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Remarks on Revd. J. S's lettter,
Thoughts on representation, addressed to, &c.
SNETHEN ON LAY REPRESENTATION.
Wesleyan Repository, vol. ii. August, 1822. pages 132–161.
Remarks and observations addressed to travelling preachers.
These essays were first printed in December, 1820, and sent to travelling preach
ers only. The writer of these remarks believes, that the friends of the plan of itinerancy in the Methodist Episcopal church, have more to fear from the natural and irresistible tendency of extremes to vibrate opposite ones, than any other cause. He is one of those theorists, who conceives that the love of
power is so general among men, that in any order of society, civil or religious, those who yield the principle of liberty will never want a master;—that the love of power is not always "a master passion that swallows up the rest, but sometimes not only divides its dominion with other passions, but condescends to minister to them; that though avarice and voluptuousness may be suspended by ambition, yet the world never witnessed the absolute possessors of unlimited power, through any long series of time, “in regular order and succession,”-in poverty--in nakedness in hunger-in journeying often and having no certain dwelling place. The doctrines embraced by this writer teach him, that grace does not always act irresistibly;that the spirit of infallibility, is not given to church rulers;—that the passions of men in official stations, do not become docile and inoffensive, in proportion, as legal checks and restraints are removed; and that there is infinite danger in trusting unlimited power in the hands of any man, or sets of men.
The discipline of the Methodist Episcopal church having divided unto its bishops more power than they themselves can execute in person, authorises them to divide the circuits and stations into districts, and to appoint elders to preside over those districts in their absence, to do all their duties, ordination excepted. But no common or written law, or rule exists, by which these servants, or their masters for them, are made accountable to the Annual or General Conferences for their official acts. The presiding elders have power to change the preachers in the absence of a bishop, as the discipline directs, and the discipline directs that they may do it as often as they please. Not to mention how, by secret orders, or the cruel, or capricious disposition of presiding elders, preachers may be vexed and tortured out of the connexion. As the confidential servants of the bishops, the presiding elders have his ear when present, and his eye when absent. It was well said by one of the late advocates of this system, that, "they are the arms and hands of the bishops," he might have added the voice too, by which they can direct and control the General Conference, &c. The artifices under this system of delegated power, which require secrecy, may be as effectually concealed as thought itself. Any plan that may injure an unsuspicious brother, may be arranged and executed by the bishop and his presiding elder, without fear of detection. The sincerity of the writer will be indignantly appealed to, but to the question; whether it is seriously believed that bishops and presiding elders, with their present power, can injure the preachers ? It may be answered, that they have no legal restraint; and that the man who disbelieves in their infallibility, must believe that they may abuse unlimited power, to the full extent of human peccability. He who admits the principle of gravity, never hesitates to admit that heavy bodies may fall through empty space.-Twenty years or more have elapsed since a respectable minority in the General Conference have contended for the right and reasonableness of making the presiding elders dependant upon the choice of the preach
In the General Conference of 1812, a majority was supposed to be in favor of the measure, and it was so modified as to leave the power to nominate in the hands of the bishops: but, as it was known that one of the bishops would not serve if the change was made, it was lost by a small majority. In the General Conference of 1820, a committee of conciliation modified the motion still farther, and it was mutually agreed that for each vacancy which might happen by resignation, death, or otherwise, the bishops might nominate three; out of which number, the Annual Conference might choose one. But the senior bishop, and the bishop
elect, declaring the plan to be unconstitutional, and the former threatening to appeal in the last resort to the Annual Conferences, &c. at a later 'period in the session, when several members of the General Conference were absent, the vote was taken and the measure suspended for four years. This writer knows that a difference of opinion does exist among those who wish to modify the existing rules respecting presiding elders, but he has no reason to believe that it was ever intended that any contemplated change should di. rectly or indirectly injure the travelling plan, nor is he able to conceive how the travelling plan could be affected by any modification of this kind.
No presiding elder could be chosen without the nomination of a bishop, and a majority of votes of an Annual Conference. This writer intreats all travelling preachers to reflect well upon the following questions: Is the Methodist Episcopal church free, sovereign, and independent of any foreign power, civil or ecclesiastical? Can such a church remain perpetually without feeling, thoughts, and a will of its own? Suppose this church should by any means signify its determination to have the presiding elders elective, &c. What measures in this free country could be adopted to coerce it into submission? Is there any exception to the max. im of the American politician, that "the foundation of no government is firm and secure, when any considerable body in the community have an interest in opposition to the government?" In a final trial of strength, what could the bishops and their presiding elders do in opposition to preachers and people? Has it not long since been proved, that episcopal patronage to unproductive pulpits, or empty houses, is a feeble auxiliary of episcopal power?
During the life time of Mr. Wesley, he held every thing in the Methodist society in his power. His maxims were, you came to me, not I to you. If you are not willing to help me as I direct, you shall not help me at all. The ground on which he exercised this authority was not only that he considered himself as the father of the connexion, but that the members of his society were also members of the national church, and that those who left his society, experienced no change of church relation. Now it appears that there are Methodists in this country, who suppose that the Methodist Episcopal Church does not differ from the Methodist Society in regard to the power of Mr. Wesley, and the bishops, or in respect to the right of membership. If a member is