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TO VINDICATE THE CHARACTER OF ITS AUTHORITIES; TO GUARD
TO BE PUBLISHED EVERY FORTNIGHT.
No. 6. LIVERPOOL, MARCH 18, 1835. Price 1 d.
THE MORALITY OF THE ASSOCIATION.
The distortions of the human mind under some circumstances are extremely fantastical, and seem to be resolvable into no known laws of thought and judgment. It is perhaps one of the most difficult efforts of the intellect, even under favourable circumstances, to view all sides and tendencies of truth with equal accuracy, and in other states quite impossible. A high degree of excitement, devoted partizanship, a long continued view of one particular aspect of any given case, reading mere party writers, conversing constantly with one class of persons, and especially, self-interest, have the effect of warping the mind, so as to preclude the possibility of a fair and large perception of truth on any subject. Men whose judgment is thus biased, entertain no doubt respecting the validity of their opinions, and never imagine that their opponents can have any thing to say on their behalf, but push aside their arguments as mere refuse, whilst their own one-eyed dogmas, are put forth as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
We are led into these remarks by the avowal on the part of the partizans of the Association, of a somewhat novel notion of the doctrine of morality. It has often been maintained in our unhappy disputes, that the members of the Association are men of spotless morality, and consequently cannot be justly expelled the society. After giving utterance to this sentiment on many occasions verbally, its patrons have thought proper to put it into a written form. Amongst other documents, we find it expressed as the opinion of seventeen leaders, in a letter to the Rev. George Marsden. They say, respecting some of their expelled brethren, “ They were not found guilty of any moral offence, and whose character, in the estimation of all good men, is exemplary and unimpeachable;” and, again—"we deprecate excommunication on any ground, except for gross immorality of conduct.”
In the sense in which the term morality is used in these passages, we do not intend to fix any stigma on the persons who have been separated from the society.—Having stated this, we shall altogether drop their particular case, and deal only with the principle thus broadly avowed. We do so, because we happen to know that it is a very favourite doctrine of the party-is in current use is the subterfuge under which they attempt to shelter themselves from the awful responsibility of their proceedings; and by which they are beguiling many of the pious and good into a tacit acquiescence, or an active co-partnership in their measures.
The word immorality is here used in the sense of an overt act of sin, such as drunkenness, swearing, impurity, theft, or some other gross outrage on public decency and the laws of God. Now the above statement is" we deprecate excommunication on any ground, except for gross immorality of conduct.” Will these members and abettors of the Association abide by this sentiment ? If they do, we think it will carry them somewhat farther than they intended to go. One of the great faults of this opinion is, that it is their own—without any reference to the authority of the word of God. We always thought that the laws of Christ determined who were, and who were not, fit per. sons to belong to his church ; but we are now told that none ought to be separated from it, on any ground, except for gross immorality. Then, on this principle, a person may be destitute of, and neglect all those parts of religion which consist of piety towards God, and yet be a fit member of the Christian church. He may trample on the truth, deny the Lord that bought him, and even sink into a state of absolute infidelity and yet, if he is preserved from gross iinmorality, he may remain in the church ; though his continuance there may be for the sole purpose of spreading his own pestiferous opinions, and carrying out his designs to destroy every thing vital and holy in Christianity. Nay, more : if this ground were tenable, it would follow that any one falling from the love of God, whether meinber or preacher, and losing sight of the spiritual and religious designs of Christian fellowship, might make use of his profession to excite agitation in the church, for the purpose of aiding and abetting any ulterior worldly or political design out of it. Once allow this maxim to become law, and this crafty purpose is secured. The church becomes the arena of debate-the nucleus of union for any purpose—the hiding place for worldly intrigue—the focus of unbelief; and yet, because no gross act of immorality is committed by its members, they must not be excommunicated.
The fallacy of this opinion consists in keeping fidelity and piety towards God out of the question. Morality separated from godliness does not constitute a Christian. This disjunction of piety and morality is always, in religious argument, unfortunate ; but as it is now made by the Association party, we are driven to the necessity of adopting it. They claim exemption from all church censure, loss of privilege, and excommunication, on the ground of their not being immoral men, and publish to the world that they deprecate these things, except " for gross immorality.” As they thus choose to separate morality from religion, in both its principles and institutions, we must examine their proceedings by the rules of godliness as taught in the New Testament.
It is obvious that these principles and rules, though thus altogether excluded, are, nevertheless, as high an order of truths as their favourite maxims of morality; and in a profession of Christianity, as binding on its disciples. Need we say, that the laws of Christian morality are the laws of the New Testament, and properly comprehend the whole of practical religion, arising out of its evangelical privileges, and its sanctifying spirit ? Î'his is a different thing to that limited and partial view of the subject which is so glaringly set forth in the proposition we oppose. It is this half view of a great and grave subject, which is the occasion of many of our brethren yielling themselves to evils, from which, had they a perception of the whole truth, they would recoil with abhorrence. Allowing them the benefit of their own plea, that they are not, in their own sense of the term, immoral; yet, by adding that which properly belongs to the definition of the term GODLINESS, we think we can convict them of great and serious offences.
We begin with the attempt to stop the supplies. This is a law of the Association ; it is a matter of concert amongst its members, and is now with them universally acted upon. Contributions towards the Auxiliary Fund, to aid the worn-out preachers and their destitute families; the Contingent Fund, to supply the gospel to the poor circuits in these united kingdoms; the Chapel Fund, to assist the trustees of chapelsor, in other words, to facilitate the preaching of the gospel; and the Missionary Fund, for the extension of the word of God to the destitute heathen nations-are all proscribed ; and yet, we are told that no moral principle is affected by all this. We ask-is no religious, scriptural, or godly principle affected by it ? Let us try.
We recur to the fund in aid of worn-out preachers, their widows, and orphan children. To say the least, they are of the species, they are fellow men, either friends or enemies. Have 'we any rule affecting such a case ? Yes; most clear and explicit, even on the supposition that these decayed, now silent, and dying ministers were the enemies, and not the friends, of their flocks : “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy : but I say unto you-love your enemies, bless
them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you ; that ye may be the children of your father that is in heaven ; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." But, say they, “ we do love our ministers ; it is a foul and slanderous impeachment of our character, to imagine for a moment, that we do not possess and exercise the purest love both to God and to them.” What says St. John ?
Whoso hath this world's good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bo.wels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ?” Truly, this new and philosophic mode of giving expression to the feeling of Christian love, would have perfectly confounded the simple and affectionate disciple who leaned on the bosom of his divine master! To him it would have appeared a very odd way of loving a class of men, not only to withhold all assistance to them in time of affliction and old age, but to do their utmost to prevent others affording it. Ah, venerable men, little did you think, when you left your peaceful homes, many long years ago, to return no more with life glowing freshly on your countenances —with mind and piety, both vigorous--with joy and hope beating warmly in your bosoms : little did you think, when, at the call of your Lord, you began the itinerant life-sacrificed the quiet of a local habitation and a home-gave yourselves to consuming studies, and anxious cares for the church diligent visits to the abodes of the poor and wretched-fervent prayer and zealous teaching, that you might save souls and edify the body of Christ : little did you think, venerable men, that when time had worn you out left you the wreck of what you once were-age and infirmity pressing you down your harp no longer strung to the music of redeeming love, but hung on the willow the pre-monitions of death hanging around you, in the silence and obscurity of your state; that now, in the helplessness of your lot, you were to be left to die in want! And the widows and children of our departed ministers, what have they done? They, too, are consigned to the same fate, with the additional aggravation that they have to mourn the loss of their protector and friend, and are now thrown forlorn, and often helpless on the world, without any of those local friendships, and claims to sympathy and aid which long residence in a particular neighbourhood, and union with a single society and congregation give. Should the widow return to her native home, her relatives are dead ; if she seeks a location amongst the early friends of her itinerant life, disappointment meets her a new generation has risen up, and only a few remain to appreciate her departed husband's worth, or repeat the affectionate regards shewn to herself. She settles on some casual spot, perhaps unknown-has to begin life again by some industrious employment, and make up the scanty assistance she obtains from the connexion, by the instruction of children, or any other means in her power. The Association propose to deprive her even of this pittance : to throw her altogether on her own resources in old age : leave her to accidental charity, or suffer her to die in want.-Whilst we write this, grief and sorrow fill our heart, and we are ready to exclaim, in the language of the prophet"Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people and go from them !" Is it possible that Christians and Methodists can do this? Had the thing been stated hypothetically—as something likely to take place a short time ago, we could not have conceived it at all within the reach of a possible contingency. And yet to this course, every member of the Association is pledged; and, if we are to credit the published statements of the party, these persons consist of several hundred professed Christians! This mode of accomplishing their design agrees with the ancient barbarous practice of war, the holding of persons as hostages for the fulfilment of treaties. The Asssociation publishes to the world, that they have certain measures to carry: that they are resolved to gain their point; and they will take the old preachers, widows, and fatherless children as hostages, from the opposite party, and if they will not yield their claims, they will starve them to death! Can they do this consistently with the religion they profess? We tell them, they cannot; and if the victims of their folly and wickedness happened to be their most inveterate enemies, they could not do it on the principles of the New Testament. The pure and disinterested benevolence of that blessed book is" If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink : for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
If this be the scriptural rule respecting enemies, what is the treatment we owe to those who are of “ the household of faith ;' and not only so, but to the ministers of the sanctuary? The Apostolic doctrine is this" If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things, live of the things of the temple? And that they which wait at the altar are partakers of the altar, Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which
preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” And again—"Let him that is taught itt the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” If the Association reply that these passages are not applicable, inasmuch as the persons in question are now no longer employed at their altars; this is unquestionably, in part, true ; for they are old, infirm, worn down by past labours, and now only preach occasionally as their strength will allow. Does this mend the matter ? Rather does it not add ten-fold to the enormity of the wickedness. These venerable men have been employed during the whole of their active life in proclaiming the “gospel of the blessed God,” and have been made the honoured instruments of establishing and enlarging that system of religion which we so richly enjoy. That which our Lord said on another occasion, is true, as regards us and these holy men-" One sowed and another reaped. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour; other men laboured, and ye entered into their labours.” Yes; they sowed in the midst of privations, toils, and tears, that which we are now so plentifully reaping. The church privileges which we so abundantly enjoy are, under God, the creation of the fathers of the connexion ; some hanpily departed, and spared the pain and affliction of these tímnes, and some waiting in the midst of solitude, weakness, and, unless they have means of their own, comparative poverty, for their summons to a brighter and a better world. And these are the persons, together with widows and fatherless children, whom their soi-disant disciples, would now, with more than African barbarity, throw into the bush and jungle to perish of hunger. Our heart bleeds for poor human nature ! Fanaticism, like sin, can strip it of all its ornaments-freeze it into an iceberg of insensibility, or excite it to deeds which make reasonable men ashamed of the species-and religious men blush for the name they bear.
This is the inorality of the Association-this its godliness! Such things may have existed before : but, if they have, they have been deemed too profligate to stain the page of history, for they are unrecorded. The annals of the church indeed relate many strange events; but we challenge the most erudite reader and critic in church history to produce a case parallel to this. We assert that no body of Christians were ever brought to assent to such a proposition, since the origin of Christianity. The thing is perfectly unique. It is such an experiment in morals and religion as never took place before ; and is surrounded by a halo of glory or of infamy peculiarly its own.
We next inquire whether the supplies can be stopped from the Contingent Fund, the main object of which is to supply the gospel to the poorer circuits of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, on moral and Christian grounds. It is necessary here to premise that, on the confession of the Association, the true gospel is preached by the ininisters of the Wesleyan body. They are not get accused of heterodoxy. We believe this to be the truth, and that no body of men on earth more clearly, fully, zealously, and affectionately administer the Word of Life than these much calumniated servants of God. This admitted, it follows that in attempting to stop the supplies in this case, the effect is to impede, and, if possible, prevent the spread of the gospel itself. By withholding the means by which the gospel is carried to a people, you prevent them receiving and enjoying it. Hence, the plain question is, whether persons professing the doctrines of Christianity, as held by the Methodist Connexion, can have the right to prevent the spread of that which they consider divine truth? If they believed that the doctrines taught were erroneous, and dangerous corruptions of religion, then they would not only possess the right, but it would become their bounden duty to do all they could to stop the propagation of such dangerous delusions. But instead of this, they profess to hold a class of truths-divine, saving, consolatory-as the basis of their own hope; and then combine in large numbers to prevent the spread of these truths, by the very men from whoni they themselves receive them. Can absurdity go beyond this? But it is not so much with the folly of the thing we have to do, as with its moral and religious principle. Then we at once affirm, that no set of men can unite to prevent the circulation of the gospel, without being guilty of a most palpable and glaring act of impiety against God. No doubt most of the members of the Association would acquiesce in this sentiment, if others instead of themselves were the parties concerned. Suppose, for instance, any class of rival Christians were to unite themselves into a Grand Central Association, for the purpose of stopping the supplies of the Methodist ministry, and, in order to carry their purpose into cffect, printed little red books like those of this party, employed agents to go from door to door amongst our members, and friends, to urge upon thein the duty of withholding their contributions from funds to support and extend the doctrines they heard and believed; would not every man of the Association pronounce it to be not only an act of daring effrontery, but of equal impiety? They might justify their proceeding by saying "Although we believe your doctrines to be true, yet being members of the Church of England, or of an independent church, I think there are some points of discipline amongst you Methodists, which are not exactly to our taste ; and, on this account, we think ourselves called upon to use our most zealous efforts to stop the supplies employed for the spread of such a system.” Would not every man's spirit revolt at such narrowness and bigotry as this ? Yet this is the true case before us—with this only difference-that the opposing parties are professed adherents of the cause they attempt to destroy.
But this reckless measure involves consequences of a most fearful nature as regards the souls of the people belonging to the societies of the needy circuits and the population surrounding them. The effect is to deprive these poor people of the ordinances of religion and the Word of God which they now, by the aid of this fund, have the privilege to enjoy. We ask, “and these sheep, what have they done?” O, how sublime is that morality, and how pure, holy, and benevolent that religion, which would deprive these sheep and lambs of Christ's flock of the means of grace, till a question in dispute respecting church government is adjusted to the satisfaction of the agitating party, when they themselves do not know what frame of economy would suit them best! We are warranted in this assertion from the fact that they have been veering from one point of the compass to another ever since our disturbances began, and we defy any man to make out a consistent scheme, from any thing they have bitherto proposed. Then, how long the preaching of the gospel among the poor is to be suspended, it is impossible to say; if, till the sagacity, broad and expanded views, disinterested patriotism, elevated piety, and noble Christian zeal of the Association shall have formed an ecclesiastical platform which shall outvie all others for excellency, they will have grown lean enough. They are serving all the rules, usages, and institutions of Methodism, just as Aaron served the ear-rings, bracelets, and jewels of the murmuring Israelites in the wil derness, committing them to the fire; and, if we do not greatly mistake the question, the result will be the same-- there will come out a calf'; and when this image of the united wisdom of these sage religious legislators shall be set up, the cry will be heard “ These be thy gods, O Israel ?" In the meantime the ministry is to be withdrawn from the parts of the connexion not able to pay for it themselves. On their principle, this may happen in any place, and if all our people were equally illiberal, it would befal every poor part of the united kingrlom. Suppose the Contingent Fund should so far fail as to make it necessary to withdraw the gospel from the principality of Wales, or from the Shetland islands, then the plan of these noble philanthropists—these pure, holy, and loving Christians, would receive its consummation. How differently did Dr. Clarke feel and act. In old age he braved the dangers of the northern sea to visit the poor Shetlanders. With the zeal and animation of youth, he entered into their state, visited their societies, preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ, employed his utmost influence to raise money for their use, and especiaily to supply them with the ministry of the Word. Great was his success and the success of the preachers employed in the toilsomefand self-denying work of these Islands. But now, another class of moralists and Christian zealots has risen up, who deem it not inconsistent either with morality or religion to destroy this work. We ask any man of either sense or feeling out of the Association, which bears the stamp of Christian piety, charity, and zeal-the efforts of Dr. Clarke and his friends to extend the preaching of the gospel to these poor and destitute Islanders, or that of the Association, to withdraw it ? It is of no avail for these persons to say, this is not what they mean. We affirm that this is what they are doing. Some hundreds of professed Christians in the town of Liverpool alone, setting aside all other places, have not only adopted the theory of the combination, but have acted upon it. As far as they are coucerned, the supplies are withheld. With perfect sang froid, in the present quarterly visitation, old an: yourg, and especially the latter, have stood forth to inform the minister, that they had found the pardoning love of God, enjoyed great spiritual privileges and consolation in the ordinances, felt unfeignedly grateful to God for them, intended to hold fast, and lay hold on eternal life, that nothing should turn them out of the way, or cause them to leave the people of God, and then the whole has been closed by a declaration that they must withhold their usual contribution to the yearly collection. This, it is argued, is no sin against morals; be it so, is it no sin against that which is much higher than human · morality—the love which is due to the Saviour and the souls of inen? If that Saviour was on earth again when these men are calling for fire to descend on those ministers, whom they have set up as their enemies most falsely, but who have, in fact, been their best friends-would he not say, “ Ye know not of what spirit ye are;''—and when they refuse to aid in the salvation of the poor and destitute, a How dwelleth the love of God in you ?"