Obrazy na stronie


“If I am the most suspected, then there must be the most evidence against

Produce it.' “On the original question being again proposed, he replied with great firmness,

“ I will not answer the question. I will never submit to an inquisition.'

“This remark elicited most unrestrained expressions of disapprobation from the Conference.

“It being found that Mr. Everett would not answer the questions, he was desired to retire to his seat.”

In copying this account, we have omitted every thing but the bare record of facts; for, though materials for colouring the picture are at hand, it is a picture which needs no colouring.

The consequence of this strange proceeding was, that Mr. Everett was expelled from the Wesleyan Connexion, his alleged crime being that of contumacy. Two other ministers, the Rev. Samuel Dunn and the Rev. William Griffith, were also expelled for similar acts of contumacy.

It is worthy of observation, that these three gentlemen were not the only persons guilty of this contumacy; but the rest received lighter sentences of censure or degradation. By adopting a difference of punishment in cases which involved the same unconfessed criminality, the Conference has deprived its decisions of all moral force. That difference is a sufficient answer to the statement that these ministers had contracted moral guilt by what they had done. If they were thus guilty, moral justice and purity required that the whole of them should have been excluded. It is to be remembered that, in the instances of the lighter punishment, the crime was unacknowledged. Not to exclude the whole, then, was either to confess that the alleged offence did not possess a moral taint, or to shrink from visiting impenitent sin with its legitimate penalty. The charge of immorality cannot, under these circumstances, be sincerely believed by those who prefer it. We have no doubt that the Conference acted with the wisdom appropriate to its craft in the selection of victims which it made; but the very cunning displayed proves that no higher object was aimed at than that of preserving the endangered polity, by making an example of those who could neither be intimidated nor coaxed into silence. It is this, and not a desire to free itself from moral contamination, which most exactly accords with the conduct pursued by that body.

The view of the case we have just presented, leads us further to observe, that the broad distinction which exists between an act of moral guilt and an act of opposition to Wesleyan tactics, will for ever prevent the members of the Conference from gaining the public sympathy they desire. Every plain-minded man keeps that distinction before him in passing judgment upon their doings. They know full well, and dare not deny, that if Mr. Everett had been questioned about his moral conduct, he would have given direct and satisfactory answers to the questioning. If the inquiry had been, Mr. Everett, were you intoxicated on such a day? instead of, “Mr. Everett, are you the author of the FlySheets ?” the reply would have been an unhesitating No. He was persuaded, and all the world will agree with him in the persuasion, that the latter inquiry did not compromise his moral character in the least. We have heard it said, with reference to his pertinacious resistance to inquisitorial interference, that an honest man need never be ashamed of confessing his deeds. Now, we are ready to go farther than this, and say, that an honest man will always be anxious to clear himself from every imputation of dishonesty. But when such a man feels that an imputation to which he is subjected, instead of affecting his honesty, is mainly designed to confound honesty with dishonesty, by leading him to repudiate a harmless act as though it savoured of crime, honesty itself teaches him to treat the imputation with indignant neglect. The Conference has not only done foul wrong to Mr. Everett in classing him with moral criminals, but it has committed a very serious offence against the principles of morality, by exalting the paltry interests of a few of its leading men to a level with truth and goodness themselves. Till men shall be convinced that Methodist tyranny possesses the prescription of eternal rectitude, all efforts to make this crooked thing straight, will fail, and the failure will be accompanied with general scorn and contempt.

But it may be urged, in the language of the Conference defence, that “ the intense bitterness of feeling, in reference to certain excellent ministers, and the other grossly offensive and libellous personalities,” by which these papers are characterized, justly expose their authors to the charge of immorality. We have already expressed our opinion that this accusation is not sustainable in any sense appropriate to the subject. We now add, that we cannot imagine it to have been sincerely made. To know anything about the working of Methodism, is to be conscious that this system is kept together, in a great degree, by the injurious personalities against the disaffected which are industriously circulated through its societies. No police intelligence relating to the rogues of the land is more perfectly spread, than intelligence relating to the disturbers of Conferential peace is spread from end to end of the Wesleyan community. We could, moreover, easily furnish our readers, from the records of former controversies, with some of the choicest specimens of vulgar defamation afforded by the English language, which have upon them the Book-Room imprimatur, but which, being on the side of Conferential domination, were visited with encouragement instead of reproof. The present controversy, too, as conducted by the agents of the Conference, has abounded with slanderous insinuations and attacks upon character which have far exceeded anything that appeared in the Fly-Sheets. Moral resentment is no respecter of persons. Why, then, has not equal justice been done to the faults of both parties in this regard? Why? Because there was no thought of justice in the case; and it was party, and not moral, resentment which was entertained. Here is a portrait of Mr. Everett, for instance, which we extract from a pamphlet, whose author is most effectually hidden under the utterly inapposite title of Αληθής :

“ Come into close quarters with him, so as to be able to analyse his faculties; measure the depth of his mind, and you are surprised to find it so shallow. Never was the sentiment of the poet better exemplified than here :

" 'Tis distance lends enchantment to the scene.' He is cold, cautious and vindictive. If you cross his path, or in any way come into collision with him, he never can forget or forgive. It is recorded by an eminent historian, that of all the men whom the revolution brought into notice, none has left a name so generally abhorred as Robespierre. If the name of the Robespierre of Methodism share not the same fate, it will be one of the strangest marvels of a coming day.”*

* The poet wrote viero, not scene.

This is silly trash; but it displays a fierceness of malignity, which puts its intellectual weakness to the blush. Why did not the Conference expend some small portion of its pompous rebuke upon this grossly offensive personality? The answer is plain. Personality, in the view of the Conference, only means the personality from which the Conference itself suffers. It acted in this instance as it did in the instance of the report of the district meeting which had censured Mr. Dunn. That district meeting, while it expressed disapprobation of The Wesley Banner—a publication, of which Mr. Dunn was the editoralso expressed equal disapprobation of the Papers on Wesleyan Matters, which had given occasion to Mr. Dunn's publication ; but the Conference, while it favours the public with the sentiments of the meeting on the former subject, forgets to mention what had been placed upon record relative to the latter. In spite of the ardent professions of piety and holiness with which such partial proceedings as these are connected, we cannot give men credit for being really influenced by moral considerations, when they never think of applying them except in their own favour.

There is one plea offered by the defenders of the Conference in justification of its conduct, which may need a word or two of specific explanation. It is the most plausible one, and the one least likely to be understood. Such investigation as was instituted in Mr. Everett's case has, we are told, always characterized the administration of Methodist discipline, in every department of that discipline; and the law of 1835 was therefore nothing more than a declaration of the existing usage. “You begin,” said one of the Conference orators,—"you begin, Sir, with these questions—Have you peace with God? Do you expect to be saved from sin in this life? And if these questions are not answered to your satisfaction, you at once dismiss the candidate for admission into your ministry. This principle obtains throughout our system. Every class leader, every local preacher, is subject to the same personal examination as to his religious experience and character; and if the Conference will allow men who have not this personal experience of religion to enter its ranks, its vocation is at an end." We not only acknowledge the truth of all this, but we allow that it is an under-statement of the case. The examination of class leaders and local preachers, as well as members of the Conference, relates to Methodist doctrine and discipline, and fitness for office, no less than to religious experience and character. It is, indeed, as extensive as possible for all purposes to which the Wesleyan Union properly relates. The suppression of Fly-Sheets, or,—to put the case generally,—the resistance of all reform in Methodism, is not one of those purposes. An attempt was made in the Address from which we have just quoted—and which, the newspaper organ of the Conference says, produced quite an electric effect," and was followed by “volleys of applause "-to prove that concurrence with the ruling authorities was one of the purposes for which the Methodist Union was constituted. We will give, as a matter of curiosity, the

A Review of the Proceedings of the Manchester and Bolton District Meetings, page 25.

4 D


whole argument of this part of the Address. The only "electric effect" it produces upon us is laughter; and that any sane men should applaud such foolery would be very painful, if it were not so amusing.

“ If the Conference was to be divided into two parties, Methodism, the system under which he had derived so many benefits, all must come to an end. “But why,' it was asked, 'should there not be two parties in the Conference as well as in the House of Commons, where both claimed to be equally loyal to the constitution, however they might be divided upon questions of administration ?'. To this question he replied, that no polítical analogy could hold good in the present case. Political parties were based entirely on political considerations. It mattered little to Lord John Russell who sat beside him or behind him, so that he concurred in his general views of public policy, and would support them with his vote. Agreement of opinion in public matters was, with political party, “the one thing needful! But theirs was a confederation based, primarily and necessarily, upon personal and private, not upon public considerations.' . The Church of England was sometimes quoted as an example to them of a body in which the widest difference of sentiment was allowed; and it was asked by superficial thinkers, Why should there not be two parties in the Methodist Conference, differing in their views of public policy, as there are two parties in the Church of England ?! To this he replied,-1. Neither of these parties had the ruling power ; and, where men could do nothing, they might be allowed to talk freely. The rule rested exclusively with the Bishops. But the Conference was a Presbyterian body; they had no Bishops; they appointed their own executive; and that consideration was of itself sufficient to break down any argument based upon an analogy with the Church of England. This, how. ever, was not the only consideration. It must be borne in mind, -2ndly, that the differing parties in the Establishment were all equally secure of provision for themselves and their church; they were not a voluntary community. But Methodism depended solely upon the voluntary liberality of its friends; and if the party distrusting the executive, and teaching others to distrust it, should obtain extensive influence, and confidence should be destroyed, all support from voluntary sources must fail. The divisions of the Conference would be reflected and reproduced in the various parts of the kingdom; and our United Societies' would be united no longer. This was therefore a vital question. An organized opposition would eat out the vitals of the system, not merely by its direct operation upon the finances, but by its reflex operation upon the spirit and temper of the brethren. The tactics of party could never be carried out, in harmony with the true spirit of the Christian religion."*

If this was all that could be said, it would certainly have been better that it should have remained unsaid. It just proves that no rational defence can be offered for treating the detection of the authorship of the Fly-Sheets as an object to which the examination of either ministers or members could be properly directed. The real meaning of the plea under our notice is, therefore, this—a power is granted to Wesleyan meetings to institute strict and extensive examination into the character and conduct of all who compose them, for certain defined Wesleyan purposes ; and they have, consequently, a right to carry this examination into any matter whatever to which they may think fit to apply it. Now, the very opposite inference to this, is the one justly to be drawn from the premises. The more strict and extensive the examination consented to, the more careful all parties concerned should be to confine it

* Speech of Mr. Osborn on resigning to Conference the Ministers' Declaration, as reported in the Watchman newspaper of August 8, 1849.

to the objects in favour of which the consent has been obtained. It is, for the reason stated, the more, and not the less, necessary that any man exposed to a merely inquisitorial interference should strenuously resist such interference. The large amount of liberty given up should produce in him a greater watchfulness over the liberty that remains. Without this watchfulness and resistance, his trustful service will become a total slavery. Mr. Everett, then, was justified, on Methodistical as well as on moral grounds, in refusing to reply to the question put to him; and it was an act of impudent assumption to put it. To those who thus endeavoured to entrap him, he might have said—When I gave you authority to investigate my conduct, I did so confiding in your honour for the preservation of the compact between us. I never dreamed of submitting to a scrutiny on your part directed only by a spirit of unlimited impertinence; and I hold you guilty of administering a Christian trust with the base intentions characteristic of a common spy.

Bad as is the case in which Messrs. Everett, Griffith and Dunn, were the principal sufferers, there is another case of Conferential adjudication which to our ininds is still worse. We refer to the case of the Rev. Daniel Walton. Previously to the last Conference, Mr. Walton was tried at what is called a Minor District Meeting, for being, as was affirmed, “cognizant and concerned in the preparation of one or more of the Fly-Sheets." The principal witness against him was the Rev. W. T. Radcliffe, whose testimony was to the following effect :—That he, Mr. Radcliffe, when he was Mr. Walton's ministerial colleague at York, saw on his study-table a manuscript in Mr. Walton's handwriting, in which were some sentiments that afterwards appeared substantially in the Fly-Sheet, No. 2. This manuscript Mr. Radcliffe looked over while Mr. Walton was absent from the room, having taken that opportunity of examining, without permission, what lay upon the table. He, however, concealed the discovery he had made from the person whom it affected. The meanness and treachery of this conduct need not to be pointed out by us. Mr. Walton acknowledged that such a manuscript had been written by him, and that he had lent it to a friend for perusal; but he denied that it had been published with his consent, or that he was in any way concerned with the production of the Fly-Sheets. It does not, indeed, appear that what he had written was, in any proper sense, published at all, the evidence extending only to the similarity of a few opinions and phrases, as recollected by Mr. Radcliffe, to some of the contents of a paper which was not printed till months subsequent to his act of prying. Upon this showing, the great object of the district meeting seems to have been to get from Mr. Walton the name of the friend to whom his manuscript had been lent. That name, however, he positively and perseveringly refused to give up, assigning as his reason that he was bound in honour not to do so. For thus acting, he was handed over to the Conference as a delinquent, and eventually received a public reprimand from the Chair, besides being pronounced disqualified for the office of a Superintendent.

Alas, that the rest should have to be told! Mr. Walton's pertinacious fidelity to the promise he had made was thus dealt with :

“ Dr. Bunting reminded him that his prior obligation was to Christ and his church, and to his brethren in the ministry; and that no subsequent

« PoprzedniaDalej »