MR. WESLEY'S OBJECTION TO AND TREATMENT OF FANATICISM.
THE reader will bear in mind that the word enthusiasm, used in the following quotations, had the same meaning in Mr. Wesley's day, that fanaticism does now.
"The very desire of 'growing in grace,' may sometimes be an inlet of enthusiasm. As it continually leads us to seek new grace, it may lead us unawares to seek something else new, besides new degrees of love to God and man. So it has led some to seek and fancy they had received gifts of a new kind, after a new heart.
"Another ground of these and a thousand mistakes is, the not considering deeply that love is the highest gift of God — humble, gentle, patient love; that all visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all the gifts above mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to it.
"It is well you should be thoroughly sensible of this — the heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion, — there is, in effect, nothing else. If you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark - you are getting out of the royal way.
"And when you are asking others, 'Have you received this or that blessing?' if you mean any thing but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it, then, in your heart; that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham's bosom.
"I say again, Beware of enthusiasm; such as the imagining you have the gift of prophesying, or of discerning of spirits, which I do not believe one of you has; no, nor ever had yet." — Plain Account, pp. 140, 141.
"I returned to Oxford, and on Wednesday rode to Bristol. My brother, I found, was already gone to Wales; so that I came just in season; and that, indeed, on another account also; for a spirit of enthusiasm was breaking in upon many, who charged their own imaginations on the will of God, and that not written, but impressed on their hearts. If these impressions be received as the rule of action, instead of the written word, I know nothing so wicked or absurd but we may fall into, and that without remedy." — Journal, July, 1741.
"I had a long conversation with Mr. Simpson. And of this I am fully persuaded, that whatever he does, is in the uprightness of his heart. But he is led into a thousand mistakes by one wrong principle (the same which many either ignorantly or wickedly ascribe to the body of the people called Methodists), the making inward impressions his rule of action, and not the written word." — Journal, June, 1742.
"I began examining the society (Bristol), and not before it was wanted: for the plague was begun. I found many crying out, "Faith, faith! Believe, believe!" but making little account of the fruits of faith, either of holiness or good works. In a few days they came to themselves, and had a more thorough understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus." — Journal, February, 1744.
"About one, I preached at Seacroft, and found several who believed God had saved them from sin. In the evening I talked with twelve or fourteen of these particularly; but I found not one who presumed to say that he did not need the atoning blood. Nor could I hear of any more than two persons that ever spoke in this manner; and these were soon after, for that reason, expelled out of Otley society." — Journal, July, 1761.
"I heard George Bell once more, and was convinced he must not continue to pray at the Foundery. The reproach of Christ I am willing to bear; but not the reproach of enthusiasm, if I can help it." — Journal, Dec., 1762.
"But I dislike several things therein: 1. The singing, or speaking, or praying, of several at once: 2. The praying to the Son of God only, or more than to the Father: 3. The using improper expressions in prayer; sometimes too bold, if not irreverent; sometimes too pompous and magnificent, extolling yourselves rather than God, and telling Him what you are, not what you want: 4. Using poor, flat, bald hymns: 5. The never kneeling at prayer: 6. Your using postures or gestures highly indecent: 7. Your screaming, even so as to make the words unintelligible: 8. Your affirming, people will be justified or sanctified just now: 9. The affirming they are, when they are not: 10. The bidding them say,'I believe:' 11. The bitterly condemning any that oppose, calling them wolves, &c.; and pronouncing them hypocrites, or not justified.
"I dislike something that has the appearance of enthusiasm, overvaluing feelings and inward impressions, mistaking the mere work of imagination for the voice of the Spirit, expecting the end without the means; and undervaluing reason, knowledge, and wisdom in general.
"I dislike your directly or indirectly depreciating justification; saying, a justified person is not in Christ, is not born of God, is not a new creature, has not a new heart, is not sanctified, not a temple of the Holy Ghost; or that he cannot please God, or cannot grow in grace.
"I dislike your saying that one saved from sin needs nothing more than looking to Jesus; needs not to hear or think of anything else; believe, believe, is enough; that he needs no self-examination, no times of private prayer."
"But I dislike your supposing man may be as perfect as an angel; that he can be absolutely perfect; that he can be infallible, or above being tempted; or that the moment he is pure in heart, he cannot fall from it." — To Bell and Owen Journal, Oct., 1762.
"All this time I observed a few of our brethren were diligently propagating that principle, that none can teach those who are renewed in love, unless he be in the state himself. I saw the tendency of this; but I saw that violent remedies would not avail." — Journal, 1762.
"Being determined to hear for myself, I stood where I could hear and see without being seen. George Bell prayed, in the whole, pretty near an hour. His fervor of spirit I could not but admire. I afterwards told him what I did not admire; namely; 1. His screaming every now and then, in such a strange manner, that one could scarcely tell what he said; 2. His thinking he had the miraculous discernment of spirits." — Journal, Nov., 1762.
"There is another notion, your lordship (the bishop of London), says, which we find propagated through the writings of those people, and that is, the making inward, secret, and sudden impulses the guide of their actions, resolutions, and designs. Mr. Church urged the same objection before. 'Instead of making the Word of God the rule of his actions, he follows only his secret impulse.' I beg leave to return the same answer. In the whole compass of language there is not a proposition which less belongs to me than this. I have declared again and again, that I make the Word of God, the rule of all my actions; and that I no more follow any 'secret impulse" instead thereof, than I follow Mohammed, or Confucius."' — Works, vol. v. p. 341
To his brother, 1762: —
"Many of our brethren are overshooting sober Christianity in London. Oh, that I could stand in the gap! Oh, that I could, by sacrificing myself, shut this immense abyss of enthusiasm, which opens its mouth among us! The corruption of the best things is always the worst of corruptions." — Arminian Magazine, 1795, p. 151.
"I met at noon, as usual, those who believe they are saved from sin, and warned them of the enthusiasm which was breaking in, by means of two or three weak, though good men, who, from a misconstrued text in the Revelation, inferred that they should not die. They received the warning in much love." — Journal, 1762.
"In the evening I preached at Yarm; but I found the good doctrine of Christian perfection had not been heard of there for some time. The wildness of our poor brethren in London has put it out of countenance above two hundred miles off; so these strange advocates for perfection have given it a deeper wound than all its enemies together could do!" — Journal, 1763.
"All this week I endeavored to confirm those who had been shaken as to the important doctrine of Christian perfection, either by its wild defenders, or wise opposers, who much availed themselves of that wildness. It must needs be that such offenses will come; but 'woe unto him by whom the offense cometh'!" — Journal, Oct., 1763.
"I rode on to Newcastle, where I was quite unexpected. I found both the hearers, the society, and the believers are increased since I was here last; and several more believe they are saved from sin. Meantime Satan has not been idle. Two were following George Bell, step by step, as to the 'not needing self-examination,' the 'not being taught by man,' and most of his other unscriptural extravagancies; but as they appeared to be still of an advisable spirit, for the present, at least, the snare was broken." — Journal, April, 1765.
To Miss Bolton, 1772: —
"What I have seen in London occasioned the first caution I gave you. George Bell, William Green, and many others, then full of love, were favored with extraordinary revelations and manifestations from God. But by this very thing, Satan beguiled them from the simplicity that is in Christ. By insensible degrees they were led to value these extraordinary gifts more than the ordinary grace of God; and I could not convince them that a grain of humble love was better than all these gifts put together. This, my dear friend, was what made me fear for you. This makes me remind you again and again. — Works, vol. vii. p. 115.
To Miss Ritchie, 1776: —
"Oh, desire nothing different in nature from love! There is nothing higher in earth or heaven. Whatever he speaks of, which seems to be higher, is either natural or preternatural enthusiasm. Desire none of those extraordinaries. Such a desire might be an inlet to a thousand delusions. I wish your desires may all centre in that, —
'I want the witness, Lord,
That all I do is right!
According to Thy will and word,
Well pleasing in Thy sight.
I ask no higher state,
Indulge me but in this!
And soon, or later, then translate
To my eternal bliss!'
— Works, vol. vii. p. 178.
To Miss Loxdale, 1781: —
"I avoid, I am afraid of, whatever is peculiar, either in the experience or the language of anyone. I desire nothing, I will accept of nothing, but the common faith and common salvation; and I want you, my dear sister, to be only just such a common Christian as Jenny Cooper was. The new expressions of Madame Bourignon naturally tended to give you a new set of ideas. They would surely set your imagination at work, and make you fancy wonderful things; but they were only shadows."' — Works, vol. vii. p. 219.
To Miss H. A. Roe, 1781: —
"Many of our brethren and sisters in London, during that great outpouring of the Spirit, spoke of several new blessings which they had attained. But after all, they could find nothing higher than pure love; on which the full assurance of hope generally attends. This the inspired writings always represent as the highest point; only there are innumerable degrees of it. The plerophory, or full assurance of faith, is such a clear conviction of being now in the favor of God, as excludes all doubt and fear concerning it."' — Works, vol. vii. p. 193.
To Miss Bolton, 1784: —
"As you will be the better enabled, by your own experience, to guard all, especially young persons, from laying stress upon anything but the written Word of God. Guard them against reasoning in that dangerous manner, 'If I was deceived in this, then I was deceived in thinking myself justified.' Not at all: although nature or Satan in the latter case, admirably well mimicked the works of God." — Works, vol. vii. p. 118.
To Miss Bolton, 1785: —
"I have often found an aptness both in myself and others, to connect events that have no real relation to each other. So one says, 'I am as sure this is the will of God, as that I am justified.' Another says, 'God as surely spake this to my heart as ever He spoke to me at all.' This is an exceedingly dangerous way of thinking or speaking. We know not what it may lead us to. It may sap the very foundation of our religion. It may insensibly draw us into Deism or Atheism. My dear Nancy, my sister, my friend, beware of this! " — Works, vol. vii. p. 119.
"It is chiefly among these enormous mountains that so many have been awakened, justified, and soon after perfected in love; but even while they are full of love, Satan strives to push many of them to extravagance. This appears in several instances: — 1. Frequently three or four, yea, ten or twelve, pray aloud all together. 2. Some of them, perhaps many, scream altogether as loud as they possibly can. 3. Some of them use improper, yea, indecent, expressions in prayer. 4. Several drop down as dead; and are as stiff as a corpse; but in a while they start up, and cry, 'Glory! glory!' perhaps twenty times together. Just so do the French prophets, and very lately the Jumpers in Wales, bring the real work into contempt. Yet whenever we reprove them, it should be in the most mild and gentle manner possible." — Journal, April, 1786.
To Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, 1789: —
"A great man observes that there is a threefold leading of the Spirit. Some He leads by giving them, on every occasion, apposite texts of Scripture; some by suggesting reasons for every step they take, — the way by which He chiefly leads me; and some by impressions; but he judges the last to be the least desirable way; as it is often impossible to distinguish dark impressions from Divine, or even diabolical." — Works, vol. vii. p. 187.
To Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, 1789: —
"But there is one expression that occurs twice or thrice in yours, which gives me some concern; you speak of finding freedom to do this or that. This is a word much liable to be abused. If I have plain Scripture, or plain reason, for doing a thing, well. These are my rules, and my only rules. I regard not whether I had freedom or no. This is an unscriptural expression, and a very fallacious rule. I wish to be, in every point, great and small, a Scriptural, rational Christian." — Works, vol. vii. p. 186.
"A few (very few compared to the whole number) first gave way to enthusiasm, then to pride; next to prejudice and offense; and at last separated from their brethren. But although this laid a huge stumbling block in the way, yet the work of God went on. Nor has it ceased to this day in any of its branches. God still convinces, justifies, sanctifies. We lost only the dross, the enthusiasm, the prejudice, and offense. The pure gold remained, 'faith working by love;' yea, and increased daily." — Works, vol. vii. p. 384.
"I have still abundance of letters in my hands, equal to any that have yet been published. Indeed, there is a peculiar energy of thought and language in many of these which were written in the year 1759, and a few of the following years, suitable to that unusual outpouring of the Spirit, with which both London and many parts of England and Ireland were favored during that happy period. Happy, I cannot but call it, notwithstanding the tares which Satan found means of sowing among the wheat. And I cannot but adopt the prayer of a pious man in Scotland, upon a similar occasion, 'Lord, if it please Thee, work the same work again, without the blemishes; but if that cannot be, though it be with all the blemishes, work the same work.'" — Arminian Magazine, 1780.
How Mr. Wesley treated fanaticism is seen in a letter to his brother Charles, written in 1762: —
"This week I have begun to speak my mind concerning five or six honest enthusiasts. But I move only a hair's breadth at a time. No sharpness will profit. There is need of a lady's hand, as well as a lion's heart."
As late as 1768, Mr. Wesley writes: "If a hundred enthusiasts were set aside, we are still encompassed with a cloud of witnesses who have testified, and do testify, in life and in death, the perfection we have taught for forty years." — Journal, Aug., 1768.