John Wesley’s Twelve Rules for Methodist Helpers

As we get ready to enter a new year and so begin to consider plans for the future and things that we might improve in our lives, I thought it would be good to review the rules that John Wesley imposed on the men that joined him in his Methodist enterprise.

These twelve rules are quoted by J C Ryle in the chapter on John Wesley in Ryle’s book on great church leaders of the 18th Century. These are “the twelve rules which he (Wesley) laid down for the guidance of his helpers in evangelistic work in the Methodist communion.” Consider the allegiance to Wesley, the discipline and the commitment involved in the workers who would accept these rules.

  1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed for a moment. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time. Neither spend any more time in any place than is strictly necessary.
  2. Be serious. Let your motto be, “Holiness to the Lord.” Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.
  3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly with young women in private.
  4. Take no step toward marriage without first acquainting me with your design.
  5. Believe evil of no one. Unless you see it done, take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on everything. You know that the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.
  6. Speak evil of no one, else your words especially would eat as doth a canker. Keep your thoughts within your own breast till you come to the person concerned.
  7. Tell everyone what you think wrong in him, and that plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.
  8. Do not affect the gentleman. You have no more to do with this character than with that of a dancing master. A preacher of the gospel is a servant to all.
  9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; not of fetching wood or of drawing water, not of cleaning your own shoes or your neighbor’s.
  10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time and, in general, do not mend our rules, but keep them. Do this not for wrath, but for conscience sake.
  11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work. Go always not to those who want (need) you, but to those who want (need) you most.
  12. Act in all things not according to your own will, but as a son of the gospel. As such, it is your part to employ your time in the manner which we direct, partly in preaching and visiting the flock from house to house, and partly in reading, meditation, and prayer. Above all, if you labor with us in the Lord’s vineyard, it is needful that you should do that part of the work which we advise, at those times and places which we judge most for His glory.

To put these rules into perspective, the men who signed up for this work did so voluntarily and considered it a privilege to labor for the gospel with Mr. Wesley. These rules reveal a military discipline wherein the work is advanced by rigorous labor that is directed by a trusted leader, to whom the workers willingly submit. These rules may have been a bit overbearing, even by the standards of that day, but their effect was such that the workers made an impact for Christ wherever they went. Those who labor in the gospel in this age would be well-served if they included these disciplines in their own labors.

One additional point has occurred to me. These rules are not for pastors. Note that these rules are for those “in the evangelistic work of the Methodist communion.” These workers “have nothing to do but to save souls (rule #11).” So, these were not pastors laboring to nurture the flock, but these were gospel soldiers engaged in “evangelistic work,” which is more narrowly defined as proclaiming the gospel to intentionally win sinners to Christ. The focus was on preaching Christ to lost sinners, and so involved a much narrower range of activities. This was a platoon of men targeting the conquest of a specific hill. This, to me, justifies the strict control that Wesley demanded from his helpers and explains their remarkable impact.    SDG        rmb          12/30/2019

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