Craig Adams posts frequent excerpts from the work of the great 19th century Methodist Daniel Steele. Today he posted an extended prescription from Steele for the revitalization of Methodism. Given our current obsessions with the same question, it is interesting reading.
Just for a taste, here is his discussion by way of critique of the contemporary altar call style of preaching conversion.
Genuine faith is possible only where sincere repentance exists. But real repentance is a cup so bitter that many partially awakened sinners are strongly inclined to find some substitute. Just at this critical point there is a danger which Wesley and the first generation of Methodist preachers avoided — the danger, in revivals of religion, of exalting unduly acts of the awakened which fall short of the scriptural conditions of salvation. They had no altar service, nor anxious seat, nor card-signing. It is customary now in many cases to place slight emphasis on repentance, and restitution where it is possible, and to urge to acts which may be easily done, without repenting of sins as dear as the right hand or the right eye. It is easier to go forward to an altar as a seeker than to cut off that right hand sin.
And here he is on church membership:
Vital to the future success of Methodism is the answer to the question: What shall be the qualification for membership in our Church? Will it be safe to receive those who have sustained a good moral character during the term of probation, but have no testimony to Christ’s saving power, and no evidence of a change of heart? Will it not crowd the Church with baptized lovers of worldly pleasure rather than lovers of God? Will not they be brought into an unfortunate relation to saving truth when they have Church membership as a shield against appeals to repent and be converted?
These are very serious questions. I would not make a cast-iron rule which would exclude all who cannot testify to the witness of the Spirit. But this should be the aim of the pastor, to bring all up to this point, a knowledge of sins forgiven by direct or inferential evidence. Let the instruction of probationers emphasize this doctrine of the direct and the indirect witness of the Spirit. In cases of doubt let the term of probation be extended till there is good evidence of the new birth.