The Reformation of Manners
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1. But what manner of men ought they to be who engage in such a design? Some may imagine, any that are willing to assist therein ought readily to be admitted; and that the greater the number of members, the greater will be their influence. But this is by no means true: Matter of fact undeniably proves the contrary. While the former Society for Reformation of Manners consisted of chosen members only, though neither many, rich, nor powerful, they broke through all opposition, and were eminently successful in every branch of their undertaking; but when a number of men less carefully chosen, were received into that Society, they grew less and less useful, till, by insensible degrees, they dwindled into nothing.
2. The number, therefore, of the members is no more to be attended to than the riches or eminence. This is a work of God. It is undertaken in the name of God, and for his sake. It follows, that men who neither love nor fear God have no part or lot in this matter. "Why takest thou my covenant in thy mouth?" may God say to any of these; "whereas thou" thyself "hatest to be reformed, and have cast my words behind thee?" Whoever, therefore, lives in any known sin is not fit to engage in reforming sinners: More especially if he is guilty, in any instance, or in the least degree, of profaning the name of God, of buying, selling, or doing any unnecessary work on the Lord's day; or offending in any other of those instances which this Society is peculiarly designed to reform. No; let none who stands himself in need of this reformation presume to meddle with such an undertaking. First let him "pull the beam out of his own eye:" Let him be himself unblamable in all things.
3. Not that this will suffice: Everyone engaging herein, should be more than a harmless man. He should be a man of faith; having at least, such a degree of that "evidence of things not seen," as to "aim not at the things that are seen, which are temporal, but at those that are not seen, which are eternal;" such a faith as produces a steady fear of God, with a lasting resolution, by his grace, to abstain from all that he has forbidden, and to do all that he has commanded. He will more especially need that particular branch of faith, -- confidence in God. It is this faith which "removes mountains;" which "quenches the violence of fire;" which breaks through all opposition; and enables one to stand against and "chase a thousand," knowing in whom his strength lies, and, even when he has "the sentence of death in himself, trusting in Him who raiseth the dead."
4. He that has faith and confidence in God, will, of consequence, be a man of courage. And such it is highly needful every man should be, who engages in this undertaking: For many things will occur in the prosecution thereof, which are terrible to nature; indeed, so terrible, that all who "confer with flesh and blood" will be afraid to encounter them. Here, therefore, true courage has its proper place, and is necessary in the highest degree. And this, faith only can supply. A believer can say,
I fear no denial; no danger I fear;
Nor start from the trial; -- For Jesus is near.
5. To courage patience is nearly allied; the one regarding future, the other present, evils. And whoever joins in carrying on a design of this nature, will have great occasion for this. For, notwithstanding all his unblameableness, he will find himself just in Ishmael's situation, -- "his hand against every man, and everyman's hand against him." And no wonder: If it be true, that "all who will live godly shall suffer persecution," how eminently must this be fulfilled in them who, not content to live godly themselves, compel the ungodly to do so too, or at least to refrain from notorious ungodliness! Is not this declaring war against all the world? setting all the children of the devil at defiance? And will not Satan himself, "the prince of this world, the ruler of the darkness" thereof, exert all his subtlety and all his force in support of his tottering kingdom? Who can expect the roaring lion will tamely submit to have the prey plucked out of his teeth? "Ye have," therefore, "need of patience; that, after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise."
6. And ye have need of steadiness, that ye may "hold fast" this "profession of your faith without wavering." This also should be found in all that unite in this Society; which is not a task for a"double-minded man," -- for one that "is unstable in his ways." He that is as a reed shaken with the wind is not fit for this warfare; which demands a firm purpose of soul, a constant, determined resolution. One that is wanting in this may "set his hand to the plough;" but how soon will he "look back!" He may, indeed, "endure for a time; but when persecution or tribulation," public or private troubles, "arise because of the work, immediately he is offended."
7. Indeed, it is hard for any to persevere in so unpleasing a work, unless love overpowers both pain and fear. And, therefore, it is highly expedient, that all engaged therein have "the love of God shed abroad in their hearts;" that they should all be able to declare, "we love him, because he first loved us." The presence of Him whom their soul loveth will then make their labour light. They can then say, not from the wildness of an heated imagination, but with the utmost truth and soberness, --
With thee conversing, I forget
All time, and toil, and care:
Labour is rest, and pain is sweet,
While thou, my God, art here.
8. What adds a still greater sweetness, even to labour and pain, is the Christian "love of our neighbour." When they "love their neighbour," that is, every soul of man, "as themselves," as their own souls; when "the love of Christ constrains" them to love one another, "even as he loved us;" when, as he "tasted death for every man," so they are "ready to lay down their life for their brethren;" (including in that number every man, every soul for which Christ died,) what prospect of danger will then be able to fright them from their "labour of love?" What suffering will they not be ready to undergo to save one soul from everlasting burnings? What continuance of labour, disappointment, pain, will vanquish their fixed resolution? Will they not be
'Gainst all repulses steel'd, nor ever tired
With toilsome day, or ill-succeeding night?
So love both "hopeth" and "endureth all things:" So "charity never faileth."
9. Love is necessary for all the members of such a Society, on another account likewise; even because it "is not puffed up:" It produces not only courage and patience, but humility. And O how needful is this for all who are so employed! What can be of more importance, than that they should be little and mean and base and vile in their own eyes? For, otherwise, should they think themselves anything, should they impute anything to themselves, should they admit anything of a Pharisaic spirit, "trusting in themselves that they were righteous, and despising others;" nothing could more directly tend to overthrow the whole design. For then they would not only have all the world, but also God himself, to contend with; seeing he "resisteth the proud, and giveth grace" only "to the humble." Deeply conscious, therefore, should every member of this society be of his own foolishness, weakness, helplessness; continually hanging, with his whole soul upon Him who alone hath wisdom and strength, with an unspeakable conviction that "the help which is done upon earth, God doth it himself;" and that it is He alone "who worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
10. One point more whoever engages in this design should have deeply impressed on his heart, namely, that "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Let him, therefore, learn of Him who was meek, as well as lowly; and let him abide in meekness, as well as humility: "With all lowliness and meekness," let him "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he is called." Let them be "gentle toward all men," good or bad, for his own sake, for their sake, for Christ's sake. Are any "ignorant, and out of the way?" Let him have "compassion" upon them. Do they even oppose the word and the work of God; yea, set themselves in battle array against it? So much the more hath he need "in meekness to instruct those who thus oppose themselves;" if haply they may "escape out of the snare of the devil," and no more be "taken captive at his will."
1. From the qualifications of those who are proper to engage in such an undertaking as this I proceed to show, Fourthly, with what spirit and in what manner it ought to be pursued. First, with what spirit. Now this first regards the motive, which is to be preserved in every step that is taken; for if, at any time "the light which is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! But if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." This is, therefore, continually to be remembered, and carried into every word and action. Nothing is to be spoke or done, either great or small, with a view to any temporal advantage; nothing with a view to the favour or esteem, the love or the praise, of men. But the intention, the eye of the mind, is always to be fixed on the glory of God and good of man.
2. But the spirit with which everything is to be done regards the temper as well as the motive. And this is no other than that which has been described above. For the same courage, patience, steadiness, which qualify a man for the work, are to be exercised therein. Above all let him "take the shield of faith:" This will quench a thousand fiery darts. Let him exert all the faith which God has given him, in every trying hour. And let all his doings be done in love: Never let this be wrested from him. Neither must many waters quench this love, nor the floods of ingratitude drown it. Let, likewise, that lowly mind be in him, which was also in Christ Jesus; yea, and let him "be clothed with humility," filling his heart, and adorning his whole behaviour. At the same time, let him "put on bowels of mercies, gentleness, longsuffering;" avoiding the least appearance of malice, bitterness, anger, or resentment; knowing it is our calling, not to be "overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good." In order to preserve this humble, gentle love, it is needful to do all things with recollection of spirit; watching against all hurry, or dissipation of thought, as well as against pride, wrath, or surliness. But this can be no otherwise preserved than by "continuing instant in prayer," both before and after he comes into the field, and during the whole action; and by doing all in the spirit of sacrifice, offering all to God, through the Son of his love.
3. As to the outward manner of acting, a general rule is, Let it be expressive of these inward tempers. But to be more particular: (1.) Let every man beware not to "do evil that good may come." Therefore, "putting away all lying, let every man speak the truth to his neighbour." Use no fraud or guile, either in order to detect or to punish any man, but "by simplicity and godly sincerity" "commend yourself to men's consciences in the sight of God." It is probable that, by your adhering to these rules, fewer offenders will be convicted; but so much the more will the blessing of God accompany the whole undertaking.
4. But let innocence be joined with prudence, properly so called; -- not that offspring of hell which the world calls prudence, which is mere craft, cunning, dissimulation; but with that "wisdom from above" which our Lord peculiarly recommends to all who would promote his kingdom upon earth. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents," while ye are "harmless as doves." This wisdom will instruct you how to suit your words and whole behaviour, to the persons with whom you have to do; to the time, place, and all other circumstances. It will teach you to cut off occasion of offense, even from those who seek occasion, and to do things of the most offensive nature in the least offensive manner that is possible.
5. Your manner of speaking, particularly to offenders, should be at all times deeply serious (lest it appear like insulting or triumphing over them,) rather inclining to sad; showing that you pity them for what they do, and sympathize with them in what they suffer. Let your air and tone of voice, as well as words, be dispassionate, calm, mild; yea, where it would not appear like dissimulation, even kind and friendly. In some cases, where it will probably be received as it is meant, you may profess the goodwill you bear them; but at the same time, (that it may not be thought to proceed from fear, or any wrong inclination) professing your intrepidity, and inflexible resolution to oppose and punish vice to the uttermost.
1. It remains only to make some application of what has been said, partly to you who are already engaged in this work, partly to all that fear God; and more especially to them that love as well as fear him.
With regard to you who are already engaged in this work, the First advice I would give you is, calmly and deeply to consider the nature of your undertaking. Know what you are about; be thoroughly acquainted with what you have in hand; consider the objections which are made to the whole of your undertaking; and before you proceed, be satisfied that those objections have no real weight: Then may every man act as he is fully persuaded in his own mind.
2. I advise you, Secondly, be not in haste to increase your number: And, in adding thereto, regard not wealth, rank, or any outward circumstance; only regard the qualifications above described. Inquire diligently, whether the person proposed be of an unblamable carriage, and whether he be a man of faith, courage, patience, steadiness; whether he be a lover of God and man. If so, he will add to your strength, as well as number: If not, you will lose by him more than you gain; for you will displease God. And be not afraid to purge out from among you any who do not answer the preceding character. By thus lessening your number, you will increase your strength: You will be "vessels meet for your Master's use."
3. I would, Thirdly, advise you narrowly to observe from what motive you at any time act or speak. Beware that your intention be not stained with any regard either to profit or praise. Whatever you do, "do it to the Lord; as the servants of Christ. Do not aim at pleasing yourself in any point, but pleasing Him whose you are and whom you serve. Let your eye be single, from first to last; eye God alone in every word and work.
4. I advise you, in the Fourth place, see that you do everything in a right temper; with lowliness and meekness, with patience and gentleness, worthy the gospel of Christ. Take every step, trusting in God, and in the most tender, loving spirit you are able. Meantime, watch always against all hurry and dissipation of spirit; and pray always, with all earnestness and perseverance, that your faith fail not. And let nothing interrupt that spirit of sacrifice which you make of all you have and are, of all you suffer and do, that it may be an offering of a sweet-smelling savour to God, through Jesus Christ!
5. As to the manner of acting and speaking, I advise you to do it with all innocence and simplicity, prudence and seriousness. Add to these, all possible calmness and mildness; nay, all the tenderness which the case will bear. You are not to behave as butchers or hangmen; but as surgeons rather, who put the patient to no more pain than is necessary in order to the cure. For this purpose, each of you, likewise, has need of "a lady's hand with a lion's heart." So shall many, even of them you are constrained to punish, "glorify God in the day of visitation."
6. I exhort all of you who fear God, as ever you hope to find mercy at his hands, as you dread being found (though you knew it not) "even to fight against God," do not, on any account, reason, or pretence whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, oppose or hinder so merciful a design, and one so conducive to his glory. But this is not all: If you are lovers of mankind, if you long to lessen the sins and miseries of your fellow-creatures, can you satisfy yourselves, can you be clear before God, by barely not opposing it? Are not you also bound by the most sacred ties, "as you have opportunity to do good to all men?" And is not here an opportunity of doing good to many, even good of the highest kind? In the name of God, then, embrace the opportunity! Assist in doing this good, if no otherwise, yet by your earnest prayers for them who are immediately employed therein. Assist them, according to your ability, to defray the expense which necessarily attends it, and which, without the assistance of charitable persons, would be a burden they could not bear. Assist them, if you can without inconvenience, by quarterly or yearly subscriptions. At least, assist them now; use the present hour, doing what God puts into your heart. Let it not be said that you saw your brethren laboring for God, and would not help them with one of your fingers. In this way, however, "come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty!"
7. I have an higher demand upon you who love, as well as fear, God. He whom you fear, whom you love, has qualified you for promoting his work in a more excellent way. Because you love God, you love your brother also: You love, not only your friends, but your enemies; not only the friends, but even the enemies, of God. You have "put on, as the elect of God, lowliness, gentleness, long-suffering." You have faith in God, and in Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; faith which overcometh the world: And hereby you conquer both evil shame, and that "fear of man which bringeth a snare;" so that you can stand with boldness before them that despise you, and make no account of your labors. Qualified, then, as you are, and armed for the fight, will you be like the children of Ephraim, "who, being harnessed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle?" Will you leave a few of your brethren to stand alone, against all the hosts of the aliens? O say not, "This is too heavy a cross; I have not strength or courage to bear it!" True; not of yourself: But you that believe "can do all things through Christ strengthening you." "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." No cross is too heavy for him to bear; knowing that they that "suffer with him, shall reign with him." Say not, "Nay, but I cannot bear to be singular." Then you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. No one enters there but through the narrow way; and all that walk in this are singular. Say not, "But I cannot endure the reproach, the odious name of an informer." And did any man ever save his soul, that was not a by-word, and a proverb of reproach? Neither canst thou ever save thine, unless thou art willing that men should say all manner of evil of thee. Say not, "But if I am active in this work, I shall lose not only my reputation, but my friends, my customers, my business, my livelihood; so that I shall be brought to poverty." Thou shalt not; thou canst not: It is absolutely impossible, unless God himself chooseth it; for his "kingdom ruleth over all," and "the very hairs of thy head are all numbered." But if the wise, the gracious God choose it for thee, wilt thou murmur or complain? Wilt thou not rather say, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" If you "suffer for Christ, happy are you; the Spirit of glory and of God" shall "rest upon you." Say not, "I would suffer all things, but my wife will not consent to it; and, certainly, a man ought to leave father and mother and all, and cleave to his wife." True; all but God; all but Christ: But he ought not to leave him for his wife! He is not to leave any duty undone, for the dearest relative. Our Lord himself hath said in this very sense, "If any man loveth father, or mother, or wife, or children, more than me, he is not worthy of me!" Say not, "Well, I would forsake all for Christ; but one duty must not hinder another; and this would frequently hinder my attending public worship." Sometimes it probably would. "Go, then, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice." And whatever is lost by showing this mercy, God will repay seven-fold into thy bosom. Say not, "But I shall hurt my own soul. I am a young man; and by taking up loose women I should expose myself to temptation." Yes, if you did this in your own strength, or for your own pleasure. But that is not the case. You trust in God; and you aim at pleasing him only. And if he should call you even into the midst of a burning fiery furnace, "though thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flames kindle upon thee." "True; if he called me into the furnace; but I do not see that I am called to this." Perhaps thou art not willing to see it. However, if thou wast not called before, I call thee now, in the name of Christ: Take up thy cross, and follow him! Reason no more with flesh and blood, but now resolve to cast in thy lot with the most despised, the most infamous, of his followers; the filth and offscouring of the world! I call thee in particular, who didst once strengthen their hands, but since art drawn back. Take courage! Be strong! Fulfil their joy, by returning with heart and hand! Let it appear thou "departedst for a season, that they might receive thee again for ever." O be "not disobedient to the heavenly calling!" And, as for all of you who know whereunto ye are called, count ye all things loss, so ye may save one soul for which Christ died! And therein "take no thought for the morrow," but "cast all your care on Him that careth for you!" Commit your souls, bodies, substance, all to him, "as unto a merciful and faithful Creator!"
[After this Society had subsisted several years, and done unspeakable good, it was wholly destroyed by a verdict given against it in the King's Bench, with three hundred pounds damages. I doubt a severe account remains for the witnesses, the jury, and all who were concerned in that dreadful affair!]
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[Edited by Jennette Descalzo, student at Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID), with corrections by George Lyons for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.] The text for John Wesley's sermons originally came from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.