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§ 109. Methodism.


I. Doctrinal Standards.

John Wesley (1703-1791): Sermons on Several Occasions; and Explanatory Notes on the New Test. In many eds., London, Bristol, New York, Cincinnati, etc. Best ed. of the Sermons by Thomas Jackson, Lond. 1825, New York, 1875.

Richard Watson (1781-1833): Theological Institutes: or a View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity. First ed. Lond. 1822-28, in 6 parts; best ed., with an Analysis by John M'Clintock, New York, in 2 vols. (29th ed. 1875).

W. B. Pope (Theol. Tutor, Didsbury College, Manchester): A Compendium of Christian Theology: being Analytical Outlines of a Course of Theological Study, Biblical, Dogmatic, Historical. London (Wesleyan Conference Office), 1875 (752 pp.). By the same: The Peculiarities of Methodist Doctrine. London, 1873.

D. D. Whedon, D.D. (Ed. of the 'Methodist Quarterly Review,' and of a Popular Commentary on the New Test.): Doctrines of Methodism. In 'Bibliotheca Sacra' for April, 1862, pp. 241–274. Andover, Mass.

W. F. Warren: System. Theologie. Bremen, 1865, Vol. I.

The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church. 1872. Ed. by Bishop Harris. New York (Nelson & Phillips) and Cincinnati (Hitchcock & Walden).

Catechisms of the Methodist Episcopal Church. New York (Nelson & Phillips). Especially No. 3, which is designed 'for an advanced grade of study.' Approved by the General Conference, 1852. Two German Catechisms by the Rev. Dr. William Nast, 1868.

II. Other Sources for the Doctrines and History of Methodism.

The Complete Works of John Wesley (first ed. Bristol, 1771 sqq., in 32 small vols. full of typographical errors; 3d and best ed. with the author's last corrections, ed. by Thomas Jackson, Lond. 1831, 14 vols.; New York, 7 vols.).

The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Ed. by G. Osborn, D.D. Lond. 1872, 13 vols.

The Works of John Fletcher (Lond. 1815, 10 vols.; New York, 1831, 4 vols.).

The Sermons and Journals of George Whitefield (1756, 1771).

The Journals of Bishop Asbury (new ed. N. Y. 1854, 3 vols.).

III. Biographies.

John Wesley, by Coke and Moore (Lond. 1792); by John Hampson (1791, 3 vols.); by Robert Southey (with Notes by Sam. T. Coleridge, 3d ed. Lond. 1846; Amer. ed. with Notes by Coleridge, Alex. Knox, and Daniel Curry, N.Y. 1847, 2 vols.); by Richard Watson (Lond. 1831; Amer. ed. with Notes by T. O. Summers); by L. Tyerman (Lond. and New York, 1872, 3 vols.); Isaac Taylor: Wesley and Methodism (Lond. and New York, 1855); James H. Rigg: The Living Wesley as he was in his Youth and his Prime (Lond. 1875; New York ed. with Introduction by Dr. Hurst, of Drew Theol. Seminary). Comp. Dr. Rigg's article on the Churchmanship of John Wesley, in the 'Contemporary Review' for Sept. 1876.

Charles Wesley (1708 to 1788), by Thomas Jackson (Lond. 1841, 2 vols.).

George Whitefield (the founder of 2 Methodism, b. 1714, d. 1770), by J. Gillie (Lond. 1772, 1813); by Robert Philip (Lond. 1830; also in German, with a Preface by Tholuck, Leipz. 1834); by L. Tyerman (London and New York, 1877, 2 vols.; the best).

The Oxford Methodists: Memoirs of Clayton, Ingham, Gambold, Hervey, and Broughton. By L. Tyerman. London and New York, 1873.

Early Methodist Preachers. Ed. by Thomas Jackson (Lond. 1839, 2 vols.).

IV. General Histories of Methodism.

Dr. Abel Stevens (History of Methodism, New York and Lond. 1858–61, 3 vols.; History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, N. Y. 1866–67, 4 vols.; Centenary of American Methodism, N. Y. 1865); Dr. George Smith (Lond. 1857–62, 3 vols.: illustrated popular edition, 1864), and a number of other works. For a concise summary, see Stevens's art. 'Methodism,' in Johnson's 'Univers. Cyclop.' Vol. III. (1876). Also for popular use, James Porter: The Revised Compendium of Methodism. New York, 1875. Jacoby: Geschichte des Methodismus. Bremen, 1870.

Comp. The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine. London (Wesleyan Conference Office), 1778 to 1876 (xcix. vols.).

The Methodist Quarterly Review. New York (Nelson & Phillips), Vols. LVIII. till 1876.

M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopædia (New York, 1867–81, 10 vols. (three supplementary vols. promised), is edited by Methodists, and pays special attention to Methodist and Arminian articles.

V. Bibliographical, Critical, and Polemical.

For the anti-Methodist literature, see H. C. Decanver: Catalogue of Works in Refutation of Methodism 883from its Origin, in 1729, to the Present Time, Phila. (John Penington), 1846. Contains in alphabetical order the titles of 227 books and sermons against Methodism, most of which are forgotten.

G. Osborn: Outlines of Wesleyan Bibliography. London, 1869.

M. Schneckenburger: Lehrbegriffe der kleineren protest. Kirchenparteien. 1863, pp. 103–151.

Joh. Jüngst: Amerikanischer Methodismus in Deutschland und R. Pearsall Smith. Gotha, 1875. By the same: Wesen und Berechtigung des Methodismus. Gotha, 1876.


Methodism is the most successful of all the younger offshoots of the Reformation. In one short century it has become one of the largest denominations in England, and the largest in the United States, with missionary stations encircling the globe.

The founders were admirably qualified for their work, and as well fitted together as the Reformers. John Wesley was one of the greatest preachers and organizers, and in the abundance of his labors perhaps the most apostolic man that England ever produced. As a revivalist of practical religion he may be called the English Spener, as an organizer the Protestant Ignatius Loyola. His brother Charles occupies, next to Watts, the first place in English hymnology, and sang Methodism into the hearts of the people. Whitefield, the orator and evangelist, kindled a sacred fire in two hemispheres which burns to this day. Their common, single, and sole purpose was to convert sinners from the service of Satan to the service of God, by means of incessant preaching, praying, and working. For this end they were willing to spend and be spent, to be ridiculed, reviled, pelted and hooted by mobs, maltreated by superiors, and driven from the church into the street; for this they would in another age have suffered torture, mutilation, and death itself as cheerfully as the Puritans did before them. The practical activity of these great and good men was equaled only by that of the Reformers in the theoretic sphere. During the fifty years of his itinerant ministry, John Wesley traveled 'a quarter of a million of miles, and preached more than forty thousand sermons.'16821682   Tyerman, John Wesley, Vol. III. p. 658 (Harper's ed.). Dr. Rigg (The Living Wesley, Hurst's ed. p. 208) remarks that Wesley rode ordinarily sixty miles a day, and not seldom eighty and ninety miles, besides preaching twice or thrice. Charles Wesley composed over six thousand religious poems,16831683    Osborn's edition contains 7600 poems of Wesley, including those of John, who composed all the translations from the German. in the study, in the pulpit, on horseback, in bed, and in his dying 884hour.16841684   When hardly able to articulate any more, he dictated to his wife these lines:    'In age and feebleness extreme,
   Who shall a helpless worm redeem?

   Jesus, my only hope thou art,

   Strength of my failing flesh and heart;

   Oh could I catch a smile from thee,

   And drop into eternity!'
Whitefield, besides traveling through England, Ireland, and Scotland, made seven evangelistic voyages to America, turning the ship into a church, and 'preached in four-and-thirty years upwards of eighteen thousand sermons, many of them to enormous crowds, and in the teeth of brutal persecution.'16851685    Tyerman, Vol. III. p. 78. A day before his death he preached his last sermon of nearly two hours' length in the open air, 'weary in the work, but not of the work' of his Lord. Fletcher labored in a more restricted sphere, as Vicar of Madely, but just as faithfully and devotedly, visiting his people and the poor ignorant colliers early and late, in rain and snow, studying intensely, living all the while on bread and cheese or fruit, and exhibiting an angelic type of character, so that Wesley, from a personal acquaintance of more than thirty years, gave him the testimony that 'he never heard him speak an improper word or saw him do an improper action,' and that he never knew a man 'so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God, so unblamable in every respect.'16861686   See Wesley's Funeral Sermon on the death of John W. Fletcher, who was a French Swiss by birth (de la Fléchière), born at Nyon, Canton de Vand, 1729, educated at Geneva, died at Madeley, 1785. His chief works is Checks to Antinomianism, against Calvinism. The pioneers of American Methodism were animated by the same zeal. Bishop Asbury, 'in the forty-five years of his American ministry, preached about 16,500 sermons, or at least one a day, and traveled about 270,000 miles, or 6000 a year, and presided in no less than 224 annual conferences, and ordained more than 4000 preachers.'16871687   Stevens, Centenary of American Methodism (N.  Y. 1865), p. 94. He was ordained bishop (1784) when the number of American Methodists fell below 15,000, and he died (1816) when it exceeded 211,000, with more than 700 itinerant preachers.

Methodism owes its success to this untiring zeal in preaching the gospel of the new birth and a 'full and free salvation' to the common people, in churches, chapels, and the open air, and to its peculiar methods and institutions—itinerancy, missionary bishops, presiding elders, 885lay helpers, class-meetings, camp-meetings, conferences, and systematic collections. Methodism, as Dr. Chalmers characterized it, is 'Christianity in earnest.' It works powerfully upon the feelings; it inspires preachers and members with enthusiasm; it gives every man and woman too a distinct vocation and responsibility; it 'keeps all at work and always at it,' according to Wesley's motto; it knows nothing of churches without ministers, or ministers without charges, as long as there are sinners to be converted in any corner of the globe. Methodism is better organized than any other Protestant denomination, and resembles in this respect the Church of Rome and its great monastic orders. It is a powerful rival of that Church. It has an efficient machinery with an abundance of steam, and is admirably adapted for pioneer work in a new country like America. It is a well-disciplined army of conquest, though not so good an army of occupation, since it allows so many 'to fall away from grace,' not only temporarily, but even 'totally and finally.' Till 1872 the laity was excluded from participation in Church government (and is so still in England), but was compensated by a large liberty in the sphere of worship, in class-meetings, band-meetings, love-feasts, which tend to develop the social and emotional element in religion.


Methodism forms the third great wave of the Evangelical Protestant movement in England, and represents the idea of revival. The Reformation destroyed the power of the papacy. Puritanism aimed at a more thorough Reformation in Church and State, and controlled for a time the civil and religious life of the nation. Methodism kept aloof from politics, and confined itself to the sphere of practical religion. Puritanism was animated by the genius of Calvinism; Methodism, in its main current, by the genius of Arminianism. Both made a deep and lasting impression upon the national Church from which they proceeded, and moulded the character of American Christianity. The Methodist revival checked the progress of skepticism and infidelity which had begun to set in with deism. It brought the life and light of the gospel to the most neglected classes of society.

If evangelical Christianity to-day has a stronger hold on the Anglo-Saxon race in both hemispheres than on any other nation, it is chiefly due to the influence of Puritanism and Methodism.



Methodism is a daughter of the Church of England, and was nursed in the same University of Oxford which, a century later, gave rise to the Tractarian school in the opposite direction towards Rome. The 'Holy Club' of the fourteen Oxford students associated for prayer, holy living, and working, began, like Dr. Pusey and his friends, with a revival of earnest, ascetic, and ritualistic High-Churchism, and received the name 'Methodists' for its punctual and methodical habits of devotion. Wesley was at first so exclusive an Episcopalian that he shrank from street-preaching and lay-preaching, and, at least on one occasion, even rebaptized Dissenters. But his contact with the simple-hearted, trustful, and happy German Moravians (Peter Böhler, Nitschmann, and Spangenberg) whom he met on his voyage across the Atlantic, in the Colony of Georgia, and after his return, led to his second 'conversion,'  which took place May 24, 1738, and imparted to his piety a cheerfully evangelical and, we may say, a liberal Broad-Church character.16881688   'At the first,' says Dr. Rigg ('Contemporary Review' for 1876, pp. 656 sq.), 'with Wesley faith had meant the intellectual acceptance of the creeds, together with the submission of the will to the laws and services of the Church. . . . Until he met with Böhler, he had not embraced, scarcely, it would seem, had conceived the idea of faith as being, in its main element, personal trust and self-surrender, as having for its central object the atonement of Jesus Christ, and as inspired and sustained by the supernatural aid and concurrence of the Holy Spirit. . . . Wesley confessed that Böhler's teaching was true gospel teaching. . . . Here ended his High-Church stage of life. Here began his work as an evangelist and Church revivalist. All dates from his final acceptance of Böhler's teaching as to the nature of faith.' Dr. Stevens says (Centenary, p. 31): 'Methodism is indebted to Moravianism for not only some of the most important features of its moral discipline, but for the personal conversion of both the Wesleys.' But Wesley was converted before as much so as Luther was when he entered the convent of Erfurt several years before he experienced his second or evangelical conversion to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. On the other hand, some of the Oxford Tractarians were converted over again, or backward, when they joined the Church of Rome.

He now entered upon his independent evangelistic career, yet with no idea of forming a separate denomination. His object was simply to revive experimental piety within the limits of the Anglican Church, as Spener and Francke had done before within the Lutheran Confession in Germany. Although badly treated by bishops and other clergy, he had no quarrel with the authorities in Church or State, but only with sin and Satan. His aim was to build the city of God and to save souls within the establishment, if possible; without it, if necessary. He 887performed indeed some uncanonical acts which led ultimately to secession, but he did it from necessity, not from choice. He never made common cause with Dissenters. He lived and died in the Church of his fathers. His brother Charles was even more conservative, and took great offense at his violation of the canons.

Had the Church of England been as wise and politic as the Church of Rome, she would have encouraged and utilized the great revival of the eighteenth century for the spread of vital Christianity at home and abroad, and might have made the Wesleyan society an advocate of her own interests as powerful as the order of the Jesuits is of the Papacy. Now, after a century of marvelous success, the founder of Methodism is better appreciated, and has been assigned (1876) a place of honor among England's mighty dead in Westminster Abbey.

The English Wesleyans continue to hold a middle position between the Established Church and the Dissenters proper, but tend latterly more to Free-Churchism.


In the United States the Methodists were made an independent organization with an episcopal form of government by Wesley's own act. As a Tory and a believer in political non-resistance, he at first wrote against the American 'rebellion,' but accepted the providential result; and, considering himself as a 'Scriptural Episcopos,' he ordained, on the second day of September, 1784, two presbyters (Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey) and one superintendent or bishop, viz., the Rev. Thomas Coke, LL.D. (a presbyter of the Church of England), for his American mission, which then embraced 83 traveling preachers and 14,988 members.16891689   The first Methodist society in America was formed in 1766, in the city of New York, among a few Irish emigrants, by Philip Embury, a local preacher, and by his cousin, Mrs. Barbara Heck, a true 'mother in Israel.' Hence Methodism celebrated its centenary in 1866 with great festivities. This was a bold and an irregular act, but a master-stroke of policy, justified by necessity and abundant success.16901690   He also ordained a few presbyters for Scotland and England to assist him in administering the sacraments, on the plea that the regular clergy often refused to admit his people to the Lord's table. At the Conference of 1788 he consecrated (according to Samuel Bradburn's statement) one of his preachers as a superintendent or bishop. He had long before been convinced by Stillingfleet's 'Irenicon' and Lord King's 'Primitive Church' that bishops and presbyters were originally one order, and that diocesan episcopacy was not founded on divine right. In a letter to his brother Charles (1785) he calls the uninterrupted episcopal succession 'a fable which no man ever did or can prove.'—Rigg, 1.c. p. 669. For a full discussion of Wesley's ordination acts, see Stevens, History of Methodism, Vol. II. pp. 209 sqq., and Tyerman, John Wesley. Vol. III. pp. 426 sqq.


Bishop Coke, assisted by the Rev. P. W. Otterbein, of the German Reformed Church, ordained, according to Wesley's direction, Francis Asbury to the office of joint superintendent, and twelve others to the office of presbyters, at the first General Conference held in Baltimore (Dec. 27, 1784). These were the first Protestant bishops in America, with the exception of Dr. Samuel Seabury, who was consecrated a few weeks before (Nov. 14, 1784), at Aberdeen, as bishop of the Protestant Episcopal diocese in Connecticut.16911691   Bishop White, of Pennsylvania, was not consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury until Feb. 4, 1787, the consecration being delayed and nearly frustrated by certain impediments. In a short time the society, thus fully organized, overtook older denominations, and kept pace with the rapid progress of the young republic.

The separation from the mother Church of England was complete, but her blood still flows in the veins of Methodism and shows itself in a half-way assent to her doctrinal standards (as far as they admit of an Arminian interpretation), to her liturgy (as far as it does not encourage sacerdotalism and ritualism or interfere with the freedom of worship), and to her episcopacy (as based upon expediency, and not on the divine right of succession).


The Methodist Christians in England and America are divided into a number of distinct ecclesiastical organizations—the 'Wesleyans,' the 'Methodist Episcopal Church,' the 'Primitive Methodists,' the 'Primitive Wesleyans of Ireland,' the 'Bandroom Methodists,' the 'Methodist Protestant Church,' the 'Welsh Calvinistic Methodists,' the 'Free Methodist Church,' the 'African (Bethel and Zion) Methodist Episcopal Church,' etc. To the Methodist family belong also the 'Evangelical Association' (or 'Albright's Brethren,' so called from Jacob Albright, a Pennsylvania German, who founded this society in 1800), and the 'United Brethren in Christ' (founded by Philip William Otterbein, a German Reformed minister, d. in Baltimore, 1813).

The great parent body, however, are the Wesleyans in England 889and the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. They far outnumber all the other branches put together. The Methodist Episcopal Church was divided in 1844 on the question of slavery into 'the Methodist Episcopal Church' (North), and 'the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,' but measures have been inaugurated (1876) for reuniting them. Similar schisms for the same cause rent other Churches before the civil war, but have been healed or will be healed, since the war has removed the difficulty. The Roman Catholic, and next to it the Protestant Episcopal Church, owing to their conservatism, were least affected by the disturbing question of slavery, and remained intact.

The differences between the various branches of Methodism refer to the episcopate, the relative powers of the bishops and the general conference, lay representation, and other matters of government and discipline which do not come within the scope of this work. The doctrinal creed is the same in all, with the exception of the Whitefieldian Methodists, who are Calvinists, while all the rest are Arminians.

Note.—The Cyclopædia of M'Clintock and Strong, Vol. VI. p. 159, gives the following list of Methodist denominations, with the date of their organization and estimate of their ministers and church members in 1872:


Denominations Date of
Number of
Number of
Wesleyan Methodists
1739 3,157 557,995
Welsh Calvinistic Methodists
(1745) 207 58,577
New Connection Methodists
1797 260 35,706
Primitive Methodists
1810 943 161,229
Primitive (Ireland) Methodists
1816 85 14,247
Bible Christians
1815 254 26,241
United Methodist Free Churches
      1828–49 312 68,062
Wesleyan Reform Union
1849 20 9,393
  5,238 931,450


Denominations Date of
Number of
Number of
Methodist Episcopal Church (in 1872)
1784 10,742 1,458,441
Methodist Church (Non-Episcopal)
1866 624 75,000
United Brethern
1800 . . . . . . . .
Evangelical Association (Albrights)
1800 632 78,716
African Methodist Episcopal
1816 600 20,000
African Methodist Episcopal (Zion)
1819 694 164,000
Canada Wesleyans
1828 . . . . 69,597
Eastern British American Wesleyan Methodists
   1854 ? 147 16,118
Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada
1828 228 21,103
Methodist Protestants, South
1830 2,858 600,900
Free Methodists
1860 about 90 6,000
Primitive Methodists
  about 20 2,000
  17,308 2,591,875

* This does not include the colored membership now separately organized as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

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