Class Meetings happen when small groups of earnest Christians gather for improvement in scriptural Holiness. The only requirement for class membership is abidance to a General Rule and a sincere “desire to flee the coming wrath and be saved from sin”. The General Rule is composed of three parts– avoiding evil of every kind, doing good to all men, and regular attendance upon God’s Ordinances. Lay-leaders further advise and inquire into the life of the class, helping brethren with their Christian walk.
The General Rule
The Rule used by our family circle is mainly from the original discipline of Mr. John Wesley and his early Methodist people. Any discrepancies are largely stylistic, but where rules are indeed amended such are in light of either the older religious societies (like Fetter Lane, see below) or from, say, the 1792 Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC). Otherwise, we nominally depart from Wesley’s 1739 original. Where minute differences occur, they are italicized. The Rule’s providential modification is invited where Wesley’s preamble says, “especially that which is most generally practiced”– anticipating amendment according to prevalent vice of the day.
As with Coke and Asbury’s commentary to their 1792 Discipline, the Rule is essentially an exposition on the Moral Law¹, prudentially addressing modern-day concerns. The Albion Papers will eventually be a similar commentary for hard points (sometimes called ‘special advises’), examining Christian manners.
SUCH a Society is no other than ‘a company of men having the form and seeking the power of Godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.’ There is one only condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies, a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins². But wherever this is really fixed in the soul, it will be shewn by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation:
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced; such as,
- The taking the name of God in vain;
- The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein, or by buying or selling.
- Drunkenness: or drinking spirituous liquors, unless in cases of necessity.
- Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing: using many words in buying or selling³:
- The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty:
- The giving or taking things on usury; i.e,, unlawful interest:
- Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation: particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers:
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us: Doing what we know is not for the glory of God: As,
- The putting on of gold or costly apparel;
- The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus:
- The singing those songs, reading those books: games and worldly amusements which do not tend to knowledge or love of God:
- Softness and needless self-indulgence:
- Laying up treasure upon earth;
- Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods or loans without a probability of paying for them.
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
- To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
- To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of the devil, that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it”.
By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be;
- Employing them preferably to others, buying one of another, helping each other in business: and so much the more, because the world will love its own and them only.
- By all possible diligence and frugality, that the Gospel not be blamed;
- By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and off-scouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely for the Lord’s sake.
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God: such are
- The Public Worship of God:
- The ministry of the word, either read or expounded;
- The Supper of the Lord;
- Family and private prayer;
- Searching the scriptures, and
- Fasting or abstinence.
These are the general rules of our Society: all which we are taught of GOD to observe, even in his written word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among use who observes them not, who habitually breaks any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But it then he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.
¹ Regarding scriptural holiness and our resolutions, the Rt. Rev. William Beveridge said, “Whereas, for my own part, I know not how any thing should be worthy of God’s accepting that is not of God’s commanding. I am sure the Word of God is the good old way that will certainly bring me to my Father’s house; for how should that way but lead me to Heaven, which Truth itself hath chalked out for me? Not as if it was necessary that every one of my resolutions should be contained, word for word, in the Holy Scriptures it is sufficient that they be implied in and agreeable thereto. So that though the manner of my expressions may not be found in the Word of God, yet the matter of my resolutions may clearly be drawn from thence.” (Theological Works V.8, p. 219)
²John Fletcher’s Society in Madeley expounded upon the criteria of admittance by adding those part of Church Articles he believed essential to faith, albeit “earnestly recommended“. Thus, Fletcher’s Rule was worded,
“In Order to be admitted into the Society, the Plan of which hath been sketched out in the foregoing pages, one only condition is previously required, namely– A sincere desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to seek salvation from the servitude of sin, according to the Gospel and the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England; especially the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth, which are earnestly recommended to the Perusal of every Person who would be a Member“.
³Wesley’s General Rule had a direct relation to the discipline of other religious societies in and about London, particularly the group at Fetter-Lane founded by Br. James Hutton. While Wesley’s Discipline, here, forbids making many promises in business, Hutton’s Rule added a point about marriage, likewise guarding against ‘wanton covenants’. Seekers who desired to be admitted were asked:
“What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open? Using no kind of Reserve, least of all in the case of Love or Courtship. Will you strive against Desire of Ruling, of being first in your company, of having your own way? Have you any objection to any of our orders?”
So, the Rule was read to the hearer, and, upon agreement, the right hand of fellowship extended. The same rule was basically rephrased in the 1798 doctrine & discipline of MEC (Ch. 2, Sec. VI, Q. 2, A. 4) regarding ‘Unlawful Marriages’:
“Let all be exhorted to take no step in so weighty a matter, without advising with the most serious of their brethren.”