Page images
PDF
EPUB

thing must always be taken for granted respecting these people. - that, wherever they gain a footing, or whatever be the institutions to which they give birth, proselytism will be their main object; everything else is a mere instrument--this is their principal aim. When every proselyte is not only an addition to their temporal power, but when the act of conversion which gains a vote, saves (as they suppose) a soul from destruction,-it is quite needless to state, that every faculty of their minds will be dedicated to this most important of all temporal and eternal

concerns.

Their attack upon the Church is not merely confined to publications ; it is generally understood that they have a very considerable fund for the purchase of livings, to which, of course, ministers of their own profession are always presented.

Upon the foregoing facts, and upon the spirit evinced by these extracts, we shall make a few comments.

1. It is obvious, that this description of Christians entertain very erroneous and dangerous notions of the present judgments of God. Á belief, that Providence interferes in all the little actions of our lives, refers all merit and demerit to bad and good fortune ; and causes the successful man to be always considered as a good man, and the unhappy man as the object of Divine vengeance. It furnishes ignorant and designing men with a power which is sure to be abused :—the cry of, a judgment, a judgment, it is always easy to make, but not easy to resist. It encourages the grossest superstitions; for if the Deity rewards and punishes on every slight occasion, it is quite impossible, but that such a helpless being as man will set himself at work to discover the will of Heaven in the appearance of outward nature, and to apply all the phenomena of thunder, lightning, wind, and every striking appearance to the regulation of his conduct; as the poor Methodist, when he rode into Piccadilly in a thunder storm, and imagined that all the uproar of the elements was a mere hint to him not to preach at Mr. Romaine's chapel. Hence a great deal of error, and a great deal of secret misery. This doctrine of a theocracy must necessarily place an excessive power in the hands of the clergy ; it applies so instantly and so tremendously to men's hopes and fears, that it must make the priest omnipotent over the people, as it always has done where it has been established. It has a great tendency to check human exertions, and to prevent the employment of those secondary means of effecting an object which Providence has placed in our power. The doctrine of the immediate and perpetual interference of Divine Providence, is not true. If two men travel the same road, the one to rob, the other to relieve a fellow-creature who is starving; will any but the most fanatic contend, that they do not both run the same chance of falling over a stone, and breaking their legs? and is it not matter of fact, that the robber often returns safe, and the just man sustains the injury? Have not the soundest divines of both churches always urged this unequal distribution of good and evil, in the present state, as one of the strongest natural arguments for a future state of retribution ? Have not they contended, and well and admirably contended, that the supposition of such a state is absolutely necessary to our notion of the justice of God,-absolutely necessary to restore order to that moral confusion which we all observe and deplore in the present world? The man who places religion upon a false basis is the greatest enemy to religion. If victory is always to be just and good,-how is the fortune of impious conquerors to be accounted for? Why do they erect dynasties, and found families which last for centuries? The reflecting mind whom you have instructed in this manner, and for present effect only, naturally comes upon you hereafter with difficulties of this sort ; he finds he has been deceived ; and you will soon discover that, in breeding up a fanatic, you have unwittingly laid the foundation of an atheist. The honest and the orthodox method is to prepare young people for the world, as it actually exists; to tell them that they will often find vice perfectly successful, virtue exposed to a long train of afflictions; that they must bear this patiently, and look to another world for its rectification.

2. The second doctrine which it is necessary to notice among the Methodists, is the doctrine of inward impulse and emotions, which, it is quite plain, must lead, if universally insisted upon, and preached among the common people, to every species of folly and enormity. When a human being believes that his internal feelings are the monitions of God, and that these monitions must govern his conduct; and when a great stress is purposely laid upon these inward feelings in all the discourses from the pulpit ; it is, of course, impossible to say to what a pitch of extravagance mankind may not be carried, under the influence of such dangerous doctrines.

3. The Methodists hate pleasure and amusements ; no theatre, no cards, no dancing, no punchinello, no dancing dogs, no blind fiddlers; --all the amusements of the rich and of the poor must disappear, wherever these gloomy people get a footing. It is not the abuse of pleasure which they attack, but the interspersion of pleasure, however much it is guarded by good sense and moderation ;-it is not only wicked to hear the licentious plays of Congreve, but wicked to hear Henry the Fifth, or the School for Scandal ;-it is not only dissipated to run about to all the parties in London and Edinburgh, but dancing is not fit for a being who is preparing himsely for Eternity. Ennui, wretchedness, melancholy, groans and sighs, are the offerings which these unhappy men make to a Deity, who has covered the earth with gay colours, and scented it with rich purfumes; and shown us, by the plan and order of his works, that he has given to man something better than a bare existence, and scattered over his creation a thousand superfluous joys, which are totally unnecessary to the mere support of life.

4. The Methodists lay very little stress upon practical righteousness. They do not say to their people, Do not be deceitful ; do not be idle ; get rid of your bad passions; or at least (if they do say these things) they say them very seldom. Not that they preach faith without works; for if they told the people, that they might rob and murder with impunity, the civil magistrate must be compelled to interfere with such

more

doctrine :-but they say a great deal about faith, and very little about works. What are commonly called the mysterious parts of our religion, are brought into the fore-ground, much more than the doctrines which lead to practice ;-and this among the lowest of the community.

The Methodists have hitherto been accused of dissenting from the Church of England. This, as far as relates to mere subscription to articles, is not true; but they differ in their choice of the articles upon which they dilate and expand, and to which they appear to give the preference, from the stress which they place upon them. There is nothing heretical in saying, that God sometimes intervenes with His special providence; but these people differ from the Established Church, in the degree in which they insist upon this doctrine. In the hands of a man of sense and education, it is a safe doctrine ; in the management of the Methodists, we have seen how ridiculous and degrading it becomes. In the same manner, a clergyman of the Church of England would not do his duty, if he did not insist upon the necessity of faith, as well as of good works ; but as he believes that it is much more easy to give credit to doctrines than to live well, he labours most in these points where human nature is the most liable to prove defective. Because he does so, he is accused of giving up the articles of his faith, by men who have their partialities also in doctrine ; but partialities, not founded upon the same sound discretion, and knowledge of human nature.

5. The Methodists are always desirous of making men religious than it is possible, from the constitution of human nature, to make them. If they could succeed as much as they wish to succeed, there would be at once an end of delving and spinning, and of every exertion of human industry. Men must eat, and drink, and work; and if you wish to fix upon them high and elevated notions, as the ordinary furniture of their minds, you do these two things-you drive men of warm temperaments mad, and you introduce, in the rest of the world, a low and shocking familiarity with words and images, which every real friend to religion would wish to keep sacred. The friends of the dear Redeemer who are in the habit of visiting the Isle of Thanet(as in the extract we have quoted)—Is it possible that this mixture of the most awful, with the most familiar images, so common among Methodists now, and with the enthusiasts in the time of Cromwell, must not, in the end, divest religion of all the deep and solemn impressions which it is calculated to produce ? In a man of common imagination (as we have before observed), the terror, and the feeling which it first excited, must necessarily be soon separated ; but, where the fervour of impression is long preserved, piety ends in Bedlam. Accordingly, there is not a madhouse in England, where a considerable part of the patients have not been driven to insanity by the extravagance of these people. We cannot enter such places without seeing a number of honest artisans, covered with blankets and calling themselves angels and apostles, who, if they had remained contented with the instruction of men of learning and education, would still have

a

been sound masters of their own trade, sober Christians, and useful members of society.

6. It is impossible not to observe how directly all the doctrine of the Methodists is calculated to gain power among the poor and ignorant.-To say that the Deity governs this world by general rules, and that we must wait for another and a final scene of existence, before vice meets with its merited punishment, and virtue with its merited reward ; to preach this up daily, would not add a single votary to the Tabernacle, nor sell a Number of the Methodistical Magazine ;-but, to publish an account of a man who was cured of scrofula by a single sermon-of Providence destroying the innkeeper at Garstang for appointing a cock-fight near the Tabernacle; this promptness of judgment and immediate execution is so much like human justice, and so much better adapted to vulgar capacities, that the system is at once admitted, as soon as any one can be found who is impudent or ignorant enough to teach it; and, being once admitted, it produces too strong an effect upon the passions to be easily relinquished. The case is the same with the doctrine of inward impulse, or, as they term it, experience. If you preach up to ploughmen and artisans, that every singular feeling which comes across them is a visitation of the Divine Spirit-can there be any difficulty under the influence of this nonsense, in converting these simple creatures into active and mysterious fools, and making them your slaves for life? It is not possible to raise up any dangerous enthusiasm, by telling men to be just, and good, and charitable ; but keep this part of Christianity out of sight-and talk long and enthusiastically, before ignorant people, of the mysteries of our religion, and you will not fail to attract a crowd of followers : verily the Tabernacle loveth not that which is simple, intelligible, and leadeth to good sound practice.

Having endeavoured to point out the spirit which pervades these people, we shall say a few words upon the causes, the effects, and the cure of this calamity. T The fanaticism so prevalent in the present day, is one of those evils from which society is never wholly exempt: but which bursts out at different periods with peculiar violence, and sometimes overwhelms every thing in its course. The last eruption took place about a century and a half ago, and destroyed both Church and Throne with its tremendous force. Though irresistible, it was short; enthusiasm spent its force—the usual reaction took place; and England was deluged with ribaldry and indecency, because it had been worried with fanatical restrictions. By degrees, however, it was found out, that orthodoxy and loyalty might be secured by other methods than licentious conduct and immodest conversation. The public morals improved ; and there appeared as much good sense and moderation upon the subject of religion as ever can be expected from mankind in large masses. Still, however, the mischief which the Puritans had done was not forgotten ; a general suspicion prevailed of the dangers of religious enthusiasm ; and the fanatical preacher wanted his accustomed power among a people recently recovered from a religious war, and guarded by songs, proverbs, popular stories, and the general tide

a

of humour and opinion, against all excesses of that nature. About the middle of the last century, however, the character of the genuine fanatic was a good deal forgotten ; and the memory of the civil wars worn away; the field was clear for extravagance in piety; and causes, which must always produce an immense influence upon the mind of man, were left to their own unimpeded operations. Religion is so noble and powerful a consideration—it is so buoyant and so insubmergible—that it may be made, by fanatics, to carry with it any degree of error and of perilous absurdity. In this instance Messrs. Whitħeld and Wesley happened to begin. They were men of considerable talents; they observed the common decorums of life; they did not run naked into the streets, or pretend to the prophetical character ;-and therefore they were not committed to Newgate. They preached with great energy to weak people; who first stared--then listened—then believed—then felt the inward feeling of grace, and became as foolish as their teachers could possibly wish them to be :-in short, folly ran its ancient course,-and human nature evinced itself to be what it always has been under similar circumstances. The great and permanent cause, therefore, of the increase of Methodism, is the cause which has given birth to fanaticism in all ages,-the facility of mingling human errors with the fundamental truths of religion. The formerly imperfect residence of the clergy may, perhaps, in some trifling degree, have aided this source of Methodism. But unless a man of education, and a gentleman, could stoop to such disingenuous arts as the Methodist preachers,-unless he hears heavenly music all of a sudden, and enjoys sweet experiences,-it is quite impossible that he can contend against such artists as these. More active than they are at present the clergy might perhaps be ; but the calmness and moderation of an Establishment can never possibly be a match for sectarian activity.— If the common people are ennui’d with the fine acting of Mrs. Siddons, they go to Sadler's Wells. The subject is too serious for ludicrous comparisons ;-but the Tabernacle really is to the church, what Sadler's Wells is to the Drama. There, popularity is gained by vaulting and tumbling,-by low arts, which the regular clergy are not too idle to have recourse to, but too dignified :- their institutions are chaste and severe,—they endeavour to do that which-upon the whole, and for a great number of years, will be found to be the most admirable and the most useful : it is no part of their plan to descend to small artifices, for the sake of present popularity and effect. The religion of the common people under the government of the Church may remain as it is for ever ;-enthusiasm must be progressive, or it will expire.

It is probable that the dreadful scenes which have lately been acted in the world, and the dangers to which we are exposed, have increased the numbers of the Methodists. To what degree will Methodism extend in this country ? This question is not easy to

That it has rapidly increased within these few years, we have no manner of doubt; and we confess we cannot see what is likely to impede its progress.

which it has formed in the Legislature; and the artful neutrality with which they give respectability to their

[ocr errors]

answer.

The party

« PreviousContinue »