A still more important step in the same direction was taken in London, July 20,1740. This was nothing less than the formation of a society, under his exclusive direction, at his chapel in London, then recently acquired, and known as the Foundery [sic]. Six months before he had organized a "United Society" in connection with the Moravians at Fetter Lane. But owing to errors in theory and wrongs in practice which had appeared among its members, Wesley thought proper to invite all who adhered to him to separate from the Moravians. Some eighteen or nineteen accepted his invitation. These persons he organized into a society, as stated above, which, though not intended to be a separation, either on his part or theirs, from the Church of England, must be regarded historically as a germ of the Wesleyan Church. It was the nucleus around which the societies that recognised Mr. Wesley as their ecclesiastical head subsequently clustered.
The rapid increase of his United Societies, and his enforced absences from them while on his evangelical tours, soon made it apparent that some means of watching over their spiritual growth was needed. No plan presented itself to his mind until, in February, 1742, while his followers in Bristol were discussing ways and means of paving their chapel debt, one of them proposed that, the society should be divided into bodies of twelve. one of whom should be a sort, of leader to collect from each a penny per week. Wesloy approved. The plan worked well. In reporting their receipts some of these leaders spoke of having disorderly members on their list. "It struck me immediately," wrote Wesley. ' this is the thing, the very thing, we have wanted so long." Acting promptly and with characteristic energy on this suggestion, he requested all the collectors to make particular inquiry into the lives of the members on their respective lists. Six weeks later he divided his London society into similar classes, under the leadership of "earnest and sensible men," who were instructed to gain "a sure, thorough knowledge of each member on his list." At first they did this duty by personal visitations; but this method being found inconvenient, the members were required to meet their leaders once a week for prayer and religious conversation. Thus the class-meeting originated. It immediately became a means of "unspeakable usefulness;" indispensable, indeed, to spiritual instruction and discipline in a system of itineracy which made it impossible for its ministers to perform thorough pastoral work. Wesley illustrated his sagacity, if not his genius, in incorporating it into his scheme of Christian work. It is, perhaps, theoretically open to objections, which some think to be not entirely groundless; yet it is historically certain that it contributed greatly to the purity and spread of Methodism; and it is assuredly susceptible of such improvements, both on its intellectual and spiritual sides, as to justify its retention in the churches which have grown out of Wesley's United Society.
Last modified 30 April 2010