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executive, and the latter graduates. All met together once a year in conference, and were organized as a deliberative body. The assistants were all equal among themselves, there was no room therefore for any strife among them who should be the greatest,
One hundred of these assistants were named in Mr. Wesley's will, as the conference; and on them and their successors the government and the property of the connexion devolved. Among the missionaries to this country, there was a general assistant who had the power of a legate or lieutenant; but the rest were neither remarkable for their subordination, nor for the caution and delicacy of their expressions of opinion. It was in this country, that the preachers first began to meet in separate conferences, and the custom is still maintained. This to be sure was a necessary evil, which we may deplore but cannot remedy. An itinerant executive moving from conference to conference, possesses means of managing and controlling, which Mr. Wesley never possessed, and which no man, who like him always meets the same men all together, can ever possess. For some years these annual conferences possessed legislative power, and could be increased or diminished at the pleasure of the executive, who also had a control over the length of the time of their sitting. It was during this peculiar economy that presiding elders came into existence among us, but the precise time and manner of their origin seems to be involved
some obscurity. The rise of this order first destroyed the equality among the assistants, and placed the executive head at such a distance from them, that they could have no immediate access to it-communications were thenceforward to be made and received through those ministers. An attempt to convert a certain number of these officers into a legislative council, led to a General Conference, and this in turn to a delegated conference. It must be apparent to every observer, ihat our affairs were managed differently from those of the English connexion during the life time of Mr. Wesley. A bishop among us at this present time, though the legislative power is taken from the annual conferences, can render them subservient to almost any purpose his ambition and ingenuity may devise. He may oppose the influence of the annual conferences to the General Conference, and thus produce compliance in the latter. He may so construe the laws as by a vote of the annual conferences to change their original destination or render them null and void, &c. &c. What a fruitful source of reflection does the following contrasts furnish. In this country for a length of time, several separate bodies of preachers made laws for the whole community with no other means of correspondence than the executive voluntarily furnished them. In England all the assistants sat together in conference on a footing of equality, and Mr. Wesley was immediately accessible to them all; he had no irresponsible privy council to play at “Boo peep, or hide and go seek,” and such like pranks of power. But among us, elders must have presiding elders, over whom they have no control, betwixt them and their bishop. Does this part of our history contribute in any measure to throw light upon the interesting question which has been so often asked. How was it possible that a collossal power calculated to fill a contemplative mind with wonder should establish itself among a people so naturally jealous of civil and religious liberty as Americans are known to be?
We have already hinted at the uncommon weight of age and experience in the British connexion. It must have been a sight as interesting as novel, to have seen the venerable Wesley at the age of fourscore, surrounded in conference by numbers in advance of sixty and seventy. Those were the first fruits of unordained preachers. In this country it was far otherwise; causes had conspired to produce strange changes. At the age of seventy Mr. Asbury could scarcely recognize half a dozen of the primitive Amercan preachers in the conferences. Poverty and location had anticipated death, and not a few were ministerially dead while they lived. Rapid changes and a succession of young men have contributed to unsettle the affections and foster the spirit of novelty among us in a degree unknown in any other church. Another point of contrast between the two connexions worthy of notice is, our ministerial fruitfulness has been mostly in numbers-theirs in talent.
It is not for us to know the times and the seasons or to forsee events; but when rumors of discontent are heard from some and the apprehension of divison from others, particularly the latter, they call forth and they fix our attention upon the interesting subject of the means best calculated to secure union and church rights. We do not think that divisions are never justifiable; on the contrary, we believe they are always so from professed churches which become persecuters. The voice of God ever calls his people to
come out of bloody Babylon. Other cases might perhaps be pointed out; but it is deserving of the most serious regard, that division, though the first remedy that generally suggests itself to those who think themselves aggrieved in a religious community, is a remedy greatly to be distrusted. It is a means not only liable to great abuse, but may prove infinitely dangerous to those who have recourse to it. The history of those divisions which became necessary from imperious circumstances, proves the dangers and difficulties to which they expose those who participate in them. A signal of division never fails to call forth and place in marshal array all the most hurtful passions of the human heart. The example of Wesley shews what may be done under the protection of the civil laws, or while the demon of
persecution is in chains as among ourselves, without having recourse to division. And can any human example recommend itself more strongly to us than his? The first thing that must strike us all in his religious movements is, that his religion had no passion, and his success abundantly demonstrates that passion is by no means necessary to success in religious undertaking. It seems to us to be beyond all doubt, that it is fully in the power of our church, if it should be so disposed, to reclaim and secure to itself any right or privilege which is now exclusively in the hands of the travelling preachers, without having recourse to the spirit or practice of division; and of course without passion, and also without violating any law or exposing itself to the penalties of any one that the General Conference can enforce.
Wesleyan Repository vol. i. October 25, 1821. No. xv. page 248.
The present state of things. It was a singular and perhaps a providential circumstance, that the General Conferenee was equally divided on the motion to suspend the reconciliation” for four years. An event so unlikly on so momentous a question, was certainly well calculated to teach moderation to both parties; but so it seemed not to the managing spirits. The alarum was sounded, the constitution is violated-and forty-five votes were pledge ed beyond the doors of the conference and redeemed within them-thus was the conciliatory propositions of the second bishop; the solemn agreement of a committee of equal numbers from both sides; the votes of more than two-thirds of the General Conference; the expression of satisfaction and tears of joy, &c. all thrown to the winds: and the peace and harmony of the preachers, if not their final union, put in jeopardy for the sake of gaining four years to electioneer through the annual conferences. Scarcely had the preachers returned to their circuits, before it began to be rumored that the motives and the moral integrity of one-half the travelling preachers, or at least of their representatives was questionable. The friends of the sole power of the bishops to choose presiding elders, whispered about (as we hear) that the preachers in the north and east, and a certain number in the Baltimore Conference, aimed to destroy the itinerancy and introduce congregationalism, &c. We may just remark in passing that our plan, and the congregational plan, are the two extremes in church government. In ours, all the power is in the hands of the bishops and preachers-in theirs, in the people. If we must believe those preachers to be sincere who can propagate such suspicions against their brethren, we cannot believe that their understandings are equal to their sincerity. How terrible must the imaginations of men be alarmed by fears, who in despite of every evidence which the nature of the case can furnish, conjure up images of the most extreme ideal danger. If they really believed that those preachers aim at more than they profess, why not believe that they aim at some modification of our episcopacy. Men who were contending for their rights, when they gave up principles, dear to every lover of religious liberty, should have been promptly met by those who were required to give up almost nothing; but all terms are not only refused them; their honesty and veracity is held up in their absence in more than doubtful character. Those who think they do God service by propagating their own suspicions against their brethren, may remain blind to the consequences, but to us who take no part in this election campaign of four years long, and have no immediate interests in the issue, it is plain that they are making a schism among travelling preachers, and are using the very means to render it incurable. Who can have any confidence in any proposed plans of reconciliation, who remembers what was the fate of that of 1820 ? It was an awful and portentous hour that fixed the character of "truce breakers"
ty-five members of the General Conference. But though the present mode of proceeding is calculated to destroy all our hopes of a restoration of mutual confidence among travelling preachers, yet, in our opinion, the spell which had suspended free inquiry is dissolved forever, and every year will give rise to new doubts respecting the wisdom of the organization of our hierarchy. But whoever may have the majority in the next General Conference, we think it can easily be forseen, that the people will not be suffered to remain neutral, for, though they will not be permitted to touch the hem of the garments of the powers that be, they will add too much to the pomp and grace of the triumph to be left out of the train.
The probability is, that there will be no reconciliation among the preachers at the next General Conference. We may calculate therefore, that the defeated party will come among us, not like the conquered bull in the fable among the frogs in the marsh, to tread us to death, but to seek our sympathy. In such an event, the members of the church will no longer have to tell the story of their complaints to a deaf man. On some future occasion we may essay something in the form of a memorial by way of anticipation. In the meanwhile we think it very advisable that brethren should be wary of taking sides with those of any party who are contending for themselves, and for themselves only.
Wesleyan Repository, vol. i. November 22, 1821, No. xvii. page 278.
The state of our affairs. Patch work is very pretty in bed quilts, and divers other kinds of furniture; but in matters touching the rights of the church, it has somewhat of a disagreeable effect. In looking over our "articles of religion,” we find that "the visible church of Christ" is a "congregation of faithful men;" and that "every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish, rites and ceremonies, &c." The Methodists, in the United States, are a congregation (it is to be hoped) of faithful men; may they by themselves, or their representatives, ordain, change, or abolish, any rights or ceremonies? Have they ever had the power, or the privi