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TO VINDICATE THE CHARACTER OF ITS AUTHORITIES; TO GUARD
TO BE PUBLISHED EVERY FORTNIGHT.
LIVERPOOL, SEPT. 23, 1835. Price 2d.
We belimtinue in the would, unitend Central, have been
: Our readers, and the Methodist public in general, will have been informed before this, that the wreck of the “Grand Central” agreed previously to leaving Sheffield that they would, unitedly and by the employment of hired agents, continue in their vocation of agitation for another twelve months. We believe that most of the rotten branches are already shaken from the Methodistic tree, and that they will find their occupation a thriftless one. But the want of success will deduct nothing from the malevolence of the design, and the anti-christian character of the intended crusade against the peace and prosperity of the Societies.
Allowance may be made for the follies and eccentricities of men in a state of excitement, but when they can unitedly sit down and measure the amount of mischief they propose to accomplish by the revolutions of time, and publish their purpose to carry fire-brands, arrows, and death, into every part of the Connexion to which they can gain access, for one year more, then the evil assumes another and a more serious shape. If their occupation be good and Christian, why limit it to one year only? If wicked and sinful, on what pretended right do they claim for themselves the privilege of omitting the peaceful and pious duties of the Christian life, and giving themselves to "work wickedness” for that length of time? Our notion of religion and duty is, that they are uniform in their own nature and obligations; and if it be Christian for these parties to take their present course for one year, it is equally so for them to do it as long as they live, and spend the short span of their precarious existence in the midst of strife, debate, agitation, and confusion. This limitation of their enterprise appears to be a recognition of the usual plea of transgressors—that when certain projects are accomplished, they will carry their crimes no further, but give themselves to the duty of repentance and piety. There must have been some misgivings, or we know not what right the incendiaries could have to say they would continue the blaze of strife for one year only. But these gentlemen appear to claim the privilege of being altogether the masters of their own If, on a serious examination of the question any of thein think it uñathenticated by any Divine appointment; that no blessing is upon it; that the truth of the gospel is not clearly, fully, and honestly preached; and that by remaining to give it their countenance they are supporting an anti-christian usurpation and endangering their piety ;-or, if they have altered their opinions, and consider another creed more faithful to the scriptural standard than that of Mr. Wesley; then, in any of these cases, it would be lawful to abandon the places of worship they have been accustomed to attend, and seek such preaching as they conscientiously believe to be pure and evangelical. But for large numbers of the Members of Society to allow theme selves to be seduced from a ministry which has been the means of their salvation, and led to the attainment of all the privileges of religion they ever enjoyed; which, up to the time of these disturbances, they not only did not suspect, but actually loved and esteemed ;-we say, after all this, to allow themselves to be allured astray, because some scurrilous agitator chooses to slander and abuse these men, is to manifest inconceivable weakness, and be convinced of evils against their own senses and experience. It is deeply humiliating to behold shoals of professed Christians, without thought, leave the deep waters in which they had enjoyed all the privileges and comforts of religion, driven on by some shark to be stranded and devoured in the shallows of strife and agitation. Let them silence the passions which slander has excited, and calmly ask themselves to what region they are allowing themselves to be led by the ringleaders of this revolt. They have a right to ask these men when they are plying their arts to excite their jealousies and mislead them, what it is they intend to give in exchange for their old temples and altars. Destruction appears at present to be their ultimate object. They are attempting to break down the barriers and raze the foundations of the Old Connexion ; to annihilate its discipline, and trample its order in the dust; to unsettle the Societies, and break up the communion; to traduce, vilify, cripple, and render the ministerial office à nuisance in the sight of the people ;—but they carefully guard against committing themselves to any system of their own. They are, to a certain extent, suceessfully leading the flock from those pastures in which they have been fed with “ knowledye and understanding,” but take care to hide from them the place to which they propose to conduct them. When they formed the nucleus of new Societies, built their “ Tabernacles," divided the Schools, and established independent services, they hypocritically told the people that all this was done to keep them united to the Body, and prevent a division. And now, for a year, the hollow pretence is reform; the agitation is employed to reform Methodism! We ask, in the name of our injured and deceived people, what it is that the Association intend to do with them? Do they purpose to conduct them to the, Kilhamite Connexion, or to the Primitive Methodists, or to the Protestant or Sigstonite party, or to the Brionites; or, do William Smith, Esq., of Reddish-house, and Wm. Wood, Esq.(!) of Newton-street, Manchester, and Richard Farrar, Esq. (!) of we do not know what house and street Liverpool, and the Rev. John Gordon (!) of the wine vaults and gin shop, Dudley, aided and abetted by the three Rev. Gospel ministers? N0;—the avowed, hired, agitators, intend to manufacture a'new system from the web of their own brain. We long to behold it, and our advice to our Societies is, that, at least, they pause and wait till it is presented to their inspection, before they quit the Connexion. We augur that as soon as the new constitution is put into a tangible shape and begins to work, these secessions from our Societies will cease; but as long as it is held back, and nothing but an ideal good-stretching like boundless space into regions beyond the sight and knowledge of the inhabitants of this little earththere is something vastly dazzling to poetic sensibility and heated enthusiaism. Into this incognita terra, the agitators are conducting the warm, sanguine, restless spirits of the Connexion, who live more on dreams and anticipations of some glory to come, than on the truth, grace, and provisions of the gospel as at present set before them ; but when they find it necessary to build a house for their own accommodation, in that land unknown, they may perhaps find that it is not more weather-tight, snug, and comfortable, than the old one they have left.
2.-Unscriptural conditions and rules of communion would be a sufficient cause of separation from the Wesleyan Connexion. If any of the Members of Society judge, on a careful examination of the case, that the terms of fellowship are such as cannot be supported by the authority of the word of God, then they are perfectly authorised in following their convictions, and seeking another. We greatly respect all such scruples; and as it argues an honest desire to be right, we should 'applaud such conduct. It is possible for numbers of persons to believe that an established church on the episcopal model is not only lawful, but, on the whole, more scriptural and edifying than our present order. Others may consider that Independency in some of its modifications is right, and they can be more at ease and more holy in connexion with it. If they so judge, it is quite consistent to unite themselves to the church they in their consciences believe to be the nearest to the scriptures-or rather, to admit them fully. But if, on the other hand, it is admitted that the Wesleyan economy is scriptural, then those who hold that opinion can have no just cause of separation. We have heard many of the persons now alienated from us, utter louder and more fervent praises of Methodism than we ever indulged in. Their writings, speeches, and professions, all attest their opinion that it is not only true and scriptural, but that it is, or was, so in the highest and most eminent degree. What was affirmed in the beginning of our disputes simply amounted to a charge that the preachers and the Conference had abused their power, and been guilty of some mal-administration. They had held a Special District Meeting at Leeds, and it was pleaded that Special District Meetings were illegal. A Theological Institution was established for the instruction of young preachers, and it was held that this was a breach of the rule which enacts that "no new law binding on the Societies at large” shall be made final till the September Quarterly Meetings had the opportunity, if they chose, of expressing an opinion on the subject. Dr. Warren was summoned before a District Committee of his brethren, and it was asserted that this was a breach of law-a tyrannical assumption of power on the part of that meeting. These were the original matters of dispute, and not the essential principles of the Connexion. The scriptural nature of the ministry, the rules of Society, the disciplinary code, the principles of communion, and the conditions on which membership is held, were not so much as mooted. And yet, on the ground of the first class of cases, many of the people left the Societies, leaving the subject of the second class unquestioned and untouched. Then, allowing this to be the caseviz. that Wesleyan Methodism is scriptural, in the judgment and opinion of the seceders—how can they justify themselves in their separation from that which they acknowledge to be true and divine ?
If the agitators, as they move from place to place for the purpose of decoying the people from the Society, would give themselves the task of proving that Wesleyan Methodism is anti-christian and unscriptural; and, on that ground, it became their duty to come out of this Babylon, lest they should share in her plagues, then there would be some show of sense and reason in their proceedings. But no.“ With great dexterity they keep aloof from this tangible point, in which case it would be possible to lay hold of and grapple with their arguments, and declaim on general topics of tyranny, abuse, and corruption, on the part of the preachers. We ourselves do not pretend to any great power in this way-in fact we never became amateurs in the school of factionbut, taking human nature as it is, with its vast susceptibility on these subjects, we should not despair of some degree of success. But can any thing be more base, than for professedly religious men to take advantage of this great infirmity of our nature, for the express purpose of its gratification, and of making it the means of their selfish, ambitious, and anarchical designs. Yes; the agitators have succeeded already; they will meet with additional success, no doubt; and, in their prosperous career, they have called up, in bosoms reposing peacefully under the influence of religious feelings, a fire which will never, no never, be quenched. The divisions of the Societies, simply considered as such, is of trifling consequence. But Christianity itself is scandalized; and vast numbers of the poor deluded people who have had their distrust excited and directed to their preachers, will transfer the feeling from them to the gospel itself. The change is very easy, and being led to look upon the teachers as deceivers, they will readily admit, in some new season of temptation, that the doctrine taught is a deception. It is well enough known that the generality of men do not examine religion on its own evidence, or abstract beauty and perfection ; but on that of the character of its professors, and especially of its ministers; and it is only necessary to fix a stigma upon them to make their cause detested and abhorred. The champions of confusion know this well, and apply themselves to their avocation with great adroitness and skill. They are too artful to confine their attempts to a discussion of the question, whether Methodism is scriptural or the contrary, and appeal to the judgment and principle of the people. In their work of revolution they have obviously received their lessons from the school of infidelity. The first infidels of this country made their assaults on religion by learned disquisitions on its evidences; but our modern sceptics · know human nature better than their predecessors they make their appeal in ribald and unmeasured blasphemy to the unbelief of the human heart. In like manner, our ecclesiastical reformers, instead of soberly and dispassionately debating the question in dispute, carry the war into the regions of sense, passion, and prejudice. Here they know they can reign lords paramount if they can only provide a repast sufficiently seasoned to the taste. With shuddering sensitiveness our people at first shrunk from the touch of the insidious poison, which, by a delicate and dexterous hand, was distilled for their use; but now they exist in numbers sufficient to find a market for a regular, periodical supply, the most gross and rancid which was ever prepared by the alambic of wholesale quakery, or could be gorged and digested by pious and spiritual men.
- We entreat the Members of our Societies to put the question at issue on its right footing for themselves, and guard against being led away by the arts and declamations of designing men. Is Methodism in its leading principles, its conditions of communion, and its ordinances and means of grace, scriptural and divine ? This is the question to be determined by every honest and faithful man. Away with the cant about the “ mint, and anise, and cummin," what can be said on the “ weightier matters of the baw!" Let every person who may be assailed by the roar of the thunder of agitation ask what Methodism has been to him ? Whether it has been the hateful system of oppression which it is represented to be. If so, let him repudiate it at once ;-if not, let him resist the temptation and manfully defend it. For ourselves, we have no hesitation in stating our conviction, that in its doctrinal system, its disciplinary code, its ministry of the word of life, its worship and ordinances, its communion of saints, its rules of society, and the spiritual ends it proposes, it embraces all the fundamental principles of a true church of Jesus Christ. If others judge the contrary, they are right in leaving it, supposing they have come to that conclusion by the means of study, prayer, and a humble subordination of their opinions to the word of God; but to quit a religious society which has been the means of their salvation, merely because there is some excitement, or because some disappointed demagogue chooses to employ his vituperative powers in defaming a cause which has refused to bow to his claims, is an act, not merely of thoughtless indiscretion, but of positive sin. We should like to ascertain how many, out of the thousands who have left our Connexion in the midst of this commotion, have done so by arriving at a conviction that the Society rested on an unscriptural basis, by the light of divine truth carefully sought in the closet, in answer to fervent and believing prayer. Had this been the course adopted no objection could be taken; but, instead of it, the settlement of the question has been sought in the midst of public clamour, riotous meetings, inflammatory harangues, and the storm and whirlwind of prejudice and passion. We ask the common sense of mankind whether these are the means to be employed to settle grave and difficult questions of church polity. These topics have occupied the attention and engaged the talents and learning of the wisest and most holy men on earth without uniformity of opinion, and yet, in our day, they are to be decided at a public meeting, amid the uproar, the vociferations, and shouts of a multitude, the vast majority of whom never read a line on the subject, beyond the sapient productions of the Watchman's Lantern. We do intreat the remaining Members of our Societies, for the sake of their own respectability as reasonable beings, to make out some case and show of reason for any movement they may resolve on towards the Association; and not like a flock of silly sheep, push their heads through the gap made in our inclosures, by the mischievous daring of those who went before. They ought to have some better cause for leaving their pastures, and wandering into the wilderness they know not -where-than the instinctive one, others went before them. And yet, if you inquire of those who have left the Society and gone to the Association, why they did so, nine out of ten will say at once, they went because their leader went. Not because they discovered that Methodism was unscriptural, had failed to administer spiritual comfort to them, or was, in any way, injurious or oppressive, but they were attached to their leader; he · went, and all they know about it is—they followed! Astonishment and shame fill our hearts. And is this the amount of intelligence and principle attained? We hope all who are capable of such folly are gone already, and that the remainder of the Members of Society are not simple machines, to be moved by the touch of any factious spirit, who may choose, at his will and pleasure, to lead them blind-fold to any thing · he pleases. St. Paul tells us "every one shall give account of himself to God;" but, in this instance, it should seem that the principle of substitution is adopted, and the leader is made the scape-goat; if not to bear the load of their sins, at least to take the burden of thought and judgment on himself. Our great desire is, that our present people will take the trouble of thinking for themselves, recollecting, that the Bible is the only standard of judgment and faith in religion; and as we believe, in our consciences, that Methodism rests on the truth of the word of God, so we equally believe
that it will flourish and spread when the present anti-christian attempts to overthrow it - are forgotten, unless remembered as the madness of a day.
3.-Tyrannical exactions and restraints contrary to Christian liberty would be a justifiable cause for abandoning the Societies. Our brethren are made to believe by the clamours of the demagogues, that this is really the case; that all Christian liberty is denied them, and that it is high time that the people, with a true British spirit, should claim their rights. The terms reform, rights, and liberties, are employed in this agitation, just in the sense that they are bandied about the country by political parti. zans, meaning-if they mean any thing more than a' talisman to make an impressionthat the people have been denied some Christian rights and privileges belonging to them. If this proposition could be established, they would be perfectly authorized in resisting the usurpation, and quitting the church in which it was claimed.
It is of consequence that this question be put on its true footing. We remind our readers that the disputes in our Connexion do not respect liberty, but power. They had no reference in their commencement to the just rights of the people, as Members of a Christian church, but to power; claimed on the part of some of its officers, and denied by others. It is true, the disaffected officers carried the dispute amongst the people, attempted to make them parties, and, by their numbers and influence, to coerce the opposite party into a surrender. But the true question in debate is this : shall the power of government remain as it is-a mixed and balanced government between the preachers, and the leaders, and other officers, or shall it become a despotism --that is, a government exercised by one class of officers only ? A democracy is as much a despotism as an absolute monarchy; because, it is power possessed by one class only. Power, to be safe, must be distributed ; and not simply amongst persons of one class, who, because of identity, may be supposed to entertain similar views, and act together; but amongst different orders of persons, that they may be a check and guard upon each other. This is the theory of the British Constitution, and it is both the theory and practice of the Wesleyan economy. Let the spirit and rules of the Connexion be carefully examined, and it will be found that the officers of the Body exist in classes possessed of separate claims, and yet mutually dependent on each other. Methodism, in its circuits, is, in point of fact, the system in practical operation. Here we find Travelling Preachers, with their prescribed functions; Local Preachers, with their rights distinctly acknowledged; Leaders, with their separate meet. ings and privileges; Trustees, with their powers legally secured. True liberty consists in each of these classes rightly possessing and using its powers, not independently of the others, but in harmony and union with them. If the preachers exercised their ministry and administered discipline on their own individual responsibility, then such a state of things would be pastoral despotism ; and if the leaders, or any other functionaries, possessed the power to act independently of the others, then, though the evil might have a more popular form, and assume the features of an oligarchy, yet still it would be a despotism.
Now, what is the question in dispute ? As far as it has taken a tangible shape, its most moderate form is that of rendering the leaders' meetings independent. The two primary and leading claims set up, are, that its own members shall not be expelled in any way, or by any means, except by the vote of their own majority; and, all their acts of discipline shall be final, except by an appeal to a quarterly meeting, which is very much like an appeal to themselves. Now, the theoretic fallacy of the first claim that of being subject to no control, being responsible to no power, and liable to no expulsion but by their own act-arises from confounding things which essentially differ. We believe these gentlemen have the notion of representation in their minds, and often call themselves the representatives of the people. They are no such thing, in the proper sense of the term, although one of the Association addresses had the hardihood to affirm, in its appeal to the Societies, that they were elected to their office by their suffrages. Election to Parliament by the votes of the people effectually prevents men perpetuating their own power. There are periodical seasons appointed by the British constitution for the re-election of members; when they are called upon to give an account of their stewardship, and the people have the opportunity of sending other persons, if they see good. What is there answering to this in the appointment of Methodist leaders ? The claim set up by these liberals is, in its spirit, as un-English and as much opposed to the true principle of liberty as it is possible to imagine. Let a leaders' meeting, as to its own integrity and right to retain its members, by its own majority, without any foreign interference whatever, be once conceded, and it becomes a perfectly irresponsible body. It is not responsible to the people, for it is not elected by them, and they can have no opportunity of either calling them to an account, or, in case of mal-practices, removing them from their office. On the principle claimed, every leaders' meeting would become like the Rump Parliament, who voted their own irresponsible perpetuity, excluded all external influence, and then