« PreviousContinue »
Preachers, is not a feeling in which we indulge, or incite in others; for it is bigoted and sectarian : but we do glory in the fact that it secures the proclamation of the precious doctrines of the cross, on a large and magnificent scale. Now, every true Christian must feel pleasure in contributing to extend, as far as possible, that truth which led to his own salvation, and which, he feels assured, is the only truth which can become the means of saving others. Without intending to derogate from the value, piety, and respeciability of any other Christian church, we are boid to affirm, that no good man can have the same security that the vital ductrines of the gospel will be preached on so large a scale by his union with, and support of, any other people. He is not the Preacher, it is true, but he gives his countenance-his prayers- his support to a system which, as one of its fundamental principles, makes provision for the teaching of these yerities in every quarter of the globe, and actually does so on a wider scale than any other church on earth. In this a pious man finds his greatest satisfaction. He knows that there is no end to debate on little and litigated points of polity; and change the external forms of the Wesleyan econoiny as often and much as possible, he would only be moving from one point of the compass of agitation to another. But in the fact that he belongs to a community which is extending the salvation of Christ to the whole family of man he finds his solace and his joy. He feels and knows this to be of immeasurably greater consequence than the settlement of some fisty or five hundred litigated questions of church polity, all terminating on oue point; and while the would-be phi. losophers and legislators who have left the Society, grope in the murky region of strife and debate, he delights to belong to a Connexion whose chief aim is to proclaim the Saviour.
Besides the testimony for Christ which the Members of the Wesleyan Community are instrumentally bearing to so great an extent, and supporting a polity whieh proposes, as its primary object, the universal enunciation of the saving doctrines of the gospel, the extent of the fellowship is calculated to elevate the mind to a noble catholicism of feeling and of charity. The mind is much influenced by the circumstances in which it is placed. It revolves in a little or great orbit, as it is circumscribed and limited in its sphere of knowledge and action; or as it is placed in an elevated position, and enjoys the means and opportunities of associating in great and sublime movements. Piety, principle, and love, have their innate existence and influence on the mind, and no doubt, the element of all the strength, purity, and benevolence of character is laid in this ; but still, the re-action from circumstances must be great, and experimental wisdom ani piety must have their developement, according to the enlarged or limited sphere in which the mind moves. However strong and vigorous the intellectual powers may be, if the soul is left to prey on itself, without suitable opportunities of exertion, it is found, that an entire prostration of mental strength, and often a consuming melancholy ensues ; whilst, on the other hand, facilities for the employment of the talents imparted, not only give great tact and expertness, but also tone, elevation, and power to the faculties themselves. In like manner, when the great privileges of the gospel are attained, the new creation takes place in the soul, and the wonderful field of scriptural truth and religious duty are first opened to the new-born Christian, an impulse of universal love is felt in the bosom, and there is a tender and prayerful solicitude to extend the divine glory and to be instrumental in doing good to man, on the widest possible scale of operation. The growth and exercise of these fine feelings inust depend very much on the position in which the youthful convert is placed. If he happen to unite himself to a community formed on a limited and sectarian plan, whose chief and only purpose is to maintain their own views, as a party-screw the gospel down to the dimensions and scale of their little platform-repudiate all others, who carry on their operations on an enlarged and more evangelical plan-and consume all their energies in working from the broad and universal circumference of our great catholic Christianity, to the little centre of their own church, where bigotry sits enthroned, in the midst of the chills and frost of its own polar regions ;-then he is likely to fall under the same influence, and the warmth of his first love to be frozen up by the cold and comfortless associations in which he is placed.
Little communities, whether civil or religious, tend to stultify the growth and expansion of noble sentiment, and produce a series of interminable jealousies and contentions. This state of things is easily accounted for; for, possessing no principles which legitimately lead to enlarged enterprize without, an internal state of excitement and debate exists in the community itself. The only relief to this self-immolation is found in an incessant guerilla warfare carried on against other portions of the church. Relivion is an active and stirring principle, and when means are afforded it to move in its right direction, it blesses its possessor and the world in which it unfolds its charities; but, when accident throws it into a false position, and it becomes the fuel of party and sectarian feeling, it is hateful. It is uniformly found, that the lesser sects are the inost pugnacious and quarrelsome. They seem only to consider their concentration valueLle as it affords the means of annoyance to all their neighbour Christians; and like some of the canine breed, they make up for the diminution of their size by the incessant reiteration of their bark. This is an unfortunate position for a Christian. The genuine feeling which ought to be cultivated, is that of love; but here, hatred takes its place, and, un der the garb of zeal for religion, it is often found, that the most dark and rank misanthropy finds its congenial lurking place, and scope for its gratification.
When this external warfare is not going on, it is found that the sectarian spirit preys upon itself, and a state of internal discord is the consequence. It may be said that we are exactly describing the state of the Wesleyan Societies. No; neither part of the description holds respecting the Connexion, in its own legitimate spirit and operations; and any thing of a contrary nature and tendency, is alien to its genius. Instead of being constituted to carry on a war of assault against the other churches of Christ, it recognizes their rights-leaves them in free possession of their own opinions and modes of polity and government, with no other interference than that of friendly and fraternal regard and assistance, whilst all her aggressive energies are devoted to the conversion of sinners and the extension and triumphs of the gospel through the world. Individual feeling and conduct of an opposite tendency may have manifested itself; but this is against, and not in accordance with, the system. Would we could say the same respecting some of the parties who have interıneddled in our recent disputes. We know that the higher and more respectable portions of the dissenting churches, both ministers and laity, not only preserve a perfect neutrality, but utterly detest and abhor the spirit now manifesting itself against the Wesleyan body. But we equally know that, in unison with some of the hereditary haters of our cause, many of the lesser grades have not only manifested a deep sympathy with the agitators, but have aided and abetted to the utmost of their power, in carrying it on.
But it may be asked, is not this state of internal strife an essential and necessary element of the fellowship ? We believe not; but just the opposite; and whenever those disturbances originate, they do so from the sectarian spirit, and are produced by other than inherent causes. And the fact, that in every instance in which this leaven has manifested itself it has been opposed, confronted, and ultimately purged away, proves most fully, that it does not find a congenial home in Methodism- that the two forces are in deadly hostility to each other and that, hitherto, the catholic spirit has been enabled to repel the sectarian. Who can doubt for a moment the connexion of party and anti-patriotic politics, with the formation of the New Connexion, and also of the present movement ? In the first case, instead of Methodism generating the principles of the faction, they were borrowed from the French philosophy and the agitations of the day; whilst every thing going on at the present movement demonstrates, most fully, that the fungus of democracy, which has fastened itself on all tangible objects in the country, whether civil or religious, is that which now infests the Wesleyan community. The great object of all these movements is, to expel the spirit of John Wesley from his own system ; to break up the Community into little fragments, manageable by the leaders of the party; and, as their writings more and more show, to place the whole on the side, and to the account of, re. ligious and civil democracy. The effect of this would, of course, be, to annihilate the federal forin of our communion and reduce it, in reality, to the diminished size of sepa. rate churches, having no effective fellowship with each other.
We are persuaded, the great body of the people prefer their present Connexional form. They do so not merely on account of the abstract qualities of the economy, but on account of its influence on their feelings and character, as well as its agreement to their principles and views. They are wise in this. It is much more profitable to be placed in a situation where the mind may expand in co-operating in the plans and movements of a great religious enterprise, than to consume its energies in petty and party strife. Whilst the one state is calculated to narrow the soul into a sour, sullen, cynicaland censorious bigotry; the other is calculated to expand, strengthen, elevate, and draw out its powers into a catholic and universal charity. The present race of Methodists have imbibed too much of the genuine spirit of the systein in which they have been trained, to exchange it for the narrow and sectarian model presented to their acceptance. Men who have breathed in an expanded atmosphere-walked at large on the earth-regaled their senses by the beauties and fragrance of an extended landscape-and been interested in the best productions of nature-are not likely to exchange this state of existence for an isolated abode, beneath a sultry sun, in some little island of the sea. So, those who have imbibed the true spirit of Methodism, ranged in the midst of its great communion, and exercised their gifts, talents, and ai. fections on the scale of its operations, cannot be satisfied with the narrow enclosures
and petty objects marked out for them by the spiritual draughtsmen of the Association and their compeers in mutilation.
And to set aside, for the present, all reference to the constitution and laws of the Connexion, it must be felt, by all considerate persons, that there is a much greater probability of enjoying a state of positive and practical freedom of mind in a large than in a limited communion,
Besides conventional and prescriptive liberty and bondage, there exists, in all societies of men, an intangible spirit of freedoin or slavery, often much more substantial than that which rests on enactments of law. Institutions, denominated free, sometimes exist, whilst, in the positive order of things, opinion, choice, and habit, are so interfered with as to produce a state of galling and irritating bondage. This form of despotism is much more annoying than some others having the name. The northern States of the American Union have emapipated the negro and black population many years ago; but, whilst the law has set them free, custom and practice have debarred them all intercourse with society, the enjoyment of civil rights, and the advantages of property ;-so that, though free in law, they are slaves in fact. We only refer to this in illustration of what we mean by the possible existence of a positive state of galling bondage, in the midst of institutions of a liberal nature. " If the testimony of many of the seceders from our Societies at different times and places is to be credited, they, too, have found that the spirit of religious republicanism has proved itself much more troublesome and intolerant, than obedience to the simple and well-defined Rules of the Wesleyan Body. Indeed, as a general principle, the only security a community, whether civil or religious, can have against the aggressions of petty tyranny, so abundantly indulged in by the demagogues of liberalism is in the protection of eqnitable law and well-defined institutions. At first sight it may seem strange, that, in a religious community, a system of discipline and institutional regulations, should be essential to their peace and liberty. Anomalous, however, as the matter may appear, it is borne out, as to its necessity, by the fact that the great and Divine founder of the church has seen fit to leave a written code for its instruction and government. Instead of considering the religious principle and feeling communicated to the heart by conversion to be, in itself, sufficient for the guidance of his disciples, he deemed it necessary to superadd the instructions of his word. Hence the principle of a faith, experience, and practice, founded on a prescribed rule, is furnished by the highest gift of God to man—the bestowment of the Holy Scriptures. The discipline of the church, of course, ought to embrace the rules of Scripture. There can exist no fixed and steady state of liberty in any community, but by an adherence to these rules. In their absence, every man does what is right in his own eyes. With no great amount of intelligence; no very high regard for the courtesies and civilities of polished life; blessed with no very profound views and knowledge of reciprocal rights and privileges; and, withal (though, perhaps, sincere Christians, and, had they humility to keep in their own place, useful ones too); not free from human passion, pride, and infirmity, it is certain that this independence of all rule and order, though having the semblance of liberty, is a state of intolerable encroachment on the freedom of others, Of the capacity of the little communities which separate from our Connexion to judge of the best mode of securing a state of well-balanced liberty, we have a tolerable proof in the fact, that it is always found, that one of their first acts is to create an indefinite number of officers, without any adequate functions. This circumstance is in itself a pretty strong proof of the spirit in wbich our divisions originate. They are invariably jobs, got up by splenetic, aspiring, and ambitious men; and, instead of being favourable to scriptural, or, indeed, any other kind of freedom, they always end in the thraldom of the unhappy dupes of the delusion. Can any thing on earth' be farther removed from a state of real freedom than one of these dissentient bodies filled with official lordlings, constantly clamouring about liberty, whilst, in fact, a system of intrigue is constantly carried on by every aspirant for fame or power. Many of the Leeds and London separatists, who had, in an evil hour, yielded to temptation and left their brethren, soon came to their senses; and, we are informed on good authority, declared, that the discipline and government of the Body was the perfection of freedom, when compared with the intolerable oppression and tyranny of the new system. So, we have no doubt, it will be again ; and, if the present Association will only abandon agitation for legislation and government, their disciples will soon perceive that the two things are very different; and, instead of having their liberties infringed by the rules and administration of the Connexion, it is a perfect elysium of freedom and happiness, compared with the domination exercised over them by their new masters.
The blinding excitement of the moment prevents many of the people from perceiving the posture in which they are placing themselves; but persons of reflection and reading, who have been enabled to preserve any thing like an equilibrium of judg
ment and feeling, rightly estimate the advantages of their communion with a Connexion resting on well-understood principles and rules of reciprocal right. The mutual recognition of these rights, in fact, constitutes the essence of freedom, supposing them to be just in themselves. Assuming, for the present, that the Wesleyan economy is founded on an equitable and scriptural division of power amongst the Preachers, other officers, and the people, then the acknowledgment of these several powers, harmoniously exercised, is the most perfect system of liberty. Freedom without law is savagism, and freedom under law pre-supposes the justice of the law itself; and its firm and faithful, as well as mild and lenient administration.
In the present pastoral administration of discipline by the Preachers, checked and controlled by the local meetings, the best security which can be desired exists for equitable dealing with all parties. This arises out of the separation of the Preachers from the other officers and the people, and their being held responsible for the free and faithful discharge of the functions of their office. The separation of the judge from all other classes of his majesty's subjects, and his entire devotedness to judicial duties, is considered favourable to the pure administration of justice, and also to the liberty of the subject. So it is amongst ourselves respecting the pastoral office. The Ministers of the Connexion have a direct and express interest in the prosperity and happiness of the entire body of the people; and, being generally strangers in the Circuits where they travel, and moveable at the end of two or three years, they can have fewer temptations to a partial and a mal-administration of rule than any other class of men could possibly have. When the administrators of discipline are constantly resident; are the companions and friends, and, often, the relations of many of the people ; and, especially, when under the influence of those strong prejudices and passions which are always produced by local disputes, it would be next to impossible to secure a fair, candid, and equitable administration. Besides, those who are at all aquainted with the religious world, know well, that in many places the Societies are divided on some frivolous ground or other, and the Minister holding, the balance between the disputants, is appealed to by both parties. We are persuaded many Societies are held together by the solitary influence exercised by this third party, till time having been afforded for passion to cool, and the judgment and piety of the parties to rectify itself, an amicable agreement follows. In the absence of this salutary influence, the two parties would have to adjust the matter between themselves, and the consequence would be, that in every case, the stronger would triumph and the weaker go to the wall. What would become of the principles of true liberty in such a state of things ? It is an extremely difficult thing for persons residing permanently in a place, and coustantly mixing with local matters, so to maintain their independence of thought and judgment, as to be perfectly impartial. Ministers may, it is true, have many temptations to party prejudices and feeling; but, for the reasons already stated, namely, that they are strangers, can only remain for a short period, and belong to a separate order of officers, and are strictly amenable for the faithful fulfilment of their duties, they cannot be so exposed as others; and, consequently, their situation is the best security which can be afforded that justice will be done, and freedom secured. In the art of government it is always held, that public officers, acknowledged and received as the authorized administrators of the laws of the community, and held responsible to some competent power, is most favourable to public justice and freedom. This principle obtains in the Wesleyan Body, and a Superintendent set apart to his office, bearing its responsibilities both before God and man, watched and guarded by Trustees and Leaders, who have it in their power at any time, to arraign him before a competent tribunal, on any alleged offence against the rules of the Body; we say, such a provision for the administration of discipline is a much greater security for the liberty of the Members of Society, than the pell mell government of a large number of officers standing on an equal footing, when the stronger party are certain to crush the weaker, and their only remedy is in a new separation.
We are convinced that the great body of the people perceive all this, and on this ground, as well as others, prefer the Old Connexion to experimenting amongst the adventurers of the day; and, if all history is not a fable, and all experience a cheat, the time is not very distant when, with the exception of the Leaders who profit by the fray, those who have left the Societies and placed themselves under the new regime will be convinced that Methodism is the region of true freedom, and their new abode, the prison house of a petty despotism. A greater and fouler libel was never attempted to be fixed on any men than that which charges the Wesleyan Ministers with tyranny over the people, or any other design or intention to interfere with their freedom or interests, otherwise than to promote them. But this is a part of the Aippant falsehood of the day. When the British constitution had wrought up the country to an unexampled state of wealth, power, means of enjoyment and happiness, knowledge, refinement, and freedom; and, moreover, had given her an attitude of greatness and
* an influence amongst the nations never attained before, it suited the demagogues, and
radicals, to decry this very instrumentality as itself rotten and corrupt! So, in like manner amongst ourselves, the Methodist system in its different departments of opera. tion, its ministers, its schools, and other agencies have unitedly been successful in ele. vating an indefinite number of persons to a state of knowledge, faith, and professed enjoyment of religion, and when it had conferred on them all which the means of religion had to give, they begin to bawl out that the system is rotten, corrupt, despotic; nay, worse than popery. This is just as if some grumbling upstart tradesman in London, who, when he arrived there, was penniless ; but by the successful prosecution of business now inhabits a splendid villa, rolls in his carriage, and ranks among the higher classes of society, should, notwithstanding, in consequence of an insatiable avarice and discontent against providence, unite in every jacobin ebulition to decry the country which had raised him to his eminence. This is the exception to the rule. The greater num. ber of our people kuow well the advantages they enjoy; and, whilst others spurn the kind hand which raised them from a state of ignorance and ungodliness, and, instrumentally, placed them on that elevation they now so ungratefully occupy- they retain their better feelings, and are thankful to God for all they possess.
Besides attachment arising out of a cordial admiration of the system of Me. thodism, great numbers of the people give it their preference in consequence of its long-tried utility. Although it cannot boast of antiquity, yet it has been before the world for a century; and in that period of time it has, at least, had a fair trial; and its moral achievements have been equal, if not superior, to any other instrumentality contemporary with itself. The rage for novelties is, confessedly, very great; but still, there is a large class of sober and thoughtful persons who prefer a well and long-tried order of things, to the ever-shifting and ephemeral theories of fanciful or ambitious men. Who has not felt the force of Johnson's beautiful reflections on visiting Iona?" We wore now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions; whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion, would be impossible, if it were endeavoured; and would be foolish, if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses-whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my frienils, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us, indifferent and unmoved, over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of lona." Associations of deep and thrilling interest must unite to attach many persons to Methodism. We are not among those who despise these feelings, but consider them as belonging to the refinements of our nature and the sentiments of religion. Every community of men must have its patriarchs, its leaders, and, if not its martyrs, yet its benefactors and heroes. This is the case in our own Body; and more elevated piety-resplendent talents and wisdom-enlarged charity and benevolencedevoted and zealous labours, as well as heroic fortitude and perseverance--were never given, for the instruction of descendants, than have been handed down to us by our illustrious fathers. Who can read their biography, mark their footsteps through the world, contemplate the fruit of their labours, and stand by the side of their graves, without deep emotion-veneration for their character, and pleasure and delight to be considered their followers ? Institutions live in the recollection and esteem of ages and generations posterior to their existence, not merely on account of their own qualities of excellence, but chiefly tbrough the fame of those who have founded and supported them. It is impossible that the present unprincipled attempt to throw discredit on the institutions of Methodism should extensively succeed, much less their total overthrow and ruin be effected, when they are upheld by the names and example of so many illustrious men. In all attempts to poison the public mind, to alienate its confidence, to persuade it to believe that Methodism is a system of popery, and to call up its assistance to its demolition, they will recollect that this is the religion of Wesley, of Fletcher, of Grimshawe, of Coke, of Benson, of Clarke, of Drew, of Watson, of Butterworth, of Thompson, and a countless host of men who were, in their day, the ornament of the Christian name, the friends of humanity and of their country; and who now live in the knowledge and estimation of the public, some by their writings, and others by their works of beneficence. The radicals may write in newspapers, and fill the world with pamphlets, but they will not succeed to any extent in getting the ear of men ou the subject of our economy; they will, with instinctive sagacity, conclude, that a Connexion which has beer ornamented by the wisdom, talents, piety, and labours of men of the highest respectability, and long known to the world, cannot be the monstrous thing which the little demagogues are representing it to be. Not merely are the intellec.