Page images
PDF
EPUB

of these were devout and peaceable. They were free from a factious spirit, and gave satisfactory proof that they were actuated by conscientious motives. Such men he could neither coerce nor despise; but how to meet their case, without departing farther from the order of the Church than he had yet done, or ever intended to do, cost him years of anxious thought.

Another subject of deep interest to Mr. Wesley, and to his Preachers and people generally, was the continuance of the itinerant ministry, and of the discipline which he had established in the societies, when he should be no more. While he lived he was a centre of union to them all. Every one was ready to defer to his judgment, and his power to appoint the Preachers was unquestioned. He determined that, after his decease, the power which he possessed should devolve upon the Conference : but there arose a question as to the manner in which that body should be constituted. Hitherto the Conference consisted of Preachers whom Mr. Wesley invited to meet him once a year for the purpose of united counsel. Unless something, therefore, were done, to give the Conference a legal existence, independently of Mr. Wesley's presence and will, it could not survive him. The chapels would remain ; but there would be no power to station the Preachers, and to superintend the societies.

This subject appeared in all its importance at the Bristol Conference of 1783, during which Mr. Wesley had a dangerous illness, so that for some days his recovery was very doubtful. Early in the morning he was seized with an impetuous flux, which was followed by a violent cramp, first in his feet, legs, and thighs, then in his side and throat. The medicine which was administered removed the cramp, but took away his speech, hearing, and power of motion; so that for several days he lay as a mere log, and was in continual fever. Had he died at that time, according to all human probability, the itinerant ministry which he had organized must have ceased, and the societies have been dissolved.

The Preachers felt the critical situation in which they were placed, and united to request their venerable father, on his recovery, to provide against a casualty which might be ruinous to the work in which they were engaged. He acceded to their wishes, took the best legal advice that was accessible, and in the month of February following executed the “DEED OF DECLARATION,” which he caused to be enrolled in His Majesty's High Court of Chancery, appointing by name one hundred Travelling Preachers “the Conference of the people called Methodists,” defining their powers, and providing for the filling up of vacancies from time to time. He reserved to himself and his brother, however, during their life-time, the right of appointing the Preachers to the different chapels. “Without some authentic deed,” says he, “fixing the meaning of the term, the moment I died the Conference had been nothing. Therefore any of the proprietors of the land on which our preaching-houses were built might have seized them for their own use; and there would have been none to hinder them; for the Conference would have been nobody, a mere empty name. In all the pains I have taken about this absolutely necessary deed, I have been labouring not for myself, (I have no interest therein,) but for the whole body of Methodists; in order to fix them upon such a foundation as is likely to stand as long as the sun and moon endure. That is, if they continue to walk by faith, and to show forth their faith by their works; otherwise, I pray God to root out the memorial of them from the earth.” *

This deed, as might be expected, gave great offence to some of the Preachers whose names were not in it; so that at the ensuing Conference considerable excitement prevailed. Mr. Fletcher was present, and interceded with Mr. Wesley in behalf of these refractory sons in the Gospel, and the parties appeared to be reconciled; but three of them afterwards withdrew from their work : Mr. Joseph Pilmoor, and John Hampson, father and son. Mr. Pilmoor went to America, where he was ordained, at Mr. Charles Wesley's recommendation, by one of the American Bishops. The elder Mr. Hampson became the Minister of a small Dissenting congregation; the Conference allowing him a small annuity to the end of his life, as a mark of their respect, and an acknowledgment of his former services. The younger Mr. Hampson obtained episcopal ordination, and the living of Sunderland. He wrote a Life of Mr. Wesley, which he put to press with indecent haste, while the remains of that venerable man were

• Wesley's Works, vol. xiii., p. 217.

scarcely cold in his grave; and spoke of the deceased, to whom he was indebted for his education, and therefore for his preferment, in a manner that reflected little credit upon his heart. His book is a sort of quiver, from which the detractors of Mr. Wesley generally select their arrows.

At this Conference the ministrations of Mr. Fletcher were attended by a power and effect which those who witnessed them could never forget. He preached on the case of the Prophet who was sent from Judah to Bethel, to testify against the idolatry which was practised there ; who, after the delivery of his message, “was disobedient to the word of the Lord,” and was therefore slain by a lion. Mr. Fletcher described him as “an Antinomian,” whose fate was a solemn warning to all religious teachers. He encouraged the Methodist Preachers in their work, by assuring them that, while they lived in the spirit of their holy vocation, and delivered the truth of God with evangelical faithfulness, every arm that was stretched out to arrest them would be dried up, as in the case of Jeroboam. His attitude and whole manner in prayer were those of a man who felt that he had the fullest access to God, and who with adoring confidence conversed with Him face to face. His hands were stretched towards heaven, his countenance lighted up with reverent joy, and every one was ready, because of the solemn awe which the manifested presence of God inspired, to "wrap his face in his mantle," and sink into the dust of humiliation.

At the time of this Conference Mr. Wesley had in contemplation one of the most important measures that he ever adopted for the advancement of the work of God: the elevation of his societies in America into a regular church, by providing for the administration of the sacraments by their own Preachers. In reference to this object, he consulted his faithful friend the Vicar of Madeley, and a few weeks after the Conference prosecuted his pious design. Two war

The war of American independence was now ended, and the people of the United States were acknowledged to be no longer under the British crown. Many of the Protestant Clergy, from whom the Methodists had hitherto received the sacraments, had left the country, or ceased to officiate ; and the societies generally on that vast continent, amounting to upwards of eighteen thousand members, had none to baptize

392, e

their children, or administer to them the memorials of their Saviour's passion. The character of the episcopal Clergy in America was at that time extremely low. Several of them during the war had acted as soldiers, and others by their negligence and sin were a scandal to the sacred office. This is acknowledged by writers belonging to their own Church. Dr. Seabury, an American Clergyman, came to England, for the purpose of obtaining consecration to the episcopal office from the English Prelates. After waiting for two years, his request was denied. He then applied to the Scottish Bishops, who had derived their orders from the Nonjurors of the reign of William and Mary; and from them he at length received the desired honour. In the mean while the American Methodists, who had no sympathy either with Dr. Seabury, or the Bishops by whom he was consecrated, looked to Mr. Wesley as their spiritual father, and implored his advice and aid. Having considered the subject in all its bearings, he resolved to appoint Dr. Coke and Mr. Asbury joint Superintendents over the American Preachers and societies, with power to ordain others for the full duties of the ministry.

Mr. Asbury had long been a faithful labourer in America, where he had commanded great respect by his piety, wisdom, and usefulness. Dr. Coke had now been in connexion with Mr. Wesley about eight years, and had approved himself hy his fidelity and zeal. He was born at Brecon, in South Wales, and educated at the University of Oxford, where he became a Deist under the influence of his fellow-collegians. Having recovered his faith in divine revelation, by a careful study of its evidences, he was ordained as a Clergyman of the Church of England, and obtained the curacy of SouthPetherton, in Somersetshire, where he was shamefully persecuted, and at length dismissed, on account of his faithfulness in attempting to turn the people from sin to holiness. He then connected himself with Mr. Wesley, who often observed that Dr. Coke was to him a second Thomas Walsh. An expression of higher respect he could scarcely have uttered. The Doctor, who, like the two Wesleys, was little in stature, was eminently active, lively, and disinterested. Of ordinary difficulties he made no account; for his heart was all on fire to extend the blessings of salvation to the ends of the earth. In promoting the settlement of Methodist chapels in Eng

le

land, so that they should not be alienated from the Connexion, and in preparing the “ DEED OF DECLARATION," he had rendered services of the most substantial value to Mr. Wesley and his people.

On the morning of September 1st, 1784, Mr. Wesley, by the imposition of hands, solemnly appointed the Doctor to the work which he had assigned him, being assisted by the Rev. James Creighton, a very pious and intelligent episcopal Clergyman, who then officiated in the Methodist chapels in London. Immediately after, with the assistance of Dr. Coke and Mr. Creighton, Mr. Wesley ordained Mr. Whatcoat and Mr. Vasey, to act as Elders in America, by baptizing and administering the Lord's supper. He also published, for the use of his people both in England and America, a Liturgy, differing little from that of the established Church, but shortened in most of its services.

For several years Mr. Wesley's Preachers had been stationed in some of the principal towns in Scotland, and societies were formed under their care; but the members, in many instances, were in circumstances scarcely better than those of their brethren in America immediately after the war. There were indeed Clergymen in Scotland; but several of them absolutely refused to admit the Methodists to the Lord's table, except on the condition that they would renounce all future connexion with the Methodist ministry and discipline. During the Conference of the following year, therefore, which was held in London, Mr. Wesley ordained three of his Preachers to administer the sacraments in North Britain. “Having,” says he in his Journal, “with a few select friends, weighed the matter thoroughly, I yielded to their judgment, and set apart three of our well-tried Preachers, John Pawson, Thomas Hanby, and Joseph Taylor, to minister in Scotland ; and I trust God will bless their ministrations, and show that He has sent them.”

In performing these acts of ordination, it is presumed Mr. Wesley was perfectly justifiable from the necessity of the case, and the peculiar relation in which he stood to the people whose spiritual interests he had in view. They were his children in the Lord, begotten through the Gospel; deprived of the sacraments which Christ had instituted, and which they could not therefore neglect but at the hazard of their souls.

« PreviousContinue »