Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The founder of the Free Methodist Church reflected a perspective I can lean into

B. T. ROBERTS.  Benjamin Titus Roberts helped organize the Free Methodist Church as a fledgling denomination in 1860 after he and other Methodist ministers were put out of their mother church even as they tried to return it to the priorities, teachings and practices of John Wesley and original Methodism.

FREE AT LAST. Among the issues the Free Methodists contended for was a priority on proclaiming the doctrine of entire sanctification (freedom from sin), abolition of slavery and ordination of women (freedom of persons), abolishing church “pew rentals” that effectively shut the poor out of churches (free seats), a turn away from formalism (free worship), and simplicity in lifestyle (freedom from worldliness).

HOWARD A. SNYDER.  The following B.T. Roberts quotes come from an online paper by Howard A. Snyder (“’TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR’: MISSIONAL SELF-UNDERSTANDING IN EARLY FREE METHODISM, 1860-90”).  Snyder, who has already given us insightful books like The Radical Wesley, The Community of the King, Decoding the Church, and The Problem with Old Wineskins, authored an authoritative biography of B.T. Roberts titled Populist Saints.

THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.  “My special mission is to preach the gospel to the poor.  I believe that churches should be as free as the grace we preach.  The Lord allowed me to be thrust out as I was, because He saw that in this manner this work could be carried on to the best advantage.  The work is progress­ing and I expect to live to see FREE churches all over the land-especially in the cities where the poor are congregated.  This is a blessed work! (B. T. Roberts, The Earnest Christian, January 1865)”

THE ILLS OF LIFE.  “The wealth of the world is in the hands of a few.  In every country the poor abound....  Sin has diffused itself every where, often causing poverty and suffering.  God assured his ancient people, favored above all others with precautions against want, that ‘the poor shall never cease out of the land.’  These are the ones upon whom the ills of life fall with crushing weight.  Extortion wrings from them their scanty pittance.  The law may endeavor to protect them; but they are without the means to obtain redress at her courts.  If famine visits the land, she comes unbidden to their table, and remains their guest until they are consumed.”

PROVISION FOR ALL.  “The provisions of the gospel are for all.  The ‘glad tidings’ must be proclaimed to every individual of the human race.  God sends THE TRUE LIGHT to illuminate and melt every heart.  It visits the palace and the dungeon, saluting the king and the captive…To civilized and savage, bond and free, black and white, the ignorant and the learned, is freely offered the great salvation.”

IN SPECIAL MANNER FOR THE MOST DESTITUTE.  “In her regard for the poor, Christianity asserts her superiority to all systems of human origin.  Human pride regards most the mere accidents of humanity; but God passes by these, and looks at that which is alone essential and imperishable.  In his sight, position, power, and wealth, are the merest trifles.  They do not add to the value or dignity of the possessor.  God has magnified man by making him free and immortal.  Like a good father, he provides for all his family, but in a special manner for the largest number, and the most destitute.  He takes the most pains with those who by others are most neglected.”

LAYING UP TREASURES.  “Jesus forbids his disciples to amass wealth.  His language is plain.  It requires a great deal of ingenuity to pervert it…  Must we take our choice between laying up treasures on earth or treasures in heaven?  To do both is impossible.  Deliberately take your choice.  Not to choose is inevitably to drift into the current of worldliness.  To choose the world is to choose sorrow, and trouble, and eternal death.”

TO SAVE THE RICH, AS WELL AS THE POOR.  “If you resolve to lay up treasures in Heaven, begin at once.  Give yourself to God to do good to the utmost of your ability to your fellow-men.  Adopt the motto of Wesley, ‘Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can….’  Plain, free churches are everywhere needed, quite as much to save the rich as to reach the masses and carry the Gospel to the poor.”

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