« PreviousContinue »
mulated, might most advantageously be brought to bear upon the assigned theme; strong attachment to Methodism, both in its doctrine and discipline, connected with the truly catholic charity which ac. knowledges all who “ hold the head” as part of the great Christian brotherhood ; the knowledge of that important position between what are now called, (and we employ the terms only distinctively, and in reference to their common use,) " high church and low dissenting principles,”—a position which, by a series of remarkable providences, the Methodists have been led to occupy, and by the occupation of which we sometimes hope they may have the delightful employment of assisting to effect a reconciliation, the news of which, because of its mighty tendency to further the work of God in the salvation of men, would be a cause of rejoicing in heaven itself. These and other qualifications were requisite for the useful performance of the task allotted by the last conference to their esteemed president; and all who know him, know that these are the very qualifications which he possesses. We believe we are only discharging a public duty, and expressing a public sentiment, in declaring our belief that the last conference was providentially directed in the choice of its president, The immediate connection of the choice with the circumstances of the approaching centenary of Wesleyan Methodism, and with the steps to be taken previously to its actual celebration, neither was nor could have been foreseen. The meetings that have been held on the subject, to the interest and power of which the president has contributed in so large a degree, afford the most convincing evidence that the great Head of the Church graciously and wisely directed his servants in the choice of an officer, from whom, as it now turns out, very pecu. liar service was required, that service being the very one for which Mr. Jackson's peculiar qualifications precisely adapted him.
The volume before us originated in the request, (not to say, ap. pointment,) of the conference. When it had been resolved that the first centenary of the formation of the Wesleyan societies should be religiously observed, it was immediately perceived that a brief, but comprehensive view of the subject to which the centenary celebration would relate, was essentially necessary :-necessary, in the first place, for large numbers in the Methodist societies and congregations, whose acquaintance with the history and progress of Methodism is by no means either accurate or extensive; and, in the second place, for the religious public, who, observing our religious celebrations, might naturally be led to ask, “What mean ye by these things ?” and who have a right, in all Christian courtesy, to a very distinct reply. In the case before us it has happened, as often it has occurred before, a particular occasion has been the means of supplying a general want. In Mr. Jackson's centenary volume the Wesleyan reader will have a clearly conceived and well-executed outline of a comprehensive, important, and deeply.interesting subject, plainly brought before him ; and with the knowledge of it which is here afforded, many will possess a far juster notion of Methodism in its rise and progress, in its nature and character, than they do at present. But this is not all. We are of opinion that many have hitherto been at least partially unacquainted with Methodism, though connected with it and attached to it, just for want of such a manual as is now given them. Their knowledge of
the whole system was not sufficiently clear to make the study of its details pleasant and easy.
With this admirable hand-book in their possession, they will be stimulated to more extended inquiry. We are much mistaken if the centenary volume be not, in very many families, the precursor to Mr. Wesley's Works, or, at all events, to his Sermons and Journals.
As to the public generally, we anticipate, (and we anticipate with pleasure,) a somewhat similar result. The readers of the Wesleyan Magazine have often had their attention directed to the very remarkable fact, that, whether among Churchmen or Dissenters, there is very little knowledge of what is called Methodism beyond those more evi. dent and notorious facts which have, in a manner, forced themselves upon public attention. We do not recollect a single opponent who seems to have taken the trouble, before he animadverted on Method. ism, to inquire what Methodism was. There are some who find fault with what they have termed the “ exclusiveness of the Methodist literature.” If excluding influence there has been, its source must not be looked for among the Methodists themselves. Whether it has been inattention, or whether it has been prejudice, and even dislike, the result has been an unacquaintedness with Wesleyan documents which, considering the publicity of Wesleyanism itself, is, we confess, somewhat surprising. Hence, if any writer wishes to refer to Methodism, it never seems to have constituted any part of his previous reading; but he reads pro re nata ; and in order to this, seeks for some compendium or other, (no matter whether by friend or foe,) out of which he manages to make up a few paragraphs, the statements of which are far more frequently incorrect than otherwise. And then, when we complain of this,-complain, that is to say, not of being attacked, but of being misrepresented, it is imputed to extreme sensitiveness. One thing is plain. Though Methodism obviously presents to the observer some very singular phenomena, few appear to be willing to take the trouble necessary for ascertaining their real character, by tracing them to their originating principles, and then studying those principles again in their other forms of development. What we are going to say may be attributed perhaps to our own partial attachment to Methodism, but we do really regret this; regret it, not for our own sakes, for the misrepresentations of others do not injure us, but for the sake of those who might, we do honestly believe, be benefited by a better understanding of Methodism, in its system of doctrine and discipline, and in those principles which are involved in the peculiar and seldom-understood position which it occupies among the other sections of the churches of Christ. Under these circumstances we wanted what, in classical language, and in reference to the employ. ment of the term by the early Christian writers, might be called “an apology.” The word is now too ambiguous, or too generally used in the restricted sense of an excuse, to be taken as the actual title even of a volume that should possess the very character which, in its ori. ginal application, it was intended to indicate. We may, however, employ it descriptively, and say that in this “ centenary volume" Mr. Jackson has given to the world a calm, lucid, and impressive apology for Wesleyan Methodism.
We are glad to have the present opportunity of expressing our opinion unrestrictedly on the value of the volume on which we are now remarking. Few writers in connection with Methodism have done greater service to Wesleyan literature than its esteemed author ; but his connection with the periodicals of the society has been such as to prevent that notice being taken of his services which they me. rited. In the present instance any favorable notice which we may express will be but the anticipated opinion of thousands, we believe we may say, tens of thousands of readers. We happen to know that the volume is anxiously expected; and the more anxiously for those intimations of its contents which have been collected from the ad. dresses of the president at those " centenary meetings" which he has attended; and to the delightful character and issues of which those addresses are known to have so largely contributed.
We do not intend to give any large extracts from the volume. The circulation which it will speedily obtain renders copious citation altogether unnecessary. We shall do little more than describe the plan of the work, and the manner in which Mr. Jackson has executed the task allotted to him.
Most of our readers will doubtless recollect the "minute" of the last conference, in which Mr. Jackson was requested to prepare the “ cen· tenary volume;" but as our object is not merely to communicate information, but likewise to put the history of the work on permanent (and in some measure, official) record, the minute itself must be quoted. It is as follows:
“ That our president is also requested to prepare and publish, as early as possible, a brief but comprehensive work on the subject of the centenary; including, with succinct notices of the origin, progress, and present state of Wesleyan Methodism, and of the leading facts in the life and history of the revered founder of our societies, such remarks as may assist our friends in the devout improvement of the occasion.”—Minutes, 1838. Qu. xxiii., Resol. 5.
In pursuance of this request the volume before us has been written, and is now published ; and when we remember the multiplied and onerous duties of the presidency, increased by the calls for correa spondence and personal attendance arising from the public meetings of the centenary committee, we feel that the author has laid us under additional obligations, by having so promptly attended to a duty, the performance of which must have completely absorbed the few intervals of leisure which other duties had left.
The volume is arranged in seven chapters, besides an appendix, containing an account of the first meeting of the centenary committee at Manchester, in November last. The chapters are on the following subjects:
I. State of Religion in England before the Rise of Methodism. II. The early Life, and the Conversion of the two Wesleys. III. Mea. sures adopted by the Wesleys for the Revival of Religion. IV. The Revival and Spread of Religion through the Labors of the two Wes. leys, and of their Coadjutors. V. The Death of the two Wesleys, and of their principal Clerical Friends. VI. The Progress of Religion after Mr. Wesley's Death. VII. Concluding Remarks.
or the subjects on which these chapters treat, we now proceed to give a brief account. Vol. X.--April, 1839.
To us it appears that the first chapter must have been the most difficult of the whole. The subjects to which it refers are such as show that, somewhere or other, guilt of a very serious character rested. If Mr. Wesley found the country in a high degree of religious prosperity; if he found that divine truth, in its beautiful simplicity and power, was preached by the ministers of religion, and welcomed by the people; if he saw springing up all around him the rich fruits of righteousness, proving that the churches not only " had rest,” but that they were “ walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost ;" if, we say, this was the state of things which he beheld, it would be difficult to justify the measures which he adopted, and the ecclesiastical improprieties (viewing him as a clergyman) in which he engaged. He himself, whenever attacked on the subject, uniformly rested his vindication here-that the work in which he was engaged was an extraordinary one, and rendered necessary by the pressing exigencies of the case. But those exigencies could not have arisen unless there had been a most melancholy failure in duty; nor could they have been general, unless the failure had been general likewise ; and to speak of general failure without giving of fence is no very easy task. Still, Mr. Jackson had a solemn duty to perform, not merely, not even principally, in reference to the character of Mr. Wesley, but in reference to truth and righteousness, and to the whole church of God. He has performed it well. He has stated the facts without exaggeration, and with a tone evincing that in his own spirit there was no unhallowed exultation while narrating the negli. gence which he was bound not to conceal. We give the opening sentences :
“Few periods of British history are of deeper interest than the early part of the eighteenth century. The army, under the command of the Duke of Marlborough, had gained a series of brilliant victories on the European continent; and at home philosophy and polite learning flourished beyond all former example. The discoveries of Newton filled the civilized world with astonishment; and the compositions of Addison, Steele, Swift, Pope, and others, have secured for that period the name of the Augustan age of English literature. While these eminent men occupied the public attention, other agents were in a course of training, who were destined by Providence to achieve victories greater than Marlborough ever contemplated-victories over sin and brutal ignorance; and to produce changes in the state of society more profound, momentous, and extensive, than the most polished writers have been able to effect. At the very time when patriots and politicians were fired with the military success of the great general of the age, and gentler spirits were charmed with the smooth numbers of Pope, and the graceful simplicity of Addison, Mrs. Wesley at Epworth, in obscurity, poverty, and sorrow, by her prayers, example, and assiduous instructions, was forming the character of her sons, two of whom were among the principal instruments of reviving Christianity in its primitive spirituality and power.”—Page 2, (Eng. edit.]
After stating the intention of the Wesleyan body to celebrate, in the year 1839, “ the centenary of this great revival of religion,” Mr. Jackson thus proceeds to state the circumstances which prove that such a revival had become essentially necessary :
“That some extraordinary means were then necessary to bring the truths of Christianity more effectúally to bear upon the spirit and conduct of the people of England is generally acknowledged. On this subject, indeed, the evidence is fearfully strong and conclusive. It was unquestionably the most unevangelical period that had ever occurred in this country since the Reformalion was completed in the reign of Elizabeth. Infidelity was extensively prevalent, both in the form of downright blasphemy and of philosophical speculation. Of this no doubt can be entertained, when it is remembered that the pernicious and wicked writings of Hobbes, Toland, Blount, Collins, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, Tindal, Morgan, Woolston, and Chubb, were then in full circulation ; and that the higher and more influential classes of society were especially corrupted by their poison. The evil was aggravated by the appearance, about the middle of the century, of the infidel speculations of Bolingbroke. By many it was regarded as a settled point that Christianity was a fable, which they were justified in holding up to public reprobation and scorn for the manner in which it had restrained the appetites and passions of mankind."--Page 3.
He next adverts to the inroads of the Arian and Socinian heresies, both among Churchmen and Dissenters; and to the departure from the great principles of the gospel, as taught at the Reformation, both in the Church and out of it, of many by whom, on other points, catho. lic orthodoxy was firmly maintained and ably defended. The result of this doctrinal defection is thus impressively given :
“These facts are stated not for any party or sinister purpose, but to show that the nation was on the brink of ruin both with regard to religion and public morals; and that unless God in his merciful providence had raised up some extraordinary means of counteracting the evils which were then in full operation, the consequences must have been most disastrous. The age was not so remarkable for any one particular vice or crime, as for a general abandonment to ungodliness, and to profligacy of manners. Persons of rank and fashion laughed at religion, and the common people wallowed in sin."Page 8.
Having thus opened the case, the witnesses are examined. Their evidence would have justified even stronger language than any which Mr. Jackson has chosen to use. He gives extracts, directly bearing on the subject, from Bishop Burnet, (1713,) Bishop Gibson, (1728,} Bishop Butler, (1736,) and Archbishop Secker, (1738 ;) and to the sad testimonies given by these eminent prelates," adds four others, “ selected from the writings of devout and orthodox dissenters." These are Dr. John Guyse, (1729,) the Rev. John Hurrion, (1729,) Dr. Isaac Watts, (1731), and the Rev. Abraham Taylor, (1734.) He then subjoins :
* Testimonies of a similar kind might be multiplied to an almost unlimited extent; but these may at present suffice. They furnish melancholy proof of the fearful prevalence of infidelity, and of profligacy of manners among the irreligious part of the community-of the spread and withering influence of antichristian error among professing Christians; while the existing ministry, in the length and breadth of the land, with some honorable exceptions, was comparatively powerless. Churchmen carried on from year to year the Boyle Lecture, in opposition to infidelity and skepticism; and the Lady Moyer Lecture, in defence of Christian orthodoxy. The Dissenters also established their Lectures at Salters' Hall, Bury-street and Lime-street, against popery, and other forms of heterodox opinion, which were rapidly gaining ground among them; and many of the lecturers discharged their duty with very superior zeal and ability. Yet, amid all this effort, accompanied by the regrets of good men on account of the declension of spiritual and practical religion, it is undeniable that 'iniquity abounded, and the love of many waxed cold.. The enemy triumphed, and Israel was faint-hearted."-Page 22.