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A year later he was asked if the Methodists should go to Church if the preachers did not preach the truth and frankly admitted that this question troubled him. “I still advise all our friends, when this case occurs, quietly and silently to go out. Only I must earnestly caution them not to be critical; not to make a man an offender by a word; no, nor for a few sentences, which any who believe the decrees may drop without design." Only deliberate attempts to preach untruth should drive Methodists away from the Church service.
The Methodists became bolder when they saw Wesley's line of thinking. In 1786 Dr. Coke suggested to the Conference that in large towns, Methodist services ought to be held in Church hours. “Upon hearing this, Mr. Charles Wesley, with a very loud voice and in great anger, cried out, 'No, which was the only word he uttered during the whole of the Conference sittings,” Mr. Mather, undaunted, confirmed what Coke had said.35 The people at Deptford also urged Wesley to allow Sunday service in the room at the time of Church service. But Wesley clearly saw that to allow this, would be to allow and encourage separation, and that this was not only inexpedient, but also quite unlawful for him to do.36 He therefore would not permit this change of hours, though he had openly ordained. The people still stayed in the chapel at Deptford, he recorded, even though he did not change the time of service.37 But this constant desire of his people, tended continually to modify Wesley's attitude, and in 1786, Conference permitted services during Church hours in Yorkshire under the following conditions:
a. When the minister is a notoriously wicked man.
contain half the people. d. When there is no Church at all within two or three
Ibid., vol. vii, p. 308.
This was a compromise, and with this question not settled, Wesley died.
Insufficiency of church accommodation was an important factor at this time. The testimony of James Alan Park, afterwards a justice of the Common Pleas, and others, would bear out the contention of the Methodists. In 1814 Park wrote to Bishop Howley of the See of London saying, that the want of opportunity for public worship he believed to be "one great cause of the apparent defection from the Church, and of the increase of Sectarism and Methodism”. The rapid shifting of the population caused by the rise of industry in the eighteenth century had not been met by the Church. New parishes were not created in the industrial centers, while the old parishes were too poorly equipped to meet the needs of the dense population. It was not until 1818 that the Church became sufficiently aroused over this need to meet it by founding the Church Building Society with the Archbishop of Canterbury as its president, and the king as one of its chief patrons. But when this step was taken to supply the necessary churches the Methodist movement had been well launched and already counted as of Dissent. The time to organize the Church Building Society was when Wesley was alive. This might have kept his followers within the Established Church. But the Church was not farsighted enough to do this. 39
The Conference of 1788 had ruled that: “The assistants shall have discretionary power to read the prayer-book in the preaching houses on Sunday mornings, where they think it expedient, if the generality of the society acquiesce with it; on condition that Divine service never be performed in the Church hours on the Sundays when the sacrament is administered in the parish Church, where the preaching house is situated, and the people be strenuously exhorted to attend the sacrament in the parish Church on these Sundays”.40 In other words: Services could be held in Church hours when communion was not to be given. This was a concession on the part of Conference; but the people
30 Stephens and Hunt: History of the Eng. Church, vol. viii, pt. i, pp. 77-79.
In this way
were not satisfied. Samuel Bradburn took this matter up and reviewed the history of this question and Wesley's decisions in detail. “He changed the time of service in the Foundry from being early in the morning only, on Sundays as well as other days, to Church hours on Sundays in the forenoon. And notwithstanding the insignificance of this change, it was the real source of every alteration that followed . the generality of the people did not consider it as dissenting from the Church, though they had no more to do with the Church, as to real connection or subordination, than with the Jews.” 41 Bradburn traced the development of this subject and urged that services be held unconditionally in Church hours. At Salford, Bradburn did change the time of the Methodist services from eight to ten o'clock, and called it "crossing the Rubicon.” 42
Thus the Methodists had turned in their practice. They no longer urged their people in a most solemn manner to attend the Church service every Sunday. The matter was being reversed. Many of them were holding their own services at hours identical with those of service in the Church and this made the former position untenable. It indicated the growth of a new and different kind of spirit in Methodism—a spirit hostile toward the Established Church.
SECTION IV. THE CONFUSION AFTER WESLEY'S DEATH
With nothing definitely settled regarding the Lord's Supper, and with no out and out ruling by Conference permitting services in Church hours, Methodism faced a complex situation. Wesley had died. No sooner was he buried, than the Methodists were deluged with pamphlets urging strict conformity with the Established Church.43 This question eventually had to be settled. Some were beginning to object to the way in which Methodism was being conducted. They did not like the idea of having one hundred men control the Conference. Coke had previously pointed out that this was giving the one hundred men too much power, while Wesley himself seemed to have sympathized with
41 Bradburn: The Question: Are Methodists Dissenters? p. II.
*Myles: Chronological History of the People Called Methodists, p. 208.
Coke's criticism.44 Many made an attempt to nullify the Deed of Declaration which legally incorporated these one hundred men into the Conference; but in vain. At the same time, others felt that "the moment that the Deed was superseded, there would have been an end of the Wesleyan itineracy and order.” They were afraid of more democracy. 46 Of Wesley's influence, some of the preachers thought that it fell to the Conference, some of the trustees thought that it fell to them, and Mr. Kilham and his friends thought that it fell to the people at large.46 The executors of Wesley's will added to this complexity, for they reported that they must still keep control over Wesley's property and that they would not give it to the Conference.47 Many were the crosscurrents of opinion and feeling that were threatening Methodism at this crucial time.
To increase this confusion, such productions as an Address to the Members and Friends of the Methodist Society in Newcastle was distributed which said, “Whoever reads what Mr. [Charles] Wesley published, will easily perceive, he did not think always alike respecting the Church of England.' Bradburn told troubled Methodists that he had heard him say, he should be afraid to meet his father's spirit in paradise if he left the Church. Then of his brother: "Mr. John Wesley, on the other hand, as we have seen, remained therein with a doubting conscience." 49
The whole question of whether the Methodists were Dissenters, was raised. "If clergymen were persecuted for truth and driven out of the Church, as Mr. Wesley and his brother were, we are ready to receive them with open arms; but when they leave the Church of their own accord. they are more Dissenters than any of the Methodist preachers, and whether designedly so or not, they are in reality sapping the very foundations of the Church.” 50 This treatise further quoted Wesley with saying, “As soon as I am dead, the Methodists will
* Myles : p. 201.
Myles : p. vii.
be a regular Presbyterian Church.” 51 Indeed, a kind of separation had already taken place, it urged, because people stayed away from the Church on account of a bad vicar, and they never returned.52
Coke very boldly said that many of the people would have separated from the Church long ago, had it not been for the superior wisdom of Wesley, and assumed that all were ready to
Methodists were far from being unanimously inclined to separate. Wesley was gone. They were confused, and did not know how to act in unison.
In this confusion Conference was able to assemble in 1791, and the men whose names were enrolled in the Deed of Declaration voted by ballot for a president and secretary.54 A moderately inclined man, William Thompson, was elected president.5 Conference was able to pull itself together and made rules governing the office of president. In 1792'it ruled that a president could not succeed himself, and could not be elected oftener than once in eight years, for his power ceased at the close of Confer
The Conference of 1793 gave all preachers who had travelled fourteen years, additional rights.57 But even this work was bitterly attacked and the president of the Conference was called a generalissimo. The movement was compared with that of Loyola and said to be just as dangerous; Conference was a pure hierarchy; its members did not have equal rights; its ministers were mere puppets; the one hundred who could vote were an imperium in imperio. 58
A little of the work of organization was also done in spite of this confusion of program resulting from the death of Wesley. The whole of Methodism in the three kingdoms was divided into twenty-seven districts. Each assistant had charge of a district, with the power to summon the preachers of his district in
51 Ibid., pp. 18-19.
: p. 197.