« PreviousContinue »
the most observant know but little more than its existence. Our present design is to diminish an amount of ignorance so strange and culpable.
those rights and liberties, requiring such submission to ministerial authority as is inconsistent with the usages of all other protestant communities, and with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.' These conclusions are sustained with an amount of proof perfectly irresistible. Mr. Eckett is master of his subject, and bas treated it with a calmness that inspires confidence, and a perspicuity that promotes conviction. We are tolerably well versed in the controversy, and we know of no other publication in which it is so luminously illustrated. It forms an instructive page in the ecclesiastical history of the nineteenth century, though a page, in many respects, more suited to the fifteenth. But, while we thank Mr. Bunting for having provoked a publication so valuable and interesting, we (like its excellent author) must be permitted to say, that, unless such proceedings are carefully avoided, the movement now making for promoting Christian union, will tend to aggravate sectarian controversy and encourage the spirit of sectarian persecution.'
The author of The Round (or circuit) Preacher,' professes to give 'a faithful picture of the state of modern Methodism,' his moral being 'the dreadful evils which arise from schism.' But for one circumstance, we might suspect him to be the son of a Wesleyan minister, solicitous to prove the sincerity of his new-born churchmanship by reviling his father's religious connections. The circumstance referred to occurs in the Appendix, note A.', where we are told, My father was suspected of sympathising with a disaffected party at Leeds. The leader of this party was a Mr. Kilham, a travelling preacher. The introduction of an organ into one of the chapels at Leeds, was used as an occasion for the outbreak. They petitioned Conference for the removal of their grievances. And when they could obtain nothing more than their slight mitigation, they left the body, and, forming a new sect, assumed the name of the Methodist New Connexion.' A writer who knows no better than to confound the origin of the Methodist New Connexion in 1795, with the Leeds schism in 1827-8, which issued in the formation of the body called 'Protestant Methodists,' afterwards merged into the Wesleyan-Methodist Association of 1835,-must not expect to be regarded as giving 'faithful pictures of the state of modern Methodism.' Of his competency in other respects, we may judge from the first two sentences of Note B.' The term of probation lasts four years. When ended, the novitiates are received into full connexion by the imposition of hands.' It is evident the writer is, himself, a novitiate,' and will always remain a 'novitiate.' This ignoramus reminds us of a certain popular evangelical clergyman who entered the Church in revenge for being voted incompetent to the functions of a Wesleyan local preacher! At page 56, we have a sample of his Cambridge lore, where he describes a flashy local preacher with rings on his fingers, and chains crossing his waistcoat at triangles; and a huge bunch of seals and keys suspended ro a black watered ribbon!' 'The Round Preacher' is a vulgar caricature, purporting to contain the autobiography of a superfine son of a Wesleyan, who, before he had ceased to be a 'novitiate,' grew disgusted with the associations of his office, and seceded to the Established Church. The selection of characters is made with a view to accumulate upon the head of Wesleyanism every thing mean, base, sordid, grovelling, and ludicrous. Such traits may, no doubt, be found within the Wesleyan body; but they equally occur in all bodies: even the Church of England has its Gathercoles. 'The Round Preacher' allows to Wesleyanism no alloy of good,
We shall not enter into the history of the rise and progress of Methodism; for that would carry us far beyond the limits prescribed. Nor shall we be tempted to treat the subject controversially; which would be attended with a like result. Our simple purpose is, to furnish a succinct description of METHODISM AS IT IS, drawn from personal knowledge and observation, and from other sources of undeniable authenticity.
The supreme governing authority in the Wesleyan body, of which we now speak, is the Conference, at once the legislature and the high court of appeal.* Ministers and members have no alternative but to do its bidding. It is composed exclusively of the clergy. No private member, no layman, is admitted, even as a spectator. It sits with closed doors, jealously guarded. The legal Conference consists of a hundred ministers, vacancies being filled up partly by election, and partly according to seniority; but all who have been received into full connexion represents rare instances as common characteristics, magnifies every real defect, introduces upon the scene the pure creations of the author's distempered fancy, and spoils those few passages which approach to 'a faithful picture,' with dashes of gross calumny and exaggeration. The preaching couple' is, for the most part, a sheer fabrication. The preaching of women is discouraged, and not, under any circumstances, permitted, without the joint approval of the superintendent and the quarterly meeting. We doubt if there is now a single voucher in the Connexion for the Rev. Mrs. Sleekface.' The author designs the feigned conversion of her daughters to reflect discredit upon the mother, and to excite sympathy for the amiable and oppressed hypocrites; whereas the effect is exactly the reverse: the mother's previous anxiety and subsequent joy make us forget her sordid temper and Caudle-like ebullitions; while the deliberate deception practised by the daughters excuses, if it does not vindicate, the severity of the maternal rule. The description of a love-feast is one of the truest things in the book, especially the speech of the little old woman who pinched herself to pay her class-money, making sure she should never be a loser for 't i' the end, as the preachers allas tells us :' but even this is marred with many improbabilities. The attempts to hit off Dr. Newton, the late Billy Dawson,' and some other platform speakers, under slight changes of name, are miserable failures; but the doings of Mr. Rivers, the converted squire,' though, through the native incapacity of the artist, wanting in graphic force, are by no means over-drawn. The volume terminates with three colloquies between the author and John Wesley's ghost, introduced to make him eat his own words against the exclusive claims of episcopal ordination, condemn modern Methodism as wholly alien from his design, and encourage the interlocutor in conforming to the Established Church. How particularly well qualified Mr. Sparks' is to give verisimilitude to such scenes, will be apparent to those who know that Mr. Wesley was of Zacchean stature, when we mention that he describes the apparition as 'a tall personage coming towards him.' In one word, The Round Preacher'. is a pointless Parthian arrow!
An appeal to any civil jurisdiction is a violation of an established rule of our society, as well as of the law of the New Testament; and he who takes such a step, forfeits his right of appeal to the Conference.'— Grindrod's Compendium, p. 30.
(alias, ordained) have the privilege of a vote; except that only those who have been fourteen years in the ministry, can join in the election of the president and the secretary, and in elections to fill up the legal hundred: even the youngest minister, however, may be present. The votes of the Conference at large, which generally numbers from four hundred to five hundred ministers, subsequently receive the formal ratification of the legal Conference, the constant presence of forty of whom is necessary to render the acts of the Conference valid. The sittings are annual, in July and August, usually occupying from two to three weeks, and are held in rotation in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, and Newcastle-on-Tyne. By means of almost unexampled order and industry, and of a well-digested scheme of preparatory committees, a vast complexity of business is transacted with equal exactness and dispatch. Of what is done, no more transpires by authority than it is deemed expedient to insert in the published selection from the 'Minutes.' For example: 'Are there any complaints against any of our preachers? Answer: They were examined one by one*. The most important and difficult business of the Conference is the stationing of the ministers. But this work is facilitated by the appointment of 'representatives,'-representatives, not of the people, but only of their brother ministers in various localities, who constitute the stationing committee,' and submit their rough draft of the stations for final revision by the Conference. The people, in their several circuits, are indeed permitted to petition the Conference for this minister or against that; but their petitions are not always regarded, and they have ultimately no choice but to receive and support such ministers as it may please the Conference to send them. This unique body reigns equally supreme in all other connexional concerns; enacting new laws, or repealing old; determining finally every question of doctrine, discipline, or finance; appointing to every ministerial office; and, in short, exercising a sovereign-sway in all the affairs of the community†.
The Conference is itself, however, subject to rule the rule of one of its own members. In every deliberative assembly there will naturally arise leading minds-individuals whose superior talents, knowledge, wisdom, judgment, or discretion, are gene
* Minutes of Conference, de anno in annum.
+ We learn from Mr. Grindrod (note, pp. 9-10) that the Conference affect a parliamentary verbiage.' The speakers used to say, this house,' and 'this or the other side of the house; but they have lately substituted this Conference.' The members still addict themselves to audible expressions of applause and disapprobation, which Mr. Grindrod censures with all the unction of a vicar-apostolic. One of the authorised rules of debate is, ' Be quite easy, if a majority decide against you!
rally acknowledged, and gain for them the confidence of those of their compeers whose opinions they reflect. Thus we see Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, and Lord George Bentinck, the accredited leaders of different sections of the House of Commons; as also, before the disruption, Drs. Chalmers and Cooke were severally at the head of the non-intrusionists and moderates in the general assembly of the church of Scotland. But we almost uniformly find, that the tendency of such arrangements to degenerate into an autocratic despotism, is checked by the division of legislative assemblies into opposing, and consequently neutralizing parties. In the Wesleyan Conference this can hardly be said to be the case. That body being, as we have seen, composed of ministers, to the entire exclusion of the laity, not only as members, but even as spectators, the ordinary occasions of party strife are, for the most part, cut off. An esprit de corps, not surpassed in cohesive force by that which animates and binds together the compactest of the monastic orders, is naturally developed; and each man, having entered the Wesleyan ministry with a full knowledge of the prerogatives and powers claimed for it, so far from being under any temptation to introduce discord into councils which have for their prime end the preservation of the system in its integrity, is rather engaged by his very position to promote an hierarchical unanimity.
These circumstances must be taken into the account, in considering the absolute sway exercised by the celebrated JABEZ BUNTING in the affairs of the Wesleyan Connexion. It is a favourite boast with the loose-tongued Wesleyans, that the president of their Conference possesses more power than the Archbishop of Canterbury; but Dr. Bunting possesses more power than the president, except when he happens himself to occupy the chair,-an honour that has fallen to his lot more frequently than to that of any other man, living or dead. This imputation, as though it implied disgrace, has often been denied; but its truth is too notorious to need the support of oaths or affidavits. At present, the presidential chair is worthily filled by a gentleman of independent mind, whose election was proclaimed as a triumph over the great leader of the body; but we have no doubt that he permitted it, willing, though at the expense of a construction unfavourable to himself, that the established clergy, who have of late been troublesome to our Wesleyan brethren as well as to other nonconformists, should learn a lesson from the elevation of an avowed and a sturdy dissenter to the conferential chair. The venerable JACOB STANLEY is no mere puppet, moving as the wires are pulled; but, even during his year of office, the Connexion has remained, as every
Wesleyan knows, really under the government of its permanent dictator, whose talents and (we are bound to add) whose virtues have raised him to this high position.
JABEZ BUNTING was born about the year 1780, at or near Monyash in Derbyshire. His father was by trade a tailor, and in humble circumstances. Both his parents were members of the Wesleyan society; and by his pious mother he was named Jabez soon after birth. The family removed to Manchester while he was yet a child; and his first teacher was John Holt, a Wesleyan local preacher, who kept a school in Oldham-street. He was afterwards admitted into the free grammar-school, where he is said to have attracted the attention of the celebrated Dr. Percival, founder of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester; who, perceiving him to be a sharp boy, took him into his service, and ultimately employed him as an amanuensis. It is a sufficient proof of his good conduct, that his old master appointed him one of his executors. In this situation, the education of young Jabez proceeded, if not with scholastic regularity, yet in such a manner as to elicit and cultivate his peculiar talents. While reaping its advantages, he was so happy as to avoid its disadvantages. Though surrounded by Unitarians, of whom his learned patron was one, he, at an early period, joined the Wesleyan society. Among his first religious associates, was the late Mr. James Wood, of Manchester, who remained his bosom friend through life, seconding him in his plans for the benefit of the Connexion with almost unequalled munificence, and considered as having had more influence with him than any other layman in the body. But the turning point in the history of Dr. Bunting is traceable to the appointment of the Rev. William Thompson to the Manchester circuit in the critical year 1797-8. This Methodist sage, who presided at the first Conference after Mr. Wesley's decease, took young Jabez by the hand, and is supposed not only to have given him the rudiments of his Methodistico-legislative learning, but also to have inspired him with a passion for such pursuits. Under the auspices of this Mentor, he entered, in 1799, upon itinerant life. His first circuit was Oldham; his first superintendent, the Rev. John Gaulter, a man of gentlemanly manners, amiable disposition, various though crude attainments, and who used to boast that he loved every pin and screw in Methodism.' The youth of Jabez, his talents, and his easy, graceful, serious, warm, and natural address, procured him a second year's appointment to Oldham. The present century he began in Macclesfield, where, also, he spent two years, during which he escaped being sent by Dr. Coke on a mission to Gibraltar, and