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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 1

The Wesleyan Conference, &c

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The Wesleyan Conference, &c.

"Let not then your good be evil spoken of." This apostolic precept is of general application, and is therefore binding upon the professors of Christianity throughout all time. When misapprehensions prevail respecting their conduct, or respecting their principles of action, so as to be made matter of serious blame, it is the duty of the parties accused to give such explanations as may be requisite in order to a just understanding of the case, so that evil surmising and evil speaking may, as much as possible, be prevented. The Wesleyan Conference, during its late sittings in Manchester, performed certain acts of discipline upon some of its members; and that as matter of painful, but of imperative, duty. Concerning these acts a large amount of clamour has been raised. The men upon whom they were passed have visited various towns, where they have convened mixed assemblies, before which they have stated their alleged wrongs; the public press, to some extent, has not only echoed their complaints, but espoused their cause; several persons belonging to the Wesleyan societies have declared themselves to be grievously offended; and Christians of other denominations have expressed a desire to understand the true nature of the affair, that they may be able to ascertain whether or not an ecclesiastical censure has been righteously administered, or the commands of Christ have been violated by a body of men who are pledged to act in accordance with them.

It is for the purpose of conveying what the writer con- page 6 ceives to be a correct view of the subject, that the following statement has been drawn up, and is now submitted to the consideration of all who feel an interest in the matter.

The Wesleyan Conference.

The Wesleyan-Methodist Conference, as it at present exists, is constituted by Mr. Wesley's "Deed of Declaration," which bears the date of Feb. 28th, 1784, and which he enrolled in the High Court of Chancery, in which Court it has been repeatedly recognised, as binding upon the entire Connexion. It consists of one hundred Ministers, and of an indefinite number of others who are voluntarily associated with them; and was intended by its venerable Founder to carry out and perpetuate those plans which he had previously formed for the spiritual benefit of mankind, and upon which the divine blessing had manifestly rested. He invested this body with various rights; but those rights involve some of the most solemn and momentous trusts that were ever committed to human beings. To the Conference is confided the task of admitting men to the evangelical ministry in the Wesleyan section of the Christian church, after the people have, in their Quarterly-Meetings, expressed a persuasion that the parties are duly qualified for that sacred calling; of guarding the orthodoxy, the spirituality, and the purity of that ministry; and of securing the efficient discharge of its sacred duties; of appointing Ministers to the occupancy of the Wesleyan pulpits throughout the United Kingdom, and to the pastoral charge of the societies. The Conference is intended so to fulfil these sacred trusts, as to be a means of raising up a people who shall be examples of Christian holiness in all the relations of life: for the Wesleyan ministry was never designed to accomplish either secular or party objects. "I am sick of opinions," says Mr. Wesley, "I am weary to bear them.* My soul loathes this

* By "opinions," it is manifest from the general tenor of Mr. Wesley's writings, he meant, not the truths of Christianity, as some of his adversaries have insinuated, particularly the late Archbishop Magee. These are not "opinions," but eternal verities, which men are bound to receive upon the testimony of God himself. He meant a cold and formal assent to the Gospel, while the heart remains unchanged, and the life unreformed; and especially matters of doubtful disputation, concerning which persons of equal piety may innocently differ; and yet which some persons have made the subjects of angry controversy, as if the whole of religion consisted in an adherence to them in some of their modifications.

page 7 frothy food. Give me solid and substantial religion; give me an humble, gentle lover of God and man; a man full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy; a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labour of love. Let my soul be with these Christians, wheresoever they are, and whatsoever opinion they are of. 'Whosoever' thus 'doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.'"*
The manner in which Mr. Wesley intended the Conference to fulfil its momentous trust, is to be learned from his own example; for a Conference with his Preachers was held by him every year through the greater part of his public life; and the method which he adopted in conducting these assemblies he unquestionably designed to be followed by the men whom he appointed to take his place when his spirit had returned to God. Now it was an essential part of his plan to subject his Preachers to a personal examination, not only when they were accepted as fellow-labourers, but at every Annual Conference to the end of their lives. The same plan has been strictly followed to the present day; so that every man who for the last hundred years has entered into this ministry, has entered it with this understanding; and this annual examination has included, not merely inquiries respecting the character and conduct of the Preachers, addressed to other parties; but, in all cases where it was deemed necessary, questions affecting their own views and deportment have been addressed to the Preachers themselves, which they have been expected and required to answer. This fact is proved beyond all controversy by the Minutes of the successive Conferences,

* Wesley's Works, vol. viii., p. 244. Octavo edit.

page 8 which have been published, and are therefore accessible to all classes of readers. At the very first Conference, which was held in the year 1744, this kind of examination was distinctly recognised, and that as matter of course, as the following question and answer show:—

"Q. Do we sufficiently watch over our Helpers?*

"A. We might consider those that are with us as our pupils, into whose behaviour and studies we should therefore make a particular inquiry every day. Should we not frequently ask each, Do you walk closely with God? Have you now fellowship with the Father and the Son? At what hour do you rise? Do you punctually observe the morning and evening hour of retirement? Do you spend the day in the manner which we advise? Do you read the books we advise, and no other? Do you fast as often as your health will permit? Do you converse seriously, usefully, and closely? Do you pray before, and have you a determinate end in, every conversation?"

The following extracts from the Minutes of successive Conferences will show how this recognised principle of personal examination was acted upon:—

* During Mr. Wesley's life-time the Preachers who had the care of Circuits were called "Assistants;" their colleagues were denominated "Helpers;" both of them at first acted under the joint direction of John and Charles Wesley. At length Charles declined this kind of service; and John took upon himself the oversight of the Preachers and societies generally.

Minutes of Conference, vol. i., p. 16.

Conference of 1746.

"Q. How shall we try those who think they are moved by the Holy Ghost, and called of God, to preach?

"A. Inquire, 1. Do they know God, as a pardoning God? Have they the love of God abiding in them? Do they desire and seek nothing but God? and are they holy in all manner of conversation?

"2. Have they gifts (as well as grace) for the work? Have they (in some tolerable degree) a clear, sound understanding? Have they a right judgment in the things of page 9 God? Have they a just conception of salvation by faith? and has God given them any degree of utterance? Do they speak justly, readily, clearly?

"3. Have they fruit? Are any truly convinced of sin, and converted to God, by their preaching?

"As long as these three marks concur in any, we believe he is called of God to preach. These we receive as a sufficient proof that he is moved thereto by the Holy Ghost.

"Q. But how shall we know whether they concur or not in any particular person?

"A. 1. If he is near us, we will talk with him on the three preceding heads, and then hear him preach.

"2. We will desire him to write down or relate the reasons why he thinks he is called of God thereto.

"3. We will examine those who seem to have been convinced of sin, or converted to God, by his preaching.

"4. If he is at a distance, we will desire the Assistant to do this; and to inquire what is the judgment of the society in that place concerning him.

"Q. What method may we use in receiving a new Helper?

"A. A proper time for doing this is at a Conference, after solemn fasting and prayer."*

* Minutes of Conference, vol. i., pp. 20, 30.

Conference of 1766.

At this Conference eleven Preachers were admitted into full connexion, all of whom were subjected to the following examination:—

"William Ellis, have you faith in Christ? Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be perfected in love in this life? Are you groaning after it? Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?

"Do you know the Methodist doctrine? Have you read the Sermons? the Notes on the New Testament?

"Do you know the Methodist plan? Have you read the Plain Account? the Appeals?

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"Do you know the Rules of the Society? of the Bands? Do you keep them?

"Do you take no snuff? tobacco? drams?

"Do you constantly attend the church and sacrament?

"Have you read the Minutes? Are you willing to conform to them?

"Have you considered the twelve rules of a Helper? especially the first, tenth, and twelfth?

"Will you keep them for conscience' sake?

"Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?

"Will you preach every morning and evening, endeavouring not to speak too loud, or too long? not lolling with your elbows? Have you read the Rules of Action and Utterance?

"Will you meet the society, the bands, the select society, the Leaders of bands and classes in every place?

"Will you diligently and earnestly instruct the children, and visit from house to house?

"Will you recommend fasting, both by precept and example?

"The same questions were proposed to the rest severally before they were admitted."*

* Minutes, vol. i., pp. 52, 53.

Conference of 1770.

"Q. Two years ago it was agreed that Itinerant Preachers ought not to follow trades. How can we secure the observance of this?

"A. It is agreed, by all the brethren now met in Conference this 9th day of August, 1770, that no Preacher who will not relinquish his trade of buying and selling, or making and vending pills, drops, balsams, or medicines of any kind, shall be considered as a Travelling Preacher any longer. And that it shall be demanded of all those Preachers who have traded in cloth, hardware, pills, drops, balsams, or medicines of any kind, at the next Conference, whether they have entirely left it off or not?"

Ibid., pp. 89, 90.

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Conference of 1776.

"Q. Are there any objections to any of our Preachers?

"A. Yes. It is objected that some are utterly unqualified for the work; and that others do it negligently, as if they imagined they had nothing to do but to preach once or twice a day.

"In order to silence this objection for ever, which has been repeated ten times over, the Preachers were examined at large, especially those concerning whom there was the least doubt. The result was, that one was excluded for insufficiency; two, for misbehaviour: and we were thoroughly satisfied that all the rest had both grace and gifts for the work wherein they are engaged. I hope, therefore, we shall hear of this objection no more."*

* Minutes, vol. i., p. 122.

Conference of 1777.

"Q. Are there any objections to any of our Preachers?

"A. Yes. It is objected that most of them are not called of God to preach. This deserves our serious consideration. In the Large Minutes we ask, 'How shall we try those who think they are called by the Holy Ghost to preach?'

"Q. Is this method of trial sufficient? can we find a better? Weigh this matter impartially.

"A. We cannot find any better method; any more scriptural, or more rational.

"Q. But suppose they were called once, have not many of them forfeited their calling?

"A. Examine them one by one; and whoever has any objection or doubt concerning any one, let him now speak without any disguise or reserve, or for ever hold his peace."

Ibid., pp. 128, 129.

Conference of 1791.

Mr. Wesley died on the 2d of March this year; and the Conference, when assembled in the month of July follow page 12 ing, made the subjoined entry in their Journal:—"It may be expected that the Conference make some observations on the death of Mr. Wesley; but they find themselves utterly inadequate to express their ideas and feelings on this awful and affecting event. Their souls do truly mourn for their great loss; and they trust they shall give the most substantial proofs of their veneration for the memory of their esteemed Father and Friend, by endeavouring, with great humility and diffidence, to follow and imitate him in doctrine, discipline, and life."*

It is added, in the Minutes of the same Conference, "Is it necessary to enter into any engagements in respect to our future plan of economy?

"A. We engage to follow strictly the plan which Mr. Wesley left us at his death."

* Minutes, vol. i., p. 234.

Ibid., p. 246

Conference of 1802.

"Q. Can any improvement be made in our present mode of receiving Preachers on trial?

"A. At present the Candidate is supposed to have passed the Quarterly-Meeting, from which he is recommended to the District-Meeting. In addition to this, let him, if possible, attend the District-Meeting, and be examined before all the brethren present, respecting his experience, his knowledge of divine things, his reading, his views of the doctrines of the Gospel, and his regard for Methodism in general. The Preacher who examines him shall be chosen by the ballot of the District-Committee. After the examination, the Candidate shall withdraw, and the Committee shall deliberate on the propriety or impropriety of his admission on trial; and determine whether he shall be recommended to the ensuing Conference or not. If it be not convenient for the Candidate to attend the District-Meeting, three of the Committee shall be chosen by ballot, and appointed to act in this instance for the District."

Ibid., vol. ii., p. 142.

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Conference of 1804.

"Q. What directions shall be given in respect to those Preachers to be received on trial, who have not been examined by the District-Committee?

"A. They shall be examined respectively by the three nearest Superintendents."*

* Minutes, vol. ii., p. 241.

Conference of 1805.

"Q. Are not some of the younger Preachers in danger of departing from our leading doctrines?

"A. We fear they are; and resolve that, in future, before any Preacher be admitted into full connexion, he shall be required to give a full and explicit declaration of his faith, as to those doctrines, in the presence of the Conference."

Ibid., p. 290.

Conference of 1807.

"Q. Can any improvement be made in our present mode of admission into full connexion?

"A. After the present year, no Preacher, unless employed in the Foreign Missions, shall be entered on our Minutes, as admitted into full connexion with us, without being present at the Conference, and personally examined there. Every Preacher who has travelled four years shall be at liberty to attend the Conference for this purpose; and if he omit to avail himself of such liberty, he shall be considered as still remaining on trial."

Ibid., p. 402.

Conference of 1812.

"Q. Is any regulation necessary respecting the annual examination of Preachers in our District-Meetings?

"A. Let it be clearly understood that every Chairman is required to ask the following questions, distinctly and successively, concerning every brother; viz.,

"1. Is there any objection to his moral and religious character?

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"2. Does he believe and preach our doctrines?

"3. Has he duly observed and enforced our discipline?

"4. Has he competent abilities for our itinerant work? A separate answer to each of these questions is expected to appear in the District-Minutes."*

* Minutes, vol. iii., p. 295.

Conference of 1815.

"Q. Can any additional methods be devised in order to promote the mental improvement of our Preachers?

"A. The Chairmen of Districts shall, at each District-Meeting, examine every Preacher on trial respecting the course of theological reading which he may have pursued in the course of the preceding year. For this purpose, every such Preacher is required to deliver to the Chairman of his District a list of the books which he has read since the preceding District-Meeting. These lists shall be laid before the Meeting, that the senior brethren may have an opportunity of giving to the junior Preachers such advices and directions respecting their studies as may appear to be necessary.

"2. Before any Preacher, having travelled four years, is recommended by his District-Meeting, for admission into full connexion, he shall undergo a careful examination, by the Chairman of that Meeting, respecting his acquaintance with Mr. Wesley's Works in general, and especially with his Sermons, and his Notes on the New Testament, in addition to the other examinations required by our existing rules: and no Preacher shall be so recommended, unless the result of his examination be satisfactory to the Meeting."

Ibid., vol. iv., pp. 122, 123.

Conference of 1821.

"The Conference directs that in future all the Preachers who are recommended by their respective District-Meetings to be admitted into full connexion, shall be required to attend the Conference of that year, to undergo the usual page 15 examinations; and, if approved, to be publicly set apart, without delay, to the Christian ministry."*

* Minutes, vol. v., pp. 253, 254.

Conference of 1827.

"Q. Can any additional securities be provided in reference to the character, qualifications, and scriptural orthodoxy of persons proposed as candidates for our ministry?

"A. The Chan-men of Districts are again required, not only to examine very minutely, in their District-Meetings, all persons proposed to travel as Preachers among us, but also to report distinctly in their District-Minutes, for the consideration of the Conference, the opinion of the District-Meeting, after such examination, respecting their health, piety, moral character, ministerial abilities, knowledge and belief of our doctrines, attachment to our discipline, and freedom from debt, as well as from all secular incumbrances. In the same District-Minutes, the Preacher who recommends any candidate shall state his age, and sign a recommendatory character of him, which may forthwith be copied, if the Conference receive such candidate upon trial, into the book provided for that purpose."

"The Conference resolve, that it is the acknowledged right, and, under existing circumstances, the indispensable duty, of every Chairman of a District, to ask all candidates for admission upon trial amongst us, if they believe the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ as it is stated by Mr. Wesley, especially in his Notes upon the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, to be agreeable to the Holy Scriptures; and that also it is the acknowledged right, and, under existing circumstances, the indispensable duty, of the President of the Conference for the time being, to examine particularly upon that doctrine every Preacher proposed to be admitted into full connexion, and to require an explicit and unreserved declaration of his assent to it, as a truth revealed in the inspired oracles."

Ibid., vol. vi., pp. 279, 280.

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Conference of 1835.

"It is indispensably necessary to the purity of our ministry, and to the spiritual welfare of our societies, to retain, and on all proper occasions to use, the right of fully inquiring into the conduct of its own members, and judicially dealing with them, which the Conference, in its annual assemblies, and (during the periods intervening between its yearly meetings) by means of its District-Committees, has hitherto exercised."

"Q. Is it expedient, on account of recent occurrences, to reassert, by declaratory Resolutions, any of our rules or usages, which individuals have attempted to contradict or pervert?

"A. We think it is expedient; and therefore the Conference unanimously declares as follows; viz.,

"1. That not only the Conference, but all its District-Committees, whether ordinary or special, possess the undoubted right of instituting, in their official and collective character, any inquiry or investigation, which they may deem expedient, into the moral, Christian, or ministerial conduct of the Preachers under their care, even although no formal or regular accusation may have been previously announced on the part of any individual; and that they have also the authority of coming to such decisions thereupon, as to them may seem most conformable to the laws of the New Testament, and to the rules and usages of our Connexion. In the District-Meetings, especially, the Chairman has the official right of originating such inquiries, if he think necessary; because our rule declares that 'the Chairman of each District, in conjunction with his brethren of the Committee, shall be responsible to the Conference for the execution of the laws, as far as his District is concerned.'

"2. That all Preachers who desire to remain in ministerial communion with us are considered as retaining that communion on the distinct condition, that they hold themselves individually pledged to submit, in a peaceable and page 17 Christian spirit, to the usual disciplinary investigations, not only of the Conference, but of all its District-Committees, whether ordinary or special, when summoned according to our rules and usages; and that any Preacher who refuses to submit to the friendly examination of the Chairman and of other brethren, or to take his trial, regularly and formally, before the Preachers either of an ordinary or of a special District-Committee, when duly required so to do, shall be considered as, ipso facto, inclining the penalty of suspension until the ensuing Conference; because no possible security can be found even against the worst forms of moral or ministerial delinquency, if persons charged with any misconduct, and summoned to trial, be allowed to evade with impunity our established modes of investigation."*

These extracts from the printed Minutes of the Methodist Conferences, extending through a period of more than ninety years, suggest the following observations:—

1. That the Wesleyan ministry has been uniformly guarded with singular vigilance and care. All the men who have been admitted into this ministry have from the beginning been subjected to the most searching scrutiny in respect of their personal piety, their knowledge of evangelical truth, their soundness in the faith, their ability to teach, and the purity of their morals. The reason for all this care is obvious. Mr. Wesley regarded the Christian ministry not as a mere profession, but as a divine vocation. He believed, in accordance with the Church to which he belonged, that every true Minister of the Gospel is called of God, and moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon himself the sacred office which he sustains; and that upon the right discharge of its duties, the actual salvation of men is made to depend. He did not believe that men are made Christians by being born in a Christian country, and by an external conformity to the ordinances of the Gospel; but that, as all men are born in sin, and are by nature

* Minutes, vol. vii., pp. 544, 549, 550.

page 18 children of wrath, so they can only be saved from sin, its guilt and curse, its misery, pollution, and reigning power, by a personal faith in Christ as their Redeemer, and their Advocate with God. Such a faith he believed to be the gift of God, preceded and accompanied by unfeigned repentance, followed by peace of conscience, by purity of heart, and by a holy life. As faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, so Mr. Wesley felt that all this amount of spiritual good is instrumentally produced by an evangelical ministry; but then he saw that, generally speaking, no man can successfully exercise such a ministry unless he himself be a witness of the power of Christianity. For, how can he who is himself unsaved adequately explain the nature and method of salvation to others? and how can an unsanctified man successfully exercise the pastoral charge over a spiritual people, or sympathize with them in all the trials, sorrows, and joys of the divine life? Methodism, as administered by Mr. Wesley, and by the Conference which he constituted, acknowledges no man as a true Minister and Pastor, unless he be personally reconciled to God, and so renewed in the spirit of his mind as to be able explicitly to testify, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."

2. The searching examinations to which the Wesleyan Ministers have from the beginning been subjected, have been personal. Candidates for this ministry, and men who were recognised as being in a state of complete union with the Conference, have all been expected to answer questions which were officially proposed to them. Not only have inquiries respecting their general spirit and behaviour been made of their colleagues and other persons, but the men themselves have been required to answer questions especially affecting their religious state, their belief, their regard for the Methodist economy, and their purpose to promote the objects of the Connexion in the page 17 advancement of true religion. These are questions which none but the parties themselves could answer; and answers to them have been both demanded and given, and that as matter of course.

3. These examinations have been annual. Not only have the Methodist Preachers been personally examined when they were admitted upon trial, and when they were received into full ministerial connexion with their brethren; but it has also been their established practice once a year to institute an inquiry into the personal and ministerial character of every one of them, whether he be a Missionary or labour at home. "Are there any objections to any of our Preachers?" is a question which is proposed in every regular District-Meeting, and in every Conference; and the answer which is given in the printed Minutes is, "They were examined one by one." This practice, and the terms in which it is recorded, were both originated by Mr. Wesley. When the question, "Docs he believe and teach our doctrines?" is proposed in the yearly District-Meeting, every individual is expected to answer for himself; and the call is generally responded to with the utmost promptitude and cheerfulness; for what have honest men to conceal? "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (John iii. 20,21.) In respect of this yearly examination of character, the Wesleyan economy differs from that of almost every other community. In the Church of England, and in the Church of Scotland,* for

* The form of examination which is practised in the Church of England may he seen by a reference to the Book of Common Prayer. The following are the questions to which the Church of Scotland requires an answer from each of her Ministers on his appointment to the sacred office:—

"After the sermon, the Minister who hath preached shall, in the face of the congregation, demand of him who is now to be ordained, concerning his faith in Christ Jesus, and his persuasion of the truth of the Reformed religion, according to the Scripture; his sincere intentions and ends in desiring to enter into this calling; his diligence in praying, reading, meditation, preaching, ministering the sacraments, discipline, and doing all ministerial duties towards his charge; his zeal and faithfulness in maintaining the truth of the Gospel, and unity of the church, against error and schism; his care that himself and his family may be unblameable and examples to the flock; his willingness and humility, in meekness of spirit, to submit unto the admonitions of his brethren, and discipline of the church; and his resolution to continue in his duty against all trouble and persecution.

"In all which having declared himself, professed his willingness, and promised his endeavours, by the help of God; the Minister likewise shall demand of the people concerning their willingness to receive and acknowledge him as the Minister of Christ."

page 20 instance, Ministers undergo a close examination at the time of their ordination; but in after-life, unless complaint be preferred against them, it does not appear that inquiries are ordinarily made into their spiritual state, or into the manner in which they discharge their public and official duties. Whereas Mr. Wesley thought that a man might be called of God to preach the Gospel, and afterwards forfeit that call by unfaithfulness; or that he might depart from the truth, lose the spirit of his calling, and so need reproof and godly admonition. The true spirit of the sacred office can only be preserved by incessant vigilance and prayer; so that whatever may be the natural and acquired abilities of a Minister, if he sink into a state of mental indolence, become self-indulgent, worldly in his disposition, vain and trifling in his conversation, ceasing to "watch for souls as they that must give account," he becomes rather a burden than a blessing to the people; and unless he can be roused to a due feeling of his responsibilities, the sooner he is superseded in his office the better. Even men that were disabled by the infirmities of age for the efficient discharge of ministerial duties, Mr. Wesley declined to appoint to the full labours of a Circuit.*

* "In the Large Minutes, Q. 25, it is asked, What is the office of an Helper? It is answered, 'To preach morning and evening.' Therefore none who does not can perform this office.

"'But he cannot: Perhaps so. Then he cannot undertake this office.

"'I did this for many years. But I cannot do it any longer.' Then you can no longer undertake this office. But you may be a Supernumerary, as John Furz and Richard Seed are." (Minutes of Conference, vol. i., p. 160.)

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4. These strict examinations are indispensably necessary in order that the Conference may be able to fulfil its trusts with conscientiousness and fidelity. We have seen that upon the Conference devolves the task of appointing Ministers to the different chapels of the Connexion, and to the pastoral oversight of the societies. Who can estimate the amount of responsibility which this task involves! How can this trust be fulfilled, so that its great object may be realized in the conversion and salvation of men, that the approval of the Lord Jesus may be secured, and that the parties who execute it may have a conscience void of offence? The answer is, By a strict adherence to first principles; by selecting spiritual men, duly qualified; men of faith and holy zeal, who will give themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word; men who love the souls of their fellow-creatures, perishing in ignorance and sin, with a passion like that which brought the Son of God from heaven to die for our guilty race. But in order that the Conference may faithfully fulfil this most solemn trust, it must satisfy itself, by strict examinations, and every other available means, that the Ministers whom it yearly sends forth and sanctions are not only outwardly blameless, but that they also "live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit."

5. The Methodist societies and congregations generally are interested in this part of our economy, and are bound to maintain it. The Conference exists not for its own benefit merely, but for the benefit of the Connexion, with whose best and dearest interests it is intrusted; and hence Mr. Wesley denominated it, "The Conference of the people called Methodists." It is bound to regard the people's spiritual benefit, to the utmost limit of its power, by providing for them a holy, enlightened, and efficient page 22 ministry. To most of the congregations and societies, the Preachers, when they are first sent, are entire strangers; but they are found to preach the same doctrines, breathe the same spirit, pursue the same objects, and adopt the same plans of operation, that their predecessors did; so that the ministerial succession is perceived and felt to be unbroken. Wesleyan Ministers all walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. They are therefore received into the houses of our people with a cordial welcome; and the congregations confess that, although their Pastors change and itinerate, the Gospel trumpet, as it is heard from their pulpits, never gives an uncertain sound. The same truth is preached; the same divine influence is invoked and obtained; the same results follow, in the conversion of sinners, and the establishment of believers. But these objects could never be obtained, were it not for the kind fidelity with which the Methodist Preachers watch over each other, and the care which is taken by the Conference, that the men whom it appoints understand the Gospel of God, and are imbued with its spirit.

6. The Wesleyan Ministers stand in a near and peculiar relation to one another; and this is an additional reason for those faithful examinations to which they voluntarily submit. In the national Churches of England and Scotland, the Ministers express their assent to the same creed, use the same forms of public worship, and acknowledge the same ecclesiastical order and government; but as each Minister has his own distinct and separate charge, and seldom occupies any pulpit but his own, there is not among them the very close and intimate union which subsists among the Ministers of the Wesleyan body; who succeed each other in the different Circuits, sustain the pastoral relation to the same people, and hold precisely the same views of divine truth: for the Wesleyan Ministers have never tolerated among themselves that diversity of theological opinion which prevails in the two national Churches just mentioned. Unless, therefore, the Minis- page 23 ters belonging to the Wesleyan community have an entire confidence in one another, accompanied by a tender and cordial affection, their very union is to them a constant source of irritation, and they can never co-operate with satisfaction and comfort for the advancement of their common object, the spread of Christian holiness throughout the world. With the necessity of this mutual confidence and affection among his Preachers, Mr. Wesley was early impressed; and hence many touching and instructive references are made to the subject in the Conference Minutes. The following are examples:—

Conference of 1744.

"Q. What can be done in order to a closer union of our Helpers with each other?

"A. 1. Let them be deeply convinced of the want there is of it.

"2. Let them pray for an earnest desire of union.

"3. Let them speak freely to each other.

"4. When they meet, let them never part without prayer.

"5. Let them beware how they despise each other's gifts.

"6. Let them never speak slightingly of each other in any kind.

"7. Let them defend one another's character, in everything, to the utmost of their power. And,

"8. Let them labour in honour each to prefer the other before himself."*

* Minutes, vol. i., p. 19.

Conference of 1769.

"It has long been my desire that all those Ministers of our Church who believe and preach salvation by faith, might cordially agree between themselves, and not hinder but help one another. After occasionally pressing this in private conversation, wherever I had opportunity, I wrote page 24 down my thoughts upon the head, and sent them to each in a letter. Out of fifty or sixty to whom I wrote, only three vouchsafed me an answer. So I give this up. I can do no more. They are a rope of sand, and such they will continue.

"But it is otherwise with the Travelling Preachers in our Connexion. You are at present one body. You act in concert with each other, and by united counsels. And now is the time to consider what can be done, in order to continue this union. Indeed, as long as I live there will be no great difficulty. I am, under God, a centre of union to all our Travelling as well as Local Preachers.

"They all know me and my communication. They all love me for my work's sake: and therefore, were it only out of regard to me, they will continue connected with each other. But by what means may this connexion be preserved when God removes me from you?

"I take it for granted, it cannot be preserved, by any means, between those who have not a single eye. Those who aim at anything but the glory of God, and the salvation of men,—who desire or seek any earthly thing, whether honour, profit, or ease,—will not, cannot, continue in the Connexion; it will not answer their design."*

* Minutes, vol, i., pp. 87, 88.

Conference of 1774.

"Q. Can anything be done now in order to lay a foundation for the future union of the Preachers? Would it not be well, for any that are willing, to sign some articles of agreement, before God calls me hence?

"A. We will do it. Accordingly the following paper was written and signed:—

"We, whose names are underwritten, being thoroughly convinced of the necessity of a close union between those whom God is pleased to use as instruments in this glorious work, in order to preserve this union between ourselves, are resolved, God being our helper,

page 25

I. To devote ourselves entirely to God; denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, steadily aiming at one thing, to save our own souls, and them that hear us.

II. To preach the old Methodist doctrines, and no other, contained in the Minutes of the Conferences.

III. To observe and enforce the whole Methodist discipline, laid down in the said Minutes."*

* Minutes, vol. i., p. 110

Conference of 1775.

"Q. What Preachers signed the agreement to adhere to each other, and to the old Methodist doctrine and discipline?"

This question is answered by the signatures of nearly the entire body of the Preachers who were then in connexion with Mr. Wesley.

Ibid., pp. 121, 122.

Conference of 1806.

"Q. How may the union of the brethren, who labour together in the same Circuit, be more effectually promoted?

"A. 1. The Conference insists that no Helper shall countenance or encourage any person who opposes the Superintendent in the proper discharge of his official duties according to our rules.

"2. We advise the brethren to meet together once a week, or as often as it is practicable, in order to converse freely with each other, respecting the affairs of their Circuits."

Ibid., vol. ii., p. 348.

Conference of 1827.

"The Preachers of different Circuits, when resident in the same town, are advised to meet at least once in every month, for the purposes of mutual conference and prayer; in order to promote brotherly love, and to afford frequent and regular opportunities for friendly consultation on subjects of common concern in their respective Circuits."§

It has been felt, from the beginning, that Ministers who sustain a relation to each other, so intimate, peculiar, and page 26 delicate, must act towards each other with perfect openness and candour, otherwise their very union will rather be a bane than an advantage. Among them collisions of opinion would inevitably chafe their spirits, and mar the sacred work in which they are engaged.

§ Ibid., vol. vi., p. 281.