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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 1

Mr Wesley's Deed of Declaration

Mr Wesley's Deed of Declaration.

When Mr. Wesley had drawn up his "Deed of Declaration," constituting one hundred of his Preachers the "Conference of the people called Methodists," a violent outcry was raised against him. Several of the Preachers were greatly offended, because their names were not inserted in this important document; and other persons were alarmed lest the trust which was thus created should be abused. In the midst of this excitement he inserted page 70 the following paper in his monthly Magazine, under the title of "Thoughts upon some late Occurrences." It is important, as showing that the object which he had in view when he constituted the Conference was the unity and continuation of his societies, by securing for them in perpetuity the itinerant ministry, to which they were accustomed, and which they highly valued.

1. In June, 1744, I desired my brother and a few other Clergymen to meet me in London, to consider how we should proceed to save our own souls and those that heard us. After some time, I invited the Lay Preachers that were in the house to meet with us. We conferred together for several days, and were much comforted and strengthened thereby.

2. The next year I not only invited most of the Travelling Preachers, but several others, to confer with me in Bristol. And from that time for some years, though I invited only a part of the Travelling Preachers, yet I permitted any that desired it, to be present, not apprehending any ill consequences therefrom.

3. But two ill consequences soon appeared: one, that the expense was too great to be borne; the other, that many of our people were scattered while they were left without a shepherd. I therefore determined, (1.) That for the time to come, none should be present but those whom I invited; and, (2.) That I would only invite a select number out of every Circuit.

4. This I did for many years, and all that time the term "Conference" meant not so much the conversation we had together, as the persons that conferred; namely, those whom I invited to confer with me from time to time. So that all this time it depended on me alone, not only what persons should constitute the Conference,—but whether there should be any Conference at all, this lay wholly in my own breast; neither the Preachers nor the people having any part or lot in the matter.

5. Some years after, it was agreed, that, after the decease of my brother and me, the Preachers should be stationed by the Conference. But ere long a question arose, What does that term mean? Who are the Conference? It appeared difficult to define the term. And the year before last all our brethren who were met at Bristol desired me to fix the determinate meaning of the word.

6. Hitherto, it had meant (not the whole body of Travelling Preachers, it never bore that meaning at all; but) those persons whom I invited yearly to confer with me. But to this there was a palpable objection,—Such a Conference would have no being after my death. And what other definition of it to give, I knew not; at least I knew none that would stand good in law. I consulted a skilful and honest Attorney: and he consulted an eminent Counsellor, who answered, "There is no way of doing this but page 71 by naming a determinate number of persons. The deed which names these must be enrolled in Chancery: then it will stand good in law."

7. My first thought was to name a very few, suppose ten or twelve persons. Count Zinzendorf named only six who were to preside over the community after his decease. But on second thoughts, I believed there would be more safety in a greater number of counsellors, and therefore named a hundred, as many as I judged could meet without too great an expense, and without leaving any Circuit naked of Preachers while the Conference met.

8. In naming these Preachers, as I had no adviser, so I had no respect of persons; but I simply set down those that, according to the best of my judgment, were most proper. But I am not infallible. I might mistake and think better of some of them than they deserved. However, I did my best; and if I did wrong, it was not the error of my will, but of my judgment.

9. This was the rise, and this is the nature, of that famous Deed of Declaration, that vile wicked Deed, concerning which you have heard such an outcry! And now, can any one tell me how to mend it, or how it could have been made better? "O yes. You might have inserted two hundred, as well as one hundred, Preachers." No; for then the expense of meeting would have been double, and all the Circuits would have been without Preachers. "But you might have named other Preachers instead of these." True, if I had thought as well of them as they did of themselves. But I did not: therefore I could do no otherwise than I did, without sinning against God and my own conscience.

10. "But what need was therefor any Deed at all?" There was the utmost need of it: without some authentic Deed 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.

11. You see, then, 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.

The End.

London:—printed by James Nichols, Hoxton-Square.