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Wesleyan Repository, vol. iji. September, 1823, No. V. page 175.
On avoiding the appearance of Evil. When I was a boy, I was fond of listening to the conversations of old men, and would often sit, for hours together, with the greatest attention, if their conversation happened to turn upon any thing new, or surprising. Now it so happened, that those to whose company I had most frequent access, were either careless about religion, or infidel in their principles. I well recollect a conversation which turned upon the pride of the clergy, and a stern old infidel, by one sweeping clause, involved them all in the charge; to use his own words, "from his holiness, the Pope, down to the most pitiful Quaker speaker:" There were no Methodist preachers among us then. This indiscriminate kind of censure, against whole bodies of men, for particular vices, is undoubtedly wrong. The virtues of the heart, thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, are not confined to any order or class of men. This dis position to pass universal censure upon whole classes of men, is commonly found to be associated with a confused notion in men's minds, respecting moral virtues, and theoretical principles; but examples every where abound, of proud men being right in their speculations, and humble men wrong.
Whenever any system of ministerial polity is founded upon principles which are known, by experience, to promote the ambition and the pride of human nature, these will generally be found to be the besetting sins of those who act under its influence. Priests are often suspected of ambition or pride, for the same reasons that kings are; and when they are both equally absolute in their sphere of authority, equally above the control of law, and above human responsibility, it is difficult to make exceptions in their favor.
Unquestionably, if there be any truth in history, priests have been actuated by a boundless ambition, in many instances, and the human race have bled copiously to gratify them. Every body has heard of the bishop who made an Emperor hold his stirrup, and walk barefooted, &c. This must needs have been a haughty priest, indeed! The evil of clerical dominion-of a monopoly of power in the hands of priests of the ministers of the gospel having unrepresented power to make laws for a church, &c. &c. is of such vast magnitude, that it behooves all who bear the sacred character, to avoid the very appearance of it. But, unfortunately, appearances are against the travelling preachers, and it seems as if several of them are taking measures, rather to increase than to diminish them. For the thirtysix years of our independent existence, the proceedings of the preachers have had a suspicious appearance, and a hawk-eyed infidel, judging from the face of things, would be very apt to pronounce the whole to savour strongly of a love of domination. Appearances of evil might be detected in the council, and some of the first General Confer
A tradition, for instance, has come down to our days, from those ancient times, that there was a kind of select committee fixed upon, to prepare the business for the brethren, a measure which appeared, for all the world, as though it was intended to keep certain points from being agitated in General Conference. The story goes, that the boys, after sauntering about for some time, on the suggestion of some one, met together to talk over their own matters, as how they might manage, to better account, the L'argent. While these things were going on, one came and whispered to the president in committee, that the preachers were holding a General Conference by themselves. The alarm was spread, and the president was despatched with a inost loving message for the brethren to come down and take their seats forth with. We do not mean to accuse brethren of priestcraft, but only to show how the appearance of it may injure them, and of course urge upon them the necessity of avoiding it. Nothing, in our whole history, has so much the appearance of priestcraft, as the construction of the restrictions of 1808. These restrictions have been dubbed a constitution-a term sacred to liberty. Now, let this business, with all its bearings and relations, come under the eye of an infidel, who has no confidence in the regards of preachers for the rights and liberties of the church, and would he not find appearances enough to induce him to exclaim, "Priestcraft still." What have these men done, would he not say? Why, they contrived to monopolise all the legislative and executive power, and finding that they were in danger of losing a part, they endeavor to make all sure, by using the name of a constitution, which was never before employed, except to secure
liberty against the encroachments of power. What would be thought of the Grand Turk, for instance, if he should oppose any plan to favor the liberties of the people, because it was unconstitutional. Constitutions were designed to set bounds to power. The people of the United States, in 1787, made a constitution to prevent absolute monarchy, not to confirm it. The Barons of England met on Runne mede, to set bounds to the power of the kings, and not to form a great charter of despotism. Thus might an artful infidel argue against us, from appearances; and might go on to say, that our constitutional abettors have no parallel, except in the Holy Alliance; and slily and sneeringly insinuate, that those crowned heads, possibly, called their combined councils, in their own behalf, holy, because holy priests had set them the example. Now, in this case, it is of no use to rail at infideis, for judging according to appearances of evil, as those appearances ought to have been avoided.
For bishops and travelling preachers to employ the restriction only to restrain the hands of those who labor to promote liberty, makes them appear so much like tyrants, that, let them assert to the contrary ever so loudly, people will say, "actions speak louder than words!” Why will they not be entreated to forbear to argue, that they have a constitution which shuts up all the avenues, by which liberty can possibly enter into the church, so that it never can gain an admittance unless those who have seated themselves in power, shall condescend to open the door. All the circumstances connected with this constitutional claim, which has been set up and pursued with so much perseverance, appears to threaten evil consequences. When our countrymen find every idea which they have been in the habit of attaching to a constitution reversed, and instead of this instrument being a palladium of liberty, as they supposed, becoming the mere charter of self-created and monopolized power, must they not lose all confidence in the agents who produced this transformation. Meanwhile, what can we say, as long as appearances continue to be 'so much against us? If brethren will have it that we have a constitution, and we yield, it will only involve them in a new dilemma. For it must appear, to the most superficial observer, that it is a tyrannical one; that it took away our rights, and prevents us from recovering them. O thou cruel and unjust constitution, how can we love and reverence thee?
But to proceed with appearances: We have three bish. ops; one of them says, the giving of power to the annual conferences, in the choice of the presiding elders, is unconstitutional. A second says, it is not; and a third uses the term without any precise technical meaning. He grants that the change will take from the episcopacy some of its former power, but he is willing to part with it. Of course he believes there is nothing in the restrictions to prevent the annual conferences from electing presiding elders. The discipline does not guarantee to the bishops the power of appointing the presiding elders. The zeal and perseverance of the first bishop, it seems, were thought to be deserving of a vote of thanks, which, it is said, was accordingly given by a certain annual conference. It becomes a question, whether there is any appearance of evil in this transaction? Though it is a matter of some delicacy to say in what degree, if any, it betrays an appearance of want of wisdom and candor. Neither the bishop himself, nor any body else, ever pretended to show a single letter of authority. Their constitution is only implied or inferred; that is, it is matter of opinion. The opinions of the bishops, as well as the preachers, differ, and a conference who co-incide with one of them in opinion, give him a vote of thanks for thinking as they do. Does not this appear very much like a vote of no thanks to those who dared to think for themselves, though their way of thinking went to take power out of their own hands?
It is said, that when a Chinese is punished or chastised by a Mandarin, he returns his most humble and grateful acknowledgment to that high officer, for the fatherly care he has taken of his education. The law, it is presumed, obliges him to do so. Is there any law to authorize an annual conference to vote thanks to a bishop for taking care of number one? These thanks have so much the appearance of flattery, that they seem to come under the command, to "avoid ;" or there is, at least, so much of the appearance of evil in this matter, that it is to be hoped, that the example will not be followed. Suppose a conference of the opposite opinion, should vote thanks to those bishops who think as they do, would not the appearance be something like division betwen the bishops and conferences. Perhaps those grateful brethren in the south did not think of that.
Those who construe a law in favor of liberty, have certainly more reason on their side, than those who construe it into a constitution hostile to the rights of ministers and christians. Appearances in the former case are good; in the latter they are evil. Nothing, in these cross questions, has been a source of greater regret, than the strange insensibility to consequences which has been manifested. If brethren can only persuade the annual conferences to vote the conciliation unconstitutional, they will cheerfully give up the power to choose the presiding elders, and this they magnify into an astonishing sacrifice to peace; and yet the art of man cannot divest it of the appearance of sacrificing to their own drag, and offering incence to their own net. As though they might say, we differ in opinion, breth. ren, but you must first give us all we demand, before we will yield. And when we grant you what you ask, it shall be in such a way as to make you compromit yourselves, and render you forever dependent upon our opinions. Acknowledge before the world, that you were wrong, and we were right. Acknowledge, that neither the ministry nor the church have a single solitary right. But, if they want any thing, they must go, cap in hand, to all the annual conferences, and having gained their petition, with the good will of two-thirds of the General Conference, they may have the desire of their hearts.
Now we begin to feel the force of the maxim, "Physician heal thyself.” “Avoid the appearance of evil.” Never are our feelings nearer the point of ascendency, than when we touch
upon this subject. We pause--we reflect and command our stormy feelings down; but our temperance shall not destroy our firmness. We can never consent to receive as a favor, what we claim as a right. Homer tells us a curious story of one Glaucus, who, in exchange ing pledges of friendship, became so infatuated as "to exchange gold for brass-an hundred beeves for the val. ue of one.” Liberty is so sacred, and held by so many equal and common claims, that we may not seem nor appear to yield it, without a full equivalent. But our brethren do not even offer us brass for our gold. If the choice of the presiding elders were conceded to the annual conferences, upon the proposed conditions, what travelling preacher would have the heart to vote for them, when his ticket would be price of his liberty and the liberty of the church? For these paltry tickets would ever patriot preacher say, and say it with a heart wrung with grief, were our rights barter