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THOUGHTS ON THE PRESENT AGITATIONS. A year has now nearly transpired since the first ontbreak of that schism which disturbs some of our Societies, and hinders in equal measure the progress of evangelizing zeal. When disaffection is but newly developed, and exerts itself with unthinking violence, we are afraid to trust our own feelings when they would hurry us to set up a strong defence ; not only because grief and disappointment may blind our judgment, but because haply some evil may have lurked undiscovered amid the busy avocations of a connexional system, which has been productive, to some degree, of just discontent. But when months have rolled over, and latent passions have embodied themselves in overt acts; when men on all sides have spoken out what they thought and felt; when principles and purposes have begun to take their natural form; then we have data on which to form a judgmentthat is, a judgment enlightened and guided by holy Scripture—on the entire case.
Such is our present position; and, as no man who loves righteousness and truth may remain silent when such important consequences are pending, the following views are presented with humble but earnest sincerity.
There is now scarcely any other opinion than one respecting the character of those anonymous publications, the circulation and influence of which constrained the Conference to institute its late disciplinary investigation. Even secular prints have frowned on this unmanly, irresponsible, and masked attack on ministerial reputation; while, tried by a scriptural standard, they have become covered with condemnation and shame. Every misty sophism which has been employed to cover their guilt, has melted in the searching beams of that light of which all Christian men are the children. The sixty-fourth Psalm minutely pictures the substance of their sin in its comprehensive aspect, and indicates the punishment of its perpetrators. We may say this, without claiming for the objects of their slander the character of perfection. Our Lord's discourses, both in the Sermon on the Mount, and in Matt. xviii., are as fraught with conviction and condemnation of the spirit of such productions, as if they had existed when these Divine sentences were uttered. Their rebuke is more or less written in every apostolical epistle, in the solemn charge of St. Paul to the Ephesians, and in the Minutes of nearly every Conference which Mr. Wesley held. In these, the exhortation is, virtually, that, in all transactions of ministerial fellowship, everything should be open, faithful, clear, tending to a mutual disallowance of sin,-for the sake of purity; and yet kind, considerate, and deferential in manner,-for the sake of love. But, in the publications in question, everything is veiled, lurking, and vindictive, while bitterness and wrath breathe in every paragraph. Truths are mingled with fictions, and facts with false inferences; insomuch that their particular refutation would require as great a complexity in explanation as that which exists in their own mis-statements and bad reasoning. Under the secret influence of these irreligious documents, brotherly and mutual confidence amongst the Ministers was seriously giving way. To connive at the evil, and to allow it to work out its distracting consequences, would have been a sin as great as that which it was sought to put away ; in the misery consequent on which, tens of thousands of unoffending and devout people would be involved. Such unfaithfulness would be, inoreover, directly opposed to the design for which the Methodist Preachers were constituted into a Conference : and, therefore, as they possessed no positive evidence as to the authors of the prints in question, and had no secular power to compel the attendance of those who could give it, they were compelled to cast themselves upon the brotherly compact which had from the beginning existed among us, and which every Preacher had acknowledged; and to subject several individuals, who were selected not without reason, to a direct personal examination. The result is before the Connexion, and, unhappily, before the world. The Minister first examined, repudiated and defied the authority which questioned him: two others did so likewise, refusing at the same time to give a pledge to refrain from divisive and schismatic agitations for the future. After forbearance and expostulation, applied in vain, the Conference expelled these Ministers, and drew upon itself these present consequences. Some defenders of the expelled Ministers, venturing to use an expression of our Lord's, have asked, in respect of them, “Where are their accusers ?” The appropriate answer is, “The whole company of their brethren :" for they all were witnesses of the contumacy. But, to begin right, and at the beginning, the question should have been addressed to the calumniated Ministers, “Where are your accusers?” To this the anonymous circulars give no answer; and a judgment is passed upon pure and upright individuals, without a jurisdiction, and thus without a possibility of available appeal.
The first consequence to be deplored is, the antinomian obscurity which seems immediately to have come upon the religious perceptions of the parties so separated. Charity assumes them to have been good men. But good men, even the best, do not profess immaculate purity, and absolute infallibility of judgment : and, therefore, one might have supposed that, at so solemn a crisis of their lives, they would be led to ask if the great Head of the church might not have a controversy with them; if the deliberate judgment of five hundred Ministers, whom they themselves had virtually regarded as among the best men in the world, might not be taken as a serious intimation, at least, that they might be wrong in their spirit and purposes; that party-aims bad blinded and perverted their consciences ; and that, therefore, this was a fair case for Ministers especially to be “subject one to another.” Luther, whom they profess to admire, was bold as a lion before the carnal array of Popery, but deferential as a little child with Melancthon and his compeers; and hence he preserved his purity and peace. But, as to themselves, they departed with the utmost rancour from the council of their former brethren, sounded the tocsin of war, called assemblies of the people, adopted the loftiest tone of self-laudation, assailed their former fellow-labourers and co-Pastors with every species of calumny and abuse, and set moving a soul-destroying agitation, the consequences of which, unless averted, may yet be heavy both upon themselves and others. Who, that has read their books and heard their sermons,—understanding what ministerial responsibility is,—would not mourn bitterly at such a scene? How much safer and happier they would have been in the hands of their brethren, had they allowed a little Christian principle to come to their aid at this crisis !
The next matter of sorrow and regret is, that a number of the people, chiefly office-bearers, should have been willing to cast themselves at once, through this instigation, into the wildest vortex of strife ; (just as though the main privileges of the people, which the Conference had been guarding, were now put in peril ;)—first, ignorantly demanding to have Methodism as it was, which would have been to bring back a higher and less-guarded
pastoral power; and then discovering the fallacy of this, and proceeding by degrees to organise a system for procuring a Methodism (for this endeared title could not be spared) that never was, and laying the present constitution in the dust. Bitter and calumnious publications had already prepared the way for this state of things; and now the opposition to Conference, and to its order, began to reveal itself in a spirit which itself was in direct opposition to the mind that was in Christ. A calumnious journal was loudly applanded : its pages were made the medium of attack upon eminent Ministers, often with the aid of sarcastic parody of the word of God. These were characterised as tyrannical, perfidious, and dishonest. The Societies were exhorted to withhold their contributions to the funds ; every impediment was cast in the way of the enforcement of discipline; and the very parties who had loudly declaimed against the Conference for having lent its influence, as they wrongly supposed, towards maintaining the existing connexion between the ecclesiastical and civil power in the Established Church, now began to appeal to forms of ordinary lawproceeding, as the standard to which Christian and spiritual discipline should be conformed. Regulations declared in 1835, but based on a general principle which had been admitted from the beginning,—respecting which no complaint had been before made,—were all at once denounced as oppressive and tyrannical ; and Mr. Wesley himself was proclaimed a tyrant. Trustees of chapels were exhorted to act falsely and collusively, in order to avoid the restraints of Mr. Wesley's Deed-Poll. The wounds of the church were opened to the view of a scoffing world. Meetings of the public at large were called at the centres of our principal districts of population, which hundreds of the worldly and the wicked attended, and in which violent political partisans took a leading share. Questions were here summarily disposed of in a tumult of passion, which can scarcely ever have enough of calmness, experience, prayerfulness, and wisdom, for their satisfactory settlement. Nor, in later instances, have our Ministers altogether escaped personal violence. It is humiliating to write thus. These events would be gladly thrown into oblivion, if it were possible. But to spare a glaring antinomianism is to act unfaithfully toward the truth. Such procedure is no more Methodism than it is Christianity, but the direct opposite of both ;-and it is needful to mention it, if it were only to put it in contrast with the spirit and conduct of the great majority of our people, who are longing to be permitted in peace to fulfil the purposes of their high Christian vocation, and zealous to administer and extend, rather than to destroy, that form of Christian fellowship which has been left them as a precious deposit by their fathers. How valueless is a notional or transcendental sanctification! one that can blend with the aims of democratical partisanship, and work with the violence of secular and excited multitudes. A single and submissive glance at the Acts of the Apostles, or at their Epistles, would show to our unhappy and mistaken agitators where they stand ; but it is a grief to know that considerations drawn froin such sources are almost the very last to which they defer.
The conduct just sketched is, primâ facie, strong evidence against the cause, as it is delusively called, of “reform.” A Christian church, if declining and unfaithful, is never reformed but by falling back upon the NewTestament laws of simplicity, purity, fidelity-a simplicity which is untrammelled by secular practices or the spirit of the age ; a purity which will not tolerate sin, though it should seek to hide itself; a fidelity which demands mutual confidence, by imposing the obligation of reciprocal
watchfulness. A church can never be reformed, but by being brought nearer to the attainment of the ends for which was instituted, -namely, the nurturing of believers in faith and holiness, and the extension of Christianity to the ends of the earth. A movement from without never contemplates a reform of this nature ; while a movement from within, in bringing such a reform to pass, appeals to none but the very original principles of spiritual Christianity, and repudiates, rather than courts, the sympathy of worldly men. No axioms are better verified in history than these. It is by no means affirmed that, at the period of the rise of this strife, we as a Connexion were “rich, and increased in” spiritual “goods,” and standing “in need of nothing." Nor is it denied, that even the honest defenders of our godly order were sometimes betrayed into unbecoming acrimony. Many of us are ready to confess that we had, in various respects, grieved the Holy Spirit, and provoked Him to withdraw a measure of His saving and sanctifying influence. We were, perhaps, not clear of practical antinomianism, even previously. Yet the Preachers were not the only sinners in our Jerusalem. They penitently confess all, to Him to whom confession ought to be made; and they do it in the deepest dust. But it must be remembered that ecclesiastical unfaithfulness never belongs to one class only. There never was a holy people with a corrupt ministry ; and how can we repel the teaching of history on this subject, unless we fly to the philosophical blasphemy which makes out every age of humanity to be a little pantheism which governs itself ? Had office-bearers nothing to deplore in months past? Had private members nothing humbling to say of themselves, in the presence of infinite Purity? Doubtless, there might have been occasion, a year ago, to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and seek for a larger measure of the spirit of our fathers; and such an act would have brought down the Divine blessing. But was there occasion for the pastors and teachers of Methodism to be held up, by its professed children, to the jealousy of other churches, and to the hatred and scorn of the ungodly, whom they were striving to save ? Was there occasion for scattering to the winds that form of pastoral regimen which, with unexampled rapidity, had filled so many portions of the world with its hallowed results ? It would be a poor token of repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, to allow that system of church-government to be broken up, which His providence has fabricated, and His grace has sanctified to the spiritual well-being of hundreds of thousands—simply because, on the one hand, we may have unfaithfully used it, or, on the other, because it does not square with current theories. No: the words of Christ to the angel of the church at Sardis are rather to be reiterated : “Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard ; and hold fast, and repent.” (Rev. iii. 3.)
But what, after all, in the heat and excitement of this warfare, is wanted ?—First, the re-admission to pastoral communion of certain separated parties. Some, at least, contend for this ; while others, likewise called reformers, disown this object altogether, and seek the degradation of the Conference in another form. But those who are acquainted with the grief and solicitude which it cost the Conference to proceed to the extreme act of excision, and the attempts made to avert it, will feel no difficulty in believing that, if the individuals in question had been willing, on mature and quiet reflection, to own their error and retrace their steps, the path of return would not have been closed. Those persons are lamentably ignorant of the spirit of Conference, who condemn this act as vindictive : evidence
might be accumulated to prove the very reverse. Yet now, after the history and events of the year, what candid Wesleyan could seriously entertain the question of their return? If it merged the present strife, it would only be at the cost of making strife a normal condition. The principle which led to their excision only gathers intensity from the roll of events; and those who required a year ago to be put away, would doubly and trebly require it now.
What more is wanted ? The repeal of what is fallaciously called the law of 1835. The Minute in question contains a series of declaratory Resolutions, as to what had been law, and usage too, from the beginning ; and a main point insisted on was, that the Conference and its Committees have an unquestionable right, in their official and collective capacity, to institute an inquiry into the moral or ministerial character of any of the Preachers, even where there was no formal accusation pending, and to proceed accordingly. The rescinding of these Resolutions would be, in the first place, egregious folly : for history cannot be ignored, fact cannot be annihilated; and the able pamphlet of the President has proved that Mr. Wesley, in his personal administration, and every Conference since his time, have acted not only in the spirit of these Resolutions, but in accordance also with their letter. Next, it would be fearfully unfaithful. Such a trust was not bequeathed without a foresight of its consequences; and this disciplinary regulation, running through all the stated and ordinary examinations of the Preachers, has tended more to the preservation of ministerial purity, than any other arrangement that we can remember. If some persons are grievously offended with a provision, the use of which can only afflict the Conference, and only benefit the people, it only shows how the mists of party excitement blind their better judgment. And, lastly, it would be simply unchristian. This is the most important consideration. It would be, in fact, to declare,-Henceforth we will no more regard the covenant by which we have recognised and sustained each other as fellow-helpers in the vineyard of the Lord : we will no more defer to the injunction of the Apostle, made in the name of Christ to a company of associated Pastors, that they should “take heed to themselves ;” (Acts xx. 28;) and, in his Epistle to the same, that they should “speak every man truth with his neighbour,” on the ground that they were “ members one of another.” (Eph. iv. 25.) And, whatever evils there may be amongst us, and however they may distract and secularise our Societies,so long as there is no outward evidence as to the cause or author, or so long as no accusation is preferred,,we will connive at the whole, ask no questions, but defend individual liberty and irresponsibility, so as to risk even the total breach of our unity, and the consequent ruin of our aggregate liberty,—the liberty, that is, with one heart and mind to serve the great Christian cause. Men talk of allegiance to Christ : but where would the loyalty of Ministers to their Sovereign and King be, if such were their embodied sentiments ? Where are the men who “do truth,” if not they? And why shall they not come into their own natural element of “light?” And why did Methodist Ministers leave the Church of England, with its compulsory enactments and processes, but that they might avail themselves of this “light,” and move freely in it? An insult to one's personal liberty, if such were perpetrated, is a mere trifle, compared to an indignity cast upon our deepest and dearest views of an internal and light-loving Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount and the writings of the Apostles are entirely misunderstood, if they do not suggest both the matter and