Page images
PDF
EPUB

perfect in all the parts of his body, but still destitute of mind. By a second act He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life," and then he “bea came a living soul.In like manner, this great man built a fine and glorious system of holiness, and when he attained the knowledge of jus. tification, the whole became instinct with life. If the reverse had been the case, and he had acquired faith first, he might have been so entirely absorbed by the pre-eminent and supreme importance of this one part of the great Christian scheme, that in his zeal to make it known he might not have followed out from that germ and centre of all saving truth, the other branches of the subject so fully as he has now done. It is often observed that men who “ have believed to the saving of their souls," and attained a clear apprehension of the manner of a sinner's justification, are extremely defective in their notions of Christian holiness and practical duties. For the reasons already stated, this is not the case with the Wesleyan doctrines. By a beautiful and well-sustained induction of truths, this system places the Saviour on the throne, and attributes to him all the merit and grace of salvation; but at the same time-by the force of truth, the influence of the Holy Spirit, the practical effects of the life of faith, and obedience to the divine word—it aims at surrounding that throne, not with a host of Antinomian admirers of distinguishing grace, but of sanctified, devout, and adoring subjects, waiting, with eager willingness and activity, to obey his laws, as well as to receive the fulness of his redeeming love. The salvation taught in this theology is not an investiture in a righteousness imputed — the “ garments of salvation” put on-the liberty and immunities of the gospel made over in covenant grant—the claim to personal distinctions founded on the counsels and decrees of God; whilst the heart, the spirit, the character remain in all the corruption and misery of the fall. Laying the foundation of salvation in the free grace of God in Christ, made over to man on the intelligible and practicable condition of faith, it insists on the necessity of being saved from sin ;—that the grace of God is in power as well as in privilege; and, in truth, that the highest happiness consists in being “ delivered out of the hands of our enemies, and walking before God in righteousness and holiness."

Another of the distinguishing features of the Wesleyan theology is its unity. The Trinity, the atonement, the influence of the Holy Spirit, the grace of God freely exercised in the salvation of man, faith as the condition of justification, the possible attainment of assurance and the witness of the Spirit, the entire sanctification of the soul and the enjoyment of perfect love, together with the obligation to cultivate the habit of obedience to the precepts of the Saviour's law, are the leading doctrines in this system, as, in some of their modifications, they must be in all others claiming to be evangelical. But the point on which we intend to remark, is the harmony in which these doctrines are found. It is true, Mr. Wesley never wrote a sytem of divinity, or placed his doctrinal opinions in consecutive order ; but if his scattered sermons and treatises on the most vital subjects of religion are placed in order by the reader, it will be found, that without introducing philosophical arrangements, in point of fact, his sentiments appear in perfect unity in themselves, and beautiful concord with each other.

It is well-known that this great man taught the doctrine of universal atonement. So do many modern Calvinists. But the one holds it in perfect consistency, whilst the other embarrasses the subject with decrees, personal election, and an arbitrary limitation of its benefits on the narrow scale of the Calvinistic scheme of predestination. It is extremely difficult to imagine on what principle an infinite and universal atonement can be provided by the wisdom and love of the Deity, and then the same Almighty Being, of His own will and by an unalterable decree, to narrow the benefit to a small and limited number of individuals. This has all the appearance of contradiction and opposition, flowing from the same infinite mind; which we know is utterly impossible. As the Scriptures unequivocally declare the universality of the redemption pricewhich is, no doubt, a universal provision for the salvation of all men-so, on the same principle of universality, we are to construe the calls and promises of the gospel message, and understand them to be literally addressed to all mankind. of what imaginable benefit could a universal atonement be, dissevered from universal mercy, universal invitations and promises, universal spiritual influence, and a possible universal repentance, faith, pardon, and salvation ? To fasten the doctrine of a universal atonement to a limited and partial scheme of election and predestination, is to bring two contrary propositions together, and father them on infinite intelligence; as much as if it were affirmed, that the laws of a country are universally equal, and then, that these laws secured singular advantages, immunities, and franchises to a part of the community, and left all the rest to shift for themselves. A Being whose nature and attributes are absolutely infinite, and consequently equal, can never decree, or arrange, two things which are in palpable contrailiction to each other, and yet, at the same time, relate to the same end. The atonement of Christ, and the counsels, decrees, predestination, providence, revelations, calls of the gospel, and influences of grace, not only originate in the same divine mind, but relate to the same subjects—the salvation and happiness of man. If so, how can the one contradict the other? It is impossible for God to do one thing in the atonement, namely, make provision for the salvation of all men; and then, in his arrangements to carry this provision out, act on another principle, namely, to restrict it to a select and limited number. And as we are certain the Divine Being cannot originate clashing and contradictory propositions, so, because the holy Scriptures are inspired, we are equally certain that they cannot teach opposite sentiments, on the same subject, as truth. This is self-evident, whether we can discover the right interpretation of particular portions of the sacred volume or not.

The Wesleyan theology avoids this difficulty, and in connexion with a universal atonement, holds out peace and salvation to all mankind. This view has, no doubt, had much to do with the practical operations of Methodism; and we chiefly refer to it on this account. No restrictive and embarrassing limitations checked the flow of charity, or retarded the zeal of Mr. Wesley. He settled it as a first principle, that “by the grace of God, Jesus Christ tasted death for every man;" and consequently, as every man was included in the mercy and merit of the Saviour's death, so every man was in a virtual, and might be brought into a state of positive and experimental grace and salvation. Animated and encouraged by this truth, he flew like the angel of Apocalyptic vision, with “the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” No doubt as to the freeness and efficiency of the message he bore, or of the gracious will of God that the persous whose salvation he sought had the right to believe, hung like a drag on the movements of his own mind, or embarrassed the liberty and fervour of his style of address. His heart was free, in this respect, to follow the most glowing impulses of Christian charity, as well as to labour in certain hope of success. And a similar confidence existed as regards the people. They might be sunk into the lowest state of igoorance, barbarity, vice, and consequent guilt; but, in the glowing description of divine mercy from the lips of their philanthropic herald of salvation, they stood before him as redeemed men; and because redeemed, capable of conversion. They were taught, not inerely that it was their duty to repent, but that adequate grace was provided and proffered in Christ, who was “exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel” Jesus Christ being exhibited in the freeness of his grace, the infinitude of his merit, the perfection of his righteousness, and the universality of his atonement, and all being held forth as available to them, in the promises of the gospel, they were invited to exercise trust in the Saviour, and expect a present freedom from guilt and the enjoyment of peace with God.

The difference betwixt seeking the conversion of men, under the thorough persuasion, that because they are redeemed they are all within the pale of salvation; and the apprehension that, possibly, 'the message may be carried to tribes and families, who, having no decretal interest in it, are incapable of embracing it, is very great. This, no doubt, has had much to do with the extent of the operations proposed to himself by Mr. Wesley, and prosecuted by his followers. To admit, as the leading principle of their creed, that the provisions of the gospel were universal, and then to limit their exertions to benefit mankind, would have presented a strange inconsistency. This is not chargeable on the founder of our community, or his descendants. They have, and are, attempting, in the midst of much obloquy and discouragement, to make the building commensurate with the foundation ; and on the ground of a universal atonement to rear the fabric of universal salvation. The conception is noble, and the attempt worthy of the genius of the gospel. With other corruptions of the truth, the incessant -propensity to limit it to nations and congregations, is not the least. It is evident that the Apostles and primitive teachers acted on the commission of our Lord, to “go and preach the gospel to every creature ;” but in the lapse of time, this obligation was lost sight of, and the object was to make religion national or congregational. Indeed, the notion of universality was retained in the Church of Rome; but then, it was merely the claim to universal authority and dominiuion, on the part of that haughty hierarchy, whilst the gospel itself, together with the souls of men, were totaily neglected. Amongst other benefactions to the church and to the world, we owe a debt of gratitude to John Wesley for restoring the gospel to its true position. In his hands, it was an instrument of universal good to the world. He saw in the covenant of grace, in the cross of Christ, in the promises and predictions of Scripture, and in the kingdom of Christ, as in a map, all the nations and families of mankind; and though destitute of worldly property, patronage, and support, depending exclusively on God, and the truth of His word, he began to operate on this glorious and expanded scale.Few understood him then, as few understand his system now; but acting on his simple, but sublime principle, he steadily prosecuted his purpose, and, as might be expected, in his own life time, he beheld his doetrine proclaimed, and his plans of inercy established, in every part of the three kingdoms--the islands of the channelthe West Indian archipelago-and through the American Union. He gradually drew others into his views, raised thein to his own elevation, presented them the noble perspective of a world of immortal men lying within the reach of gospel light and grace, and, finally, succeeded in making his own sentiments the basis of a system, and breathing his spirit into its institutions. The mere Church-of-England man could not follow these movements. They lay beyond the pale of the Establishment, and to him they appeared disorderly. It was saving souls, by extra parochial efforts, and withal, by an eccentric movement beyond the lines of Episcopal demarcation; and his calculations on the light and grace of the gospel, all lay within the limits of the national church. The Congregationalist could not understand him, because he did not wait for a call from the people, an election to office, and sit down to dole out a couple of cold and lifeless lectures to a Sunday congregation.

We question, whether, when this greatest of uninspired men began his career, and moved on in bis course of rapid evangelization, any man of the times-except, perhaps, George Whitfield; and he was embarrassed by his creed-understood the spirit and nature of the vocation. Aided by the doctrine of universal redemption, he saw through the medium of the prophecies, as from the top of an elevated mountain, the world of mankind stretched before his eye, in countless numbers, groping in darkness, prostrate in ruin, and covered with guilt and sin. But he saw them not as others. He knew they were given to the Son-were redeemed by His blood—and were within the pale of salvation. He took his measures accordingly; fitted his system to the emergency; azd leaving all party, local, sectarian, and even national prejudices behind him, he moved to the task of leading the world to God. How far his views, and · what is more, his example, has led to the establishment of the numerous Missionary Societies of the day, it is not for us at present to trace out; but, there is no doubt, an intimate connexion which, if, at present, the church is in no temper to concede, will, at a future period, be awarded, amidst the wondering admirations of enlightened myriads of mankind.

The primary reason for the Poll Deed, legalizing the Conference, and regulating their proceedings in all future time, was to secure this doctrinal purity, in connexion with a regular appointment of Preachers to enunciate these saving truths to the congregations. The subject of church patronage, implying an overpowering influence in the appointment of Ministers to their cure, is, confessedly, a difficult question. The national church has not secured any thing like uniformity; and we apprehend, one of the most painful difficulties which good men meet with in their attempts to improve the spiritual state of the Establishment, arises from this cause. Many of the livings are in the hands of the government of the day; others are in the gift of corporate bodies; and the great majority are possessed by private families. The appointment of Ministers being thus exposed to so many contingencies, arising out of the moral character, religious tastes and views, or secular and family interests of patrons, it is not possible that any security can exist for evangelical purity of doctrine. The appointment of converted and evangelical men is an accident, dependent on the views and opinions of men who, in numerous cases, care nothing on the subject. In consequence of this, it has generally happened, that when an evangelical Minister has been planted in a particular locality, and succeeded in awakening the surrounding population to serious godliness, after the toils of a few years, either in consequence of his removal or his death, he has been succeeded by those who have been of a different spirit, and his work has been left to perish, or to assume some form of dissent. The writer of this article recollects, in a conversation with the justly celebrated ROBERT Hall, that that gentleman stated as his opinion, that the successes of the evangelical clergy would ultimately tend to swell the ranks of dissent from this cause. The subject which led to this remark was the then recent circumstance of the appointment of a gentleman of antievangelical views to succeed the Rev. Leigh Richmond to the parish of Turvey; the congregation, it was stated, being dissatisfied, many of them had united with a small dissenting interest, and they had then been building a new chapel for their accommodation. Mr. Hall then remarked, that from the same cause, and because converted men could not sustain the spiritual life by attending a worldly ministry, they would be compelled to unite with dissenters, or raise themselves into a practically dissenting community, to secure the doctrines by which alone they could profit. No doubt, the opinion is well founded; and the true friends of experimental and practical religion, in the church, have mourned over this as one of the most stubborn evils to be contended with

Among the Presbyterians, the nomination to the ministerial office, and consequently the supervision of doctrines, has usually rested with the trustees of chapels. It is well known, that in consequence of this and other kinds of secular inffuer.ce, the chapels and endowments belonging to this body have nearly all fallen under the blighting domination of Socinianism. These places of worship, originally erected by orthodox non-conformists, were intended to supply their children and descendants with a wholesome doctrine ; but in consequence of a defective settlement, they have gradually been changed into Unitarian temples, where men are statedly engaged to “deny the Lord who bought them”-the vicarious nature of his death-the existence and influence of the Holy Spirit-together with all those great truths which have been proved, in all ages, the only doctrines which are saving to guilty man. The only remedy for any portion of the flock belonging to these places, retaining a conscientious adherence to the faith of their fathers, has been in a separation. The history of this section of the church irrefragably proves the insecurity of Christian doctrine in the hands of a junto of privileged lay officers.

The Independent persuasion has placed the election of the pastor, and consequently the exercise of a final judgment of his doctrines, in the hands of the church. But even in this scheme, the law recognises the election and ordination of a pastor as a permanent settlement; so that, except there exists some special provision to the contrary, the popular voice cannot remove a Minister from his charge. And although the withdrawal of confidence on the part of a church from their pastor will, generally, induce him, for the sake of his own peace and respectability, to retire from the scene of strife, yet cases are very notorious in which the Minister has maintained his right by law, and kept possession of the pulpit, in despite of the opposition raised against him.

In the presence of all these practical difficulties, in the conservation of Christian doctrine and the perpetuity of a truly evangelical ministry the importance and value of the Poll Deed, in connexion with the provisions of Chapel Trusts and the Plan of Pacification, will be very evident. The primary object of the creation of a legal Con. ference was to preserve and perpetuate the Wesleyan theology. Hence it is made imperative that the four volumes of Sermons and Notes on the New Testament, shall form the basis of teaching through the entire Connexion, down to the latest period of time. The onus of securing this great design was laid in the first instance on the Conference, who have power to admit into their own body, only on the ground that the assenting parties subscribe to the doctrines taught and legalized by Mr. Wesley. As all appointments to preach must emanate, according to the enactments of this instrument, from the Conference, it follows, that a legal provision exists to secure the universal purity, according to Mr. Wesley's views, of evangelical truth. The chapels settled according to the Conference plan, are attached to that body for the same reason. It is not that the funds of the trust estate may fall into the hands of the Preachersfor, in truth, they have no controul over them; but the design was obviously to pre

vent the places of worship from becoming marts of heterodoxy, and to perpetuate through all time the faithful and energetic preaching of the Wesleyan doctrines. After Mr. Wesley's death, to render his own purpose-the enactments of the Poll Deed and the provisions of the Trusts—as certain and efficacious as possible in their working, the Conference agreed, by the Plan of Pacification, to make all the officers of a Circuit, judges of the Preacher's doctrinal purity (as regards their own Circuit,) with power, if the majority judge fit, to prevent his polluting their pulpits by heretical opinions. As one of the principal enactments of the Trust Deed relates to doctrine, and makes the Trustees the conservators of its purity, of course they would have possessed a remedy in law, irrespective of this arrangement; but, by this, the Stewards and Leaders (who are much more intimately associated with the Societies, as spiritual officers,) are united in the design to preserve and perpetuate these doctrines entire.

Without intending to disparage any other Christian community, we venture to affirm that no church on earth has the same security on this point as the Wesleyan Societies. In consequence of the form of patronage existing in the Establishment, if a pious, evangelical, and useful Minister, should be placed in any particular parish, when removed by death or any other cause, no provision is made that his place shall be supplied by another of similar views and spirit. The cases of holy and useful men being succeeded by persons of an opposite character, together with the blight brought on their work, are of a most painful and distressing nature.- Whatever may be the provisions of the trusts of the Presbyterian chapels, we see that they have nearly all become Socinian; and for the want of a conserving power, this once celebrated, learned, pious, and influential Connexion has sunk into a state of spiritual decay and putrefaction. Independent churches are voluntary associations of Christians, uniting together on the profession of the orthodox faith. When disputes arise, doctrinal or otherwise, the easy remedy is a separation. Not being "united Societies," and having no connexional form, or dependence on each other, any change of sentiment produces but aj limited effect. As these churches (except they go beyond their own platform,) propose nothing further by their union than a fellowship for mutual edification, and select and maintain their minister to secure that, it follows that the character of the ministry depending, as it does, on the living mind, will be pure and evangelical as long as the people themselves are right. We are thankful to acknowledge, that great numbers of the pastors of these churches rank amongst the most efficient Preachers, and brightest luminaries of the day.

Witnessing from every quarter the great disadvantage and injurious effects of an unsettled and unprotected doctrinal provision for the wants of the churches, and justly apprehending the perils which awaited his own Societies after his decease, Mr. Wesley, by the guidance of Divine providence, placed his system under the protection of law by the Deed of Declaration. The benefits of this are twofold: the legal establishment of these doctrines themselves, and then the creation of an administrative power to carry them into practical effect.

With regard to the first : Wherever Wesleyan Methodism is established, by a fine and exquisite provision of, what may be called, reciprocal law, all the chapels in the Connexion have the benefit of these doctrines, secured to them in such way, that the Trustees cannot legally suffer any other to be taught, and the Conference, with whom the power of appointment rests, cannot invade their pulpits by heretical Preachers.These Deeds are so formed that neither party have any independent choice, as regards doctrine. Besides being entrusted with the estates for the benefit of the congregations assembling in the places of worship, the great body of Trustees are made, with the Conference, joint conservators of the doctrines of Mr. Wesley. Personally they may change their views, and become Calvinists, Quakers, Socinians, or Infidels; but if á majority should so alter their creed, they could not introduce their new doctrines into our chapels ; because another party, perfectly independent of them, exists to check the intrusion. The obvious provisions of many religious and charitable establishments, have been evaded, by trustees and guardians changing their sentiments, and then appropriating the funds in their hands to the support of their own, and not the doctrines of the charitable founders. The case of Lady Hewley's charitable bequests, as well as numerous chapels erected by the old non-conformists, are in point. By a fraudulent misappropriation, estates of great value, known to be left to educate young men of the orthodox faith, and support a ministry, and worship which set forth the Saviour's Deity and glories, have been for many years employed in the education of men whose avowed and settled object is to deny the Divinity of Christ, and preach against all those great verities of religion which the pious donor, not only considered essential, but actually made the reason and ground of the bequest itself. Now, the defect leading to this mischievous, and, indeed, ruinous result, arose out of the circumstance that no

« PreviousContinue »