On March 15, 1784, John Wesley recorded the following thoughts in his journal:
Leaving Bristol after preaching at five, in the evening I preached at Stroud; where, to my surprise, I found the morning preaching was given up, as also in the neighbouring places. If this be the case while I am alive, what must it be when I am gone? Give up this, and Methodism too will degenerate into a mere sect, only distinguished by some opinions and modes of worship.
This comment is familiar to those who have read Wesley’s fears about Methodism becoming a dead sect without doctrine or discipline after his demise.
This particular journal extract brings two thoughts to my mind.
First, it reminds us of the incredible energy it took from a man such as Wesley or a Francis Asbury to knit together and hold together Methodism. He was constantly on the move, checking in on the local situation, even interviewing members of the societies, and always preaching. He was on the ground.
I don’t mean it as a fault, but how different Wesley’s practice was from our current day bishops and superintendents, who — I gather — are bogged down in work, much of it necessary I am sure, that makes it all but impossible for them to know what United Methodism looks like on the front lines.
Second, it forces me to pause and consider the dedication it took to be a Methodist in those days. The expectation was not only that you would find your way to church on Sunday, but that you would attend preaching at 5 a.m. in the morning each day and in the evening as well. I do not know how many adopted these practices. The amount of time Wesley spent exhorting people to take the practice back up again suggests it was a constant struggle and one that I imagine was lost once Wesley’s strong hand was stilled.
A few weeks after the entry above, Wesley wrote again about the slackening off of morning preaching. To him it was a sure sign that the people had lost their first love. On April 4, he wrote:
In the name of God, let us, if possible secure the present generation from drawing back to perdition! Let all the Preachers that are still alive to God join together as one man, fast and pray, lift up their voice as a trumpet, be instant in season, out of season, to convince them that they are fallen; and exhort them instantly to “repent and do the first works:” This in particular — rising in the morning, without which neither their souls nor bodies can long remain in health.