By Lisa Marie Rice
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The name referred to the regularized method of followers who, in the words of historian T. B. Shepherd, began “to cut themselves off from worldly pleasures, to eat little, to rise early, to fill every moment of the day with work or with ‘good works’ ” (15). The first known use of the term in English as a religious designation, however, predates Wesley by nearly a hundred years. As early as 1639 the term designated a vague religious identity (“plain, pack-staff methodists”) as well as followers of Daniel Williams who were called “new Methodists in the great point of justification” (qtd.
ABIngdon works 9: 127) By claiming inward knowledge of divine power, through faith, Methodists refused to agree that “what is known must be divided from the process by which it is known” and, in the process, pointed to the impossibility of such a complete 26 Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain separation. That impossibility lurks grammatically in McKeon’s text, which has to elide the self and disembody “knowledge” as an agent, itself disembedded from experience and with ambitions of its own.
Some belief, Historicizing Methodism 37 some act of faith is a part of any attempt at communication or interpretation, as is some doubt and anxiety about our own capacity for credulity. The performance of this moment as event, the act of faith, and the ways that it consequently reshapes the self are what the satires and other uncharitable representations of Methodists target. But the very critics who painted Methodists as failed moderns, people who substitute belief for knowledge, find themselves confronted with the act of faith implicit in all forms of communication.