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Stillness

In 1739-40 there were controversies in the Fetter Lane Society, London, over the issue of 'stillness'. The visiting Moravian P.H. Molther reacted against the extravagant behaviour and disorder he witnessed and encouraged the members to wait passively for the gift of faith and abstain from the means of grace until they had received it. Such views were deeply influenced by Lutheran fears of 'works righteousness' and 'Quietist' notions. John Wesley repudiated this teaching and separated from the Society over it. He believed that the Lord\'s Supper and other 'means' were 'converting ordinances', that there were degrees of faith and that experience showed the importance of using the means of grace at all stages of Christian growth. There was, nevertheless, a role for 'stillness' in waiting on God, as expressed in Charles Wesley's lines: 'For this, to Jesus I look up, / I calmly wait for this' and in his hymn 'Open, Lord, my inward ear' (HP 540).

Quotations

Charles Wesley's Journal:

April 3 1740: 'Poor perverted Mr. [John} Simpson … said some were prejudiced against the Moravian brethren, and particularly against [Philipp] Molther, but that he had received great benefit from them. I asked whether he was still in the means of grace, or out of them. "Means of grace!" he answered, "there are none. Neither is there any good to be got by those you call such, or any obligation upon us to use them. Sometimes I go to church and Sacrament for examples sake, but it is a thing of mere indifference. Most of us have cast them off. You must not speak a word in recommendation of them. That is setting people upon working."'

April 25: 'Had a conference with Molther and our still brethren, but could come to no agreement. They contended for the impossibility of doubting after justification, and an absolute liberty from the means of grace, as we falsely call them, when they are neither means nor commands. We could not consent to say nothing, and so parted…'

'Sent a friend at Bristol the following account: "My brother came most critically.The snare, we trust, will now be broken and many simple souls delivered. Many here insist that a part of their Christian calling is liberty from obeying, not liberty to obey. The unjustified, say they, are to be still; that is, not to search the Scriptures, not to pray, not to communicate [i.e. receive the sacrament], not to do good, not to endeavour, not to desire; for it is impossible to use means without trusting in them. Their practice is agreeable to their principles. Lazy and proud themselves, bitter and censorious towards others, they trample upon the ordinances, and despise the commands, of Christ. I see no middle point wherein we can meet."'

Sources

  • Henry Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (1989) pp.202-5
  • Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, 'Polemic against stillness in the Hymns on the Lord's Supper ', in Charles Wesley after 300 Years (Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 88:2 (2006) pp. 101-19

Entry written by: DJC
Category: Subject

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