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under a bushel. The singularity of their conduct attracted notice, and, perhaps in the way of sarcasm, they were called METHODISTS, on account of the regularity of their living, and the manner of spending their time. It is a little remarkable that the three designations of “ Christians,” “Puritans,” and “Methodists,” and which those who bare them received and appropriated without scruple or shame, should have been imposed upon them in the way of contempt. Soon after their first religious concern was felt by this pious band at Oxford, some of them had a strong desire to preach to the Indians of North America, and as an indirect means of accomplishing this object, John and Charles Wesley, with two more, engaged themselves as chaplains to the colony of Georgia.
It would seem that, at this time their views of evangelical religion were very dim and confused, but meeting on the passage with several pious Moravians, who better understood the scheme of salvation by grace, and continuing their intercourse with them in America, Mr. Wesley became acquainted through their teaching with the momentous doctrine of justification by faith, the knowledge of pardon of sin, and peace with God. His faithful preaching of these great truths having brought upon him much persecution, his brother Charles returned to England in 1739, and he the year following. From this time he commenced a course of ministerial exertions in the metropolis, and of journies into various parts of the country, of the most arduous and laborious kind, where the fervour of his zeal bore a proportion to the degree of obloquy he incurred. The effects of his preaching were very striking, for though it was calm and unimpassioned, and quite unlike that of his more eloquent, though less learned fellow-labourer Whitfield, yet it was earnest and impressive. He still considered himself, and wished others to consider him, as a member and minister of the Church of England; a somewhat irregular one certainly, but still really such. He, therefore, desired to associate with him in his schemes, the pious clergy of that church, of whom, at that time, there were but comparatively few. In this he succeeded so partially that he determined upon the employment of pious and talented laymen, reserving to himself the right of appointing them to the work, and guided in his own choice by the opportunities he had of judging of their qualifications at meetings for prayer and exhortation.
Hitherto Whitfield had acted in conjunction with Wesley, but having embraced the doctrines of Calvinism, while those of Wesley were Arminian, they separated and each moved in his own appropriate sphere. The preaching of Wesley excited less public attention than that of Whitfield, and was perhaps less effective at the time, but from the beginning his plan of action was more systematic, and in the end more successful. His great compeer was to a considerable extent his own system, which he had not policy enough to extend. He was intent chiefly upon the impression and success for the time being of his wonderful oratory; while Wesley, in connexion with his itinerant labourers, was always laying the foundations and strengthening them too, of the system which bears his name.
He was a man of profound sagacity in his judgment of the men and the means that would accomplish his purposes ; and though he might occasionally consult others, he reserved to himself the sole right of ultimate decision and appointment; and it was a proof of the resources and power of his own mind that he acquired such.command over the minds of others. As his congregations increased, which they did rapidly, notwithstanding what some would call the enthusiasm and extravagance of a few of his followers, and the violence and mobbing of their opponents, he took the entire regulation of them all upon himself, and not only appointed the preachers, but furnished them with rules for their government.
As Wesley, either from policy or from principle, or in part from both, wished to avoid as much as possible the character and the charge of being a separatist from the Church of England, he therefore did not, when he could avoid it, preach in church hours, and directed his preachers to follow his example in this particular, as well as in another, of not administering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in any of his chapels. It need scarcely be said that, in both these respects his society have long since given up the practice of their founder as their rule, and are now as completely severed from the Church of England in all their practices as the Dissenters, not excepting the celebration of marriage in their own places of worship. In a few of their chapels, both in London and in the provinces, they still use the liturgy of the Church of England, but these are the exceptions, not the rule, of their practice. The followers of Wesley are now everywhere called either Wesleyans or Methodists. The latter is the term more generally employed not only by others but by themselves. Methodism is a term of more than magic power over their minds and hearts. It has been questioned by some whether the spell of that mighty word is not sometimes greater than it ought to be, by holding them in the fascination of sectarianism exclusiveness. Yet it must admitted that no section of the Christian Church entered more generally or more cordially into the scheme of the Evangelical Alliance than they.
In doctrine the Methodists are Arminian, in ritual Pædobaptists, and in government heirarchical. Their arrangements for the government and working of their body are skilful and efficient. The supreme legislature is the Conference, which properly speaking consists of a hundred of their oldest, wisest, most experienced men, who continually fill up vacancies themselves. This Conference is confined exclusively to ministers, and has not shewn a disposition yet to throw open the doors to the admission of laymen; which, if they were inclined to do, is prohibited by their deed of settlement; so that nothing short of an act of parliament could authorize so important a re-modelling of their constitution as this. The privilege of membership consists of admission to class. A class is formed of a number of serious persons, amounting to from twelve to twenty or even more, one of whom is styled a leader. It is his bu. siness to meet this little company once a week to inquire into the state of their souls, to watch over their conduct, to advise, exhort, and warn, as the case may require, to collect the weekly contributions of the members, to meet periodically the ministers and stewards, in order to report the condition of the class and to pay over the monies received. The class, it will be perceived, is the vital principle of Methodism, and in a body governed as this is, must be allowed to be a most admirable contrivance; besides furnishing the pecuniary support of the ministry, which is obtained by this means, it is fraught with many spiritual and connexional advantages. A number of these classes forms a congregation, and a number of congregations a CIRCUIT, which generally includes in coun. try places, a market town, and the circumjacent villages, to the extent of ten or fifteen miles, London and the large provincial towns are divided into several circuits.
To each of these circuits are appointed two, three, or more preachers, one of whom is appointed a superintendent, and this circuit is the sphere of their labour for not less than one year, nor more than three years. A number of circuits from five to ten, more or fewer, according to their extent, form a DISTRICT, the preachers in which meet annually. Every district has a chairman who fixes the time of the meeting. These assemblies have authority to examine candidates for the ministry, and to try and suspend members for heresy, immorality, or incompetency; to examine the demands for the poorer circuits respecting the support of the preachers and their families from the public funds; and to elect a representative to attend and form a committee to sit previously to the meeting of Conference, in order to prepare a draft of the stations of all the preachers of the ensuing year. The judgment of the district meeting is conclusive till the meeting of the Conference, to which an appeal is allowed in all cases.
Besides these representatives chosen specially to form the committee, the superintendents of circuits and as many other preachers as each district may allow to attend the Conference, go up to the annual convocation and have all the privileges of speaking and voting with the centumvirate.
Methodism was introduced into Birmingham under the following circumstances.
Among the early objects of Mr. Wesley's benevolent concern were the colliers at Kingswood, in the neighbourhood of Bristol, for whose welfare, as also did Mr. Whitfield, he laboured with considerable success. His attention to this class was soon extended to Staffordshire, where in the mining districts he often preached, especially at Wednesbury and its vicinity, amidst much opposition and imminent peril. The mobs by whom