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by preaching in the open fields. He was, nevertheless, at first averse to any one preaching but the clergy regularly ordained ; how he was led to permit, and afterwards to encourage others to preach, may
seen, in a work written by Mr. Benson.* Thus by degrees, as they increased, and as necessity called for fresh supplies of preachers, he sent them to preach in different parts of the nation.
But in order to keep them together, he found it was necessary to establish certain rules, which he termed
The rules of the United Society," see Apol. sec. 8. He appointed one of the brethren to preach to them, and sent others to preach in the neighbouring villages, who were called local preachers. A meeting was also appointed once a quarter, when the smaller societies within a few miles round a central town, which was esteemed the centre of this little circuit, assembled there to join in what is termed a love-feast, after the custom of the first Christians. None but those joined in society, are permitted to be present, unless they have notes from one of the preachers, signifying that they are proper persons, seriously inclined, to be admitted. At this time, all who feel themselves at liberty so to do, declare their experience.
It was found necessary, in order to watch over their moral conduct, to bring them to a closer union, by appointing small parties of ten or twelve persons, which they called a class. One of this small assembly was fixed on to lead them, and he was in consequence called, the class-leader. They meet for one hour; the business of the leader is, to give out a hymn, to pray with them, to ask each concerning the spiritual state of his mind, and to reprove, encourage and exhort them to
* An Apology for the People called Methodists. Sect. 5.
proceed in the spiritual course, by endeavouring to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and man.
This wise leader found, that his method succeeded in binding them together in closer union, and in order to promote still further their growth in piety, other meetings of a more select nature, each consisting of four or five, were established. The persons forming these were supposed to be more experienced in the spiritual warfare, than the major part of those who met in class. This was called a band, and these meetings, band-meetings. In these lesser associations, the men and women do not meet together, but each sex has two distinct bands, the married and the unmarried.
As all the societies, for some miles round the central town, formed one great society quarterly, so from the different bands, a considerable number assembled generally once a week after their evening service, called the body-band. By these methods, the increase was so considerable, and the subjects, which required deliberate investigation, so numerous, that it was found necessary to appoint a yearly meeting after the manner of the Quakers, which they call a conference. These conferences were held in different towns successively; during the life of Mr. Wesley, at London, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester.; but since his death, they have been held at Sheffield and Liverpool. At these meetings he always presided, and did not usually permit any except the travelling preachers to confer, who each represented the societies in the circuit where he had been stationed the preceding year.
The term Methodist was not at first chosen by themselves, as may be seen in the Apology, before mentioned, sec. i. p. 24. from which I make the following extract : -- This increasing strictness in their way of living, con
stancy in the use of the means of grace, and readiness to do every good work, drew down upon them still greater ridicule from the gentlemen of the university. Their common appellation now was, the Sacramentarians, the Godly Club, and by and by, they were termed Methodists. This last title was given them in the first instance, by a fellow of Merton College, in allusion to an ancient college of physicians at Rome, who were remarkable for putting their patients under regimen, and were therefore termed Methodists."
As a religious society, they are the most numerous in the kingdom ; the numbers now joined in Great Britain are 145,579; in Ireland, 28,149 ; in the West Indies, 11,890; in Nova Scotia, 1,390; and in America, 170,000; total, 357,155. The number of preachers in Great Britain, are 677; in Ireland, 125 ; in the British dominions in America, and the West Indies, 40 ; total of preachers, 842, all travelling preachers, by which is understood, those who are given up to the service of the ministry. These numbers are taken from the minutes of the last conference, held at Sheffield, July 29, 1811, being the sixty-eighth annual conference.
The Methodists have also of late years been called 1 Arminians, from Arminius, who separated from the Cal
vinists in Holland, because they hold the doctrine of general redemption. This is one of their principal tenets. They reject the doctrine of final perseverance, and say, that a person, be he ever so high in the regenerate life, may fall finally, and after all be a cast-away.
They receive the doctrine of justification by faith as defined in the articles and homilies of the church of England. The nature of this justification is also explained by Mr. Wesley in his 6 Farther Appeal,” p. 3. See also Mr. Benson’s “ Apology,” p. 217—220, I extract
the following passage:
66 That works done before justification are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, consequently that they partake of the nature of sin. That good works which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ. That man is born in sin, and is by his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit, and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. Repentance absolutely must go before faith : fruit meet for it, if there be opportunity. By repentance, I mean conviction of sin, producing real desires, and sincere resolutions of amendment. By salvation, I mean, not barely deliverance from hell, or going to heaven, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature, the renewal of our souls in the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy and truth. This implies all heavenly tempers, and by consequence, all holiness of conversation.” p. 214.
From which it appears, that they do not admit faith to be genuine, unless it be accompanied by a life corresponding thereto; this they prove from the words of the apostle James, “ show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.”
Thus they agree with the doctrines of the church of England, and preach repentance, faith and holiness of life, in conformity to those words of the apostle, “ repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," and with the church, thus, “ repentance, whereby we forsake sin, and faith, whereby we steadfastly believe the promises of God."
It must be universally allowed, that they have been peculiarly useful in prevailing on a great part of the population of these kingdoms to forsake the error of
They have been the means of making the dissolute, good husbands, good wives, affectionate parents, dutiful children and faithful servants. They have conducted themselves in a peaceable manner, they are a charitable and an upright people ; and teach their converts to “ do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.”
ORIGIN OF THE NEW METHODISTS.
The old Methodists are the genuine followers of the Rev. John Wesley, who originally professed to belong to the church of England, (as above) and regularly received the sacrament in the parish churches, which was the practice of this pious leader to the day of his death ; for he did not permit it to be administered in the chapels. But after his demise, some of their people remonstrated with the preachers concerning the hardship and impropriety of being obliged, though a distinct body from the established church, to attend and receive it from the ministers of the establishment ; and finally they petitioned, at the conference, that they might receive it from their own ministers, in their own places of worship, as was the custom with other religious societies.
This was overruled by the general body of the preachers, which created great opposition in various parts of the kingdom, and prepared the way for a separation.