Will you visit house to house?

It may have been a straw man, but in his “A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” John Wesley set his aim on pastors who claim that their calling is nothing more than the preaching of a sermon once or twice a week.

What gross ignorance is this! What a total mistake of the truth! What a miserable blunder touching the whole nature of his office! It is, indeed, a very great thing to speak in the name of God; it might make him that is the stoutest of heart tremble, if he considered that every time he speaks to others, his own soul is at stake. But great, inexpressibly great, as this is, it is perhaps the least part of our work. To”seek and save that which lost;” to bring souls from Satan to God; to instruct the ignorant; to reclaim the wicked; to convince the gainsayer; to direct their feet in the way of peace, and then keep them therein; to follow them step by step, lest they turn out of the way, and advise them in their doubts and temptations; to lift up them that fall; to refresh them that are faint; and to comfort the weak-hearted; to administer various helps, as the variety of occasions require, according to their several necessities: These are part of our office; all this we have undertaken at the peril of our own soul.

Wesley goes on to charge what he calls shepherds to be mindful of their own soul. The pastor who fails to care for the souls in his or her charge is at risk of judgment. He challenges them to preach and teach and counsel the truth, even if it causes conflict. Better conflict now than to let people die. For failing to do this, Wesley turns his aim to pastors.

O, what an account have you to make, if there be a God that judgeth the earth? Will he not require at your hands the blood of all these souls, of who “ye are the betrayers and murders?” … How great will your damnation be, who destroy souls, instead of saving them.

I hear two things here. First, none of what Wesley calls for if without a lively sense of God’s judgment. If it all about giving a little comfort and easing a few burdens in this life, it makes little sense to heed anything Wesley writes about the pastoral craft.

The second thing I hear is a call to visitation and the more intimate arts of the pastor. Such work is time consuming. It is often difficult. It is frequently resisted. But in these passages at least, it is described as essential to the kingdom.

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2 thoughts on “Will you visit house to house?

  1. Yes, John.

    If you look at Wesley Works, Emory’s Edition, Volume 5 starting with page 216, you’ll see a complete description of what Mr Wesley intended “visiting from house to house” to look like, based on his own practice. He commended this highly, required it of helpers (and we adapted that requirement to ordinands), and… like many other things, what Mr Wesley wanted Mr Wesley did not get.

    Here is that list:
    “Perhaps in doing this it may be well, (1.) After a few loving words spoken to all in the house, to take each person singly into another room, where you may deal closely with him, about his sin, and misery, and duty. Set these home, or you lose all your labour. (At least, let none be present but those who are familiar with each other.) (2.) Hear what the children have learned by heart. (3.) Choose some of the weightiest points, and try if they understand them. As, ” Do you believe you have sin in you ? What does sin de serve ? What remedy has God provided for guilty, helpless sinners ?” (4.) Often with the question suggest the answer. As, “What is re pentance ? Sorrow for sin, or a conviction that we are guilty, helpless sinners.” “What is faith? A divine conviction of things not seen.” (5.) Where you perceive they do not understand the stress of your question, lead them into it by other questions. For instance, you ask, “How do you think your sins will be pardoned?” They answer, “By repenting and amending my life.” You ask farther, ” But will your amendment make satisfaction for your past sins ?” They will answer, ” I hope so, or I know not what will.” One would think, these had no knowledge of Christ at all. And some have not. But others have ; and give such answers, only because they do not understand the scope of the question. Ask them farther, “Can you be saved without the death of Christ ?” They immediately say, ” No.” And if you ask, ” What has he suffered for you ?” they will say, ” He shed his blood for us.” But many cannot express even what they have some conception of; no, not even when expressions are put into their mouths. With these you are to deal exceeding tenderly, lest they be discouraged. (6.) If you perceive them troubled, that they cannot answer, step in yourself, and take the burden off them ; answering the question yourself. A nd do it thoroughly and plainly, making a full explication of the whole business to them. (7.) When you have tried their knowledge, proceed to instruct them, according to their several capacities. If a man understand the funda mentals, speak what you perceive he most needs, either explaining farther some doctrines, or some duty, or showing him the necessity of something which he neglects. If he still understands not, go oyer it again till he does. . .^uc-fc-<r) (8.) Next inquire into his state, whether convinced or unconvinced, converted or unconverted. Tell him, if need be, what conversion is ; and then renew and enforce the inquiry. . ^i j&hfat (9.) If unconverted, labour with all your power to bring his heart to a sense of his condition. Set this home with a more earnest voice than you spoke before. Get to the heart, or you do nothing. (10.) Conclude all with a strong exhortation, which should enforce, (1.) The duty of the heart, in order to receive Christ. (2.) The avoid ing former sins, and constantly using the outward means. And be sure, if you can, to get their promise, to forsake sin, change their company,
    and use the means. And do this solemnly, reminding them of the pre sence of God, who hears their promises, and expects the performance. (1 1.) Before you leave them, engage the head of each family to call all his family together every Sunday before they go to bed, and hear what they can repeat, and so continue, till they have learned the "In structions" perfectly ; and afterward let him take care that they do not forget what they have learned. Do this in earnest, and you will soon find what a work you take in hand, in undertaking to be a travelling preacher !"

    The volume may be downloaded for free, here: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=kHo9AAAAYAAJ&rdid=book-kHo9AAAAYAAJ&rdot=1

    • I have read this in the Thomas Jackson editions. Thanks for the link to the online version. Here is an interesting class to offer at Course of Study and seminary. How to visit house-to-house.

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