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lay preachers were lampooned. They were compared with vermin; called "prentices from spouting clubs”; named horseleeches, etc. 134
Now whatever else one might say of these lay preachers, the majority of them were sincere and hard workers. It was lack of vision that made the clergy fail to see their usefulness to England and to the Church, Had they been encouraged, they would have done for England what they have already done for America. Wesley claimed to forever have answered all objections when in a letter to Mr. Clark he wrote: “O Sir, what an idle thing it is for you to dispute about lay preachers! Is not a lay preacher preferable to a drunken preacher? to a cursing, swearing preacher ?"'135 Yet in this time of unhappy friction, there were those who could overcome prejudice. Mr. Brackenberg, who was at first staggered at lay preachers, finally became convinced of their worth and began to preach himself.136
Opposition to lay preachers in thought, was most logically accompanied by opposition in action. Mr. Westell was arrested in Cornwall for preaching; and at the quarter session at Bodmin, the court declared his arrest to be contrary to all law; so he was released. 137
Methodists' opponents used impressment as a means of getting rid of lay preachers. An attempt was made at Epworth to press Richard Moss for a soldier ; but it failed. 138 Thomas Maxfield actually was pressed for the navy, because he was a disturber of the public peace. At Penzance he was thrown into a dungeon; but the captain of a man-of-war would not take him; hence they were obliged to release him.139 Thomas Beard, who was described as a quiet man, was pressed for a soldier. Not being strong, he was soon invalided, sent home, and soon after died. 140 More violent methods were adopted against other lay preachers. John Nelson was taken before the aldermen of Nottingham for making riot; but the constable was ordered to return Nelson to the house from which he was taken.141 In
184 Methodist and Mimic, pp. 15 and 20.
Works, vol. vii, p. 287.
Ibid., vol. iii, p. 141.
Acomb, on Good Friday, while preaching, he was struck with a brick and knocked senseless. Later on, in the same day, he was jumped on.142
Thus the opposition continued, and it only served to strengthen the lay preachers in their convictions.143 They fought against being licensed as Dissenters. Sometimes they were licensed as members of the Church of England; but more frequently they were licensed as Dissenters. When this was the case, they took these licenses; but still maintained they were Churchmen. According to Wesley, the greater part of them were not licensed at all.144 This practice could not but rouse the ire of loyal Churchmen who were careful for legality.
Hence we have a distinct practice—the employment of lay preachers—coming into Methodism. Clergymen of the Church were often more ignorant than these lay preachers; so the latter gradually usurped more and more functions of the regular clergy. At Norwich, one of these preachers even ventured to baptize and administer the sacrament.145 Hampson admitted these men were popular with the poor; though not with the rich.146 And he also pointed out the fact that this system gave Methodism a perpetual supply of preachers. Indeed, there was a reserve list. Lelièvre held the opinion: “Ce fut l'une des innovations qui valurent à Wesley le plus de critiques de la part de tous ceux qui faisaient passer le formalisme ecclésiastique avant toute autre considération. Ils ne lui pardonnaient pas de laisser prêcher des hommes qui n'avaient pas reçu la consécration épisco
Overton agreed with this; for he held that although field preaching was no breach of the law, yet preaching by a layman was not only a breach of the law, but also a breach of the customs of the times as well.148 Nevertheless, Cadman forcefully concluded, “It is apparent that they not only met a national
142 Jour., vol. iii, p. 290.
Jour., vol. v, p. 278.
Op. cit., vol. iii, p. 79.
emergency, but that on the whole they were the best equipped men to meet it."149
For good, or for ill, the practice of lay preaching came in and remained with the Methodists. The clergy opposed it. Therefore it did not make for harmony between the Methodists and the Church.
SECTION V. THE FIRST METHODIST ORDINATIONS
If the use of lay preachers worked for an estrangement between the Methodists and the Church, the Methodist practice of the rites of ordination worked even more violently to make the cleavage more pronounced. The members of the Established Church felt that episcopacy was not only the strength of the Church, but also the unifying force in the nation; hence it was jealously guarded. Archbishop Secker said: "Without maintaining that they [Dissenters] have no gospel ministers, or sacraments, or ordinances, or churches, we may apprehend—whether rightly or wrongly is not to be disputed now, but sincerelythat episcopacy is of apostolical institution, and the Scripture affords as good a proof of this as of the appointment of infant baptism and the Lord's Day.' Charles Daubney clearly expressed the prevailing opinion of his day when he said that the sacraments administered in the Church and by regularly ordained clergymen, were the only valid sacraments.151 Samuel Horsley, as late as 1830, denounced those who denied the authority of priests and bishops as little better than infidels in masquerade.162 Thomas Sikes advocated a most thoroughgoing theory of apostolic succession.153 The Established Church was considered an institution possessed of divine grace independent of its members. This grace was bestowed through the bishops. It was in the midst of this theory of the Church that John Wesley lived and acted.
Not everyone accepted this view of the Church. The Bishop
op. cit., p. 329.
Ibid., p. 422.
of Bangor departed from it when he said, “Sincerity is the only thing that counts.” The logical conclusion of his attitude was to make Quakers, Presbyterians, Independents, as valid as Churchmen; and William Law told the bishop so. 154
At first, Wesley accepted the usual position of the Established Church of his day. In his sermon, On the Ministerial Office, 1789, he declared: “I cannot prove from any part of the New Testament or from any author from the first three centuries, that the office of an evangelist gave any man the right to act as a pastor or a bishop.” This sermon discusses Wesley's attitude toward his lay preachers. He insisted that these men were appointed to preach and to do nothing more.
That they were ever to serve the sacrament was a thought farthest from his head, as was evidenced by the fact that when some of them baptized at Norwich, he made them promise to do so no more. He maintained that in the Established Church, "persons may be authorized to preach, yea, may be doctors of divinity. who are not ordained at all, and consequently have no right to administer the Lord's Supper.” When lay preachers, as Maxfield, Westell, and Richards, were received, he was careful to explain that these were received as prophets and not as priests. They were not to administer the sacraments. Indeed, there was no need of ordaining lay preachers, for they could get along without it and be effective. 155 This was the gist of the sermon.
But aside from the practical exigencies of the occasion, Wesley read two books which made him change his mind. He read Bishop Stillingfleet's Irenicon. The author of this book was but twenty-four years old, and later openly avowed that he did not accept the principles in it.156 Wesley, however, did not change when once converted to Stillingfleet's early view; for he said of the episcopacy, “that it is prescribed in Scripture, I do not believe."157
Peter King, later Lord King, a Scotch Judge, wrote the second book-The Primitive Church—which influenced Wesley. This work, published about 1700, came out
A. J. Mason: Church of England and the Episcopacy, p. 385.
Works, vol. ii, p. 540ff. 168 Mason: Op. cit., p. 408.
strongly against episcopacy. After reading it, Wesley voiced his change of opinion by stating: “In spite of the vehement prejudice of my education, I was ready to believe that this was a fair and impartial draft; but if so it would follow that bishops and presbyters are essentially of one order, and that originally every Christian congregation was a Church independent of all
In 1745, he wrote to a friend, that he believed it wrong to administer sacrament without ordination from a
And within one year Wesley and his Conference were at work denouncing this High Church rule. Hence, we are not surprised to hear him say, “When I said, 'I believe I am a spiritual bishop,' I spoke on Lord King's supposition that bishops and presbyters are essentially one order."160 Fitchett explains the new view to which Wesley was won over as follows: "Christ was present in his Church. His grace did not trickle exclusively through some poor, little, uncertain, and solitary, human pipe; it did not depend upon the touch of a particular set of ordaining hands on certain human heads. It was Christ's direct gift to the human soul."181 Or as President McGiffert states it: "but high churchism departs entirely from the primitive position. For in the primitive period as we have seen, the Church of Christ was not regarded as an institution possessed of divine grace independently of its members. ... no special priest class existed endowed with sacerdotal powers not shared by Christians in general; and ordination, so far as it was employed at all, imparted no special grace, was not in the least requisite to the valid administration of the rites later known as sacraments."162 This was substantially the view of the Church to which Wesley was converted.
One cannot suppose that the line of demarcation between Wesley's opposing views of ordination was clear cut. At first, in spite of any of his ideas, he was careful to have any of his men, who should administer the sacrament, ordained by the
Mason: Op. cit., p. 407.
Works, vol. vii, p. 324.