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consideration of other things which contributed largely to those embarrassments and distractions that have all along troubled the Wesleyan body, and which now seem fast bringing on a crisis that must decide whether the Methodist reformation shall become a thing of the past, or whether, itself reformed and renovated, it shall run a new career of usefulness and honour to the Church and the world.
Recent events have fully brought to light, and rendered palpable to all men, an astounding anomaly among Protestant Churches—a religious society under supreme clerical control. It can no longer be concealed, nor indeed is it denied, that such is the prominent peculiarity of Methodism as it is. Now, in the first instance, when Wesley began to form his converts into communities, such a government might have been a necessary evil. Raw recruits-uninstructed persons just recovered from the depths of popular heathenism-were perhaps wholly unfit to be entrusted with power. But now the Methodistic laity are a very different class, yet their position is not altered. The people ask for their undoubted rights as Protestant Christians, and they are told that Methodism is unalterable. Treated as babes at first, when they were really such, these full-grown men are doomed to the obedience and subjection of an everlasting infancy. Such is the present doctrine of Conference. Now this doctrine is certainly at variance with the theory and practice of all Protestant Churches. Even the Church of England not only recognises the lay element, but in the supremacy of the Crown and Législature that element greatly preponderates. Priestly pride may swell in the bosoms of certain ecclesiastics, but it is of no avail; they have not the power, happily, to carry out their pretensions. This is the case, more or less, throughout the entire realm of Protestantism, with but one exception-Wesleyan Methodism. No body is more thoroughly averse to the doctrines and sentiments of Popery, and yet no other Protestant body fraternizes with it in this one respect. The clerisy is all and all, and the people nothing as to church government. Concessions may have been made from time to time, but the principle itself is not abandoned. To attempt the proof that such a principle of church government is opposed to Scripture, and is flagrant and pernicious, would be a waste of time and labour. It is averse to justice and reason; it revolts common sense. Conference, in adhering to it, lends its support to one of the very worst features of Romanism. Its courts of discipline are become a ludicrous caricature of Popish inquisitions, without the prestige of splendour, antiquity, and terror-without the power of effectually subduing rebellious spirits. They can only inflict a harmless penalty, and in doing it exhibit an impotent mockery of proceedings which, however detestable in their spirit, yet by their awful consequences could not but command some measure of obedience, if not of respect.
Did Wesley foresee this? If not, the admission must seriously detract from his reputation as a legislator. The collision between the preachers and the people ought to have been anticipated and provided for. If he did, his vindication will be yet more difficult. There still
remains, however, one more alternative. He might have thought that Conference, guided by wisdom and piety, would act in his own spirit, and deal righteously with every emergency as it arose. If so, events have not justified his expectations. Further than this we dare not trust ourselves to speak. Let the Wesleyan ministers persist in identifying themselves in principle with the Romish priesthood, and they must share its fate. They have neither the thunder of the Vatican, nor its antiquity-nor its array of learning-nor, to their honour be it added, its craft and policy to avert their doom. The Christian world will mourn the close of their short but brilliant chapter in ecclesiastical history. Not that the religion of Methodism can ever die, or the influence which it has exerted for good ever cease to be felt; but that the system itself must either be renovated, or else speedily pass away, is a conclusion from which we cannot escape, nor contemplate without profound grief and earnest deprecation.
Other topics rise up before us in corroboration of these views, to which we can only refer with brevity. The doctrinal narrowness which binds down so many intellects to all the theology of Wesley, true or false, is a much more serious evil than it appears at first sight. Minds of a low order may find no difficulty in adopting an extensive creed upon the faith of their founder. But independence of thought and extensive theological acquirements are utterly incompatible with any bonds except the authority of Divine revelation ; much less with bonds so strait as a belief of all that is contained in the first four volumes of Wesley's Sermons and his Notes on the New Testament. It is only necessary to read the Life of Richard Watson to see how this exclusiveness acts when it comes in contact with men of intellectual preeminence. But independently of all such illustrations, the very thought that there are several thousands of religious teachers who all believe, or profess to believe, whatever Wesley wrote, and continue in that creed unshaken, through a whole life of supposed devotedness to prayer and to the study of the word—this very thought, we say, is startling and incredible to those who know that the human mind is incapable of any advancement in knowledge without undergoing perpetual change or modifications of opinion. Can men be really educated who never see cause for any change or modification in such a wide range as is embraced in the standards of Wesleyan theology? Much more since the volumes in question have long ceased to have any considerable value in the literature of the Church. Watts and Doddridge still hold high rank with the enlightened of all sects; but no biblical scholar appeals to the opinion of Wesley, whose works have no recognised place anywhere except in the libraries of his own followers. To the world at large he lives only as the founder of Methodism; as a theological writer, he is already consigned to oblivion. Unless his successors can break the chain by which he has bound them to his dead body of divinity,' every succeeding age will leave them further and further below, till nothing remains to them except a place in history.
We must add one more particular. Itineracy as distinct from a permanent pastorate-though theoretically we may admit that it has its advantages, and, all other things being equal, it is a fair subject for debate whether of the two is best ; yet in the case before us, it is a manifest aggravation of some of the evils to which we have adverted. The preachers, who have absolute and irresponsible power--at whose feet the people lie—have but a three years' interest in the friendship and intimacy of the flock; they do not strike root anywhere; they have not time to form any strong or lasting ties; they are not restrained from the exercise of power by any apprehensions of future discomfort, from which they know that, if even it should follow, they will in a given period be emancipated. The effect, therefore, is not unlike that which is attained in the Romish Church by the celibacy of the clergy. Hence, then, to discuss the merits of itineracy in the abstract, and apart from the subject of clerical rule, would be an imposition upon the understanding. We are of opinion that an itinerant ministry is adverse to the cultivation of studious habits, and, consequently, to the acquisition of that large knowledge of biblical science which is every day rendered more and more essential to the efficient discharge of pastoral functions. We cannot think that the transient traveller, who alights in a place for a season, is comparable in point of moral influence to the man whose long-tried patience and consistency have not only endeared him to his own flock, but have made his name a household word in a whole neighbourhood, and his character a kind of public property. But if even we could think the balance equal in other respects, yet when we remember that this bird of passage holds under Conference an absolute lordship over his own society—that he need fear no murmurs of disaffection-no alienations of friendship to pain his heart or rebuke his despotism-who does not see that we have before us a church-ruler whose power would be beneficially restrained by innumerable social checks, if he were compelled to spend his whole life in one sphere of labour, and to reap the comforts or discomforts arising out of his own conduct, good or bad ? In short, no Wesleyan minister, in the present disputes, would have obeyed the Conference to the havoc of his flock, if the system of itineracy did not render it possible to kindle a conflagration and then to escape from all its distressing consequences.
Even this brief review is amply sufficient to account for all the troubles and dissensions that have arisen in the history of Methodism. If these causes did not begin to work in the founder's lifetime, they certainly began to bring forth their bitter fruit immediately after his death. From time to time, large bodies have been rent away from the parent stem. The wonder is not that such things have occurred—it is more wonderful that the secessions have not been more numerous and powerful. These destructive elements must have long ago dissolved the entire Wesleyan polity, had they not been subject to some mitigations. Thus, for instance, it must be granted, we think, by all candid and impartial persons, that such a result would have taken place, if the Conference had not ordinarily exercised its power with great moderation. Or if, on the other hand, the people had not been extraordinarily
patient and forbearing, the same thing would have happened. Besides, à profound veneration for the name and authority of Wesley; the spiritual successes which have continually enlarged this body; and, more than all, the affection which Christians invariably feel for the men whose labours contribute to their edification; have hitherto assisted to put off the evil day, and to hold the societies together. But in proportion as Wesley recedes into the past, conversions become less numerous, the ministry behind the age in intelligence, and in spirituality less decided, these evils in the system will grow more palpable and repulsive; they will be denounced, both within and without the body, in tones of thunder that will leave the Conference no alternative but surrender-or destruction.
We apprehend that there can be but one sentiment upon this subject among evangelical Christians of all denominations. It is, that Wesleyan Methodism may be purged from all the evil elements incorporated with it by human prejudice and infirmity, and that it may long continue to flourish as an efficient instrument for extending the kingdom of our blessed Redeemer in this and in all lands. Past services entitle it to the admiration and gratitude of all good men. Names are identified with it that must be held in honour by generations to come. Myriads of its trophies are now, doubtless, with the spirits of just men made perfect; and myriads of living saints, we may hope, breathe within its enclosure. He must be miserably insensible to all that is excellent and holy, who can be indifferent to the best interests of such a community. Its existence has been an incalculable blessing to multitudes of the human race; its renovation would be, under God, the renewal of its glorious youth; but its loss could hardly be repaired without an outpouring of the Spirit, as signal as that which distinguished its origin. Let its rulers, then, be awake to their vast responsibility, the people calm and solemn in the assertion of their rights and principles—let Christian men be kind and temperate, yet candid and faithful, in all their strictures—let the New Testament govern and overrule the trust-deed of Wesley, and be the final standard of appeal ;—thus we may hope to see Methodism reformed, harmony and confidence in the body restored, and one of the fairest fields of British Christianity redeemed from the ravages of the demon of discord.
But, in the meantime, every year adds to the difficulties of the case in proportion as it increases the danger of delay. Whatever Conference may think, dissidents are not to be despised with impunity whose weekly newspaper circulates to the extent of more than 7,000 copies. It is madness to expect deliverance by any conceivable amount of expulsions. Nay-every such expulsion is a new act of power, that makes the blot of clerical domination appear more foul and obnoxious. Besides, is not the remedy as certainly fatal as the disease itself? A handful of men has been expelled—and fifty-six thousand members have been lost! One such stroke of discipline draws with it innumerable defections besides. Cast out a few more, and Conference will have no community to govern, and may wind up their affairs by handing over their chapels to the hammer of the auctioneer! No-expulsion will
not do. The questions at issue must be met, discussed, and settled, on terms of friendship and confidence. Before the breach grows wider, let wisdom and righteousness interpose. By and bye, the gulf will be impassable, and Wesleyan Methodism gone, beyond the help of any earthly mediator.
The First Bishap.
As a system of revealed truth must of necessity be in its purest state at first, before it has become liable to the dangers of traditionary transmission, so divine institutions are perfect at their commencement. In this respect Christianity stands in fine contrast to all the human sciences, which begin in conjectures and accidents, and progress slowly through a course of experimental development; never possess any other authority than what they derive from the laws of logic or the application of a physical test, and are always improvable. The world witnesses at the present time a fierce and melancholy contest, maintained by a very diversified class of unregenerate minds, to reduce Christianity to the ordinary conditions of a human science. No new war, indeed, is this, for all the intervening generations, from the apostolic to the present period, have exhibited the same contest in different forms. This contest has always had the same issue: it has enriched the Christian citadel with new and valuable means of defence, and it has never failed to expose the intellectual weakness and the intense malignity of the assumed champions of reason, nominally, but of infidelity, in disguise. But why is this running siege on the truth and institutions of revelation? There is not a better known fact, than that all the master spirits of the old classical world, whenever they approached any great question that involved morals, yearned for a revelation from the gods to supply to morals those fixed certainties that geometry possesses in its axioms; and groaned aloud under the huge burden of their hearts, whose fears and hopes for the future, and whose thoughts and consciousness for the past, even their potent and cultivated reason could not appease. Plato and Aristotle were such men among the Greeks, and Cato, Cicero, and Pliny among the Romans. They were surely not fanatics. They knew at least what they desired, and why they hoped that the gods would some day compassionate mortal anguish, and solve those vast enigmas that had confounded the great thinkers of all schools on the moral condition and destiny of human nature. It is very possible that, loud and frequent as these imploratives to the unknown God' were, that these very men would have either rejected the revelation by Jesus the Son of God, or have received it only with hesitation, perhaps with disgust.