Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wesley on the early Quakers, among others

"[I.]4. Yet the number of those who abused the ordinances of God was far greater than of those who despised them, till certain men arose, not only of great understanding (sometimes joined with considerable learning), but who likewise appeared to be men of love, experimentally acquainted with true, inward religion.  Some of these were burning and shining lights, persons famous in their generations, and such as had well deserved of the church of Christ for standing in the gap against the overflowings of ungodliness.
"It cannot be supposed that these holy and venerable men intended any more at first than to show that outward religion is nothing worth without the religion of the heart; that 'God is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth;' that, therefore, external worship is lost labour without a heart devoted to God; that the outward ordinances of God then profit much when they advance inward holiness, but when they advance it not are unprofitable and void, are lighter than vanity; yea, that when they are used, as it were, in the place of this, they are an utter abomination to the Lord.
"5. Yet is it not strange if some of these, being strongly convinced of that horrid profanation of the ordinances of God which had spread itself over the whole church, and wellnigh driven true religion out of the world, in their fervent zeal for the glory of God and the recovery of souls from that fatal delusion, spake as if outward religion were absolutely nothing, as if it had no place in the religion of Christ.  It is not surprising at all if they should not always have expressed themselves with sufficient caution; so that unwary hearers might believe they condemned all outward means as altogether unprofitable, and as not designed of God to be the ordinary channels of conveying his grace into the souls of men.
"Nay, it is not impossible some of these holy men did at length themselves fall into this opinion:  in particular those who, not by choice, but by the providence of God, were cut off from all these ordinances—perhaps wandering up and down, having no certain abiding-place, or dwelling in dens and caves of the earth.  These, experiencing God's grace in themselves, though they were deprived of all outward means, might infer that the same grace would be given to them who of set purpose abstained from them."

John Wesley, "The Means of Grace" (Sermon 16 (which is undatable), on Mal. 3:7), [I.]4-5.  The works of John Wesley (The Bicentennial edition of the works of John Wesley), ed. Albert C. Outler et al., vol. 1, Sermons I, 1-33 (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, ), 379-380.  Wesley continues as follows:

"6. And experience shows how easily this notion spreads, and insinuates itself into the minds of men:  especially of those who are throughly [sic] awakened out of the sleep of death, and begin to feel the weight of their sins a burden too heavy to be borne.  These are usually impatient of their present state, and trying every way to escape from it.  They are always ready to catch at any new thing, any new proposal of ease or happiness.  They have probably tried most outward means, and found no ease in them—it may be, more and more of remorse and fear and sorrow and condemnation.  It is easy, therefore, to persuade these that it is better for them to abstain from all those means.  They are already weary of striving (as it seems) in vain, of labouring in the fire; and are therefore glad of any pretense to cast aside that wherein their soul had no pleasure; to give over the painful strife, and sink down into an idolent inactivity."

Those last lines would be unfairly applied to the leading early Quakers, but the first four paragraphs are wonderfully generous.  I'm not sure that the position Wesley assumes in response (his position on the number (II.1 par. 4) but also nature of "the means of grace") is quite enough of a corrective, but find his insistence that the Quakers and other such "burning and shining lights" (Jn 5:35) be considered saints virtually driven into error by the consolations afforded them in a time of great persecution (application to them of Heb 11:38, among others!) very moving.

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