Page images
PDF
EPUB

One of the most important and salutary provisions of the Wesleyan economy, is, that no one can, by any possibility, be admitted to the minis: terial office, without professing to enjoy the converting grace of God; and for a longer or shorter period, previously giving all the proof of its reality which the subject admits. The rules on this subject rest on the true and scriptural principle, that the call, the gifts, the ability for the work, must be founded on a converted state of mind. It is possible that persons may have deceived the meetings through which candidates are obliged to pass, but we believe the attempt is a very rare occurrence, and success much more so. It is equally possible, that a minister, like another Christian, may allow, through negligence and the growth of sin, the substrata of piety in his mind to give way; and, with the forfeiture of his religious privileges and purity, the loss of his ministerial call may be involved. Allowing for these cases, and any other casualties to which the probation of all men in this world is exposed, it is of great consideration in calculating on the state and prospects of our religious community, that its ministry is a CONVERTED MINISTRY. The tone, intensity, and elevation of individual piety will, of course, vary, as it always has done; but, as at present constituted, it is impossible that men destitute of grace should enter, or if they do, remain in the ranks of our itinerancy. The laws, regulating the new Theological Institution fully recognise this principle. No youth on his own choice, or the election of his parents and friends, can, by interest or any other means, find admission here. He must pass through the examinations of his own Quarterly Meeting, and, then, through the District Meeting, before he can be admitted into that seminary. Then we have a right to assume as a general rule that the Wesleyan ministry is composed of men who themselves have been “enlightened by thegood word of God”-have received the privilege of justifying grace—have, by the powerful visitation and influence of the Holy Spirit, enjoyed a change of heart-have been raised, in a more or less degree, into “sanctified vessels meet for the master's use;" and that the spirit of devotion, the faith, the love, the principle, the purity, and the zeal arising from this new and elevated state of mind, belong to them. Much depends on this. Our confidence respecting the preservation and usefulness of Methodism is not grounded on its economy, but, primarily, on the blessing of God; and next, on a converted and spiritual ministry. If we could be persuaded that either of these were wanting and where one is absent, the other will be absent also—then we should despair; but if we have proof of the divine blessing flowing through a sanctified and holy ministry, then we have a right to exercise a calm and unshaken confidence in the midst of the trials of the times.

With a high state of piety, every other qualification--allowing a divine designation to the work—will exist. Not in the same manner or degree, but gifts will arise out of religion, of the most useful and edifying description. Intellect soars to its loftiest flights, through an atmosphere cleared and enlarged by a strong and vigorous faith. The judgment is exercised much more accurately, truly, and practically, on all subjects, earthly or heavenly, when the lower faculties and appetites are held in abeyance by the power of renewing and sanctifying grace, and the mind is free from the bias of passion, prejudice, selfish and sensual feeling. The tongue speaks most eloquently when the heart is warm. Let the sacred fire of divine love rouse the faculties, swell the bosom, excite to pity, kindle a hallowed zeal, and bind the soul to the cross of the Saviour, and then the preaching which impresses, awakens, persuades, and “wins souls to Christ,” is secured. We are not without hope, that even “the railing accusations,” and bitter reproaches, so lavishly thrown on the Methodist ministry will tend to improve it. These bitter draughts, are testing their principles, weaning them from external things, causing them to examine their motives, obliging them to study and meditate on divine truth, compelling them to be found more constant in prayer, and, by a course of experience and discipline, painful in itself, but still salutary, instructing them to live much in communion with their own hearts, and, especially, in the higher communion of God.

A placid state of the church is not favourable either to an elevated piety or profound divinity. The Augustan age of English theology was a period of intense strife and debate. Owen, Howe, Baxter, Calamy, and the Non-conformists, on the one side—and Jeremy Taylor, Hammond, Hall, Chillingworth, Hales, and the Episcopalians, on the other

—thought, wrote, and preached, in the midst of the storms of the Commonwealth. Human nature itself is much the same in every age ; but circumstances often call forth its latent powers in brilliant and majestic force, and we are indebted, incidentally, to the evils of these times, for the most profound, elaborate, practical, and eloquent theology to be found in the Christian church, in the writings of those noble spirits who were wound up to their elevation by disputes and trials. In a lower degree, we hope, a similar effect will arise out of our troubles. If Metho. dist preachers cannot be expected to accumulate, in mountain masses, thought, sentiment, criticism, eloquent discourses, and systematic theology, as they did : yet still, they may imitate their industry, devotion, holiness, and zealous preaching. And, if one desire be more prominent in our feelings than another, it is, that the suspicions now thrown on the body of preachers, may lead them to follow the example of these great and excellent men, and in every way improve their ministry by “the things they suffer.

Another question of great consequence is, the real, ex animo, attachment of the present race of Preachers to the Wesleyan system of doctrine. By this we do not so much mean the peculiarities of the system, as distinguished from Calvinism, as the experimental and evangelical manner in which Mr. Wesley and his coadjutors held the truth. We question, indeed, whether the preachers of the present day are so learned and expert in the metaphysics of the Calvinistic controversy as their predecessors; but we think they are equally, and even more, evangelical. The impression left on the mind of the writer of this article, by his recollections of the sermons he was in the habit of hearing when young, from some of the old preachers, most of whom are now no more, is, that many of them were poor and meagre in doctrinal sentiment, and approached very nearly to the dry and frigid system of the old Arminian school. This is easily accounted for. They had lived in the time of the great controversy betwixt Fletcher, and the Hills, and Toplady: and, as is not very unnatural, chose the highest ground on the controverted points. The extreme of truth touches the confines of error; and in their zeal to avoid Calvinism, and guard the truth from Antinomian abuses, they were led to adopt a mode of preaching which, being very cautious and well fenced round against what they considered a dangerous heresy, they were prevented from boldly, fully, and warmly exhibiting the freeness and fulness of the grace and provisions of the gospel. There were many glorious exceptions; and these consequences do not necessarily, or, indeed, legitimately arise out of the Wesleyan doctrines, as taught by their author, and de. fended in the inimitable writings of Fletcher. But minds of inferior grade cannot always see the harmony of evangelical doctrines, and in their honest avoidance of error, it is quite possible that they may, unintentionally, have abstracted much valuable truth. Without intending to depreciate the qualities of men, every way honest, and some of them pious and useful in the highest degree, we believe this was the fact with regard to great numbers. They considered it to be their duty to flee as far from Calvinism as possible, and in doing this, they frittered away, and neutralized many of the most vital and important verities of the gospel.

We neither intend to indulge in flattery or boast, but to state the honest conviction of our minds, when we say, we believe that the balance has been recovered in recent times, and the Wesleyan doctrices are much more evangelically held now, than they were for some years after the death of our great founder. As few persons have lived long enough in the Connexion to judge of the question from a recollection of the preaching of former times, as compared with the present, we have no objection to put its issue on the publisherl discourses, and other writings, of the two periods. But these remarks may be considered uncalled for, as the orthodoxy of the Preachers is not disputed. If any thing, it is thought, by some, that there is an undue and bigoted attachment to the Wesleyan theology. Allowing this, for the moment, it only shows that there exists a scrupulous and conscientious regard to what is believed to be the truth, or an honest purpose to guard against error, and secure to the people a wholesome doctrine. But we refer to this question, not for purposes of controversy, but of practical deduction. The point of time in which we live is important: the events passing around us are of the most ominous kind—the external pressure on first principles, alınost unexampled—and the assault made on our community, most reckless and threatening. What is to be the destiny of the Connexion in future? Is it rotten at the root, and incapable of surmounting the difficulties of the times ?-In answering these questions, we have no inclination to deceive ourselves, or to be instrumental in deceiving others. Many considerations fix our attention, some of which tend to produce sorrow; and others, fear. We could enter into large and long discussions on these topics; and, of course, when there is a collision of principle, it must be difficult to decide. We are not ashamed to avow that we look out with anxiety to find an anchorage for our hopes. Amongst other considerations, we fix on the evangelical tone of the ministry, and infer, from this fact, the certain stability of the Body. This may be fairly done, on the ground, that it is the gift and creation of the great Head of the Church, and indicates his purpose to employ it to promote his glory. When a ministry possessing evidence of a sound conversion to Godof requisite spiritual gifts—of a devotional spirit, of devoted love to scriptural truth

-of zeal and fervour sufficient to induce them to abandon all the endearments and comforts of home, and hopes of secular advancement in life of a faith so expansive as to lead them to expect the accomplishment of the great end of redemption, as marked out in the prophecies; and also tu act on their convictions by causing them to leave their native country, and fix their abode“ amid the solitudes of the wilderness, for the purpose of leading a lost world to Christ ;-we say, when this state exists, we have evidence that God has raised up such a ministry to accomplish his merciful designs amongst men. There is harmony in all the works of Deity. He never wrought a miracle without proposing some valuable end. He never gave the prophetic Spirit, and revealed future events, but in connexion with some great purpose. When he sent his incarnate Son into the world, it was to redeem it to himself, and fix the foundations of his kingdom; and when he called the Apostles to their office, it was to bear testimony to the death and resurrection of Christ. So, in like manner, when he creates spiritual gifts, and raises up an evangelical and powerful ministry, it is to accomplish some great work in connexion with the interests and advancement of true religion.

We find this to have been the case in every period of time, Is there not an affinity betwixt the call of Messrs. Wesley and Whitfield to their task of preaching the gospel, and the Methodism now existing in the world ? The extraordinary qualifications bestowed on these highly-favoured servants of God, were not given with a view to their personal advancement, or to terminate in themselves; but that this nation, and indirectly, indeed, the world, might be visited by their powerful ministry, and awaked from the slumbers of its guilty and dangerous state. We compare no living men to them; but if it is found that the same spirit and gifts now rest on a numerous class of their followers, though in a much lower degree, then, it is fair to conclude, that they are bestowed for similar purposes. As there is some danger of giving offence, even by this distant and qualified analogy, will the objectors give us permission to take our illustration from lower examples ? When God called Nelson, Mather, Pawson, Taylor, and a host of other noble spirits, from the common avocations of life, and committed to them “ a dispensation of the gospel,” did not the call imply the intention to employ them usefully in the spiritual vineyard ? The effects which followed their labours give the answer to this question. They were the instruments of building up the church in their day; and, notwithstanding it had to pass through great trials, yet it was preserved in their hands; and thousands, and tens of thousands, were converted to God.

In similar cases, we are to expect like effects. Our hope and belief is, that the same spirit is given to the Preachers of the Body, at the present period; and given, too, for the self-same end-the perpetuation and enlargement of the work of God. Were men found, then, to give unequivocal proof of sincerity and purity of heart and character, and yet testified that they believed themselves moved by the Holy Ghost, to take their ministry upon them ?-So there are now. Were these selections made by the great Head of the Church, from among persons who had been employed in common life, showing that they assumed not the ministry as a profession, but even in opposition to all their previous views, habits, and hopes ?-So they are now. Were minds elevated to comprehend the great doctrines of the gospel, and accurately to preach them, which none can do but by the spirit of God ?-So they are now. Werestriplings, like David, following his father's flocks, presented with the prophetic harp and lyre, and taught to sound forth the notes of redeeming mercy and love in impassioned streams ? So they are now. Were men found willing to traverse the American continent and the West Indian islands, as well as every part of this empire ?—Behold, now, even this, is surpassed. In the African Kraal, amidst rudeness, barbarity, wild beasts, and pestilence; on the continent of the East, amongst the most sickening superstitions, as well as in the islands of the Pacific, amongst canibals, modern missionaries are found. As long as this spirit exists, the Connexion has nothing to fear. It is delightful to see how wonderfully God, in this way, supplies the wastes of life, and

" baptizes" the growing youth of the Connexion “ for the dead;" and the most valuable and important indication of all by this is, that He still lives and reigns amongst us. Desertions may take place, rents may be made, the external frame-work of the church may be broken through ; but as long as this spirit continues to rest on his servants, both preservation and enlargement are certain.

Fidelity to the true genius and spirit of primitive Methodism being thus manifested, is a favourable sign. Mr. Wesley expressed his own view of this, wher he said that Methodists were raised up to “ spread scriptural Christianity through the land ;' and, we may add, through the world. Nothing short of this harmonizes with the designs of redemption, and the truth and promises of the gospel. Snapping the figments of prejudice, by which he had been held in trammels, Mr. Wesley adopted the catholic sentiment, that “ the world was his parish.” But the recognition of the general principle, that it was the duty of the Christian church to carry out the provisions of the gospel to the ends of the earth, did not cause him to neglect particular openings of use. fulness. Minds of a less pious and practical cast, are in danger of overlooking local and present opportunities of doing good, in rendering their admiration, fealty, and support to the general plans of Christian philanthropy. Whilst they expatiate amidst the extensive and distant glories and triumphs of prophecy, and of the cross, they often forego the most urgent calls to extend religion and human happiness, even at their own door. Not so the founders of Methodism. Whilst they considered the whole hu. man family as included in their commission to preach the gospel, they neglected no ineans to make the Saviour known in their own country. As time was afforded, they visited every part of the nation; and, in private houses, streets, lanes, and marketplaces; in fields, commons, and by the side of hills and high roads, with intrepid courage and fidelity, they lifted up their voice, and called sinners to repentance.Finer specimens of devoted love to God and man, laborious and untiring zeal, minis. terial abilities and power were never witnessed, in this fallen world, than are seen in the labours of these men of God. Greater and more astonishing effects were never produced on the masses of mankind, than by the preaching of these heralds of mercy and salvation. Indeed, in one thing, we find a difference between the Reformation by Luther and the revival of religion by Wesley; it consists in the quality of the persons who became the disciples of the two great movements. Princes, Electors, and Kings gave their countenance, counsels, support, and even arms, to the maintenance of the Reformation ; whilst, generally speaking, the poor and middle classes only enlisted on the side of Methodism. It would be going beyond our line, to discant on the first case; and it is not our intention to insinuate, that, the countenance of kings and princes was not a favour of providence. Considering the circumstances of the case, the powers armed against them, the means employed by popery to quench the rising light, and crush the infant Reformation by the cruelties of the Inquisition, we should rather say, that the raising up of states to protect these messengers of the Saviour's love, mark the fostering care of the governor of the universe. And yet we are not sure, but this grand work suffered in its progress and efficiency, ultimately, by this event. Be this as it may, there is this difference between the Reformation and Methodism—the one descended from the highest ranks of society to the lowest, whilst the other began at the bottom and ascended upwards. It was the glory of the leaders of the two branches of Methodism, Wesley and Whitfield,“ to preach the gospel to the poor.”

Without claiming for any man living the comprehensive charity, and 'the laborious zeal of our great founder, it may be affirmell truly, that his views and spirit, live in the system he has left; and it is a part of the duty of every preacher to take up his great objects of good will to man,and, as he has the power and ability, to carry them out. It is important to possess good rules of duty, and also to have the example of those who have gone before constantly present to the mind. The Wesleyan preachers may individually come short of the high standard they acknowledge; but it is something not to have discarded it. They have not yet broken the tables of law given by their founder; or, in any way, attempted to shorten or narrow the field of operation, marked out by him. They still recognise the obligation to extend the ordinances of the gospel through the world, and to preach it to every creature. Their schemes and plans of benevolence reach to every tribe and family of man; and whether the work has been accomplished rightly or wrongly, the fact is undeniable, that more has been done, in the last twenty years, to extend the principles and plans of Mr. Wesley, than in any other similar period of our history. In that time, we have witnessed an augmentation of charity, of zeal, of faith, of exertion, on the part of the whole Body, of the most cheering and en

« PreviousContinue »