Early Methodist View on Use of Time

Early Methodist editions of the Discipline included instructions on how preachers should use their time profitably. The 1784 Discipline offers the following instructions (written in question and answer format, common practice in early Methodism) in a section titled, “Of employing our Time profitably, when we are not travelling [sic], or not engaged in Public Exercises.” Here the questions and answers …

1. What general Method of employing our Time would you advise us to?

We advise you, 1. As often as possible to rise at four. 2. From four to five in the Morning, and from five to six in the Evening, to meditate, pray and read, partly the Scriptures with Mr. Wesley’s Notes, partly the closely practical Parts of what he has published. 3. From six in the morning till twelve (allowing an Hour for Breakfast) read in Order, with much Prayer, the Christian Library, and other pious Books.

2. Why is it that the People under our Care are not better?

Other Reasons may concur; but the chief is, because we are not more knowing and more holy.

3. But why are we not more knowing?

Because we are idle. We forget our first Rule “Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed; neither spend any more Time at any Place than is strictly necessary.” I fear there is altogether a Fault in this Matter, and that few of us are clear. Which of you spend as many Hours a Day in God’s Work, as you did formerly in Man’s Work? We talk, talk—or read History or what comes next to Hand. We must, absolutely must, cure this Evil, or betray the Cause of God. But how? 1. Read the most useful Books, and that regularly and constantly. Steadily spend all the Morning in this Employment, or at least five Hours in four and twenty. “But I have no Taste for reading.” Contract a Taste for it by Use, or return to your former Employment. “But I have no Books.” Be diligent to spread the Books, and you will have the use of them.

Notice the emphasis on growing in discipleship in the first question through a morning routine …
4:00 a.m. Meditate, pray and read. (repeat at 5:00 p.m.)
5:00 a.m. Breakfast
6:00 a.m. Read (till noon)

I believe there’s a connection between idleness and apathy. It’s as if early Methodist leaders wanted to ensure that preachers weren’t plateauing, but were constantly growing. They were part of a movement, after all, that believed in going on to perfection!

The emphasis on reading is expanded in the third question—spend all morning reading. This is so important, according to the Discipline, that if you have no taste for reading, you should “return to your former employment.” (Ouch.) This work requires growth (and therefore, reading).

The early Methodist emphasis on growth challenges me. I need to read more. Leaders are readers!

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