John Wesley's pastoral care for pious
'lady of fortune'
By GABRIEL LIEW
March received more than 40 letters from John Wesley between
March 4, 1760 and Dec 10, 1777. She was well-educated, cultured
and a "lady of fortune and piety". She dressed plainly
and devoted her life and resources to doing good.
Wesley's letters to her in general showed a maturing of his theology
and philosophy of ministry. Although he was still insistent
on the primary faith issues and spiritual principles, he was
no longer uptight about the secondary issues. He was more open
to diversity. Surprisingly, he started off their 17 years of
correspondence with "freedom".
wrote: "Certainly, the more freedom you use, the more advantage
you will find ... It is a great thing to spend all our time to
the glory of God. But you need not be scrupulous as to the precise
time of reading and praying; I mean, as to dividing it between
one and the other. A few minutes one way or the other are of
no great importance."
a later letter to her, he wrote: "Undoubtedly, there are
various kinds and various degrees of communion with God. You
cannot confine to one only." Wesley recognised that God
was bigger than theology: "God is tied down to no rules;
He frequently works a great work in a little time." Thus,
Miss March was not to pigeon-hole God.
Wesley advocated that "the dealings of God with man are
infinitely varied, and cannot be confined to any general rule;
both in justification and sanctification. He often acts in a
manner we cannot account for." There was simply no set formula
to be legalistically applied. Wesley's principle can be summed
up as follows: In things essential, unity; in things non-essential,
diversity; in all things, charity.
exhorted her to consecrate her life to God: "to devote all
our thoughts and actions to God, this is our highest wisdom;
and so far as we inwardly or outwardly swerve from this, we walk
as fools, not as wise".
another letter, he wrote: "Entire resignation implies entire
love. Give Him your will, and you give Him your heart. Still
let your eye be single; aim at one point, retain and increase
your communion with God!" He also exhorted her as he exhorted
the other ladies to "speak for God without either fear or
in response to her question about perfection, wrote: "Thus
much is certain: they that love God with all their heart and
all men as themselves are scripturally perfect."
More than a year later, he wrote on June
24, 1764 that he considered her perfect and she need not raise
her standard unnecessarily. "You were in a measure a living
witness of the perfection I believe and preach ... to carry perfection
higher is to sap the foundation of it and to destroy it from
the face of the earth." Ten years later, Wesley's admonition
to her was still the same. He wrote on June 3, 1774: "You
are a living witness ... that setting perfection too high is
the ready way to drive it out of the world."
greatest emphasis, as shown in six of his letters to Miss March,
was his evangelical economics for the poor. Charity began with
oneself. Miss March was able to save on herself, and would have
more in order to share with the poor.
also insisted that the Methodists should present the donations
to the poor personally.
Wesley commissioned her to "go and see the poor and sick
in their own poor little hovels (small, squalid dwelling)".
He wanted her "to converse more ... with the poorest of
the people ... Creep in among these in spite of dirt and a hundred
disgusting circumstances ... Do not confine your conversation
to genteel (refined) and elegant people".
himself showed her the way by his example.
at the advanced age of 82 years old, he was seen begging for
model of caring for the poor provided the moral authority for
him to commission and encourage Miss March and the early Methodists
to go and do likewise.
The Rev Gabriel Liew is a Pastor at Toa Payoh Methodist Church.