To James Hervey London, March 20, 1739
Dear Sir: The best return I can make for the kind freedom you use is to use the same to you. O may the God whom we serve sanctify it to us both and teach us the whole truth as it is in Jesus!
You say you cannot reconcile some parts of my behaviour with the character I have long supported. No, nor ever will. Therefore I have disclaimed that character on every possible occasion. I told all in our ship, all at Savannah, all at Frederica, and that over and over in express terms: “I am not a Christian; I only follow after if haply I may attain it.” When they urged my works and self-denial, I answered short, “Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and my body to be burned, I am nothing: for I have not charity; I do not love God with all my heart.” If they added, “Nay, but you could not preach as you do, if you was not a Christian,” I again confronted them with St. Paul, “Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have no charity, I am nothing” [cf. I Cor. 13:1-3].
Most earnestly, therefore, both in public and private, did I inculcate this: “Be not ye shaken, however I may fall; for the foundation standeth sure” [cf. 2 Tim. 2:19].
If you ask on what principle, then, I acted, it was this: a desire to be a Christian; and a conviction that whatever I judge conducive thereto, that I am bound to do; wherever I judge I can best answer this end, thither it is my duty to go. On this principle, I set out for America; on this I visited the Moravian Church; and on the same am I ready now (God being my helper) to go to Abyssinia or China, or whithersoever it shall please God by this conviction to call me.
As to your advice that I should settle in [Lincoln] college, I have no business there, having now no office and no pupils. And whether the other branch of your proposal be expedient for me (viz. “to accept of a cure of souls”), it will be time enough to consider when one is offered to me.
But in the meantime you think I ought to “sit still” because otherwise I should invade another’s office if I interfered with other people’s business and intermeddled with souls that did not belong to me. You accordingly ask, “How is it that I assemble Christians who are none of my charge, tosing psalms and pray and hear the Scriptures expounded?” and think it hard to justify doing this in other men’s parishes upon “catholic principles.”
Permit me to speak plainly. If by “catholic principles” you mean any other than scriptural, they weigh nothing with me. I allow no other rule, whether of faith or practice, than the Holy Scriptures. But on scriptural principles I do not think it hard to justify what I do. God in Scripture commands me, according to my power, to instruct the ignorant, reform the wicked, confirm the virtuous. Man forbids me to do this in another’s parish; that is, in effect, [forbids me] to do it at all, seeing I have now no parish of my own, nor probably ever shall. Whom, then, shall I hear, God or man? “If it be just to obey man rather than God, judge you. A dispensation of the gospel is committed to me; and woe is me if I preach not the gospel” [cf. Acts 4:19; 1 Cor. 9:16-17]. But where shall I preach it, upon the principles you mention? Why, not in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America; not in any of the Christian parts, at least, of the habitable earth; for all of these are, after a sort, divided into parishes. If it be said, “Go back, then, to the heathens from whence you came,” nay, but neither could I now (on your principles) preach to them, for all the heathens in Georgia belong to the parish either of Savannah or Frederica.
Suffer me now to tell you my principles in this matter. I look upon all the world as my parish —thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear me the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to, and sure I am that his blessing attends it. Great encouragement have I, therefore, to be faithful in fulfilling the work he hath given me to do. His servant I am; and, as such, am employed (glory be to him) day and night in his service! I am employed according to the plain direction of his word —”as I have opportunity, doing good unto all men” [cf. Gal. 6:10]. And his providence clearly concurs with his word, which has disengaged me from all things else, that I might singly attend on this very thing “and go about doing good” [cf. Acts 10:38].
If you ask, “How can this be? How can one do good, of whom ‘men say all manner of evil'” [cf. Mt. 5:11]? I will put you in mind (though you once knew this —yea, and much established me in that great truth), the more evil men say of me for my Lord’s sake, the more good will he do by me. That it is “for his sake” I know, and he knoweth, and the event agreeth thereto; for he mightily confirms the words I speak, by the Holy Ghost given unto those that hear them. O my friend, my heart is moved toward you. I fear you have herein “made shipwreck of the faith” [cf. 1 Tim. 1:19]; I fear “Satan, transformed into an angel of light” [cf. 2 Cor. 11:14], hath assaulted you and prevailed also. I fear that [the] offspring of hell, worldly or mystic prudence, has drawn you away from the simplicity of the gospel. How else could you ever conceive that the being reviled and “hated of all men” [cf. Mt. 10:22] should make us less fit for our Master’s service? How else could you ever think of “saving yourself and them that hear you” [cf. 1 Tim. 4:16] without being “the filth and off scouring of the world” [cf. 1 Cor. 4:13]. To this hour is this Scripture true. And I therein rejoice —yea, and will rejoice. Blessed be God, I enjoy the reproach of Christ! O may you also be vile, exceeding vile, for his sake!- God forbid that you should ever be other than generally scandalous; I had almost said universally. If any man tell you there is a new way of following Christ, “he is a liar, and the truth is not in him” [1 Jn. 2:4]. I am, . . .