The Nature, Design, and General Rules of the United Societies
in London, Bristol, Kingswood, and Newcastle upon Tyne
1. In the latter end of the year 1739 eight or ten persons came to me in London who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption. They desired (as did two or three more the next day) that I would spend some time with them in prayer, and advise them how to flee from the wrath to come, which they saw continually hanging over their heads. That we might have more time for this great work I appointed a day when they might all come together, which from thenceforward they did every week, namely, on Thursday, in the evening. To these, and as many more as desired to join them (for their numbers increased daily), I gave those advises from time to time which I judged most needful for them; and we always concluded our meeting with prayer suited to their several necessities.
2. This was the rise of the United Society, first at London, and then in other places. Such a Society is no other than ‘a company of men “having the form, and seeking the power of godliness”, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation’.
3. That is may the more easily be discerned whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each Society is divided into smaller companies, called Classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in every class, one of whom is styled the Leader. It is his business:
(1). To see each person in his class once a week at the least; in order
To receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the poor;
To inquire how their souls prosper;
To advise, reprove, comfort, or exhort, as occasion may require.
(2). To meet the Minister and the stewards of the Society once a week, in order:
To pay in to the stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week proceeding;
To show their account of what each person has contributed; and
To inform the Minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved.
4. There is one only condition previously required in those who desire admission into these societies, ‘a desire to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins’. But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First, By doing no harm, by avoiding all evil in every kind — especially that which is most generally practised. Such is:
The taking the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work thereon, or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness, buying or selling spirituous liquors; or drinking them (unless in cases of extreme necessity).
Fighting, quarrelling, brawling; brother ‘going to law’ with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the ‘using many words’ in buying or selling.
The buying or selling uncustomed goods.
The giving or taking things on usury.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation, especially speaking evil of ministers or those in authority.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as,
The ‘putting on of gold or costly apparel’, particularly the wearing of calashes, high-heads, or enormous bonnets;
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus,
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God;
Softness, and needless self-indulgence;
Laying up treasures upon earth;
Borrowing without a probability of paying: or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.
5. It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Secondly, by doing good, by being in every kind merciful after their power, as they have opportunity doing good of every possible sort and as far as is possible to all men:
To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick, or in prison.
To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all they have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of devils, that ‘we are not to do good unless our heart be free to do it.’
By doing good especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others, buying one of another, helping each other in business — and that so much the more because the world will love its own, and them only.
By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
By running with patience the race that is set before them; ‘denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily’; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should ‘say all manner of evil of them falsely, for their Lord’s sake’.
6. It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Thirdly, By attending upon all the ordinances of God. Such are:
The public worship of God;
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded;
The Supper of the Lord;
Family and private prayer;
Searching the Scriptures; and
Fasting, or abstinence.
7. These are the General Rules of our societies; all which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on every truly awakened heart. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any one of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that soul, as they that must give account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But if then he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.