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THE DIFFERENT METHODIST BODIES.
A few explanations are required before we go further. Explanation First. The Different Methodist Bodies.
The Methodist Body to which my parents belonged, and to which I myself belonged till I was twenty-one years of age, was the Old Connexion or Wesleyan Body. I was a local preacher in that Body, and was expected and requested to go out as a travelling preacher. But insurmountable difficulties lay in the way. In the first place, none could be received as travelling preachers, unless they were willing to go to whatever part of the world the conference or the missionary committee might think fit to send them, and unless they could express their willingness to be so disposed of before they went out. This I could not do. It was my conviction that God had called me to labor in my own country, and to do good amongst my own people. I did not believe myself called to go to any foreign country to preach the gospel, and I did not therefore feel at liberty to offer to go out on the terms required. I felt as if I should do wrong to expose myself to unseen dangers and unknown trials and difficulties in foreign lands, without a conviction that God required it at my hands. And I could not think that I should be likely to succeed in missionary labors, unless I could enter on them with a belief that those were the labors for which God designed me.
There was another difficulty.
Conference had made a new law, establishing a new test of orthodoxy, and no one could be taken out as a travelling preacher now, who could not subscribe to the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, as taught by Richard Watson and Jabez Bunting, in opposition to Adam Clarke. This test I could not subscribe. I cannot say that I altogether disbelieved the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship; but I was not in a state of mind to justify me in subscribing the doc
trine. Whether the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship was right or not, I had not a firm belief in it: and that was reason enough why I should refuse to subscribe it.
About this time Conference passed laws forbidding the teaching of writing in all the Sunday Schools. I disapproved of these laws, and was unable to bind myself to enforce them. I was obliged therefore to give up all thoughts of becoming a travelling preacher in the Old Connexion.
Not long after this, disturbances took place in the Methodist society in Leeds, respecting the introduction of an organ into Brunswick Chapel. Conference, through the importunities of some rich people, had broken through its own laws, and given authority for the introduction of an organ into Brunswick Chapel contrary to the wishes of a great part of the members, trustees, local preachers, and leaders. I of course disapproved of this proceeding on the part of Conference. I had heard the Rev. Joseph Suttcliffe speak very seriously and with great and sorrowful dissatisfaction of the proceedings of those who were then at the head of Methodistical affairs, and though I did not, at the time, rightly understand him, events that took place afterwards, both brought his words to my mind, and showed me their meaning. In consequence of what I saw, I began to be greatly dissatisfied with the manner in which things were carried on in the society.
A division took place in Leeds, and in several other places, and the seceders formed a new body, called the Protestant Methodists. I left the old Body at the same time, but having heard favorable accounts of the Methodist New Connexion, I joined that community. This Body had seceded from the Old Connexion some thirty years before, under the Leadership of Alexander Kilham. Kilham was a great reformer both in religion and politics. He sympathized with the French revolutionists, and with the English religious Latitudinarians. He was a great admirer of Robert Robinson of Cambridge, and reprinted, in his periodical, the Methodist Monitor, his writings on religious liberty. He denounced all human creeds, and proclaimed the Bible the one sole authority in the church both in matters of doctrine and matters of duty. The conference of the Body was to consist of one-half preachers
and the other half laymen. In the circuit and society meetings the power was to be divided in the same way. Ă list of doctrines generally held in the Body was afterwards drawn up and published, but was not put forward as an authoritative creed. The writings of Wesley and Fletcher were referred to, but not as authorities, but only as works to be consulted. I found on looking through the rules, that there was nothing to hinder me from becoming a travelling preacher in this Body. I offered myself as a member, and was received. I was then sent out as a travelling preacher; and it is to this Body chiefly that I refer in this work.
I WAS JUSTIFIED IN MY COURSE.
I entered the ministry with the full understanding that I should have perfect Christian liberty both of thought and speech,-that nothing was required of any minister but a belief in the New Testament, a life in accordance with its teachings, and the abilities necessary to fit him for his work. The perfection of the Scriptures, both as a rule of faith and a rule of life, was one of the first articles in the connexional list of doctrines, and each preacher was left to interpret the Scriptures for himself.
To show that the liberty I took in revising my creed was in full agreement with the principles on which the Body to which I belonged was founded, I will give a quotation or two from the Founder's works.
"Subscription to all human creeds implies two dispositions contrary to true religion, love of dominion over conscience in the imposer, and slavery in the subscribers. The first usurps the right of Christ; the last implies allegiance to a pretender." Vol. I, page 77.
"The revelation itself is infallible, and the Author of it has given it me to examine; but the establishment of a given meaning of it renders examination needless, and perhaps dangerous." P. 78.
"I have no patience with those who cover their own stupidity, pride, or laziness, with a pretended acquiescence in the unexamined opinions of men who very probably never examined their own opinions themselves, but professed those which lay nearest at hand, and which best suited their base secular interest." Vol. II, p. 340.
"I am seriously of opinion, and I wish all my readers
would seriously consider it, that real Christianity will never thoroughly prevail and flourish in the world, till the professors of it are brought to be upon better terms with one another; lay aside their mutual jealousies and animosities, and live as brethren in sincere harmony and love; but which will, I apprehend, never be, till conscience is left entirely free; and the plain BIBLE become in FACT, as it is in PROFESSION, the ONLY rule of their religious faith and practice." P. 271.
Such were the sentiments which Alexander Kilham thought proper to publish on the subject of creeds.
He adds, that he did so for the purpose of "giving to our people and others suitable views of religious liberty in general, AND OF WHAT OUGHT TO BE ESTABLISHED AMONG US IN PARTICULAR."
In all I did, then, both in endeavoring to bring my views into harmony with the teachings of Christ, and in suggesting reforms in the laws and institutions of the Body, I acted in perfect accordance with the principles on which the Connexion was founded. Whether the principle was a good one or not may be questioned: all I say is, it sanctioned my course.
Explanation Second. Immoralities.
What I say of immoralities in ministers and members of the Church refers chiefly to ministers and members of the New Connexion. I must not however be understood as saying that the ministers and members of the Old Connexion were free from such vices. They were not. James Etchells, the minister who drank sixteen glasses of intoxicating drinks on one round of pastoral calls, and John Farrar, his superintendent, whom he got suspended for drunkenness, and Richard Wilson, who opened the first spirit shop in my native town, and corrupted the people all round the country, and Timothy Bentley, the great Brewer and Poisoner-General of the bodies and souls of the Yorkshire people, and John Falkener, of New Castleon-Tyne, the wholesale Beershop-Keeper, &c., were all members and high officials in the Wesleyan Body. And I never heard of a man being either kept out or put out of the Wesleyan Connexion either for being a Brewer, a
Distiller, a Spirit Merchant, a Ginshop Keeper, a Publican, a Pawnbroker, or a Beershop-keeper. And I never heard of the Conference doing anything to promote teetotalism, or the suppression of the liquor trade. The rules and teachings of Wesley, and the principles of Christ on this subject, were as little cared for in the Old as in the New Connexion.
IMMORALITIES OF THE CHURCH.
There were points though in which the Old Connexion seemed to me superior to the New. There seemed more hearty religiousness in the Old Connexion than in the New. The preachers in the Old Connexion seemed to be a higher order of men, both in piety and intelligence. They seemed to be kinder too to each other, less jealous, less envious, and less disposed to annoy and persecute one another. And they worked harder. They had more of the spirit of Wesley. They were less anxious to steal sheep from other folds, and more disposed to go out into the wilderness to bring in those which were astray. With many of the New Connexion members religion was too much of a form and a name with an immense number in the Old Connexion it was a life and a power. Hence the Old Connexion prospered, while the New Connexion languished and declined. The New Connexion trusted to their democratic principles of church government for additions, and were disappointed. The Old Connexion trusted to honest, zealous, Christian work, and succeeded. The Old Connexion bred great and mighty men, the New Connexion bred weak and little ones. The New Connexion was afraid of superior men, and if any made their appearance, drove them away, as in the case of Richard Watson and others; the Old Connexion welcomed such men, and used them, and reaped from their labors rich harvests of blessing. I might myself perhaps, if my way into its ministry had not been blocked up, have been much more happy and useful in the Old Connexion than in the New, and have had a very different story to tell in my old age, from that which I am telling you now. I don't know.
No; I don't know. It is quite possible that I was so formed,-that religious freedom was so essential to the soul God had given me, that I should have broken through the enclosures of any sect, and made for myself a history