Page images
PDF
EPUB

preachers of ten years' continuous and uninterrupted standing in their offices, and of the trustees of the town chapels, and one trustee of each of the country chapels, (if settled on the Conference plan,) being members of society; the superintendent to take the chair ex-officio, or, in his absence, some other minister appointed by him. The only power entrusted to the court thus constituted, is that of memorialising the Conference,-a power to be exercised within the following limitations. The superintendent must have three days' notice of the specific point to be mooted, otherwise the meeting falls to the ground ; all memorials are to be confined to such changes only as are

consistent with the essential principles of Wesleyan Methodism, and within the pale of our established constitution;' the special meeting of one circuit is not to intermeddle with the affairs or proceedings of any other circuit (the Conference as well as the State having its Correspondence Laws); * and, lastly, the rules sought to be repealed, altered, or enacted, are to be such only as relate to the government of the societies at large;' 'for,' adds the Conference, 'the disciplinary jurisdiction of the preachers over each other, and their right of regulating among themselves all that relates peculiarly and specifically to the Christian ministry and the pastoral office, are not to be considered as subjects open to the official interference by memorial of the meetings so constituted. Such are the reasonable facilities' afforded to the Wesleyan body for acting upon their hierarchy. For example: the expulsion of members on the sole authority of the minister is regarded as an essential principle,' a part of the 'established constitution,' peculiarly and specifically relating to 'the pastoral office:' consequently, an alteration in this respect can never even be discussed in a regular meeting of Wesleyans !t The Leaders' Meeting may be compared to the kirk session of

How different the law of Conference Methodism from what might be expected to exist in a connexion ! One would suppose, that, if one part of a connexion suffered, or thought itself to be oppressed, that, at least after it had made its appeal to the preachers in the district meeting, and to the Conference, the case might be made known to and considered in the official meetings of other circuits, for the purpose of their expressing, in a proper way, their opinion to the Conference. Happily, such liberty is allowed to the subjects of this realm, in all cases, as to the law of the land and its highest administration. But it is absolutely forbidden in Conference Methodism!'-Eckett, p. 48.

† Mr. Eckett's pamphlet contains a masterly exposure of the futile character of this new-fangled contrivance for more effectually suppressing the complaints of the people, under pretence of providing an opportunity for their utterance. How, he asks, are the stewards to know that there is considerable dissatisfaction, or a strong and extensive wish for change, when every means is adopted to prevent discussion ? Why, again, is the new meeting restricted to four days out of the three hundred and sixty-five,

Presbyterians; only the latter has larger powers. This Wesleyan court is composed of the class-leaders, men and women, connected with each society, or chapel, in a circuit. There may be, consequently, as many leaders' meetings in a circuit as there are societies or chapels; a society consisting of those church members in regular attendance at any one chapel. The class -leaders of a circuit have no aggregate meeting. The leaders' meetings are held weekly. The superintendent, or other ministers of the circuit, preside over them, and the connexion of the society-steward with the administration of the Poor's Fund gives him a seat in the meeting. The following are the powers and duties of those who compose the leaders' meeting. Leaders and stewards can be neither appointed nor removed from office without their consent to the nomination or judgment of the superintendent in each case; excepting,' as Mr. Grindrod states, when the crime proved merits exclusion from membership; in which case, the superintendent [who is the sole judge] can, at once, depose the offender from office and expel him from the society.'* The leaders are to inform the minister of any that are sick, or that walk disorderly, and to pay over to the stewards their week's class-money, exhibiting their books; and the ministers are to examine those books, both in order to ascertain the attendance of the members on their classes, and also in order to see that the weekly contributions have been duly paid for the support of the gospel, or, in other words, for their own maintenance. The morality, punctuality, etc., of all the leaders, are made the special subject of half-yearly inquiry. The leaders' meeting have a right to declare any person on trial (probation) improper to be received into society; and, after such declaration, the superintendent cannot admit the person; but, remarks Mr. Grindrod, 'the power to admit still rests with the pastors. The leaders have a power, when appealed to, to say who shall not be admitted into society; but it is for their ministers to say who shall be admitted. As to the exclusion of members from the society, the general rule is, 'that no person shall be expelled for immorality, till such immorality be proved i.e., to not less than seven, nor more than ten days from the day of the June quarterly meeting ? Then, the superintendent, or his deputy, can at any time dissolve the meeting by vacating the chair, the meeting having no power to appoint a chairman. If a memorial be adopted, it must be signed forthwith, and placed immediately' in the superintendent's hands, without receiving the signatures of absent parties. But what with the formalities imposed, and the limitations fixed, Mr. Eckett is of opinion, that, while, on the one hand, there is no chance of a meeting, on the other there is nothing left open for discussion,' what is given by one breath of the Conference, being taken away by its successor.'-Pp. 49–57. And yet how plausible the representation made by Mr. Rule in pages 78–9, of his Wesleyan Methodism !

• Compendium, p. 140.

to the satisfaction of a leaders' meeting. But, in 1835, the Conference adopted some voluminous regulations on the subject, of which, as the point is one of importance, and one which strikingly illustrates the genius of Wesleyan Methodism, it shall be our care to present an accurate analysis.

The superintendent may, if he think proper, exclude a member from society quietly, and as a matter of course, by the preacher's withholding his society-ticket, and erasing his name from the class-book.'* Among the special grounds of exclusion are enumerated, marrying with an unbeliever, keeping or hiring a dancing-master, dealing in accommodation bills, and fraudulent bankruptcy. But the excommunicated party may demand a trial at the leaders' meeting of the particular society with which he was connected. If a majority of the leaders shall be satisfied that sufficient proof is adduced to establish the facts alleged against the individual, and shall give a verdict to that effect, then the leaders' meeting has discharged its whole part, and the case is left in the hands of the superintendent, on whom devolves the sole right and duty of deciding on the measures to be adopted towards the offender in consequence of the verdict of the leaders' meeting. These duties and functions the Conference can on no account consent to abandon, or permit to be frittered away; for that would seriously endanger ***** the rights, liberties, and spiritual privileges of our people !' afterwards explained to mean the protection of an accused individual from the effects of personal prejudice and irritation, etc.; thereby implying, that a member whom the superintendent may have already excluded previously to his appeal to the leaders' meeting, requires the protection of the said superintendent (dispassionate man !) from the personal prejudices of the one or two dozen leaders to whom he has himself appealed! No sentence of expulsion, however, is to be pronounced by the all-powerful superintendent in the same meeting of the leaders as the trial, nor until at least one week after. In difficult or doubtful cases, he is directed not to pronounce sentence without privately asking information from individual leaders, or other members of society! In every case of proposed expulsion, he is also to consult his own colleagues. The expelled member,

• 'As a specimen of the nature of Methodistical rules, for the disregard of which members of the society may become thus subject to excommunication, I again quote the following: -Let no man, nor number of men, in our Connexion, on any account or occasion, circulate letters, call meet. ings, do or attempt to do anything new, till it has first been appointed by the Conference. Now, since the passing of the rules of 1835, some members have been put on trial charged only with violating this rule, (which, I confess, appears to me to outrage all decency,) and for its alleged violation have been expelled.'-Eckelt, pp. 37-8.

having appealed in vain to the powerless leaders' meeting, may prosecute his appeal, if he pleases, to the district meeting, (which may be an appeal from one minister to forty,) and, failing there, to the Conference (an appeal from forty ministers to four hundred). But, if he prefers it, he may, in the first instance, carry his case before a minor district meeting, as described above, with whose decision the appellant may either rest satisfied or appeal onwards to the regular district meeting and the Conference, the like privilege being reserved for the reverend respondent. Reverse the case, and suppose that the leaders' meeting either return a verdict unfavourable to the superintendent's views, or, disapproving of his conduct in the matter, decline to return any verdict at all. In this case, the Conference affords the same facilities of redress to a superintendent'as to an excluded member; namely, appeal to a minor district meeting; only it does not clearly appear, whether,—two of the four brother ministers, who, in addition to the ministerial chairman, become thus the judges of his quarrel with the (lay) leaders, having been selected by himself, the other two are to be appointed by the leaders, by the individual they have dared to protect from the effects of personal prejudice or irritation,' by the complaining superintendent, or by whom else. If the minor district meeting fail in satisfying either party, the way lies open for appeal to the superior courts, terminating with the Conference.

The document here analysed, like all the more modern acts of the Conference, presents a singularly wordy combination of preamble, enactment, and proviso, with exposition, paraphrase, reasoning, declamation, and hortation. The smallest fry could not well escape through the meshes of a net like this, in which we read, “The New Testament law of purity,'* etc., its often repeated law of peace and godly quietness, and its laws of courtesy, brotherly kindness, and mutual charity, as well as its direction that 'all things' should be done decently and in order,' and its requirement of reasonable submission, on the part of church members, to the scriptural 'rule' of those who are over them in the Lord,'—these are standing enactments of the gospel, binding on all Christian communities, and therefore binding on the Methodist societies, without exception. ANY OBSTINATE VIOLATION OF THEM MUST BE SUITABLY VISITED,' etc. We leave our intelligent readers to form their own opinion of a system of discipline like this.

The Local Preachers' Meeting is composed, as the name im. ports, of local preachers; that is to say, of those individuals in each circuit, who, not devoting themselves wholly to the mi

* The italics are as in the original text of the Conference Minutes.

nistry, or, rather, not changing their place of abode or relinquishing their secular avocations, consent, without fee or reward, and often without being refunded expenses out of pocket, to supply the pulpits of the circuit according to appointment from sabbath to sabbath, and sometimes on week-nights also. Of this truly meritorious order of Christian ministers, the Rev,

John Gordon, now a Unitarian minister at Coventry, but formerly a Wesleyan minister, bore the following testimony at a recent meeting of the Unitarian Association. He was stating the reasons that led him to expect considerable accessions from the Wesleyan body :— The other ground on which he rested his opinion was, the peculiar constitution of Methodism in raising up a body of local teachers in every circuit or division. There was thus formed a strong body of individuals accustomed on every sabbath-day to occupy the pulpit in places of worship. They were thinking men, so far as matters of religion were concerned ; and there was no other sect in the kingdom possessed of such a body of men, habituated to reflect on subjects of this kind. People were disposed to look upon Methodists as an ignorant body of men ; but he could tell them, that, so far as his own experience went, he never knew a Methodist circuit where there was not some individual connected with the local preachers able to read the Greek Testament in the original(hear). Therefore he thought that he was right in saying, that Unitarianism, when it could get hold among such a body of men as this, was more likely to spread among them than in any other class of the Christian community,

The local preachers meet quarterly, under the presidence of the superintendent, supported by his ministerial colleagues. Local preachers are appointed at this meeting, after six months' probation, on which they cannot enter without the superintendent's sanction, and during which it is his duty to hear them preach at least one sermon. If, after due examination before the assembled brethren, the superintendent is persuaded that a candidate possesses suitable qualifications, he proposes him to the meeting, who may accept or reject the nomination according to their views. Although travelling preachers are exempted from meeting in class, local preachers are not excused from so doing. No local preacher is allowed to preach in another circuit without producing a note of recommendation from his own superintendent, and having the consent of the other. Neither can a local preacher hold a love-feast without his superintendent's consent; and, although we find no direct inhibition, we know that they are never permitted to administer baptism and the Lord's Supper, the celebration of which is, by rule, confined to ministers in full connexion. They are responsible to their

« PreviousContinue »