Our Rule is a composition of several Methodist General Rules, but mostly from the Methodist Episcopal Church’s (MEC) 1808 discipline, modestly taking the example of some later Protestant and Independent Methodists. Though amended from the original Rule, like the old-MEC version it departs in few details from Wesley’s 1739 original. Where there is a difference, we italicize. Notice the clause “especially that which is most generally practiced”, anticipating the Rule’s modification according to prevalent vice of the day. As with Coke and Asbury’s commentary on the 1792 Discipline, the Rule exposits the Moral Law, prudentially addressing modern-day concerns. The Albion Papers will eventually be a similar commentary for hard points (sometimes called ‘special advises’), examining Christian manners through an “anglo-methodist” lens.
SUCH a Society is no other than ‘a company of men having the form and seeking the power of Godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.’
There is one only condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies, a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins. But wherever this is really fixed in the soul, it will be shewn by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation:
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced; such as,
- The taking the name of God in vain;
- The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein, or by buying or selling.
- Drunkenness: or drinking spirituous liquors, unless in cases of necessity.
- Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing: using many words in buying or selling. The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty:
- The giving or taking things on usury; i.e,, unlawful interest:
- Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation: particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers:
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us: Doing what we know is not for the glory of God: As,
- The putting on of gold or costly apparel;
- The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus:
- The singing those songs, reading those books: games and worldly amusements that do not tend to knowledge or love of God:
- Softness and needless self-indulgence:
- Laying up treasure upon earth;
- Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods or loans without a probability of paying for them.
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
- To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
- To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of the devil, that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it”.
By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be;
- Employing them preferably to others, buying one of another, helping each other in business: and so much the more, because the world will love its own and them only.
- By all possible diligence and frugality, that the Gospel not be blamed;
- By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and off-scouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely for the Lord’s sake.
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God: such are
- The Public Worship of God: the ministry of the word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord;
- Family and private prayer; searching the scriptures, mediating therein; fasting or abstinence; honoring the dearly departed.
These are the general rules of our Society: all which we are taught of GOD to observe, even in his written word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among use who observes them not, who habitually breaks any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But it then he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.
Wesley’s General Rule had a direct relation to the discipline of other religious societies in and about London, particularly the group at Fetter-Lane founded by Br. James Hutton. Hutton’s Rule included a point about marriage, evidently guarding against ‘wanton covenants’, that we believe is important today. Seekers who desired to be admitted consequently were asked:
“What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open? Using no kind of Reserve, least of all in the case of Love or Courtship. Will you strive against Desire of Ruling, of being first in your company, of having your own way? Have you any objection to any of our orders?”
The orders were read to the hearer thusly, and, upon agreement, the right hand of fellowship extended.