Rules for Early Methodist Preachers

When I wrote The Historic Questions 2.0 last week, I noticed that one question referenced the “Rules of a Preacher” and specifically highlighted rule numbers 1, 10, and 12 (numbers 1 and 10 are included in the current list of questions).

For those who may be curious, here’s the list of rules for a preacher included in the 1784 edition of the Discipline (note that these rules, written in 18th century English, were written for men) …

  1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away Time; neither spend any more Time at 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.
  4. Take no Step towards Marriage without first consulting with your Brethren.
  5. Believe Evil of no one: Unless you see it done, take Heed how you credit it. Put the best Construction on Every Thing. You know the Judge is always supposed to be on the Prisoner’s Side.
  6. Speak Evil of no one: Else your Word especially would eat as doth a Canker. Keep your Thoughts within your own Breast, till you come to the Person concerned.
  7. Tell every one under your Care, what you think wrong in his Conduct and Tempers, and that plainly 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 effect the Gentleman. You have no more to do with this Character than with that of a Dancing-Master. A Preacher of the Gospel is the Servant of all.
  9. Be ashamed of nothing but Sin.
  10. Be punctual. Do every Thing exactly at the Time. And do not mend our Rules, but keep them; not for Wrath but Conscience sake.
  11. You have nothing to do but to save Souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this Work. And go always not only to those that want, but to those that want you most. Observe. It is not your Business to preach so many Times, and to take care of this or that Society. But to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many Sinners as you possibly can to Repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness, without which they cannot see the Lord. And remember! A Methodist Preacher is to mind every Point, great and small, in the Methodist Discipline! Therefore you will need to exercise all the Sense you have.
  12. Act in all Things, not according to your own Will, but as a Son in the Gospel. As such it is your Part to employ your Time in the Manner which we direct: Partly in preaching and visiting from House to House: Partly in reading, Meditation and Prayer. Above all, if you labor with us in our Lord’s Vineyard, it is needful you should do that Part of the Work which we advise, at those Times and Places which we judge most for His Glory.

To compare with later editions of the Discipline, I noticed that the list is mostly the same in 1928 (except for some wording updates). Apparently, however, preachers no longer needed to consult the “brethren” before getting married (rule number 4 was deleted by then).

It’s interesting that all three rules highlighted in the early historic questions, including the first rule, dealt with a preacher’s use of time. In fact, a separate section in early editions of the Discipline expands on the use of time (see Early Methodist View on Use of Time).

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