Notes on ‘Method’

I have really enjoyed reading Iain H. Murray’s book, Wesley and Men Who Followed. There is much that could be said, but just a word on ‘methodism’. Today we associate the word with an ecclesiastical structure and tradition – certainly one that has drifted far from its evangelical roots. But in its original form, at its heart was a method for the Christian life, and for Christian ministers. Writing of Thomas Collins, Murray writes:

“Far from regulating his devotional life by impulse or mood, Collins was a typical Methodist in his determination to ‘live by method’ not he impulse of the moment.”

— (p.190)

It’s a word for today! So what was his ‘method’? Here is Thomas Collins’ pattern as a minister of the gospel while in Durham (my summary):

  • 5.45am Get up
  • to 6:30am Private devotions
  • to 8:00 Reading his chosen divines (Murray suggests John Owen and Thomas Goodwin we his current sources at the time)
  • to 9:00 Breakfast and family worship
  • To 10:00 Greek or Hebrew Study – alternate day by day
  • To 12:00 Sermon preparation and writing
  • To 1:00 Read scripture and pray
  • To 2:00 Lunch
  • Afternoon – visiting with the people in town or country

One cannot but be struck by the structure and how spiritual benefits accrue over time with such discipline. I am struck by the balance.

  • Time is given to personal devotions apart from study. There is a temptation I certainly feel to make my study and sermon prep devotional. Some people I know find that that works fine, but my own experience is that the devotional life can become somewhat mechanical.
  • Time is given to language study. I am impressed by this. I always struggle with the temptation to think it is not as important as other things. It often gets squeezed out.
  • A surprisingly short time is given to sermon writing. This amounts to 12 hours a week. I certainly spend much more than that. Sometimes I need 12 hours for one sermon! But perhaps the discipline in the other areas makes this task quicker.
  • Bible reading is separated from devotions and a significant chunk of time is given to it. I have always believed that our minds need to be shaped by the regular reading of scripture and that we need read great chunks to get the broad sweep of it, as well as devotionally meditate on smaller passages. But this is longer than I currently give to this task.
  • a large amount of time is spent visiting with people. It is not specified what kind of visiting this is, but I am increasingly of the opinion that these old saints saw all the homes in the neighbourhood as their responsibility and visited them, even though they may not have been members of their churches. It was undoubtedly evangelistic. I wonder if that is something we have lost in our day – a sense of call to the locality and the boldness that comes with knowing God has sent us.

Of course if anyone reading this has thoughts on ‘method’, let me know! I would be glad to learn more.

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Notes on ‘Method’