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This is a brief outline of the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Till now, like her maternal ancestor on the other side of the Atlantic, she had only been a society, and her members stood connected with the various churches in the country, to suit their respective tastes. The measure gave general satisfaction, both to the ministry and membership, and is susceptible of the strongest defence; but defence is pot necessary.
TIF FIRST GENERAL CONFERENCE, WITH NUMEROUS HISTOR
ICAL EVENTS WHICH OCCURRED PREVIOUS TO 1820.
PASSING along to the year 1792, we are attracted by another important event in our history, viz. : the first session of the General Conference. But we must not dismiss this interval of eight years without noting a few particulars. Dr. Coke was in England a part of the time, but always popular and useful. Bishop Asbury traversed the country from end to end, preaching, attending Conferences, and overseeing the work, amid dangers and deaths that few men, and especially men of his office, would have brooked. But he construed his official distinction into a divine call to be more abundant in labors and sufferings for Christ's sake; and to set an example to the flock, especially to the preachers. Therefore he forded rivers, and traversed mountains and swamps, sleeping in the forests, and on miserable beds and floors, that made him sigh for “a clean plank.” 0, how much is the church indebted to this noble inan for his unexampled activity and willing sacrifice for the cause of God at that time! Had an aristocratic, dronish, worldlyminded man happened to have been in that sacred place, American Methodism would have been a different thing from what it is.
Thuse men had only entered upon the duties of their new office, before they projected a literary institution for the education of the preachers' sons, and others, which its friends were pleased to call “ Cokesbury College." This was located in Abingdon, Maryland ; but had been in opera. tion less than ten years, when the nice brick buildings, which cost the bishops immense labor, were burnt to the ground, Dr. Coke now rallied, and having a liberal offer in Baltimore, re-opened the college in a large building in that town, purchased for the purpose. This was also consumed soon after, which led some to believe that God was not pleased with the enterprise.
As we have designated the superintendents by the term bishops, it may be proper to say that the Conference adopted this title in 1787. But they did not change the nature or powers of their office. Dr. Coke was still just the officer that Mr. Wesley ordained him to be when he set him apart to the superintendency. Mr. Wesley knew that his proper title was bishop, but he was aware if he called him by that title he would offend the church. Therefore, he preferred the harmless name of superintendent. But the Conference stood in a different relation to the church from what Mr. Wesley did, and saw no good reason why they should not call its officers by their proper titles. Whether it has injured the superintendents, or benefited the Conference, we are unable to determine. Croakers have made much noise about the matter, but to very little purpose.
The year 1789, in particular, was a memorable year. The itinerant work had become so extended the bishops held eleven Conferences. This multiplication of Conferences brought up another difficulty. No one of them was authorized to make rules binding upon the whole.
whole. This suggested the idea of a council, to be composed of the bishops and the presiding elders of all the Conferences. (And, by the way, this is the year that the title of presid.ng
elder was first used in the Minutes, though the office was created four years before.) The suggestion was adopted, and the council went into operation ; but only met twice before it was repudiated, and gave way to a General Conference. Here, also, we find the first mention of a boolosteward, John Dickens, whose first work was to print “ A. Kempis.”
But the matter of principal interest during the whole eight years was the triumphs of divine grace over the sins and prejudices of the people. Revivals were powerful and extensive. The Lord seemed to attend the word with peculiar energy, so that at the Conference in 1792 there were two hundred and sixty-six travelling preachers in the connection, and sixty-five thousand nine hundred and eighty members, scattered over an immense territory, embracing Nova Scotia and Upper Canada, on the north and east, and the extremes of the settled portions of the south and west.
This General Conference, properly enough called the first, was held in Baltimore, November, 1792. Here the whole economy of the church was reviewed, and such alterations made as the experience of previous years suggested. But one man especially had it in his heart to produce a radical change in the government. We refer to the Rev. James O’Kelley, a very popular preacher, and an old presiding elder, from Virginia. His plan provided that, after the reading of the appointments of the preachers by the bishop, if any one thought himself injured, he might appeal to the Conference, and state his objections, when, if the Conference thought them sufficient, the bishop should change his appointment. It was discussed about three days with great interest, and then rejected by a large majority. This gave Mr. Kelley great offence, and the next morning he resigned his seat. Every thing was done by the Conference to appease
him, except to adopt his plan, but tc no purpose. He with drew froin the church, and formed a separate party, raising a hue and cry against the church he had left, and denouncing the ministers, and especially Bishop Asbury. The good bishop simply replied: “I bid all such adieu, and appeal to the bar of God. I have no time to contend, having better work to do. If we lose some children, God will give us
Ah! this is the mercy, the justice of some, who, under God, owe their all to me and my tyrants, so called. The Lord judge between them and me.
The excitement was great, and many seceded and joined the new party. To make some gain of the political fever which raged in those times, they took the name of “Republican Methodists.” This brought the spirit of the world to their aid, and many of the people, some whole societies in Virginia, withdrew, and took their meeting-houses with them, while others were imbittered, divided, and destroyed. In the course of the four years immediately succeeding this outbreak, the church decreased in her membership more than twelve thousand. But, after all, the enterprise did not succeed. The travelling preachers found there was more popery in the new concern than in the old, notwithstanding its title and pretensions, and all but one returned to the church, bringing large numbers of the people with them. Those who remained, struggled on, but with little encourage. ment. In 1801 they sought to help a sinking cause by a new name, and came out under the imposing cognomen of " The Christian Church." The exclusiveness of this title so operated against them, and, falling into a contention among themselves, they divided, and sub-divided, till not a vestige of their ecclesiastical edifice remaired. Mr. O'Kelley sunk away intc obscurity, and died a pitiful specimen of human weakness, and a beacor, of warning to his successors, not to