Page images
PDF
EPUB

willing to be taxed for the promotion of education. He hoped they would go on with their scheme, although, of course, he did not pledge himself to any particular course. For himself, he did not hold that there was any hostility between secular and religious instruction. Since this his lordship has spoken more decisively, and we are now told that the Government will bring in no Educational measure during the next session of Parliament.

LECTURES TO THE WORKING CLASSES.

The Christian Instruction Society has just concluded two very successful courses of lectures to the working classes; one, consisting of six lectures, at Hawkstone-hall; the other, of four, at King Edward Ragged-schools, Mile-end New-town; and a third course is now in course of delivery at Horsleydown and Poplar. The committee were happy to secure the 'prompt and generous' services of the Revs. John Dickenson, Robert Ainslie, Thomas Davies, George Smith, R. W. Overbury, Henry Batchelor, J. C. Galloway, M.A., John Kennedy, M.A., Robert Ashton, J. Adey, J. Burnet, J. B. Brown, and W. Leask, as lecturers on the several evenings. The subjects were varied in their character, as Christian Politics, Priestism, Atheism, Mohammedanism, the Jesuits, Babylon, Christianity, Social Inequalities, and Mormonism. The spacious rooms, we are informed, were filled on every occasion, sometimes densely crowded, with deeply interested audiences of working men, who testified their approbation ever and anon by most unmistakeable, and sometimes not very silent signs; and we are glad to see it stated that, encouraged by such attendances, and believing that most beneficial results will flow from such lectures to the working classes, the committee have made arrangements for other courses to be delivered in various places during the winter.

THE ANTI-STATE-CHURCH MOVEMENT.

Several meetings in connexion with this important movement have been held during the past month. On the 12th, Mr. Kingsley, the talented lecturer of the Anti-statechurch Association, addressed an 'overflowing audience' at Banbury. On the 13th, Mr. Kingsley lectured at Brill, and on the 14th, at Thame. On the 15th, the first of the series of monthly meetings convened by the Anti-state-church Association was held in the City of London Literary Institution, Nathaniel Griffin, Esq., presiding. The audience was very ably addressed by the Rev. W. Brock, John Scoble, Esq., and the Rev. Brewin Grant; and the attendance indicated that these meetings would be successful. On the 19th, Mr. Kingsley lectured at Rotherham. Mr. Williams (the secretary) and the Rev. J. Hirons, attended and addressed a meeting at Luton on the 21st; and Mr. Kingsley and the Rev. J. R. Campbell, of Edinburgh, have attended as a deputation from the society at a meeting held at Darlington on the 20th; Halifax, 21st; Wakefield, 22nd; Hull, 23rd; Sheffield, 26th; Leeds, 27th; and York, 28th.

NEW CHAPELS OPENED.

ST. HELIER'S, Jersey, Congregational chapel, on the 4th ult.
UGHBOROUGH, Devon, Congregational chapel, on the 30th of December

MINISTERIAL REMOVALS.

The following calls to church pastorates have been accepted:

:

CLARE, Suffolk (Congregational church).-The Rev. John Reynolds, from Lady Huntingdon's chapel, Gloucester.

CHESHUNT (Congregational church).-The Rev. G. Wright, late of Upper Clapton. GAINSBOROUGH (Congregational chapel).-Mr. Henry Lee, late of Airedale Col

lege.

HACKNEY (Hampden Congregational church).—The Rev. E. Tasker.
NEWTON-LE-WILLOWS.-The Rev. Theo. Davies, from Ludlow.

NANTWICH (Congregational church).-The Rev. Edward J. Sadler, late of Wem. ST. NEOT'S (Congregational church).-The Rev. P. Turner, of Evesham. SHANKLIN (Congregational church).-The Rev. John Greener, late of Bishop Auckland.

SYDENHAM (the Park Congregational church).-Rev. W. Campbell, M.A. WETHERFIELD, PENISTONE (Congregational church).-The Rev. J. Sutcliffe, late of Easingwold.

Mr. John H. Wilson, the late very efficient editor of the North of Scotland Gazette,' has retired from the conduct of that paper and become minister of Albionstreet chapel, Aberdeen.

The 'Wesleyan Times' announces that the Rev. W. L. Horton, of Castle Donington, has seceded from the Wesleyan connexion with a view of joining the Congregational denomination.

THE MONTHLY

CHRISTIAN SPECTATOR.

MARCH, 1852.

Weslry and Methodism.*

The name of John Wesley holds no secondary rank among the worthies of the Church. All intelligent persons now unite in acknowledging his claim to be regarded as one of the greatest benefactors of the human race. Every important religious movement is liable to be misunderstood at the time. Nor is it possible it should be so free from the infirmities of human nature as not to present to view some excesses to furnish a plausible ground for reprehension. To confess that this was the case in Methodism is to make no unreasonable concession. The sober-minded professors of that age might well look with wonder upon those scenes of mental excitement, and even of bodily convulsion, that were exhibited under the preaching of Wesley and his associates, in doubt whether these could be regarded as the results of genuine Christianity. But now that the societies thus originated have been long settled —have become recognised Christian bodies in all parts of the country, and, in most instances, have been purged, we may hope, from blemishes and extravagances which were the subject of ridicule with the world, and of regret and prejudice in the Church, we are able to appreciate the great work that has been accomplished; and he must be strangely bigoted who refuses to allow that the founder of Methodism, as an extraordinary instrument of Providence,

Wesley and Methodism.' By Isaac Taylor. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

deserves the gratitude and admiration of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

For what religious community has not profited more or less by his labours ? He was the first to make a bold and successful aggression upon the masses of popular ignorance. The Established Church of his days, contented with having territorially occupied the country, so as to embrace within its enclosure all who did not openly dissent from its doctrine and discipline, carried on its lifeless services for the benefit of the few who resorted to the sanctuary, but doing nothing for the crowds of wandering sheep that lived in a state of darkness and sin, little differing from heathenism. Nonconformists built their red brick meeting-houses, and mapped out their areas into so many family pews, so that wherever such an edifice exists, a casual glance is sufficient to show that they contemplated a substantial but limited congregation, for whose instruction and benefit the place of worship was provided. It would be untrue to say, that preaching the gospel was neglected ; but nobody thought of going out to attack ungodliness in its own hiding-places. All might come and hear, and were welcome, but those who would not were, for the most part, left to perish. The great result, as we conceive, of Wesley's life and labour, shared alike by all communities, is, that ever since his day, evangelical labour has been eminently aggressive. Hence he was the instrument of infusing new life into languishing, and almost powerless denominations; and while he founded a new society bearing his own name, was the true fountain whence proceeded all those schemes of Christian enterprise which are now watering all parts of the world, and conveying, in still increasing efficiency, the blessings of life and salvation.

While, however, we speak of Wesley as the fountain, we must not be understood as excluding the labours of Whitefield from an equal share in the important revolution that must ever be identified with both their

They must be regarded as inseparably connected, at least in the origination of the movement. And in our judgment, the doctrinal separation that afterward took place was either one of Wesley's most fatal errors, or else the greatest misfortune of his life. Bound to a rejection of what is called Calvinism, his societies must of necessity stand in a position of antagonism to a very large class of evangelical Christians. Not only was there no need for such exclusiveness, but it was highly impolitic, considering that Wesley was a Churchman, and that his object was not dissent from the doctrine and discipline of the Establishment, but a means of usefulness supplemental to it. That he should adopt and enforce a system of theology so much at variance with the Articles of that Church as understood by the Evangelical party could not but throw a great gulf of separation between them. If he had intended to found a church that, having overspread the whole country, should take a permanent rank among other existing bodies, then his course becomes intelligible. But this does not appear to have been his object. His object was to convert sinners by the preaching of the gospel. Subsequently he collected them into societies, not with the view of forming them into a church, but simply for the purpose of

names.

a

retaining and consolidating his conquests, that the fruits of so much self-denying toil might not be lost through want of oversight, and fall back again into the hands of the destroyer.

As we have no fear that the reputation of this eminent servant of God can suffer from fair and candid criticism, especially when a review of his errors may be a much needed lesson to the living administrators of his polity, we shall take for granted that all our readers hold him in the highest estimation, as we do, whatever may be our opinion of the system which he has left behind him under his name. We shall, therefore, make our remarks with Christian freedom-it being understood that his character as one of the most sincere, upright, and devoted religious reformers, stands unimpeached and unimpeachable. We may not think him exempt from the ordinary infirmities of humanity, and yet regard him as among the best and most useful of men.

First of all, then, we regard it as a great error, that instead of constructing a church upon the principles of the New Testament (for which no man ever entertained a profounder veneration,) he contented himself with founding a society. His strong attachment to the Established Church, in which he was brought up, was unquestionably. the reason why he did not frame for his followers a regular ecclesiastical polity. Subsequent successes give us reason to suspect that such an organization might have collected to itself the strength and vital piety of the country to an incalculable extent. It may, perhaps, be contended by some, that he did intend his societies to grow up at last into a hierarchy, But this we think is a misapprehension, at variance with numerous facts, and an injustice to the man, who must lose all his credit for wisdom and consistency on that supposition. Wesley was not a Dissenter, and to the present day it is constantly asserted that Wesleyans are not Dissenters. Nothing is clearer to our minds upon the face of his history than that he meant to subserve and supplement the existing Church, not to establish a new one. This was the result of a narrow prejudice, and a positive blunder.

For, it is obvious to remark in what an anomalous position his societies are found with respect to the hierarchy of which they theoretically form a part. They have celebrated their centenary, and yet they remain in a state of separation. Do they ever intend to return ? Men stand on well-defined and intelligible ground when they withdraw from a Church as unscriptural, and identify themselves with another which they deem more pure, or else begin to build afresh, retaining what is right and rejecting the rest. But when professing not to withdraw, they abandon its ministrations and ordinances, set up distinct sanctuaries, carry on separate services, and live and act for a hundred years together as independent communities, then their case becomes a marvellous perplexity to ordinary understandings. Either they are a Church, though they disclaim it, or they are not. If not, then, on their own showing, Wesleyanism is a mere human institution, standing side by side with the Church which it professes to acknowledge, and yet wholly deserts. Where shall we find schism, if not here? Dissent is not schism. The Established Church is what Nonconformists cannot approve, requires what they cannot conscientiously yield, and separation is compulsory. Wesleyanism professes to approve the Church, and theoretically belongs to it. What are all its societies, then, but rents in the body? What, then, could their founder mean? Were they in his mind a temporary expedient, or were they destined to be permanent? If temporary, he must have been strangely wanting in foresight and sagacity; at least, he could not have had that far-reaching intellect which can forecast the future, and which we have a right to look for in men of his order. If permanent, then it was a great fault to form societies without building them into a church. So that upon the Wesleyan theory, his congregations are no more than assemblies of private persons, who agree together in forsaking the ecclesiastical body to which they belong, and in substituting for its offices and discipline a government and services of their own.

It seems to be a very doubtful point whether Mr. Wesley himself had

any distinct and definite idea of what he was doing, or intended to do. He knew, of course, that he was collecting and organizing religious communities; but to what ultimate end, and what might be the future destination of those bodies, was, we imagine, more than he understood. Whatever rules and expedients he adopted, arose generally out of the circumstances of the passing hour. His scheme was not laid down and elaborated beforehand, it grew by degrees. Now a man must be a great man, and well qualified to rule, who shows himself capable of making wise arrangements in every new emergency. But a system, the parts of which are created separately, must, upon the whole, exhibit a want of compactness, solidity, and coherence. The Wesleyan polity bears upon it all the indications of the founder's anomalous position as belonging to the Church, and yet erecting and organizing apart from it. How could he have any purpose in view who was gathering around him a new and increasing sect, and yet felt himself constrained to deny them a distinct ecclesiastical being? We are not making out that he lived and laboured without an object. He had the greatest of objects before him—the conversion of ungodly men, and their continued edification ; but, apparently, he did not see that to attain these ends he must have a Church to receive them, and if none existed in the keeping of which they would be safe, he ought to have broken down his prejudices and have formed one. It is solely as the founder of a sect that we say he lived and acted without a definite purpose, meeting wants and difficulties as they arose with wise and masterly expedients, and then bequeathing to his successors a fabric made up of these loose and uncompacted materials, either to be moulded into a hierarchy by their wisdom, or else to crumble into ruin by their mismanagement.

The consequences might have been easily foreseen, nay, were foreseen, and constituted one of the most painful anxieties of Wesley's closing days. He foresaw that the people would not be long obedient when the presiding genius was no more. But before the results of this one error can be contemplated with advantage, we must join the

« PreviousContinue »