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DESIGNED TO EXHIBIT THE TRUE PRINCIPLES OF THE WESLEYAN CONSTITUTION ;
TO VINDICATE THE CHARACTER OF ITS AUTHORITIES; TO GUARD THE MEMBERS AGAINST THE ATTEMPTS MADE TO SEDUCE THEM FROM THE SOCIETY; AND EXPOSE THE SPIRIT AND OBJECTS OF · THE SO CALLED " GRAND CENTRAL ASSOCIATION.”
TO BE PUBLISHED EVERY FORTNIGHT.
LIVERPOOL, FEB. 18, 1835. Price 1 d.
REMARKS ON MR. GORDON'S SPEECH AT THE MUSIC HALL MEETING,
LIVERPOOL. In our analysis of the speech of Mr. Gordon we propose to place his objections against the present form of Methodism under distinct heads, that their bearing may be at once seen. As this speech is published by authority in the “ Lantern,” the regularly established vehicle of the Association, we take its principles to be the principles of that body, and shall animadvert upon them as such.
The first subject of Mr. Gordon's speech is THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CONFERENCE. He remarks “ The Conference is composed of preachers alone. Individuals placed under any government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, should as a matter of natural right, have a share in that government."-" The Conference is composed solely of ministers, and is therefore unjustly constituted to be the ruling authority of the body.”_"A body of preachers should not possess the ruling power in a connexion like that of Methodism.” Again-" This fact is sufficient to prove to every considering mind, that the Conference should not be the ruling authority of the body.” And again---" Besides this general principle, that governments should be so exercised that all the governed should have a share in it; these two facts demonstrate that of all parties, the Conference composed as it now is, ought not to have the ruling authority in our body.”
These terms are not very exact and precise, but we may collect from them the doctrine, that now the Association, together with its friends and abettors, either object to the constitution of the Conference altogether, or propose to supersede it by the formation of an entirely new legislative and executive body. We are not sure but this latter is the true interpretation of their opinions and designs, not merely from the words of the above passages; but in a subsequent part of his speech, in exhorting the meeting to active measures, Mr. Gordon says, “ you must make yourselves a Conference, and, if you can, place yourselves in the situation in which they have placed themselves with reference to the Methodist body, and all you want to do will be done."
We adduce these passages for the purpose of confronting the Association with itself. The intention of breaking up our present frame of government was denied by the Association in the commencement of its reforming career; their avowed object then was" to obtain from the Conference their consent to open its sittings to the public, under the following restrictions:- First, that the people shall sit apart from the preachers, and not be entitled to vote; and secondly, that each travelling preacher in full connexion be allowed to admit by ticket one person to each sitting of the Conference; excepting only when the characters of the preachers are uuder consideration, and when the members of the legalized fund are transacting their own peculiar business.”
How the members of the Association will reconcile these passages we know not, or which of the three clashing and contradictory propositions they intend to rest upon.The probability is, that, like all revolutionists, they will rest on nothing, but fancy after fancy will rise up before them, and the only fixed purpose in which they will find it possible to urite and act, is that of destroying whatever has a present existence. The progress made in the short space of about three months displays the fertility of their genius, and the active nature of the phrenzy by which they are impelled. Their rapid fight is extremely inconvenient to us, who do not happen to possess the same strength of pinion with themselves; for when we imagine we have overtaken them, and are about to argue some principle which they had assumed, or to defend some part of the Methodist economy which they had attacked-behold they are gone! have taken wing to anoiher region, and are broaching new sentiments or committing new depredations. On this single question respecting Conference, we have three distinct opinions put forth in the short space of three months, and two of them in the course of one single speech at the Music Hall! We ask the Association, which they intend permanently to patronize ?
· First-They propose that the public shall be admitted to be spectators of the proceedings of Conference, without possessing the right to vote, leaving that body as to its constitution unaffected. This proposition must rest on some reason, and the only one we can suppose as actuating the Association is, that the preachers are in the habit of discharging their duties under the influence of corrupt motives—being led to it by what is usually denominated in the slang of the party, “the dominant faction;" that reasons insufficient,arguments specious, false, and untrue-representations grounded on deceptive and sophistical pleading--and threatening and coercion, are the means employed by this faction", to gain the votes of the preachers. The presenee of the public is to guard against these evils, and preserve impartiality and purity amongst this venerable meeting of corrupt and venal priests! Does the Association intend to cherish this bantling of their wisdom ? If so, we can tell them that we know Methodist preachers who despise their suspicions, and are not afraid of public inspection. That the parties most exposed to their virulent reproach and hatred, are so on account of their public virtues; and because they possess an intelligence, judgment, fixedness of principle, and inflexible adherence to the doctrines and economy of Methodism which will not, because it conscientiously cannot, lend itself to the revolutionary mania of the day, and introduce untried novelties into a system which, under the blessing of God, has produced immense good in the world, are the objects of their vindictive malice and hate. If any persons in the Methodist Conference ought to court publicity, they are these much-injured men; and we are persuaderl, that the disinterested, patriotic, and truly Methodistic principles which they have invariably advocated would enable them to bear away the prize of public favour. They have nothing to fear, and if popularity was their object, every thing to gain, by the presence of the public! But whilst we say this, we at the same time affirm that the principle itself is branded in the forehead with direct and palpable insult to the body of the preachers. What! will four hundred of God's ministers allow themselves, year after year, to be hood-winked or brow beaten into measures which in their consciences and judgment they disapprove? Will they lend themselves to support a “faction” to crush themselves, to usurp their rights, and trample on their own liberties? We do not affirm that all the decisions of the Conference are the best-for neither ourselves nor they pretend to infallibility, notwithstanding the foolish slanders on that subjects but we do say, that they are honestly come to: and although the notion of keeping men honest by the presence of the public may nave something specious in it, our own opinion is, that there is much greater probability of impartiality and purity as it is at present constituted, than if the sittings were open to the public. Who does not know the influence of public feeling on party violence ? Is it not next to certain, that if the proceedings and speeches of Conference were reported to the public, the connexion would instantly be split into parties and the gravity of its transactions be broken in upon by a gladiatorship of debate, either for public amusement, the gratification of party passions, or the elevation of the orator in
the esteem of those without ? Nothing in our ininds could be more odious than to behold the business of the church of God transacted with a view to pander to the passions of the public on the one hard, or to have the decisions of Conference overawed by its clamours on the other. The re-action of such a mode of procedure on the two parties, must be most injurious to both, and excite a state of interminable cavil and discord.
But why do we dwell on this subject of lay inspection. The Association secondly advocates the principle of a re-construction of the Conference itself. “ The Conference is composed solely of ministers, and is, therefore, unjustly constituted to be the ruling authority of the body.” The orator does not state in what this injustice consists. He makes no appeal to scriptural-principle or precedent, to ecclesiastical history, or even to expediency. He merely affirms that as at present constituted, the Conference is per se unjust. If this be the case, the injustice does not rest with the present persons composing that body. They have usurped no power-they have created no functions they have framed no constitution good or evil-they have laid no new platform of government. All that can be alleged against the existing Conference is, that finding a particular system planned by their predecessors, they have suffered themselves to be inducted into it, and believing it to have originated in the providential designation of God, and, in the main, working well, they have not lent themselves to destroy it. In most Methodist preachers it is likely that an impression in its favour exists, from the fact, that it was constituted by their venerable founder, that it bears the weight of nearly a century, that it has been defined and guarded by a legal enactment, that it has been subjected to the test of experiment, and has been found, like a sheet anchor, to be capable of holding the Wesleyan vessel in stormy seas, that it has administered the Gospel to an almost unparalleled extent for the time, that its proceedings have received the blessing of God in such a way, as to shew that it not only originated in his providence, but has, in its practical operation, been placed under his guidance. With these facts before thein, connected with a just sense of responsibility to God and his church, we think the Wesleyan Ministers, and, we rejoice to say, not only the largest part, but nearly the whole community of Methodists, would steadfastly resist py infringement of the present constitution of the Conference.
But when the unlawfulness of the constitution of Conference is affirmed, some law must have been present to the mind of the speaker to which, in his apprehension, it is opposed. We should like to know what law it is to which he refers. If the Divine law is the one in question, will Mr. Gordon have the kindness to tell us what part of the sacred code the union of the Wesleyan preachers in Conference violates ? We are not so absurd as to plead for the jus divinum of the Conference, or to argue that every other forin of church polity is anti-scriptural and unlawful. But wo do say, that the present form of church polity in the Methodist connexion, by a Conference of Ministers, connected as the actual government in the circuits is, with the united wisdom and piety of various officers of society, rests on grounds as good and scriptural as any thing the Association can have to propose.
The New Testament furnishes no platform of ecclesiastical government at all: it propounds great principles and furnishes precedents, but even those precedents are not uniform. The Bible baffles theorists in religious politics, as well as speculatists in doctrine; for here, as in other things, "the foolishness of God is wiser than man.” What an unwieldy incumbrance must that which is in modern parlance denominated a constitution, have been to the first teachers of Christianity! They had no such thing in their commission—they preached the gospel, discipled the people by baptism, formed them into church communion, instructed them in experimental religion, exercised such discipline as the occasion required, according to the word of their Divine master, and sometimes did it of their own authority, and at other times, called up the assistance of the church. The doctrines of the gospel were, in the early ages of the church, what they were in the early days of Metholism, grand germinant principles. The truth was left to operate freely in the minds of men, and of itself, under the simple guidance of the teacher, the church grew up to be a compact body. In this state of things, the great principles of Christianity were preserved, but the external state of the church was not exactly uniform ; for, how could that be the case, when it was to exist in the midst of different nations of people, and of civil and ecclesiastical governments, both of which were opposed to Christianity. In the midst of this variety, one principle appears to be uniformly held, viz. the distinction between the pastors of the church and the laity, together with the pastoral government of the ministers, sometimes singly and on their own authority, and sometimes united by council. · The celebrated argument of ChilLingworth in favour of episcopacy, as founded on this faet, has never been answered.
It is certain that the carliest ecclesiastical historians, fathers, and apologists, have. recorded nothing respecting lay elders or delegates. They were totally unknown in the priinitive church. They had deacons for the management of their temporal affairs; but no lay elders or delegates to administer scriptural discipline, or at all interfere in the functions of the pastoral office. We are aware that the term Elder is often used in the New Testament, but uniformly in relation to persons holding the ministerial office. Though the spiritual gifts conferred on the primitive church were various, it is evidert that the officers of the church were divisible into two classes--ministers and deacons, The ministers under various names preached the word, administered the ordinances, and had the spiritual charge of the church; and the deacons were appointed to attend upon the temporal business. This order appears to have gone down to the ages immediately following the Apostolic days, and became, under different shades and modifications, the settled state of things in the church. Where then is the unlawfulness of the Wesleyan ministers exercising that pastoral and spiritual government which they found in existence when they united with the body, and took on them, by the call of God, the ministerial office? It is not opposed to any law of Christ, to any practice of the primitive church; and, finding it to be the law of the connexion when they entered it, they have usurped no inan's rights.
Then the question as to lay eldership, or delegation, is altogether reduced to a matter of expediency and utility. Setting aside for the present, the difficulties standing in the way of such a system, it may be well to test the principle by experience and fact. The Presbyterian churches of this country, it is well known, admitted the order of lay eldership. We are not sufficiently acquainted with the internal state of these churches to give a narrative of the manner in which the system worked, but with the result we are well informed. It is a notorious circumstance that these churches, in this nation, have not only lost every relic of what the orthodox consider vital piety, but they have, scarely without an exception, sunk into Socinianism, and “ denied the Lord that bought them.”
We do not affirm that this corruption of Christian doctrine and loss of genuine religion has been occasioned by lay elders; but this fact is certain, that the evil is found to exist in connexion with this form of government; consequently, if lay elders did not occasion it, neither did they prevent it. Now the ostensible argument put forth in favour of a lay delegation in the Wesleyan connexion is, that it tends to the purity and freedom of the body. It may, for what we know, have tended in the Presbyterian churches to produce a morbid liberty—the liberty to indulge in latitudinarianism, terminating in practical scepticism ; but has it preserved the ministry from corruption ? lt has broken down under this system of lay eldership, and the wreck has been next to universal.
We have no doubt, though unable to trace the thing historically, that the connection between lay eldership and this denial of “the faith once delivered to the saints,” exists as cause and effect. It is natural it should: let spiritual government be placed in any community in secular hands, and from the well-known influence of wealth and rank, it will fall into the hands of that class of professing Christians. Then is it not in the nature of things that these should carry a leaven of worldly influence with them into the church? This, may at first, be gradual-and, indeed, imperceptible : but accommodation to the world, the desire to live fair in its eye, to blend in its pleasures, and stand on as elevated a pinnacle as others, is a natural feeling to those who are in the world.
Be this as it may, it is not necessary to our argument. We have the appalling fact, that a body of ministers associated with a system of church government, embracing the beau' ideal of ecclesiastical polity, and advocated by many of our Methodistical reformers, becoming gradually, and in less time than Methodism has existed, first Arian and then Socinian! The probability is, that the two classes of men thus associated in the government of the church, corrupted each other and fell together. The most likely course to preserve the purity of any ministry is to let it stand on its own peculiar ground-separated from the laity altogether; pledged to the holiness and spirituality of the pastoral office; and with the obligations of the New Testament resting upon it. By uniting the laity and preachers in the same offices, you push the ministers of the sanctuary from this isolated ground, and, by identifying them with secular character and habits, gradually sink them to the same state. If in synod and Conference the merchant and tradesman may take his place, for the purpose of exercising the power and rights of a governor in the spiritual affairs of the church of Christ, what should hinder the minister in his turn appearing with the same parties to take part in the secularities of the world ?
The most recent trial of this union of the secular and pastoral character in the
government of the church, has been made by the Methodist New Connexion. Not belonging to the age when this connexion was formed by a division from the old stock, we do not at all participate in the passions and prejudices of those times; and are, we be. lieve, able to look upon it with the same catholic spirit as upon any other branch of the professing church. Our impression is, that their ministers and communion are intelligent, respectable, and pious. They have enjoyed internal peace: there has been no deviation from sound doctrine, and-saving a few recent matters--they and their old friends have maintained a respectful bearing towards each other. But, as a Methodist Connexion, it has not answered the expectations of its founders and friends. Methodism in most of its branches, has been considered an aggressive system; and its ministers have never evinced much satisfaction unless inroads were being made on the territories of our spiritual foes, sinners converted to God, and the societies constantly augmented. It is in this respect that the New Connexion must have disappointed its friends: for after existing nearly forty years, and having several preachers, abont five thousand members, and numerous chapels to begin with, and we may fairly suppose, an accession at least of individuals from our own body-during the whole period, they only now number about fifteen thousand members! This it will be seen, is not, according to our Methodistic notions, a prosperous growth. Whether the lay delegation has hung as a dead weight upon the wheels of the machine, we have no means of ascertaining; but here is the fact: we have a mixed system of government in Conference, (for out of Conference the old connexion is equally a mixed government,) and from some cause or other, it has not increased with the same rapidity as the old connexion : we therefore imagine, that it wants the unity-and, consequently, the energy which unity produces, and which is possessed by the old body. We are aware that an argument has been set up founded on the principle of geometrical progression, to shew, that the New Connexion has augmented its numbers more rapidly than the old. This respectable writer must have forgotten to take into consideration the fact, that on this principle every new aggression on the unoccupied territory of the world lessens the amount of material to be operated upon; and, in the nature of things, it may be expected, that a large body cannot, as the sphere of its operations lessens in any particular place, augment with the same rapidity as when they were small; and, as Dr. Chalmers would say, the out. door population great. It strikes us, that the fair way of comparison would be to take the period when the old connexion numbered five thousand members—follow its progress for forty years; at the end, take the total, and compare it with the progress made by the New connexion. It will then be found by this mode of admeasurement, that the Old system operated with much greater vigour and effect on the masses of the people than the New. We deny all invidious feeling, or improper motive, in introducing this question : our honest wish is, that this respectable off-shoot of the old tree may thrive and bear good fruit, and our only intention is to shew the members of our own body and the Association that, in the particular adduced, the New Connexion has not come up to our notions of progress and growth. With nothing to begin with no chapels, no coadjutors, no members of society: in the teeth of the world, its prejudices and passions in array against them : mobs, tumults, and missiles of every description, obstructing their exertions—the two Wesleys laid the foundations of the societies; and with the assistance of the few labourers who came to their aid, increased their nuinbers from 1744, the period when the first Minutes were published, to 1782—thirty-eight years, (the time the New Connexion has existed) to 46,331 members. This is more than treble the amount of progress made by the New Connexion, in circumstances certainly more favourable, as regards the external state of things, than fell to their lots We are unacquainted with the internal state of this branch of the Methodist family we hope it is good; but they have not put forth externally that energy of action which is indicative of united and vigorous counsels. It is perfectly true that a body of ministers, such as the Wesleyan Conference, may be guilty of some worldly indiscretions, from which the presence of the lay-delegates might save them; but there must be a balance of advantage in favour of the healthy, vigorous, and united efforts of the Old Connexion to extend the gospel, in the fact that their operations are not impeded by these over nice maxims of worldly prudence. We are not advocates for rash and foolish experimenting in religion, but it is highly probable, that if the preachers of the New Connexion had been left to form their own plans, to rest on their own resources and exertions, to contemplate the spiritual ruin and wants of the world, through the medium of those views which their commission teaches, without the patronage, counsels, and calculations of lay delegates, they would have made inuch greater progress. The wants of the world, and the danger and ruin of souls must not be looked at through the medium of worldly notious of prudence; but through the lessons of Scripture and the love of redemption.