Page images
PDF
EPUB

exercised a tyranny over the nation, never exceeded, and rarely equalled, by the most despotic of the English monarchs. 1The second claim is equally unconstitutional. If a leaders' meeting, or a separate circuit, in our present connexional state, could establish the right of exercising an independent jurisdiction in matters of discipline, there must be an end of our federal union. Each Society, or, at least, each circuit, would exist as an independent religious republic, and of course, might, in that state, act as it pleased, even to the annihilation of our doctrinal standard, and the introduction of principles and practices plainly alien from Wesleyan Methodism. Many other matters are made subjects of dispute ; but we have selected these as the most moderate, but not the least mischievous. The clamour respecting these points is considered a struggle for liberty. Who does not see that it is altogether a contention, not for an enlarged freedom for the people, but a monopoly of power on the part of the officers. We know Methodist preachers who would infinitely prefer the pure and proper independency of churches, to the absolute, irresponsible independence of local meetings and circuits. In the one case, we see the pastor standing before the whole body of his people, enjoying a frank, bland, and unrestrained intercourse with them all. They are the judges of his ministry, spirit, and habits, directly, without the control and intermeddling of some body of jealous officers, who, for the sake of exalting themselves, have an interest in degrading him; and we find that on this principle some of the finest specimens of pastoral fidelity, on the one hand, and of pure, confiding Christian attachment and respect, on the other, have grown up, to the great comfort and happiness of both parties. But, instead of this fine and unembarrassed communion betwixt the pastor and his flock, it is now proposed so to officer the Methodist minister as to make him march right and left, turn out his toes, and hold up his chin, exactly like a poor soldier under the orders of his colonel. No men on earth have less official freedom. even now, than the Wesleyan preachers. We are perfectly willing to see them placed in circumstances in which they cannot do wrong, but we would not have them so circumstanced as to prevent their doing right. Let securities against all kinds of mal-practices be even increased and multiplied, but as every man is responsible, in his calling, let him have the freedom to keep a good conscience, and fully to discharge his duties. The various officers of the Connexion have all the liberty which the reciprocal rights belonging to other parties can admit; for it must be recollected, that in living in a religious community, as well as enjoying the benefits of civil institutions, we always sacrifice a part of our natural freedom. We forego the one for the sake of the other.

We now turn to the case of the private Members of the Society, and ask if they enjoy a state of perfect Christian liberty ? Christian liberty, as distinguished from official power, is, the enjoyment of all the privileges of Christianity in themselves, and as administered amongst the people to whom we belong. Deprivation in this respect is tyranny. For instance, when the church of Rome withheld from the laity the cup in the Sacrament, they were illegally and tyrannically deprived of a Christian right. So the exaction of any unauthorised ceremony, or the laying of any unscriptural restraint on the people, is an infringement of their liberty. When the Judaizing teachers went amongst the Gentile converts to subject them to the Mosaic law, they attempted to place a yoke upon them“ which neither they nor their fathers could bear,” and which was itself unauthorised and tyrannic. We ask, have the members of the Wesleyan Societies either been deprived of any religious right, or has any new exaction been laid upon them? They know that neither of these forms of oppression has taken place, and they remain in possession of all the privileges of religion. . A poor person in this town being lately appealed to on the subject of her freedom, and told very gravely that tyranny and oppression reigned, and that the rights and privileges of the people were gone" Why, that is very odd," replied the poor woman," I never perceived it; I have been a member of Society inany years, and I find things just the same as at the beginning: I have a good seat provided for me in the house of God, and hear the gospel free of expense-I go to the Sacrament and to my class unmolested, and when I have a penny to give, I give it; and when I do not, nothing is said to me.” This is the fact; and the poor woman in question only gave utterance to a great truth in homely terms. None of our people have been debarred of any right.All religious privileges are included in the liberty to enjoy the provisions of the gospel, and to employ all the gifts and talents conferred by the Head of the church. The ordinances of religion do not confer experience, but are divinely appointed means, and these means are open to all our people. But in addition to this, no system on earth affords such numerous facilities for the occupation of any talent or gift of usefulness as the Wesleyan Connexion. Notwithstanding this, many of the private Members of the Society have been prevailed upon to believe that they were in a state of bondage ; and similar attempts, it seems, are to be made on those who re. main. Whether they also will be brought to the persuasion, that the yoke of Methodism is too galling for their shoulders, remains to be proved. In the mean time, we, in all possible affection, entreat them to be careful not to allow themselves to throw off the yoke of Christ, in discarding the restraints of Methodism. There is some reason to apprehend that the present clamour respecting liberty arises out of licentiousness of principle. We are all bound to obey the word of God; and before any more of our people unite with the agitation, we would ask them, if, in their sober judgment, and in the prospect of eternity, they consider themselves at liberty to leave the PREACHERS who have ministered to them the word of life, and by whose instrumentality they have been saved; and then to unite in blackening, aspersing, defaming, and slandering their characters, either by epithets of their own, or joining an Association, who have made it their very occupation and trade to do so? We also beg to ask, if they feel at liberty to leave the WESLEYAN SOCIETIES, which have nourished and guarded their piety and ministered freely to them its best blessings, and join in a grand confederacy to do all in their power to upset and destroy them ? Permit us also to ask, if they feel at liberty to forsake their old associates and companions in the faith and patience of Jesus Christ, and then, when they have left them in a state of peace, love, purity, and pious happiness, they feel it right to unsettle their minds, disturb their tranquillity, and allure them, they know not whither? One other question : do they feel at liberty to use all their influence to “stop the supplies" from those institutions which propose to send the gospel to a perishing world, and administer relief to poor and afflicted persons ? We ask these questions because this is the liberty claimed and exercised by the party who are to be their companions. They call the indulgence of the basest and meanest passions of human nature, in its lowest state of profligate pollution-Christian liberty !! The claim set up to do mischief, rend the church, damage its interests, make it a scorn and a reproach to the world, scatter "the flock for whom Christ died," and obstruct the current of Christian charity and purity, instead of being liberty, is the subserviency of their minds to the interests and machinations of him who “goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” If our brethren wish to enjoy the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free,” we implore and conjure them to flee from this region of “strife and every evil work.”

4.--The demand of sinful compliances, or the absence of suitable helps to the attainment of holiness, would form substantial causes for quitting a religious society. The plea of the martyrs who left the Church of Rome, and the noble host of nonconformists who, refusing to comply with the act of uniformity, were expelled the Church of England, pleaded their conscience, and asserted that they were obliged to separate to avoid sin. When the scriptures were placed in the hands of the papists, those who embraced the truth, instantly felt that they could not hold the genuine doctrines of Christianity and conform to the superstitious practices of the Romish church. At the hazard of their lives, they left it, and great pumbers sealed the sincerity of their protest by the glories of the martyr's crown. In like manner, when the act of uniformity was passed, near two thousands of the most zealous and holy ministers of that day felt that it would be sinful to comply, and they met the storm in a spirit of gentle, but decided piety. We can conceive it possible for persons to take exceptions to our doctrines, or discipline, and feel it imperative upon them to quit the Connexion ; but we have never heard of this being the case with any of the dissentients. They do not complain of our doctrinal standard. Their consciences are not injured by a compliance. Indeed, as terms of Membership, the Connexion insists on no test; consequently, no one's mind can be hurt on that score. They have not, as far as we know, ever found fault with our manner of worship; or that kneeling at the Lord's table, or meeting in class, are sinful. Their consciences are not lacerated and wounded by any thing which they consider wicked impositions. Yet these being the constant and every day ordinances of the church, are the very things which must either sooth and edify, or distress and pain, because of their constant recurrence. Indeed, amongst all the slanders thrown on our bleeding Connexion, it has never been yet asserted, that she demands any sinful compliances, or that the structure of her economy and the administration of her ordinances were such as upright and holy Christians could not attend. It has been said that “no honest mancould remain with the wicked Conference; but this was spoken of the men, and not of the order of the church. We, therefore, take it for granted that no such feeling exists.

But we are aware that the constitution of a church should not merely be free from the taint of evil; but also be calculated to assist and aid the pious inquirer after truth and holiness. Iú this, again, no objection is raised. On the contrary, all those who have left us, as well as those who remain,"must be ready to allow, that, in the writings of our founder and others; in the testimony and experience of our departed forefathers ; in the experimental ministry they hear; in the meetings for prayer they may constantly attend ; in the fellowship of saints they enjoy in their classes and bands; as well as the more extraordinary agencies and means employed for their edification, the helps to holiness in this Connexion exceed those to be found in any other quarter. The great end proposed by Mr. Wesley in all his arrangements—and they remain unaltered to this day was to cherish and promote the spirit of experimental piety. Taking the scriptures as his guide, and well understanding the workings of the human heart_its exposure to care, sorrow, and temptation-he was manifestly anxious to provide such means as should tend to keep alive the spirit of devotion and love. It is consolatory to reflect, in the midst of the reproach and desertion to which Methodism is now exposed from her faithless children, that it has, by the blessing of God, trained up tens of thousands for heaven, many of whom were the parents and relatives of those who are now attempting its injury and ruin. If a single Associationist chance to cast his eye over this page, we would affectionately ask him, whether he finds the same food for his hungry soul in an agitation meeting, as, when after the toils of the day, he retired to his class, his band, his prayer meeting, or the more public means; not in the midst of tumult and strife--but of peace, prayer, and mutual expressions of kindness and Christian love. O! how different is the stormy region of agitation to the peaceful, tranquil, and often joyous place, where the “bishop and shepherd of souls meets with his flock”-to “ lead them in green pastures and by the side of still waters!” As our remaining members value their own peace of mind, progress in the divine Life, enjoyment of the fruits of holiness, and the rest and quiet of a “good conscience," we implore them to avoid those eyils. The wise and saintly Fletcher entered the arena of controversy, though on points of doctrine, and with a distant adversary, with fear and trembling, lest he should be betrayed into an improper spirit; and if this was the case with a man so holy, with what extreme caution should persons of common attainments in knowledge and grace, enter into dispute with their brethren. We fearindeed it is a matter too notorious to be doubted that this unhallowed contest has already engendered feelings not likely to be allayed for a great length of time, if ever; and it must be the wisdom of those who possess a safe anchorage and quiet mooring, to keep their station till the “ storm be overpast.

. 5.-The absence of God, and the consequent barrenness of the ordinances, may, under some circumstances, be a valid reason for quitting our connexion with a religious society. But in this case, it is of importance for us to know that the fault is not our own. The blessing of God is never withheld from the real gospel, when preached in its own spirit. Up to the time of our dissensions, God was amongst us; if the conversion of sinners, the joys of salvation, and the attainment of the grace and exhibition of the beauties of Christian holiness, may be considered as evidence. Our humble hope is, that this is still the case. Of one thing we are deeply convinced, it is that our stability and prosperity as a Body must depend on his presence and blessing; and, if these are vouchsafed, although, for our unfaithfulness, He may permit these “ accusers of the brethren" to go certain lengths for the purpose of trying, humbling, and drawing them out in fervent prayer, yet, when their work is done, He will lay a restraint on their power to do mischief, and raise his cause to a state of greater prosperity than ever. The true friends of the Connexion can have no ground to fear. The indications of the divine favour and presence, in the course of the past year, have been striking; and, as in former seasons of trial, His providence has often interposed; and, like the wheel in the vision of Ezekiel, the Connexion turning round in the storm and moving on at the same time. The opposition and difficulties of this period have already called forth energies which lay dormant; united the preachers in a manner neyer witnessed before; inspired new zeal; kindled love towards our bleeding Zion, which has risen to a much higher intensity than it would have done, if not fanned by the winds of adversity; led to an exa. mination of principles, and the exercise of a much more comprehensive and wellgrounded trust, and called forth fervent prayer from our beloved friends in every place. With these signs of the continued presence and blessing of God, we cannot despair for Methodism. We only tremble for those of our brethren, who have thoughtlessly left it, without asking the question before hand, whether GOD HAD LEFT IT, and whether it would be impossible for them to find Him in the places were they had been accustomed to enjoy his communion and taste his love. Most affectionately would we intreat all our Societies to hesitate before they quit their present fold, lest they should abandon the path trodden by the footsteps of the Saviour, for a dreary waste where his voice is not heard. In times of great excitement, sobriety of thought is of difficult attainment, and when men are once in motion under its stimulus, it is most difficult to stop ; yet, we

do hope, that one reflection will have the effect of suggesting this inquiry :-in leaving the Society where I first found my Saviour and obtained his grace-AM I DOING THE WILL OF GOD ?

THE NEW CONNEXION AND ITS PROSELYTISM.

Since we wrote our last article on the polity of the New Connexion, we have received a copy of the public minutes of Conference for 1835. On looking over the first page, which contains the names of the persons who composed the Conference, we perceive that no supernumerary, except Mr. Allin, was allowed to be present! Though two supernumeraries reside in the town where the preachers and delegates assembled, yet they were both excluded from taking any part in their deliberations ! Mr. Allin's admission to Conference seems to us to be based on no principle ; for why should he have a seat, year after year, in this åssembly, when the rest of the superannuated preachers, some of whom are his seniors, have been in the ministry many more years than himself, are rejected ? So much for the justice of lay delegation!

While we have perused the minutes, the principal thing which has impressed us, is the proselyting character of the New Connexion. As the body originated in dissensions and divisions, so it seeks, by discord and secessions, to enlarge its borders. A few oligarchists have, during the past year, been compassing sea and land to make proselytes; a fact which the heavy charges they have made on the yearly collecfion abundantly confirms. They have expended in postages £15; in travelling £38 13s 10d ; and in printing, £4 4s 60! Nor are these particulars of expenditure the whole amount to be found on the minutes. Mr. Allin, who has written letters to Mr. M'Lean, has received for his proselyting services the recompense of £30! So the annual committee has cost the connexion the handsome sum of £88 16s 6d; which is about one-sixth of the yearly collection as returned by the various circuits! The expense of a similar committee in 1832 was only £1 12s !

We believe it is a grievance to the body that part of the £88 has been laid out in vain. No sooner was the decision of the Wesleyan Conference, on the case of Mr. Stephens known, than the pensioned Generalissimo of the New Connexion proselyting corps, and two other zealots visited Ashton-under-line. Their object, of course, was to persuade Mr. Stephens and his partizans to swell the ranks of their community. The parties met together, and the excellencies of the New connexion would, doubtless. be exhibited; particularly as affording liberty to hate the Church of England, to expose her abuses, to slander her priesthood, and to overthrow her foundations ; but Mr. Stephens and his friends, owing to some cause or other, disappointed expectation ; for they declined accepting the offers which were made them, and chose become Independents !

We must admit that similar expeditions have, in other quarters, been more suc. cessful. The Connexion is told in the address of Conference, “that new fields of la. bour have been entered upon in Cornwall, Gateshead, Norwich, Yarmouth. &c., all of which promise an abundant harvest.” If any of our readers ask, has the body gained an entrance on these fresh and hopeful stations in a truly missionary style? We must reply in the negative. A career so honourable and evangelical is, we regret to say, foreign to the New Connexion zeal and policy. Had not the tocsin of war been sounded in Cornwall, &c., the New Methodists would, in these enumerated places never have been known. The 300 inembers in Cornwall, the 100 in Norwich and Yar! mouth, and the 800 in Gateshead, &c., are all proselytes !

The Conference knows these facts; nevertheless, they are made to wear the aspect of great charity. The preachers and Societies that have been received into the Body, were deeply injured by priestly tyranny; and, the “Conference felt it their bounden duty to help, under circumstances of suffering.” Hence, congratulating themselves and their constituents on the performances of this duty of benevolence, they assert “our community has presented a peaceful asylum to the oppressed and persecuted.'

One of the most distinguished of these sufferers who have awakened the sympathy and kindness of the New Connexion, is Mr. Forsyth. He was for some years a Weg. leyan minister, who, in common with all Methodist preachers, was bound to preach the doctrines of John Wesley, as contained in the first four volumes of Sermons, and his Notes on the New Testament. But this restriction did not suit Mr. Forsyth's notions of liberty. He claimed a right both to believe and teach that one of these doctrines the Eternal Sonship of our Saviour-was unscriptural, and little, if any thing, it is said, short of blasphemy. Such un-methodistical preaching could not be tolerated in the Old Connexion ; therefore, he left the body, and united himself to the New Methodists. Of this “ oppressed and persecuted man” it is asserted in the New Connexion Minutes, he “ cordially believes our doctrines.” If this declaration be true, Mr. Wesley's writings are not honestly referred to as illustrating the creed of the Body; and it is high time the hymn book which is used in their sanctuaries underwent some revision. Let it be examined at pages 244, 225, &c., and it will be found that the Redeemer's “natural sonship by an eternal, inconceivable generation,” is a doc. trine which is solemnly recognised in the published forms of worship in the New Connexion !

How long the new community with its contradictory ministry will remain “an asylum of peace," it is not in our power to determine. To show that the tranquillity of the body will be endangered by it, we beg the attention of our readers to the subjoined statement of facts. We know a minister who, in a certain chapel belonging to the New Connexion, delivered a sermon in which he was led by his text to speak on the Eternal Sonship as in accordance with holy scripture, and the belief of the primitive church; together with its importance in the Christian system. Immediately after the service, he was warmly assailed by two individuals who said, “we do not believe the Eternal Sonship, and you ought not to have preached it here; it was only the other Sabbath morning that Mr. told the congregation that this doctrine is opposed to the Bible and full of absurdity; the people will not know what to believe.The preacher replied "he was not aware such a sermon had been delivered ; but, however that might be, the eternal sonship was taught in the standard works of Methodist theology." His reprovers then added—“the Conference must take up the matter, for it will never do for the preachers thus to contradict each other in the pulpit.” The Conference have had the subject brought before them; and the decision is, that New Methodist ministers are at liberty to say “yea and nayin their ministrations !!

Another of these “oppressed and persecuted” men is Mr. James Jones. He was also a Wesleyan preacher for more than a quarter of a centuary; but, on the 26th of May, he resigned his situation in the body, and immediately afterwards joined the New Connexion. It appears from his public resignation that, for some years, he has been an unhappy man. The cause of his uneasiness is soon related. He says" I have greatly desired to obtain the most liberal interpretations of our doctrines ;” and it was probably with this view that he published a book to prove--if we rightly understood it-that God does not “know the end from the beginning;' that He is wiser today than He was yesterday, and He will be wiser to-morrow than he is to-day! This publication, which is an outrage upon both the scriptures and Methodism, most seriously tends to weaken the evidence of Christianity, by making propbecy into mere conjecture; for God cannot know the future actions of men !! Yet the author of such a heterodox volume is an “oppressed and persecuted” man; because, forsooth, the Wesleyan Conference condemned and suppressed it, and censured its writer!

The attachment of Mr. Jones to the polity of the New Connexion may be sincere, but it must be new born. A declaration of satisfaction with the Wesleyan form of church order, and of determination to maintain all its essential principles unimpaired, was printed and circulated in January, 1835; and among the many hundreds of preachers who signed it, is Mr. James Jones ! It appears, however, that during the four subsequent months, his mind underwent a complete change, and he pronounces the declaration " coercive and inquisitorial.”

Though Mr. Jones has found a “ peaceful asylum” in the new community, he has not been received like Mr. Forsyth to all the privileges of the body. The reason of the difference is to be attributed to the counting-house principles which have long had a presiding influence in the New Methodist Conference. "If Mr. Jones, acting the part of a most unfaithful shepherd, had thrown his last Wesleyan circuit into confusion, and had succeeded in wresting from it 800 members, the seals of other preachers' ministry, his reception among his new friends would have been more gratifying to him. self, and more beneficial to his family. When we lately ventured to make a complaint in favour of Mr. Jones to a person who is in office in the New Connexivn, the defence made was, “that he had not been so privileged as Mr. Forsyth, because it was considered that the latter had brought his bread and cheese with him!”

As “the horse-leech hath two daughters, crying, give, give," so the New Community is craving more proselytes. The leading members of the Annual Committee are again resident in Sheffield, where the recent dishonourable attempts to disturb and scatter the Wesleyan Societies, have been so far from tending to the increase of the

« PreviousContinue »