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may know whether
have a reasonable hope of salvation by Jesus Christ. If you have, the satisfaction of knowing it will abundantly reward your pains ; if you have not, you will find a more reasonable occasion for tears than can be met with in a tragedy."
In conformity to this advice he applied himself closely to theological studies : his devotional feelings thus fostered, soon acquired the predominance in a frame of mind like his, and he now became desirous of entering upon his ministerial career. The father understanding this, judged it advisable that he should be ordained in the ensuing summer; “ but, in the first place,” said he, “ if you love yourself or me, pray heartily.” Two books which he read in the course of this preparation laid strong hold upon
him. The first was the famous treatise De Imitatione Christi, commonly ascribed upon
insufficient and disputed evidence to Thomas à Kem. pis. The view which is taken in that work of human life and of Christian duties revolted him at first. Upon this, as upon all other subjects, he consulted his parents as his natural and best counsellors, and represented it with humility as a misfortune that he differed from the writer in some main points. “ I cannot think,” said he, “ that when God sent us into the world, he had irreversibly decreed that we should be perpetually miserable in it. If our taking up the Cross imply our bidding adieu to all joy and satisfaction, how is it reconcilable with what Solomon expressly affirms of religion, that her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace ?" Another of his tenets is, that mirth or pleasure is useless, if not sinful; and that nothing is an affliction to a good man,- that he ought to thank God even for sending him misery. This, in my opinion, say's Wesley, is contrary to God's design in afflicting us; for though he chasteneth those whom he loveth, yet it is in order to humble them. His mother agreed with him that the author of this treatise had more zeal than knowledge, and was one of those men who would unnecessarily strew the way of life with thorns. “ Would you judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure,” she said, “ take this rule:- whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things;
in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.” Well might Wesley consult upon such questions a mother who was capable of reasoning and writing thus. His father expressed a different opinion: “ All men,” he said, “ were apt to verge toward extremes, but mortification was still an indispensible Christian duty. If the young man will rejoice in his youth, let him take care that his joys be innocent; and in order to this, remember, that for all these things God will bring him into judgement.” The book had been his “ great and old companion,” and he thought that “ making some grains of allowance, it might be read to great adyantage, - nay, that it was almost impossible to
peruse it seriously without admiring, and in some measure imitating its heroic strains of humility, piety, and devotion." But he referred him to his mother, saying, that “ she had leisure to boult the matter to the bran.” This reference to the judgement of a woman upon such a subject will appear less extraordinary, if it be remembered that the practice of giving girls a learned education, which began in England with the Reformation, had not been laid aside in Mrs. Wesley's youth that she understood Greek and Latin, and that her early studies had been directed to theology. Her attainments, however, had not made her pedantic; neither had her talents, and the deference which was paid to them by her husband and her children, rendered her in any degree presumptuous. She speaks of herself in this correspondence as being infirm and slow of understanding; but expresses the delight which it gave her to correspond with her son upon such subjects.
The treatise De Imitatione appears to have of. fended Wesley's reason, as well as the instincts of hilarity and youth. But the impression which this writer (whoever he be) failed to make, was produced by the work of a far more powerful intel. lect, and an imagination infinitely more fervent Jeremy Taylor's Rules of Holy Living and Dying. He had been trained up in religious habits; and when his religious feelings were once called into action, they soon became pre-eminent above all others. That part in particular of this splendid work which relates to purity of intention, affected him exceedingly. “ Instantly,” he says, “ I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, -all my thoughts and words, and actions, being thoroughly convinced there was no medium; but that every part of my life (not some only) must either be a sacrifice to God, or myself, --that is in effect to the Devil.” The Imitation, which he had found repulsive at first, appeared so no longer now : Bishop Taylor had prepared the way for the ascetic author, and he began to find in the perusal sensible comfort, such as he was an utter stranger to before. His father, who had once thought him wanting in theopathy, and probably for that reason had advised him to delay his ordination, perceived the change with joy.
“ God fit you for your great work !" he said to him; “ Fast, watch and pray; believe, love, endure and be happy, towards which you shall never want the most ardent prayers of your affectionate father.” He removed some scruples which his son expressed concerning the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian creed, ---that creed of which Tillotson wished the church of England were < well rid." “ Their point,” he said, “ was levelled only against obstinate heretics; and a distinction was undoubtedly to be made between what is wilful and what is in some measure involuntary. God certainly will make a difference, and to him it must be left; our business is to keep to the rule' which he has given us. As to the main of the cause,” he continues, “ the best way to deal with our adversaries is to turn the war and their own vaunted arms against them. From balancing the schemes it will appear, that there are many irreconcileable absurdities and contradictions in theirs, but none such (though indeed some difficulties) in ours. They can never prove a contradiction in our Three and One, unless we affirm them to be so in the same respect, which every child knows we do not. But we can prove there is olie in a creature's being a creator, which they assert of our Lord.”
It is curious to observe the opinions of the young theologian at this time upon some of those topics, whereon he enlarged so copiously, and acted so decisively in after-life. Jeremy Taylor had remarked that we ought, “ in some sense or other, to think ourselves the worst in every company where we come.” The duty of absolute humility Wesley at once acknowledged; but he denied that this comparative humility, as he called it, was in our power ; it could not be reasonable, or sincere, and therefore it could not be a virtue. The bishop had affirmed, that we know not whether God has forgiven us. Wesley could not assent to this position. “ If,” said he, we dwell in Christ and Christ in us, which he will not do unless we are regenerate, certainly we must be sensible of it. If we can never have any certainty of our being in a state of salvation, good reason it is that every moment should be spent, not in joy, but in fear and trembling; and then undoubtedly in this life we are of all men most miserable. God deliver us from such a fearful expectation! Humility is undoubtedly necessary to salvation, and if all these things are essential to humility, who can be hunible ? who can be saved ? That we can never