Maxfield, Thomas

Maxfield, Thomas a noted early Methodist lay-preacher, flourished in the latter part of the 18th century. He was one of Wesley's converts at Bristol, and was appointed to pray and expound the Scriptures, but not to preach, at the Foundery, in London, during Mr. Wesley's absence. Maxfield, however, being a young man of "much fervency of spirit, and mighty in the Scriptures," greatly edified the people, who, assembling in vast crowds, and listening with earnest attention, insensibly led him to deviate from this restriction and begin to preach. Wesley was informed of this irregularity, and hastened to London in alarm to check him, his prejudices for "Church order" being still strong. The mother of Wesley counseled him to hear Maxfield preach before reproving him, adding, "But take care what you do respecting that young man; he is as surely called of God to preach as you are." Wesley heard him and, his prejudices yielding to the power of truth, he objected no longer. Thus Maxfield became the first of the innumerable itinerant lay-preachers, who have spread the Gospel throughout the world more successfully than any other class of the Christian community. Wesley promoted his welfare in every way, introduced him in London to a social position superior to his birth, by which he was enabled to make an advantageous marriage, and obtained ordination for him in Ireland from the bishop of Londonderry, who favored Wesley in that country. Maxfield was present at the first Methodist Conference, which was held at the Founders, London, June 25, 1774. Maxfield also attended the third Conference assembled at Bristol, May, 1746. He shared the persecution to which the followers of Wesley were subjected; was at one time seized and imprisoned for the king's service, thrown into a dungeon, and offered to the commander of a ship of war. In 1763, during a revival in London, great excitement was produced by an honest madman, Bell, formerly a life- guardsman, who had become a local preacher, and supposed that he had performed a miraculous cure. Possessing more enthusiasm than judgment, he became fanatical in public meetings, and greatly excited his hearers. He unfortunately obtained much influence over Maxfield — the latter was not naturally an enthusiast — and made him a companion in his fanaticism. Both the Wesleys conversed with Maxfield on the subject, telling him what they disliked in his conduct. In some matters he had been unjustly blamed, in others he promised to change; the evil, however, was not remedied, but seemed rather to increase. Then Mr. Wesley wrote a long letter to Maxfield, plainly telling him of the errors of his preaching and conduct, and of its tendency towards a separation from the Wesleyans. The doctrines advocated by Maxfield and Bell were erroneous, inasmuch as they taught that a person saved from sin need not examine himself, need not pray in private, need only believe; that believing makes man perfect, and that the pure in heart cannot fall from grace. They said no one thus saved could be taught by anyone who was not. They were thus led to consider themselves the only persons really capable of interpreting the Gospel and qualified to teach it, and soon regarded themselves as inspired, mistaking the workings of their own imaginations for the voice of the Spirit, and neglecting knowledge, reason, and wisdom generally. Maxfield finally decided to separate from Mr. Wesley, and accordingly gave up his work at the Foundery, and took with him one hundred and seventy persons who had embraced the Wesleyan cause. He now opened an independent chapel, and preached for twenty years. Towards the close of Maxfield's life, Wesley, in his travels through England, found him sinking under paralysis and the weight of years, prayed with him, invoking God's blessing on his last days, and subsequently preached in his chapel. See Stevens, Hist. of Methodism (Index in vol. 3); Smith, Hist. of Wesley and his Time; Tyerman, Life of Wesley (see Index in vol. 3).

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