CHAPTER XXXIII. Methodist Usages
I wish to say a few things in this chapter on the usages of the Methodist Episcopal Church. When I joined the Church, her ministers and members were a plain people; plain in dress and address. You could know a Methodist preacher by his plain dress as far as you could see him. The members were also plain, very plain in dress. They wore no jewelry, nor were they permitted to wear jewelry, or superfluous ornament, or extravagant dress of any kind, and this was the rule by which we walked, whether poor or rich, young or old; and although we knew then as well as we do now, that the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ did not consist in dress, or the cut of the garment, yet we then knew and know now that extravagant dress and superfluous ornaments engender pride, and lead to many hurtful lusts, directly at war with that humility and godly example that becomes our relation to Christ, that so preeminently becomes Christians. Moreover, when we look around us, and see the perishing millions of our fallen race dying in their sins for the want of a preached Gospel, and that this Gospel is not sent to them for want of means to support the missionary, may we not well question whether we are doing right in the sight of God in adorning our bodies with all this costly and extravagant dressing? Would it not be more godlike or Christianlike to give our money, laid out in these unnecessary ornaments, to send the Gospel to the poor, perishing millions that have souls to be saved or lost forever, and will not God hold us accountable for the use of those means and moneys that he has given us? and would not the simple fund that might be created by disposing of the ornaments of the members of the Methodist Church alone, send the Gospel to hundreds of thousands, who must perish in all probability for the want of this little Christian sacrifice by the professed lovers of Christ? The apostle James says, "Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Now apply this rule to your consciences, and I have no doubt your piety will decide in favor of the sacrifice you ought to make, and the good example you ought to set.
The duty of family prayer is a very important one to the Christian. God has given the head of the family a very important and responsible position. It is a question very fairly settled, that from the early ages of the Christian religion, family prayer was required and expected of all who professed godliness. If we are to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and if we and our household are professionally bound to serve the Lord, how can we be innocent before God and our families, and habitually neglect this duty? One of the great wants of the Church at this day is the want of more family religion; and has not God threatened to "pour out his wrath and fury upon the families that call not on his name?" How many happy thousands of children will bless God forever for family prayer, or, in other words, for praying parents, who, morning and evening, called their little ones around them, and bowed down before God, and prayed with and for them. O, parents, think of the happy results of the discharge of this duty! Many of your children will thank you in heaven forever, for praying for them in your families.
And yet I am sorry to hear that many of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church shamefully neglect this sacred duty of praying in their families. How shall we answer it to God? Is not this one among many other reasons, why so many of our members feel almost entirely unprepared to enter into the work of the Lord in times of revival, when God pours out his Spirit and convicts sinners among us? and perhaps if we prayed more at home, we would be better prepared to hear the Gospel of our salvation when we attend Church. Let no business, let no company that visits you, turn you away from or cause you to neglect this duty; have your family altar firmly fixed, and your sacrifice always on it, and then look up, and in the very act of asking, expect God to send down the holy fire and consume your sacrifice, be it great or small. I long to see the time come when God shall abundantly revive family religion in the Church; then and perhaps not till then, shall we see better and more glorious times of the work of God among us.
Prayer-meetings have accomplished great good, as practiced in the Methodist Episcopal Church; but are they not growing into disuse among us? Some of my earliest recollections are those Methodist prayer-meetings, where men and women, young and old, prayed in public. We know there have been fashionable objections to females praying in public, but I am sure I do not exaggerate when I say I have often seen our dull and stupid prayer-meetings suddenly change from a dead clog to a heavenly enjoyment, when a sister has been called on to pray, who has reverently bowed and taken up the cross, and utterance was given her that was heavenly, and she prayed with words that burned, and the baptismal fire rolled all around, while the house and all the praying company were baptized from heaven, many sinners, tall and stout-hearted sinners, have been brought to quake and tremble before God, and have cried for mercy, and while crying have found peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Many weeping mourners in those prayer-meetings have found the blessed pardon of all their sins; the members of the Church have also been greatly blessed and have gone on their way rejoicing in the Lord.
One of the best revivals I ever knew was commenced and carried on by a prayer-meeting among the members of the Church without any preaching at all. The society felt that they were on back ground, and they covenanted to meet every evening for a week, and have public prayer and pray for a revival. The first night God met them and blessed many of their souls; the second night the Lord very powerfully converted two souls; the meeting went on then for about twenty days and nights, and from one to twelve were converted at every coming together. The Saturday and Sunday on which their meeting closed, they sent for me to gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost. On Saturday I read our General Rules, and explained them, and showed the principles of the Methodist Episcopal Church. On Sunday I preached on baptism, and opened the doors, and received one hundred and nineteen into the Church, and baptized forty-seven adults and thirty children in the altar, and then marched off to the creek and immersed twenty-seven, making in all one hundred and nineteen accessions on trial, and one hundred and four baptized; this was the fruit of a prayer-meeting.
Class-meetings have been owned and blessed of God in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and from more than fifty years' experience, I doubt whether any one means of grace has proved as successful in building up the Methodist Church as this blessed privilege. For many years we kept them with closed doors, and suffered none to remain in class-meeting more than twice or thrice unless they signified a desire to join the Church. In these class-meetings the weak have been made strong; the bowed down have been raised up; the tempted have found delivering grace; the doubting mind has had all its doubts and fears removed, and the whole class have found that this was "none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven." Here the hard heart has been tendered, the cold heart warmed with holy fire; here the dark mind, beclouded with trial and temptation, has had every cloud rolled away, and the sun of righteousness has risen with resplendent glory, "with healing in his wings;" and in these class-meetings many seekers of religion have found them the spiritual birth-place of their souls into the heavenly family, and their dead souls made alive to God.
Every Christian that enjoys religion, and that desires to feel its mighty comforts, if he understands the nature of them really, loves them and wishes to attend them. But how sadly are these class-meetings neglected in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Are there not thousands of our members who habitually neglect to attend them, and is it any wonder that so many of our members grow cold and careless in religion, and finally backslide? Is it not for the want of enforcing our rules on class-meetings that their usefulness is destroyed? Are there not a great many worldly-minded, proud, fashionable members of our Church, who merely have the name of Methodist, that are constantly crying out and pleading that attendance on class-meetings should not be a test of membership in the Church? And now, before God, are not many of our preachers at fault in this matter? they neglect to meet the classes themselves, and they keep many class-leaders in office that will not attend to their duty; and is it not fearful to see our preachers so neglectful of their duty in dealing with the thousands of our delinquent members who stay away from class-meetings weeks, months, and for years? Just as sure as our preachers neglect their duty in enforcing the rules on class-meetings on our leaders and members, just so sure the power of religion will be lost in the Methodist Episcopal Church. O for faithful, holy preachers, and faithful, holy class-leaders! Then we shall have faithful, holy members. May the time never come when class-meetings shall be laid aside in the Methodist Episcopal Church, or when these class-meetings, or an attendance on them, shall cease to be a test of membership among us. I beg and beseech class-leaders to be punctual in attending their classes, and if any of their members stay away from any cause, hunt them up, find out the cause of their absence, pray with them and urge them to the all-important duty of regularly attending class-meeting. Much, very much, depends on faithful and religious class-leaders; and how will the unfaithful class-leader stand in the judgment of the great day, when by his neglect many of his members will have backslidden, and will be finally lost?