be not ashamed of that wherein you ought to glory. Religious Society is of divine extraction. As God made man, so God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone: I will make a help meet for him.’ Meet, as I take it, not merely for his body (man had few corporal wants in paradise) but chiefly and primarily for his better part the soul, that he might have one to converse with of his own species, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.

It is true, man is now a fallen, but yet he is a social creature: and as the end of his coming into this world was to prepare for a better; so without doubt the chief end of society in general, and of religious society in particular, is, that we may be helps meet for each other in the great work of our salvation.

Upon this account it was, that the first christians so frequently assembled themselves together, when obliged to shut the doors for fear of the Jews; and their continuing in fellowship with each other, was one of the main reason why the continued steadfast in the apostles doctrine.

Take then, my brethren, the primitive Christians for your examples: their practices are recorded for our learning. No power on earth can lawfully forbid or hinder your imitating them. In all such cases we must obey God rather than man; otherwise, we so far deny our holy profession, and are enemies to the cross of Christ: and though, because you have got a little out of the formal way, some blind zealots may brand you as schismatical; yet if you fear God, and truly honor the King, and are of the number of those who are quiet in the land, there is no reason can be urged against your Societies, which will not equally hold good against all assembling together for religious purposes.

In this respect, a private prelate has no more authority than a private presbyter. If it be lawful for more than five to meet in a private vestry, it is equal lawful for more than five to meet in a private house; as is the practice of some of the societies who are under the government of those called the Twelve Stewards. If it be inquired of you, by what authority you use sometimes to pray without a premeditated form of words; you may inquire, ‘By what authority any one reads the church forms, who is not commissioned so to do, and that in any place but in the church,’ where only they are appointed to be read, and only by one so commissioned? If they reply, ‘We have doctor Woodward’s form;’ you may answer them with this question, ‘What difference is there, in respect to others, between a person’s reading a form, which few that hear it know beforehand, and a person’s praying extempore, as the Holy Spirit gives him utterance?’ If they laugh a the mention of ‘praying by the Spirit’, brethren, I hope you know better. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free; and be not afraid, by such a practice, to make innovations in the church, which does not confine its members to forms, but within the church walls, nor even there altogether. In private assemblies, such as yours, all are left to their liberty; and therefore, as many as would hinder you in this, at once discover their pitiable ignorance of that constitution they pretend to promote, and an unhappy estrangement from the spirit and privileges of the gospel.

How to improve your meetings, so as best to promote God’s glory, and the good of your own souls, ought to be your constant and chief concern: for as christians in general, so members of religious societies in particular, are as cities built upon a hill; and therefore it more highly concerns them to let their light so shine before men, that they seeing their good works, may glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Not that a communion of perfect saints is to be expected here on earth: or that you ought to be immediately offended, if some of your brethren should be overtaken with a fault. In this world, tares will be always springing up amongst the wheat. Many that are first, will be last, and the last first. Nay, it is well if some, like Judas, do not a length lay aside their profession, and openly betray our Master.

To prevent this, you ought to be very cautious, my brethren, whom you admit into fellowship with you. Examine them again and again, not barely whether they receive the sacrament, and go to church; but whether they be in the faith. Set them upon proving their own selves; and by no means receive them into your brotherhood, unless they can produce sufficient evidences of their having tasted the good word of life, and felt the powers of the world to come. This, some may object, is not a very good way to increase and multiply you as to number; but it is the best, the only way, to establish and increase a communion of true saints. And such a society, consisting of a few solid Christians, is far preferable to one that is filled with a multitude of such as do not bring forth fruit unto holiness, but have only the fig-leaves of an outward profession. Formal hypocrites will do any society more harm than good: and however they may endure for a while, and receive the word with joy; yet, having no root in themselves, in time of temptation they will shamefully fall away.

Next to your care about admitting others, I think it highly concerns you, whenever you assemble, to remember the end of meeting, yourselves; and then (to use the words of the wise son of Sirach on another occasion) ‘you will never do amiss’. Now, the end of your meeting, brethren, is not that you may think yourselves more holy than your neighbors, much less to form a sect or party, or promote a schism or sedition in the church or state. No: such thoughts, I trust, are far from you: for they are earthly, sensual, devilish. And, if ever such designs should be set on foot, I earnestly pray God the abettors of them may be detected, and all their schemes, though never so plausibly concerted, fall to the ground. The only end which, I hope, you all propose by your assembling yourselves together, is the same for which you were redeemed, ‘The renewing of your depraved natures, and promoting the hidden life of Jesus Christ in your souls’. These terms, however foolishness to others, I trust, my brethren, are not so to you. I take it for granted, you are not only desirous of, but already in some measure blessed with, a saving experimental knowledge of Jesus Christ in your hearts: for unless a man be born again from above, and made a partaker of the divine nature by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, he can in no wise enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever denies this to be true in the most literal, real, and absolute sense of the words, knows nothing yet as he ought to know: for it is grounded on a self-evident truth, that we are fallen from God in Adam, and must be renewed in the spirit of our minds, ere we can be restored to that blissful communion with him, which is the free gift of God and eternal life.

The only way to this, is faith in Jesus Christ; faith in contradistinction to, though necessarily productive of, good works. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: whosoever believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall live”, says Christ himself. And I think it my bounden duty, to exhort you at this time, to contend earnestly for the doctrine of Justification by faith only, because so many blind guides are lately gone out into the world. My brethren, it is much to be feared that many of our present preachers are no better than doctrinal papists. And however this, to those who having eyes see not, may be judged an uncharitable censure; yet surely than cannot justly blame me for want of candour, who consider, that one of he most reputed orthodox prelates in the kingdom, in a late pastoral letter advises his clergy, ‘So explain the doctrine of justification in the sight of God by faith only, as to make good works a necessary condition.’ Such advice from a Roman cardinal would be no more than we might expect; but, coming from a bishop of the Church of England, is surprising, and much to be lamented.

God forbid, my brethren, that you should so learn Christ! If the scriptures are true, such a doctrine is absolutely false. The lively oracles no where declare good works to be a necessary condition of our justification in the sight of God; on the contrary, they every where affirm, that ‘salvation is the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord: that we are saved by grace through faith; and that it is not of works, lest any man should boast.’ No, my brethren, in the great mystery of man’s redemption by Jesus Christ, boasting is entirely excluded.

We must not expect to be saved, or any recommend ourselves to God, by any or all the works of righteousness which we have done, or shall, or can do. The Lord Christ is our righteousness,– our whole righteousness: imputed to us, instead of our own. ‘We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith’, saith the eleventh article of our church. And if so, how are good works, my brethren, a necessary condition of our justification in the sight of God? The law indeed says, ‘Do this, and live:’ but the gospel brings us the glad tidings, that ‘Christ is the end of he law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’ Christ, by his sacrifice, and perfect obedience, has every way fulfilled the law for us; and God will not require to be paid twice. Christ bought our justification with a great price, even with his own blood. It comes to us freely, without any regard to works past, present, or to come. This is the constant language of Christ and his apostles; and therefore, to use he words of the forementioned article, ‘That we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.’ Observe, my brethren, justified by or through faith, and not for faith; for faith is only a means or instrument whereby the whole righteousness of Jesus Christ is applied to the sinner’s soul: and whosoever does thus believe in his heart, setting to his seal that God is true, may be assured that his pardon is sealed in heaven; notwithstanding he has lived in an open breach of God’s commandments all his life-time before. ‘Believe, (says the apostle to the trembling jailor,) and thou shalt be saved’: ‘Whoseover believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.’ So that this faith will not be dead, idle or inactive: for ’tis not a faith of the head, or a bare assent to things credible as credible; the devils thus believe and tremble: but it is a faith of the heart, a living principle of new life, infused into the soul by the spirit of God, applying that inwardly, which was wrought for him outwardly by the obedience and death of Jesus Christ, and continually exciting the possessor of it to shew it forth by his good works; not as necessary conditions, but as proofs of his justification in God’s sight; and as so many tokens of his gratitude and love for what God has done for his soul. This is what the apostle styles a ‘faith working by love’.

I cannot conclude this better than in the words of a truly evangelical writer now before me. ‘The Law (saist thou) must be obeyed.’ I answer, ‘Christ Jesus hath done that in his own person, and justified me thereby; and, for my own part, I will not labor now to fulfil the law for justification, lest I should undervalue the merits of the man Christ Jesus, and what he hath done without me; and yet will I labor to fulfil, if possible ten thousand laws if there were so many: and O let it be out of love to my sweet Lord Jesus. For the love of Christ constrains me’.

You see, my brethren, this is a topic which I love to dwell upon. A divine fire kindles in my heart, whilst I am musing on and writing to you about it: and I should here enlarge, but I must hasten to recommend to you another thing of unspeakable importance to the well-being of christian society, a spirit of universal love. Let not bigotry or party zeal be so much as once named amongst you; for it becometh not saints. Our Lord was a stranger to it. Whosoever did the will of his father, the same was his brother, his sister, his mother. Wherever he saw the marks of true faith, though in a centurion or a syrophenician, who were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of the promise, how did he publish and commend it? Be followers then of him, my brethren, as dear children; and love all who love our Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth, although they should not in all things follow with us.  Pharisees and Sadducees, the self-righteous and free-thinkers of this generation, all the children of God, notwithstanding their little differences, unite in one common interest against spiritual wickedness in high places? O that all who call themselves christians, were thus minded! How should we see the kingdom of Christ come with power, and Satan like lightning fall from heaven! From the beginning, it hath been his policy to divide christians into sects and parties, hoping not only to weaken their interest, but to make them thereby believe, that religion wholly consists in being of this or that particular communion: and this subtilty of that old serpent hath so prevailed, that though we all profess to hold one Lord, one faith, one baptism; yet numbers look upon those who differ from them, and that only in externals, almost as creatures of another species, and forbid us with such even to eat. This was once the state of the Jewish, as it is now of the christian church;– but God shewed his dislike of such a temper, by convincing Peter in a miraculous manner, that he was henceforward to call nothing common or unclean, but freely to converse with all who feared him and worked righteousness, for that all such were accepted of him. My brethren, be not you disobedient to this heavenly vision: for our sakes no doubt it was written, and for as many as the Lord our God shall call. The self-righteous, and perhaps some who are weak in faith, will censure and condemn your conduct (as the brethren did Peter) when the behold your free conversation in Christ: but Peter has furnished you with an answer, ‘Forasmuch as God hath given to them he like gift as to us, who believed on Jesus, what are we, that we should withstand God?’ How dare we make a difference, when God has made none? How dare we not freely converse with those who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we?

Further, my brethren, content not yourselves with reading, singing and praying together; but set some time apart to confess your faults and communicate your experiences one to another. For want of this (which I take to be one chief design of private meetings) most of the old societies in London,  I fear, are sunk into dead formality, and have only a name to live. They meet on a sabbath evening, read a chapter, and sing a psalm; but seldom, if ever, acquaint each other with the operations of God’s spirit upon their souls; notwithstanding this was the great end and intention of those who first began these societies. Hence it is that they have only the form of godliness left amongst them, and continue utter strangers to the state of one another’s hearts. How love, or the power of religion can subsist in such a lukewarm and superficial way of proceeding, is very hard to conceive. My brethren, let not your coming together be thus altogether in vain, but plainly and freely tell one another what God has done for your souls. To this end, you would do will, as others have done, to form yourselves into little companies of four or five each, and meet once a week to tell each other what is in your hearts; that you may then also pray for and comfort each other, as need shall require. None but those that have experienced it can tell he unspeakable advantages of such a union and communion of souls. By this means, brotherly love will be excited and increased amongst you, and you will learn to watch over one another for good. This will teach you better how to pray, and to give thanks for each other in your private retirement, and happily prevent and deliver you from many snares of the devil: for Satan loves that we should keep his temptations to ourselves, but cares not so much to meddle with those, who he knows will discover his devices to their brethren. Besides, this is a most effectual means for each to try the sincerity of his own heart, as well as another’s. No one, I think, that truly loves his own soul and his brethren as himself, will be shy of opening his heart, in order to have their advice, reproof, admonition, and prayers, as occasions require. A sincere person will esteem it one of the greatest blessings; nor do I know a better means in the world to keep hypocrisy out from amongst you. Pharisees and unbelievers will pray, read, and sing psalms; but none, save an Israelite indeed, will endure to have his heart searched out. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

Finally, my brethren, expect a large share of contempt; for Christ’s servants were always the world’s fools. ‘As for this sect or heresy, (said the Jews to Paul), we know it is every where spoken against’. And Paul himself, before converted, had authority from the chief priests, to bring as many as he found of his way before them. Thus were the disciples of the Lord treated in the infancy of the church; and as it was formerly, so it is and will be now. In our days, to be a true christian, is really to become a scandal. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but if you are not of the world, and Christ has chosen you out of the world, for this very cause the world most assuredly will hate you. However it may seem strange to the natural man, yet there never was a true saint, who was not, like his Savior, accounted beside himself. And they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must to the end of time suffer persecution for his name’s sake.

But, God forbid, my brethren, that a little, nay, that all the contempt in the world, should anywise move you away from the steadfast profession of he hope of the gospel. Our Lord was despised before us; and you know the servant must no presume to be above his master. No; it is sufficient if he be as his master, ‘Made perfect through sufferings.’ Be steadfast therefore, my brethren, quit yourselves like men, be strong; yea, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ Be not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but follow your master without the camp, bearing his sacred reproach. When you are reviled, revile not again.  Bless, my brethren, and curse not. Be subject to the higher power in all lawful things, and beware of all who would turn religion into faction. Remember again and again, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; and that it is our glory, when called to it, patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake.

Thus, my brethren, out of the fullness of my heart have I written unto you. Many of you I never yet saw, and perhaps never may see in the flesh; however, I love you in the bowels of Jesus Christ, and heartily beseech God to bless what I trust his spirit has now enabled me to write unto you.

You see, my brethren, I have confined myself to such particulars as relate to the improving your societies, and making them truly christian. I hope you will in like manner take need to your ways in common life, and never give the adversary room justly, to speak reproachfully of your conduct. My brethren, the eyes of all men are upon you. Indeed it highly concerns you to walk exceedingly circumspect towards those that are without. I am sure you will not be offended, if, but of love, I remind you to perform all relative duties with the utmost cheerfulness, and with a single eye to the glory of God. Let your obedience be constant, universal, and uniform, founded on a living faith in Christ Jesus, that by well-doing you may put to silence the slanders of foolish and evil men. Let your speech, and all your actions, manifest whose disciples you are. Confess your Lord publicly before men, and be not afraid to tell those that have ears to hear, what God has done for your souls. It is good to keep close the secrets of a king, but it is honorable to reveal the works of the Almighty. Above all things, my brethren, have servant charity among yourselves. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Be pitiful, be courageous, be tender-hearted; and let it be said of you as of the primitive saints, See how these Christians love one another. Fulfill all righteouness, by constantly attending on every ordinance of God. Use, but not abuse the means of grace, by resting on them; knowing that ‘The kingdom of God is not meats and drinks, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’. Think that day lost, wherein you do not make an advance in some of these. The work of regeneration, though instantaneous at first, is progressive afterwards. The seed sown in the heart must be continually watered, otherwise it will not grow into a great tree. I pray God therefore to sanctify you throughout, in spirit, soul and body, and preserve you blameless till the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. Then all tears shall be wiped away from your eyes, and we shall spend an endless eternity in singing praises to him that sitteth upon the throne, even unto the Lamb forever and ever. Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to preserve you faultless before the presence of his glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen! 

4 thoughts on “Whitefield’s “New Methodism”

  1. Gillis Harp has a recent article commemorating George Whitefield’s tour of British America (p.11-12). http://anglicanwaymagazine.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/aw-vol37no2_web.pdf

    Harp has some interesting points,
    “many of those who have written the history of the Episcopal Church were either High Churchmen who disliked Whitefield’s Calvinism or Broad Churchmen who disliked Whitefield’s biblicism”

    A: there was also a general prejudice against Whitefield even before the 20th century given Whitefield’s upset of the Anglican parish system and his greater fraternization with Presbyterians and Independents. Harp suggests that when he says “William Stevens Perry admitted that he had virtually ignored Whitefield because he was supposedly a methodist and had labored for ‘secession and accomplished it’. So, earlier prejudices had little to do with Whitefield’s calvinism but questioned loyalty to the established church. Harp comes closer to fleshing this point out towards the end of his essay, “critics to accuse Whitefield of being disloyal to the Church of England”..

    Harp: “Too strongly influenced by the reduction of reformed theology to moralism and latitudinarianism as was common in the theology of the Enlightenmen, they objected to his emphasis on individual conversion, and on the centrality of the Scriptures against the rationalism of the age.”

    A: This is somewhat an unfair description of the latitudinarian clergy. The Hanoveran and late-Stuart bishops tended to be Arminian so disliked the idea of an imputed righteousness which, like Wesley, they believed led to antinomianism. The great volumes of devotional works published and supported by the early-18th century establishment through agencies like SPCK/SPG (who paid for Whitefield’s first trip to Georgia) were mostly predicated upon Arminian tastes and were spill overs from the Laudian divinity. Harp’s quotation of Whitefield is illuminating, “Indeed, Whitefield concluded that, ‘Never did greater or more absurdities flow from the denying any doctrine, than will flow from denying the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness'”.

    Rationalism is another accusation which ignores authors of the period who discussed revelation in terms of natural theology yet published works defending the Trinity. There was indeed an engagement in natural theology, sometimes called ‘rationalism’, but it needn’t be dubbed ‘unbiblical’ though apologetical, etc.

    Harp & J.I. Packer: “It would be absurd, of course, to portray Whitefield as without fault or flaw. He could be self-absorbed and (as he himself admitted) his rhetoric and style could sometimes be exaggerated and extreme. His form of intinerant preaching bore some bad as well as much good fruit. Accordingly J.I. Packer concedes that Whitefield may have ‘unwittingly encouraged an individualistic piety of what we would call a parachurch type, a piety that gave its prime loyalty to transdenominational endeavors, that became impatient and restless in face of the relatively fixed forms of institutional church life, and that conceived of evangelism as typically an extra-ecclesiastical activity’. In the substantial wake of itinerant evangelists like Whitefield, it has taken many evangelicals a long time to recognize the local parish church as among the best agents or instruments for evangelism.”

    A: Packer’s identification of the early methodists with parachurch and transdenominational activity is interesting and rich. Another comment by Harp, “Whitefield embarked on a momentous tour of America in August 1739. He faced considerable criticism from he Anglican establishment in South Carolina and Virginia but was welcomed by many Congregationalists and Presbyterians in New York, Pennsylvania and New England where he became a genuine phenom.”

    We might recall historian, C.H. Maxson’s, observation of Whitefield’s maturation of views. Whitefield’s stronger opinions happened in his early twenties but by thirty-years of age:

    “Whitefield’s journey through New England was a tour of pacification. While preaching the same doctrines with the same emotional power, he explicitly warned his hearers from all the extremes which had been revived by the general awakening of religious interest.
    …time and excessive labours had not dulled his enthusiasm or deprived his words and gestures of their subtle charm, but friends and enemies remarked that the asperity which formerly marred the pulpit utterances of the young reformer now gave place to a noble charity.”

  2. Regarding other differences from the “old model” the Oxford scholars eventually adopted, Geordan Hammond notes:

    “A number of innovative clerical practices that became characteristic of the Evangelical Revival can readily be observed in examining the Georgia mission. Ingham reported that on the Simmonds ‘Wesley began to preach without notes, expounding a portion of Scripture extempore, according to the ancient usage.’ Charles Wesley’s statement to the Trustees that his brother ‘preachers by heart’ indicates that John continued this practice in Georgia. At the request of the Anglican clergyman, Thomas Thompson, Wesley prayed extemporaneously on account of the large number of Dissenters in the congregation when he conducted divine service at Ponpon Chapel, South Carolina. In Georgia, he began a rough itinerant ministry making occasional rounds to the smaller settlements outside Savannah, where he read prayers either in private homes or in the open air. Wesley’s extensive use of lay readers was perhaps his most innovative practice. Delamotte was employed as a teacher and catechist. In Wesley’s absence, he too over the pastoral work of his parish and possibly led the religious societies in Savannah… After Charles Wesley left Frederica, John Wesley relied on lay readers to read prayers and lead religious societies there.” p. 192, John Wesley in America

    Given SPG recommended the use of lay readers to assist with large parish areas within the colonies, the latter trait was perhaps not so innovative or unique to Wesley. But applying the colonial situation to the older parish system in England was indeed new. Wesley and Whitefield both had their early training in Georgia.

  3. Pingback: Fletcher’s Religious Society | Anglican Rose

  4. Pingback: The Earnest & Farther Appeals | The Anglo-Methodist

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