1902 Encyclopedia > Methodism




The history of Wesleyan Methodism embraces—(1) the and rigidly rubrical, though it was also more than rubrical ; (2) the evangelical Methodism of the Wesleys after their conversion (in 1738), of which the Wesleyan doctrines of conversion and sanctification were the manifesto and inspiration, while preaching and the class-meeting were the great motive and organizing forces,—a movement which before Wesley’s death had developed into a form containing, at least in embryo, all the elements of a district church organization, although in its general designation and deliberate claims it purported to be only an unattached spiritual society ; and (3) Methodism since the death of Wesley, which, by steps at first rapid and afterwards, though leisurely, distinct and consecutive, assumed an independent position, and has grown into complete development as a church.

Oxford Methodism.—This began in November 1729, when John Wesley, returning to Oxford from Lincolnshire, where he had been serving his father as curate, found that his brother Charles, then at Christ Church, had induced a few other students to join him in observing weekly communion. John Wesley’s accession lent weight and character to the infant association. Their first bond of assocition, besides the weekly communion, was the common study of the Greek Testament, with which they joined regular fasting, the observance, of stated hours for private devotion, the visitation of the sick, of the poor, and of prisoners, and the instruction of neglected children. They never themselves adopted any common designation, but of the variety of derisive names they received from outsiders that of "Methodists" prevailed,—a sobriquet the fitness of which, indeed, as descriptive of one unchanging and inseparable feature of Wesley’s character (which he impressed also on his followers), was undeniable.

This first Oxford Methodism was very churchly. Between 1733 and 1735, however, a new phase was developed. Its adherents became increasingly patristic in their sympathies and tendencies, and Wesley came much under the influence of William Law. In regard to this period of his history, Wesley himself says that he

"Bent the bow too far, by making antiquity a coordinate, rather than subordinate, rule with Scripture, by admitting several doubtful writings, by extending antiquity too far, by believing more practices to have been universal in the ancient church than ever were so, by not considering that the decrees of a provincial synod could bind only that province, and the decrees of a general synod only those provinces, whose representatives met therein, that most of those decrees were adapted to particular times and occasions, and, consequently, when those occasions ceased, must cease to bind even those provinces."

It was in 1736, during his residence in Georgia, whither he had gone as a missionary of the Propagation Society, that he learnt those lessons. Notwithstanding his ascetic severity and his rubrical punctilios, the foundations of his High-Churchmanship were gradually giving way. When he returned to England he had already accepted the doctrine of "salvation by faith," although he had not as yet learned that view of the nature of faith which he was afterwards to teach for half a century. He had, however, as in the journal of his homeward voyage he tells us, learned, "in the ends of the earth," that he "who went to America to convert others was never himself converted to God." In this result his Oxford Methodism came to an end.

The original Methodism of Oxford never at any one times seems to have numbered as many as thirty adherents. There was a set called "Methodists," but there was no organization, no common bond of special doctrine or of discipline ; there were habits and usages mutually agreed upon, but there was no official authority, only personal influence. The general features of the fraternity, in fraternity it may be called, seems to suggest closer analogies with the "Tractarian" school in its earlier stages than with anything else in modern history, and the personal ascendency of John Wesley may remind us in some measure of the influence exercised a century later by J. H. Newman. There was no more any germ of permanent organization in the Oxford Methodism of 1735 than in the patristic and "Tractarian" school of Oxford of 1833.1

Methodism after Wesley’s Conversion.—John Wesley landed at Deal, on his return from Georgia, on February 1, 1738. His journals on the homeward voyage, says Miss Wedgwood,2 "chronicle for us that deep dissatifaction which is felt whenever an earnest nature wakes up to the incompleteness of a traditional region; and his after life, compared with his two years in Georgia, makes it evident that he passed at this time into a new spiritual region."…. "By Peter Böhler,3 in the hands of the great God," he writes in his journal, "I was, on March 5, fully convinced of the want of that faith whereby we are saved." This "conviction" was followed on March 5, fully convinced of the want of that faith whereby we are saved." This "conviction" was followed on March 24 of the same year (1738) by his "conversion."

Like most good men of htat age in England, Wesley, before he came under the influence of his Moravian teacher, had regarded faith as a union of intellectual belief and of voluntary self-submission—the belifef of the creeds and voluntary self-submission—the belief of the creeds and submission—the belief of the creeds and submission to the laws of Chirst and to the rules and services of the church, acted out day by day and hour by hour, in all the prescribe means and services of the church and in the general duties of life. From his conception of faith the element of the supernatura was wanting, and equally that of personal trust for salvation on the atonement of Christ. The work of Böhler was to convince Wesley that such faith as this, even though there might be more or less of divine influence unconsciously mingling with its attainment and exercise, was essentially nothing else than an intellectual and moral act or habit, a natural operation and result altogether different from the true spirual faith of a Christian. This conviction led him a few days afterwards to stand up at the house of the Rev. Mr Hutton, College, Westminter, and declare that five days before he had not been a Christian. When warned not thus to despise the benefits of sacramental grace, he rejoined, "When we renounce everything but faith and get into Christ, then, and not till then have, we reason to believe that we are Christians." It is true that for several years after this he remained High-Church in some of his principles and opinions, but nevertheless his ritualism was dead at its roots.

This experience also made Wesley an evangelist. He had a forgotten gospel to preach,—the gospel by which men were to be converted, as he had been, and to be made "new creatures." And this result, this new birth, was not dependent on any churchly form or ordinance, on any piestly prerogative or service, or on any sacramental grace or influence. To raise up, accordingly, byhis preaching and personal influence, a body of converted men, who should themselves, a body of converted men, who should themselves become witnesses of the same truth by which he had been saved, was henceforth to be Wesley’s life-work.This was the inspiration under which he became a great preacher ; this also made him an organizer of his living witnesses into classes and societies. In the pulpit was the preaching power ; in his class-room was the private and personal influence. The vital link between the pulpit and the class meeting was the doctrine and experience of "conversion." Thus Wesleyan Methodism is derived, not from Wesley the ritualist, but from Wesley the evangelist.

Wesley’s doctrines offended the clergy. His popularity as a preacher alarmed them. The churches were soon shut against him. He attended the religious meetings—on a Church of England basis—which had existed in London and elsewhere fore fifty years, so far as these were still open to him, the Moravian meetings, and meetings in the rooms of private friends, but these were quite insufficient for the zeal and energy of himself and his brother, who had been "converted" a few days before himself. Accordingly, in 1739, he followed the example set by Whitefield, and preached in the open air to immense crowds. In the same year also he yielded to the urgency of his followers and to the pressure of circumstances, and, becoming possessed of an old building called "the Foundery," in Moorfields, transformed it into a meeting-house. Here large congregations came together to hear the brothers. About the same time, in Bristol and the neighbouring colliery distrinct of Kingswood, he found himself obliged, not a little against his will, to become the owner of premises for the purpose of public preaching and religious meetings. Here was the beginning of that vast growth of preaching houses and meething-rooms, all of them for nearly fifty years settled on Wesley himself, which, never having in any way belonged to the Church of England, became, through, Wesley, the possession of the Methodist Connexion.

The religious societies through which the Wesleys, after their conversion, exercised at first their spiritual influence were in part, as has been intimated, Moravian—,that in Fetter Lane, of which the rules were drawn up by Wesley himself in 1738 (May 1), being the chief of these—and in part societies in connexion with te Church of England, the successors of those which sprang up in the last years of the Stuarts, as if to compensate for the decay of Puritanism within the church. In 1739, however, as strong leaven of antinomian questism gained entrace among the Mroravians of England (Böhler himself having left for American in the spring of 1738) ; and Wesley, afterr vainly contending for a time against this corruption, found it necessary formally to separate from them, and to establish a society of his own, for which a place of meeting was already provided at the Foundery. This was the first society under the direct control of Wesley, and herein was the actual and vital beginning of the Wesleyan Methodist Society, that is, of Wesleyan Methodism. Hence the Wesleyans celebrated their centenary in 1839. It was not, however, till 1743 that Wesley published the Rules of his Society. By that time not a few other local societies had been added to that at the Foundary, the three chief centress being London, Bristol, and Newcastle. Hence, Wesley called his Society, when he published the "Rules" in 1743, The "United Societies." His brother’s name was joined with his own at the foot of these Rules, in their second edition, dated May 1, 1743, and so remained in all later editions while Charles Wesleys lived. Those Rules are still the rules Wesleyan Methodism. Since Wesley’s death they have not been altered. During his life only one change was made of any importance. In 1743 the offerings given weekly in the classes were for the poor, there being at that time to Conference and no itinerant preachers except the two weekly contributions were to go "towards the support of the gospel." The Society is described as "a company of men having the form, and seeking the power, of godiness, united in order to pray together, to received the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, they may help each other to work out their salvation." "The only condition previously required of those who desire admission into thise societies" is "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." The customary contribution was a mininum of a penny a week or a shilling a quarter.

In 1739 these societies were not divided into "classes." But in 1742 this further step in organization was taken, and the change is recognized in the rules of 1743. Leaders were appointed to these classes, and became an order of spiritual helpers and subpastors, not ordained like lay elders it the Presbyterian churches, but, like them, filling up the interval between the pastors that "labours in the word and doctrine" and the members generally, and furnishing the main elements of a council which, in after years, grew up to be the disciplinary autority in every society there was from the beginning a "steward" to take and give account of moneys received and expended. After a few years there were two distinct stewards, one being specially appointed to take care of the poor and the "poor’s money," the other being, in general, the "society steward." And, finally,—though hardly, perhaps, during Wesley’s lifeime,—in the larger societies there came to be two stewards of each description. The leaders and stewards together constituted "the leaders’ meeting," of which, however, the complete circle of functions grew into use and into recognition only by degrees. The Rules of the Society, which are strict and searching, relate to worship, to conduct, and to to the religious life, but do not once mention or refer to the Church of England, the parish church, or the parish clergy. The only authority at first was the personal authority of the two brothers, exercised either directly or by their official delegates. After years had passed away the leaders’ meeting came to have an important jurisdiction and authority, but its rights and powers were neither defined nor recognized until after Wesley’s death. From first to last there is no trace of colour of any Anglican character in the organziation. Moravians or Dissenters might have entered the fellowship, and before long many did enter it who had either been Dissenters or, at any rate, had seldom or never entered a church. What would to-day be called the "unsectarian" character of his society was, indeed, in Wesley’s view, one of its chief glories. All the time, however, this "unsectarian" society was only another "sect" in process of formation, Wesley for many years before his death had seen that, unless the rulers of the church should come to adopt in regard to his society a policy of liberal recognition, this might be the outcome of his life-work. And it would seem as if in his private confidences with himself he had come in the end at times to acquiesce in this result.

Still more decisive, however, waw the third step in the development of Wesley;s "Society." The clergy not only excluded athe Wesleys from their pulpits, but often repelled them and their converts form the Lord’s Supper. This was first done on a large scale, and with a systematic harshness and persistency, at Bristol in 1740. Under these circumstances the brothers took thecdecisive step of administrating the sacrament to their societies themselves, in their own meeting-rooms, both at Bristol and at Kingswood. This practice having thus been established at Bristol, it was not likely that the original society at the Foundery would rest content without the like privilege, especially as some of the clergy in London acted in the same manner as those at Bristol. There wre therefore at the Fondery also separate administrations. Here then, in 1740, were two—if we include. Kingswood, three—separate local churches, formed it is true, and both served and governed by ordained clergymen of the Church of England, but not belonging to that church or in any respect within its government. As thereafter during Wesley’s life one of the brothers, or some cooperative or friendly clergyman, was almost always present in London and in Bristol for the administration of the sacraments, these communions, when once begun, were afterwards steadily maintained, the Lord’s Supper being, as a rule, administered weekly. Both on Sundays and on week days full provision was made for all the spirtiual wants of these "societies," apart altogether from the services of the Church of England. The only link by which the societies wre connected with that church—and this was a link of sentiment, not an organic one—was that the ministers who served them were numbered among its "priests."

In 1741 Wesley entered upon his course of calling out lay preachers, who itinerated under his directioins. To the societies founded and sustained with the aid of these preachers, who were entirely absolutely Wesleys’s personal control, the two brothers, in their extensive journeys, administereed the sacratment as they were able. The helpers only ranked as laymen, many of them, indeed, being men of humble attainments and of unpolished ways. For the ordinary reception of the sacraments the societies in general were dependent on the parish clergy, who, however, not seldom repelled them from the Lord’s table. So also for the oridinary opportunity of public worship they often had no resource but the parish church. The simple insisted, defective, as a service of public worship, in some important particulars ; besides which, they visits of the itinerants were usually, at least at first, few and far between. Wesley accordingly was urgent inhis advices and injunctions that his societies generally should keep to their parish churches ; but long before his death, especially as the itinirant preachers improved in quality and increased in number, there was a grwoing desire among the societies to have their own full Sunday services, and to have the sacraments adminstratered by their own preachers. The development of these preachers into ministers, and of the societies into fully organized churches, was, if not the inevitable, at any rate the natural, result of the steps which Wesley took in order to carry on the work that was continually opening up before him.

In 1744 Wesley held his fisrt Conference. The early Conferences were chiefly useful for the settlement of points of doctrine and discipline and for the examination and accrediting of fellow-labourers. They met yearly. Conferences were a necessity for Wesley, and became increasingly so as his work continued to grow upon him. It was inevitable also that the powers of the Conference, although for many years the Conference itself only existed as it were on sufferance, and only exercised any authority by the permission of its creator and head, should continually increase. The result was that in 1784 Wesley could no longer delaly the legal constition of the Conference, and that he was compelled, if he would provide for the perpetuation of the work, to take measures for vesting in trustees, for the use of "the people called Methodists," under the jurisdiction fo the Conference as to the appointment of ministers and preachers, all the preaching places and trust property of the Connexion. The legal Conference was defined as consisting of one hundred itinerant preachers named by Wesley, and power was given to the "legal hundred" continually from the first to fill up the vancancies in their own number, to admit and expel preachers, and to station them from year to year, no preacher being allowed to remain more than three years in one station.

By this measure Wesley’s work was consolidated into a district religious organization, having a legally corporate character and large property rights. And yet Wesley would not allow this great organization to be styled a "church." It was only a "society"—the "United Society"—the Society of "the people called Methodists"—the "Methodist Society." And of its members all who were not professed Dissentres were by him reckoned as belonging to the Church of England, although a large a increasing proportion of them seldom or never attended the services of that church. The explanation of this apparenty inconsistency is that Wesley admittted none to be Dissenters except such as were so in the eye of the law—those who, "for conscience sake, refused to join in the services of the church or partake of the sacraments administered therein"—and that he interpreted "the Church of England" to mean, as he wrote to his brother Charles, "all the believers in England, except Papists and Dissenters, who have the word of God and the sacraments administered among them."

But Wesley was to carry his Society to a yet higher pitch of development, and some which made it still more difficult to distinguish its character from that of a district and separate church. In 1738 Wesley had been theoritically a High-Churchman. For some time even after he had entered upon his course of irregular and independent evangelism he continued to hold, in the abstract, High-Church views. But in 1746 he abandoned once

for all his ecclesiastical High-Churchmanship, although he never became either a political or a latitudinarian Low-Churchman after the standard and manner of the 18th century. He relates in his journal under date January 20, 1746, how his views were revolutionized by reading Lord (Chancellor) King’s account of the primitive church. From this time forward he consistently maintained that the "uninterrupted succession was a fable which no man ever did or could prove." One of the things taught him by Lord King’s book was that the office of bishop was originally one and the same with that of presbyter ; and the practical inference which Wesley drew was that he himself was a "Scriptural Episcopos," and that he had as much righ as any primitive or missionary bishop to ordain ministers, as his representatives and helpers, who should administer the sacraments, instead of himself, to the jhjh hg societies which had placed themselves under his spiritual charge.

This rights, as he conceived it to be, he held in abeyance for nearly forty years, but at length he was constrained to exercise it, and, by so doing, in effect led the way towards making his Society a distinct and independent church.

In 1784, the American colonies having won their independence, it became necessary to organize a separate Methodism for America, where Methodist societies had existed for many years. Wesley gave formal ordination and letters of ordination to Dr Coke, already a presbyter of the Church of England, as superintendent (or bishop) for America, where Coke ordained Francis Asbury as presbyter and superintendent (or bishop), and Coke and Asbury together ordained the American preachers as presbyters. From that ordination dates the ecclesiastical commencement of American Episcopal Methodism—in which the bishops are only chief among the presbyters whom they superintend, superior in office but of the same order. The Episcopal Methodism of American represents to day the aggregate of Protestant communicants and worshippers of the same ecclesiastical name to be in any one nation in the world.

The following year (1785) Wesley ordained ministers for Scotland. There his societies were quite outside of the established Presbyterianism of the day, with its lukewarm "moderatism"; while the fervid sects which had seceded from the state church would hold no terms with Arminians like Wesley and his followers. Hence Wesley was compelled to make special provision for the administration of the sacraments in Scotland. He therefore ordained some of his ablest and most dignified preachers, was careful to give them formally in his correspondence the style and title of "Reverend," and appointed them to administer the sacraments north of the Tweed.

At length, in 1788, Wesley ordained a number of preachers (Mr Tyerman says seven) to assist him in administering the sacraments to the societies in England ; and of the these he ordained one (Alexander Mather) to be superintendent (or bishop), his brother Charles being now dead, and Dr Coke sometimes absent for long periods in America. The number of societies which demanded to have the sacraments administered to them in their own places of worship continually increased, and their claims were often too strong to be resisted especially when the parish priest was either a public opponent of the Methodists or a man of disreputable conduct. Before Wesley’s death (in 17910 it would seem that there were more than a dozen of his preachers who had at different times, in Scotland or in England, been ordained to administer the sacraments.

The foregoing view of the development of Methodism as an organization, during the lifetime of its founder, will have conveyed a general idea of its structure and polity. There is one cardinal, though variable, element in its organization, however, of which there has as yet been no occasion to speak. The societies of Methodism—each of these consisting of one or more "classes"—were themselves grouped into circuits, each of which as placed under the care of one more of Wesley’s Conference preachers, who were called his "assistants" or "helpers," the assistant being the chief preacher of a circuit, and the helper being a colleague and subordinate. The "assistants" were directly responsible to Wesley, who had absolute power over them, and exercised it between the Conferences. The same power he equally possessed in the Conference, at the yearly meeting, but he made it a rule, during his later life, to take counsel with the Conference as to all matters of importance affecting the permanent status of the preachers personally, or relating to the societies and their government. He thus prepared the Connexion, both preachers and people, to accept the government and the legislative control of the Conference after his death.

At the time of Wesley’s death there were in Great Britain, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands, 19 circuits, 227 preachers, and 57,562 members. In Ireland there were 29 circuits, 67 preachers, and 14,006 members. There were also 11 mission circuits in the West Indies and British America, 19 preachers, and 5300 members. The number of members in the United States was returned as 43,265.

It has already been explained that in connexion with each society there was a leaders’ meeting, of which society stewards and poor stewards as well as leaders were members. It must here be added that each circuit had its quarterly meeting, of which, at first, only the society stewards and the general steward (or treasurer) for the circuit, in conjunction with the itinerant preachers, were necessary members. Leaders, however, in some circuits were very necessary members. Leaders, however, in some circuits were very early, if not from the first, associated with the stewards in the quarterly meeting, or at least had liberty to attend. The quarterly meeting was not defined in Wesleyan Methodism until the year 1852. The leaders’ meeting had no defined authority until some years after Wesley’s death. Discipline, including the admission and expulsion of members, lay absolutely with the "assistant," subject only to appeal to Mr Wesley. Many years, however, before Wesley’s death it had become the usage for the "assistant," or, in his absence, the "helper," his colleague, to consult the leaders’ meeting as to important questions either of appointment to office or of discipline. the consolidated "society approached towards the character of a "church," the leaders’ meeting began to acquire the character and functions of the church court, and private members to be treated, in regard to matters of discipline, as having a status and rights which might be pleaded before such a "court." The rights, indeed, which, soon after Wesley’ death, were guaranteed to leaders’ meetings and members of society had, there can be no doubt, so far grown up, before his death, as to be generally recognized as undeniable.

"Binds" were a marked feature in early Methodism, but in later years were allowed, at least in their original form, to fall out of use. There is no reference to them in the "Minutes of Conference" after 1768, although till after Wesley’s death they held a place in the oldest and largest societies. Originally there were usually in each considerable society four bands, the members of which were collected from the various society classes—one band composed of married and another of unmarried men, one of married and another of unmarried women. All the members of society, however, were not of necessity members of bands. Some maturity of experience was expected, and it was the responsibility of the "assistant" to admit into band or to exclude from band. After Mr Wesley’s death, where "bands" so called were kept up, they lost their private character, and became weekly fellowship meetings for the society. The "love-feast" was a meeting the idea of which was borrowed from the Moravians, but which was also regarded as reviving the primitive institute of the agape. In the love-feast the members of different societies come together for a collective fellowship meeting. One feature of the meeting—a memory of the primitive agape—is that all present eat a small portion of bread or cake and drink of water in common.

It may be supposed that in such a system as Methodism a large number of preachers and exhorters, from all the social grades included within the societies, could not but be continually raised up. These, during Wesley’s life, acted entirely under the directions of the assistant, and were by him admitted or excluded, subject to an appeal to Wesley. Once a quarter—often in conjunction with the circuit quarterly meeting—a meeting of these local lay helpers, called "local preachers preachers," was held for mutual consultation and arrangement, and to examine and accredit candidates for the office.

3. Wesleyan Methodism after Wesley’s Death (1791).—When Wesley die the Conference remained as the bond of union fountain of authority for the Connexion. But between the meetings of Conference Wesley had acted as patriarch and visitor with summary and supreme jurisdiction. The first need to be supplied after his death was an authority for the discharge of this particular function. In America Wesley had organized a system of bishops of (presbyter –bishops), presbyters or elders, and deacons or ministers on probation. Among some of those preachers who had been most intimate with Wesley there was a conviction that his own judgment would have approved such a plan for England. No document, however, remains to show was his desire. The only request he left behind him for the Conference to respect was one which rather looked in another direction—the well-known letter produces before the Conference on its first meeting after his death by his friend and personal attendant, Mr Bradford, in which he begged the members of the legal hundred to assume no advantage over the other preachers in any respect. The preachers, accordingly, in their first Conference after Wesley’s death, instead of appointing bishops, each with his diocese or province, divided the country into districts, and appointed district committees to have all power of discipline and direction within the districts, subject only to an appeal to the Conference, all the preachers exercising equal rights also in the validating pro forma the resolutions and decisions of the whole assembly.

At first the preachers stationed in the districts were instructed to elect their own chairmen, one for each district. But the plan was speedily changed, and the chairmen were elected each year by the whole Conference ; and this method had been maintained ever since. The "district meetings"—as they are generally called—are still "committees" of the Conference, and have ad interim its power and responsibilities as to disciple and administration. Originally they were composed exclusively of preachers, but before many years had passed circuit stewards and district lay officers came to be associated with the preachers during the transaction of all the business except such as was regarded as properly pastoral.

The relation of the Conference to the government of the Connexion having thus been determined, the question which next arose, and which occupied and indeed convulsed the Connexion for several years (1792-95), was that of the administration of the sacraments, especially of the Lord’s Supper, to the societies. The societies generally insisted on their right to have the sacraments from their own preachers. Many of the wealthier members, however, and in particular a large number of the trustees of chapels, opposed these demands. At length, between 1794 and 1795, after more than one attempt at compromise had been made by the Conference, the feeling of the societies as against the trustees became too strong to be longer resisted, and accordingly at the Conference of 1795 the "plan of pacification" was adopted, the leading provision being that, wherever the majority of the trustees of any chapel, on the one hand, and the majority of the stewards and leaders, on the other, consented to administration of the sacraments, they should be administered, but not in opposition to either the one or the other of these authorities. In England the Lord’s Supper was always to be administered after the Episcopal form ; in Scotland it might still, if necessary, be administered, as it had commonly been before, after the Presbyterian form. In any case, however, "full liberty was to be left to give out hymns and to use exhortation and extemporary prayer." The result was that within a generation the administration of the sacraments to the societies came to be the universal rule. By this legislation the preachers assumed the powers of pastors, in accordance, however, only and always with the desire and choice of their flocks. No formal service or act of ordination was brought into use till forty the ministry, after the completion of their probation, were "received into full connexion" with the Conference, this reception implying investment with all pastoral prerogatives. Modern Methodism has developed more fully and conspicuously the pastoral idea.

No sooner was the sacramental controversy settled than the further question as to the position and rights of the laity came to front in great force. A comparatively small party, led by Alexander Kilham, imported into the discussion ideas of a republican idea of a republican complexion, and demanded that the members in their individual capacity should be recognized as the direct basis of all power, that they should freely elect the leaders and stewards, that all distinction in Conference between ministers and laymen should be done away (elected laymen being sent as delegates from the circuits in equal number with the ministers), that the ministry should possess no official authority or pastoral prerogative, but should merely carry into effect the decisions of majorities in the different meetings. In the course of a very violent controversy which ensued, pamphlets and broadsheets, chiefly anonymous, from Kilham’s pen, advocating his views and containing gross imputations on the ministers generally, and in particular on some not named but distinctly indicated, were disseminated, were disseminated through the societies. The writer was tried at the Conference of 1796, condemned for the publication of injurious and unjustifiable charges against his brethren, and by a unanimous vote expelled from the Conference. In the following year he founded the "New Connexion," the earliest of the organized secessions from Wesleyan Methodism.

Views much more moderate than Kilham’s prevailed in the Connexion at large. At the Leeds Conference of 1797 the basis was laid of that system of balance between the prerogatives of the ministers and the rights of the laity which has been maintained in its principles ever since, and which, in reality, has governed the recent provisions (1877-78) for the admission of lay-representatives into the Conference not less than the former developments of Wesleyan Methodism. The admission of members into the society had, up to 1797, been entirely in the hands of the itinerant preacher,—that is, the "assistant, "henceforth to be styled the "superintendent," and his "helpers." The new regulations, without interfering with the power of the ministers to admit members on trial, declared that "the leaders’ meeting shall have a right to declare any person on trial improper to be received into society, and after such declaration the superintendent shall not admit such person into society" ; also that "no person shall be expelled from the society for immorality till such immorality be proved at a leaders’ meeting."1 For the appointment of church officers (leaders and stewards) the following regulations were made, the second based on recognized usage, the first on general but not invariable practice:—

"1. No person shall be appointed a leader or steward, or be removed from his office, but in conjunction with the leaders’ meeting, the nomination to be in the superintendent, and the approbation or disapprobation in the leaders’ meeting.

"2. The former rule concerning local preachers is confirmed,—viz, that no man shall receive a plan as a local preacher, without the approbation of a local preachers’ meeting."

The Conference at the same time made several provisions for carrying out the process, which had been going on for some years, of denuding itself of direct responsibility in regard to the disbursement of the Connexional funds. The principle was established that such matters were to be administered by the districts committees acting in correspondence with the quarterly meetings of the circuits. It was also provided that circuits were not to be divided without the consent of the respective quarterly meetings ; and, finally, it was resolved that, in the case of any new rule made by the Conference for the Connexion, its action within a circuit might be suspended for a year by the quarterly meeting, if it disapproved of the rule. If, however, the Conference, after twelve month’s interval, still adhered to the new rule, it was to be binding on the whole Connexion.

The powers of district committees, as defined by former Conferences, were in 1797 confirmed and enhanced, special powers being given to special meetings of these committees convened when necessary to settle the affairs of a distracted circuit. In the same Conference al the principle rules of Methodism, in regard both to the ministers and the laity, were collected and (in a sense) codified, including the new regulations adopted that same year ; and the whole, under the title "Large Minutes," was accepted as binding by the Conference, each minister being required to sign his acceptance individually. This compendium, itself based on one which had been prepared by Wesley, is still accepted by early Wesleyan minister on his ordination as containing the rules and principles to which he subscribes. During the sitting of this critical Conference at Leeds an assembly of delegates from bodies of trustees throughout the kingdom was simultaneously held. The form of the regulations enacted by the Conference was, to a considerable extent, determined by the nature and form of the requests made by this body of trustees. There was one request, however, which the Conference distinctly declined to grant—namely, that for the lay delegation to the Conference. The Conference replied that they could not admit any but regular traveling preachers into their body, and preserve the system of Methodism entire, particularly the "itinerant plan." It was not until many years afterwards that anything was heard again as to this matter.

By the settlement now described the outlines of Methodism as an organized church were fairly completed. Many details have since been filled in, and many changes have been made in secondary arrangements, but the principles of development have remained unchanged. The Connexion after 1797 had a long unbroken period of peaceful progress. The effect of the "Kilhamite" separation, indeed, was after 1797 not greatly felt by the parent body. The number of Methodists in the United Kingdom in 1796, the year of Kilham’s expulsion, was 95,226 ; in 1797 it was 99,519 ; in 1798 the New Connexion its first Conference, and reported 5037 members, the number of the parent body being 101,682. Nor was it till 1806 that the Connexion reached 6000.

During the period of quiet growth and development which followed 1797 the influence of one superior mind (Dr Jabez Bunting, 1779-1858) was to prevail with increasing sway. This was to be period of the gradual development of lay co-operation in the administration of the various departments of Connexional extension and enterprise—a development which prepared the way for the important legislation of 1852 and following years, and for the ultimate settlement of the respective and powers of the ministers and laity which was made in 1877-78. It was also to be the period of gradual completion of the pastoral idea, in its practical application to the ministers of the body. This period may be defined as extending from the revolutionary epoch of 1791-35, which coincides with a second period of politico-ecclesiastical agitation in Wesleyan Methodism.

In 1797 the Conference, as already mentioned, had refused to allow elected laymen—or lay delegates—any place either in the Conference of in district committees. Within a few years after 1800, however, the practice grew up for the circuit stewards to attend the district committees during the transaction of financial business, and in 1815 this usage was recognized in the Minutes of Conference as an established "rule," and it was enacted that no general increase of the income of the ministers should be sanctioned by the Conference until approved by a majority of the district committees during the attendance of the circuit stewards. Since the adoption of this rule the lay element in the district committees has steadily increased and developed. Another characteristic and important feature in the organization of Wesleyan Methodism, which grew into distinct form and prominence during the period now under departments, except such as were regarded as properly pastoral, by means of mixed department committees, appointed at each successive Conference. These committees made recommendations to the Conference in regard to such new legislation as they thought; and, for each department, a large committee of review, of which the members of the ordinary committee of management formed the nucleus, came to be held each year immediately before the Conference. In these committees the numbers of ministers and a laymen were equal. On this principle, between 1811 and 1835, provision had been made for the management of all the funds of the Connexion and their corresponding departments of administration. The first mixed committee appointed by the Conference was the committee of privileges in 1803.

The development of the pastoral position and character of the ministers of the body after 1797 could not but advance on a line parallel to the development of the position and claims of the laity. In 1818 the usage of the Conference was conformed to what had long the ordinary unofficial custom, and the preachers began to be styled in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine and in other official publications "Reverend," a fact which may seem trivial, but which in reality was of important significance.

In 1834, after the idea had been long entertained and the project had been repeatedly discussed, it was determined to establish a theological institution for the training of ministerial candidates. There are now four colleges, with two hundred and fifty students. In 1836 the practice of ordination by imposition of hands was adopted.

Such advances, however, as these in the general organization and development of the Connexion, and especially in the status and professional training of the ministers, could not be made in such a body without offence being given to some, whose tendencies were to disallow any official distinction between the ministry and the laity, and who also objected to the use of the organ. This leveling element was strong in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in 1828, on the placing of an organ in Brunswick Chapel Leeds, by the trustees, with the consent of the Conference, a violent agitation broke out. The consequence was a disruption, the first since 1798, under the title "Protestant Methodists." But this was absorbed, some years later, in a more considerable secession.

In fact, the Connexion was in 1828 entering on a period of agitation. The current of political affairs was approaching the rapids of which the Reform Act marked the centre and the point of maximum movement. A body like Wesleyan Methodism could not but feel in great force the sweep of this movement. It is true that Wesleyan Methodism as such has never been political, that few of its numbers cultivated of the "Society" were strongly Conservative in their general tone. Nevertheless of the times, and the Conservative tone of the ministers and of most of the well-to-do laity was not in full harmony with the sympathies of the people generally. According the elements of disturbance, which only partially exploded in the "Protestant Methodist" secession, continued to make themselves felt, in different parts of the Connexion, during the following years of political controversy. The decision of the Conference in 1834 to provide a college for the training of ministerial candidates gave special offence to the malcontents. Such an occasion was all that was wanting for the various discontents of the Connexion to gather to a head. The demands made by the agitators proceeded on a basis of democratic ecclesiastical such as it is very difficult to apply successfully to a system of associated churches. The result was a third secession, based on the same general ground of ecclesiastical principles as the two preceding, which was organized in 1836, and with which the "Protestant Methodists" eventually coalesced. This new secession was know first as the "Wesleyan Methodist Association" ; but for a number of years past it has been merged in a still larger body of seceders designated "The Methodist Free Churches." Its leader at the first was the Rev. Dr Warren, who left it, however, not many months after it was formed, and took orders in the Church of England.1

The controversies of 1835-36 left their mark on the legislation and official documents of the Connexion . The principles of 1797 remained intact, some farther guards only being added to prevent any danger of hasty or irresponsible action on the part of superintendents, and at the same time "minor district meetings" being organized in order to facilitate appeals. One error was, however committed by the Conference. In 1797 no provision had been made for bringing the circuit, through its quarterly meeting, into direct relations with the Conference. In 1836 a right of direct memorial to the Conference was given to the circuit quarterly meeting; but it was so fenced round with conditions and limitation as to make it practically inoperative, and at the same time provocative of suspicion and irritation.

The effect of the secession of 1836 on the general progress of the Connexion was not great. The number of members reported in 1835 in Great Britain and Ireland was 371,251 (there being a decrease in England of 951), in 1836, 381, 369, in 1837 384,723. For the next ten years advance of the Connexion in numbers and in general prosperity of Methodism—partly perhaps in consequence of it—very perilous elements were at work. The revolutionary ideas of the Chartist period (1840-48) and of Continental politics (1848-49) reacted on Wesleyan Methodism as the political ideas of 1791 and of 1831 had done at those epochs. The embers of old controversies—ecclesiastical, quasi-political, and personal—still smouldered, and at length burst into fresh flame. From 1844 a strong spirit of opposition to the leaders of the Connexion, and especially to Dr Bunting, was fanned by the circulation of anonymous "fly leaves" of a very scurrilous character. At the same time the policy of the Conference and of the ministers in their circuits had proceeded more than was wise on the old lines. The general administration relied too much on the footing of implicit confidence on the part of the people and on the power of official prerogative in the hands of the minister. The memorial law of 1836 was indicative of the too exclusive spirit of pastoral government which has prevailed. The wisdom of Dr Bunting had for five and twenty years led the way in gradually liberalizing both the polity and the policy of Methodism, and adapting them to the changing conditions of the times. But this wisdom seems to have found its limits before 1849, when the internal dissensions reached their climax. In that year James Everett, the chief author of the fly sheets, and two other ministers, Samuel Dunn and William Griffith, who had identified themselves with him, were expelled. A disastrous agitation followed. No distinct secession took place till after the Conference of 1850. The union of the "Methodist Free Churches," in which was incorporated the "Wesleyan Association" (of 1836), as formed by the seceders. The "New Connexion" also received some thousands of the seceders into its ranks. But by far the greatest part of those who left went with neither of these bodies.

Between 18650 and 1855 the Connexion in Great Britain and Ireland lost 100,000 members, and not till 1856 did it begin to recover. In that year the numbers were returned as 282,787, showing a small increase over the preceding year. Since them peace and unity have prevailed unbroken.

The convulsion of 1849-52 taught the Connexion, and in particular the Conference, lessons, of the importance. In 1852 the quarterly meeting was so defined as to make it the great representative meeting of the circuit, including stewards, leaders, local preachers, and trustees. The right of memorial to the Conference was given to tit in the widest and freest sense. These powerful bodies and pay their "allowances." As salaries to ministers are still called in the Connexion, and review all the interests of the circuits, spiritual or financial. They had also conferred upon them in 1852 the right to appoint a circuit jury of appeal from the verdict and findings of a leaders’ meeting in certain cases of discipline. Since 1852 Conference legislation has still proceeded in the direction of recognizing and enlarging the functions and rights of the laity. The committee of review system, already spoken, of, had been considerably developed between 1835 and 1849, and included every department of ordinary administration. In 1861, however, whilst a representation of the departmental executive committees formed still the leading element in each committee of review, a great improvement was made in their constitution by giving to each of the districts of British Methodism the right to send a lay representative to attend these preparatory Conference committees. In 1877 and 1878 the final and natural consummation of the whole course of advance since 1791 was effected in the constitution of the united Conference of ministers and lay representatives. The ministers meet by themselves to discharge the functions which belong to them as the common pastorate of the Connexion. As to all the points involved in their specific character and common responsibility, as the mutually exchanging and itinerating pastors in common of a vast common flock, they take mutual counsel in a separate assembly. The Conference, in its ministerial-and-lay or representatives session, meets after the pastoral business is completed, and occupies a full week between Sundays in discussing and settling the business of all the funds and the general administrative departments of the body. The Conference in its pastoral session assembles on the last Tuesday in July, that session closing on the Friday or Saturday week following ; the representative session occupies the following week. It is legally necessary that the decisions of the Conference in both its sessions should be confirmed and validated by the vote of the "legal hundred." This confirmation is, however, given as a matter of course.

The Conference in its pastoral sessions is not formally representative. To each district is assigned by the preceding Conference a certain amount of representation, there being at present thirty-five districts. The numbers allocated to the districts vary according to circumstances. The total number of ministers and laymen composing the Conference in its representative session is 480, or 240 ministers and 240 laymen. The basis of the lay representation in the Conference is the constituency of lay officials in the district committees. The Connexion at large is represented by the lay officials of the general Connexional departments. The business transacted in the Conference during its representative session relates to all the Connexional departments of general administration, viz., the committee of privileges, foreign missions, the maintenance and educated fund (and the schools) for ministers children, chapel affairs (general, metropolitan, and provincial), the home missions and contingent fund, district sustentation funds, army and navy evangelization, lay mission work, the worn-out ministers’ and ministers’ widow’ fund, the theological institution with its four colleges, Sunday and day schools and the children’s home and orphanage, higher education, the extension fund of Methodism, alternations and divisions of circuits and districts, and the Lord’s Day observance and temperance questions.

The president of the Conference is chosen by the ministers by ballot on the opening of the pastoral session. After the election of president follows that of secretary. These elections, however, cannot take place until the vacancies in the hundred have been filled up. Such vacancies are caused by death, by absence for two years together without a dispensation, by expulsion, or by superannuation, which takes place ordinarily after two years’ retirement from the full work of the ministry.

The principal statistics of the denomination at the last Conference (1882) were as follows:—


Of the Sunday scholar in Great Britain, 177,965 were over fifteen years of age, and 93,127 were members of society or on trial as members.

Wesleyan Methodism in Ireland has always been part and parcel of British Methodism, but since 1782 it has had a branch Conference of its own. The acts of this Conference are, in accordance with a provision in the Conference Deed Poll, made valid by the concurrence with them of a delegate from the British Conference , who is to the Irish Conference what the legal Conference is to the British Conference. Ten ministers of the Irish Conference are members of the "legal hundred" of the British of Conference. The "plan of pacification" of 1795 was not carried out at the time by the Irish Conference. In the year 1816, however, it was adopted in Ireland. The result was a secession which assumed the designation "Primitive Wesleyans," a very different body from the Primitive Methodist of England. In 1878 the Primitive Wesleyans were reunited to the parent Connexion. The number of members in Ireland has, owing to emigration, not increased of late years. The last return showed 24,475 members.

Affiliated Conferences.—For more than twenty years there were several "affiliated Conferences" of British Conference, and that of South Africa,—the latter constituted quite recently (1882). Since 1852 French Methodism has been an affiliated Conference. The dimensions of the French Connexion, however, are very small, and it is department to a considerable extent on pecuniary and aid furnished by the Wesleyan Missionary Society. The last statistical return showed 1769 members, 126 members on trial, 27 ministers, 1 ministers on trial, and 3 supernumerary or retired ministers. The British Conference has a right of veto as to certain points of legislation in the case of affiliated Conferences.

Australasian Methodism was for more than twenty years under an affiliated Conference, dating from 1854. Since 1876, however, the Australasian Conference has been independent. The General Conference meets once in three years, having under it our annual Conferences—one for New South Wales and Queensland, another for Victoria and Tasmania, a third for South Australia, and a fourth for New Zealand. There Conferences—the general and the annual—are all mixed and representative after the same general pattern as the British Conference. They have also under their charge, and as part of their Connexion, the Wesleyan missions in Tonga and Fiji, which were begun by the parent body before the original affiliated yearly Conference for Australasia was organized. The Numbers in 1881 were for the Methodism of Australia 28,310 members with 362 ministers, and for the South Sea missions 33,411 members with 16 missionaries of European blood and a very large number of native ministers and assistant ministers.

Canadian Methodism was also affiliated till 1873, when it became an independent Connexion. It includes six provincial annual Conference and one General Conference which meets every three years. The General Conference is mixed and representative ; the annual Conferences are purely ministerial. Canadian Methodism occupies a powerful position in the Dominion. It numbers as nearly as can be ascertained about 116,000 numbers, and is strongest in Upper Canada. It possesses a university—the Victoria University in Upper Canada.

The Doctrines of Methodism.—In doctrine all branches of Methodism are substantially identical. Wesley’s doctrines are contained fifty-three sermons knows as the "four volumes" and in his Notes on the New Testament. The Conference has, however, published two catechisms, one for younger the other older children, of which a new and carefully revised edition has lately been completed.2 In general, Wesleyan theology is to be described as a system of evangelical Arminianism. In particular, Wesleyan divines insist on the doctrines of original sin, general redemption, repentance, justification by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and Christian perfection,—or, as it has been customary for Methodists to say, the doctrines of a "present, free, and full salvation." By the witness of the Spirit is meant a consciousness of the Divine favour through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Wesleyans have often been represented as holding the Calvinistic doctrine of "assurance." The word, however, is not a Wesleyan phrase, and assurance, so far as it may be said to be taught by Methodists, signifies, not any certainty of final salvation, but merely a "sense of sin forgiven."3


The beginnings of American Methodism are traceable to the year 1766, when a few pious emigrants from Ireland introduced Methodism into New York. On receiving an appeal in 1768 from the New York Methodists, who were engaged in building a preaching-house, Wesley laid the case of America before the Conference at Leeds in 1769, and two preachers, Boardman and Pilmoor, volunteered to go to the colonies. Boardman went to New York, Pilmoor to Philadephia. In 1771 two other Methodist itinerants, Francis Asbury—the most famous name in American Methodism—and Richard Wright, went out to America. In 1773 Thomas Rankin, a preacher of experience sent out

by Wesley, held the first Conference in Philadelphia, when there were 10 itinerant preachers and 1160 members. After the breaking out of the War of Independence the English Methodist preachers were unpopular, and all but Francis Asbury went back to England. At the end of the war, however, in 1784, Wesley sent out Dr Coke, and American Methodism was organized as an independent church, with Dr Coke and Francis Asbury as its presbyter bishops. The history of American Methodism since that period is too vast and complicated for any attempt to be made to summarize it here. Methodism is more properly national in its character as an American church than any church in the States. In Massachusetts and some other of the New England States it is less powerful than Congregationalism, which still retains there much of its ancient predominance ; in the city of New York it is less powerful than Presbyterianism, and, indeed, occupies a position less generally influential than might have been expected. But in Philadelphia it is very powerful ; so also in Baltimore and in Cincinnati ; if not strong in New York city, it is very strong in the State ; and generally throughout the western and mid-western States it is the prevalent form of faith and worship. In the south, also, it is more powerful than any other church.

American Methodism is Episcopal. But its Episcopacy is neither prelatical nor diocesan. The bishops are superintending presbyters, and they visit the whole territory of Methodism in rotation, holding (presiding over) the annual Conferences. There Conferences are purely ministerial. But the General Conference, which meets once in four years, and which is the Conference of legislation and final appeal, is mixed and representative. The first General Conference was held on 1792, the first delegated or representative Conference in 1812, the first mixed or ministerial-and-lay General Conference in 1872. There were till lately no district assemblies in the Episcopal Methodism of America, and now there are but few. The bishops maintain the unity of the Connexion in the interval between the General Conferences, by their visitation and by their conjoint council. A sub-episcopal class of ministers also, called presiding elders, supplement the action and superintendency of the bishops. These preside over districts, holdings all the circuit quarterly meetings have been organized.

American Episcopal Methodism is distributed into five distinct sections or churches, which, however, differ from each other in so points of any importance as respects organization or disciplines, still less doctrine. The American Methodist Episcopal Church South became a separate organization in 1847 by reason of the slavery controversy. The coloured churches, of which there are three, sprang up distinctly from local causes. The following are the latest available statistics:—


In the Methodist Episcopal Church alone there are one hundred annual Conferences, visited by twelve bishops. This church has more than twenty universities, of which some are distinguished schools of learning. Boston University is one of the most recent and one of the chief. The principal foreign missions are in India, China, and Japan. The Methodist Church South also has some influential universities, particular in Japan and China.

Besides these Methodist Episcopal churches, with their total of 3,358,000 church members, there are two other churches which do not assume the name at all, but are yet essentially Methodist in doctrine and discipline, not varying in any important particulars from the Episcopal Methodism of America. Of these is called the United Brethren, with 157,000 members, the other the Evangelical Association, with 113,000 members.1

Non-Episcopal American Methodism.—The bodies included under this head are chiefly secessions from the original stock of American Methodism, founded on principles of democratic church government, analogous to those of the English Methodist secessions. The only considerable body, however, is the Methodist Protestant Church, with 125,000 members. The minor bodies, four in number, count altogether less than 60,000 members, the principal being the American Wesleyan Church, with 25 members.


The bodies still to be noticed, while differing as to points of church government, agree s to doctrine and in general as to the means of grace and as to inner spiritual fellowship with the parent "Connexion." They all maintain class-meetings and love-feasts, have leaders’ meeting and quarterly meetings, and largely employ local preachers.

The Methodist New Connexion was founded in 1797-98 by Alexander Kilham, who died in 1798. Its general principles are indicated above. Its statistics for 1881 were as follows:—183 ministers and 27,770 members (including those on missions stations, besides 3882 on trial), and 74,744 Sunday scholars.2

United Methodist Free Churches.—This organization in its original form must be identified with the Wesleyan Methodist Association of 1836. That body first absorbed into itself, in great part, the "Protestant Methodists" of 1828. It was afterwards greatly increased, and its organization in some points modified, when a large number of the seceders from the parent Connexion in 1850-52 joined its ranks. The main body of its Conference does not consist, like that of the New Connexion, of an equal number of circuit ministers and elected circuit lay delegates, but of circuit delegates, whether ministerial or lay, elected without any respect to office, ministerial or other. Its circuits also are independent of the control of the Conference. The Connexional bond, accordingly, in this dnomination is weak, and the itinerancy is not universal or uniform in its rules or its operations. The amalgamation between the Wesleyan Methodist Association and the "Wesleyan Methodist Reformers" of 1850 took place in 1857. At that time the combined churches numbered 41,000. At present (1881-82) they number 72,839, including 7772 members on the mission stations, besides 7824 on trial. The number of ministers is 392, with 40 retired or "supernumerary" ministers. The number of Sunday scholars is 190,957.3

Primitive Methodism.—In this earnest and hard-working denomination the ministers, of whom some are women, are very literally "the servants of all." The Conference is composed, in addition to twelve permanent members, of four members appointed by the preceding Conference, and of delegates from district meetings. The principle of proportion is that there should be two laymen to one ministers or "traveling preacher," and the "traveling preachers" have no pastoral prerogative whatever. The Conference is supreme, and the Connexional bond is strong. This body was founded by Hugh Bourne and Williams Clowes, local preachers who were separated from the Wesleyan Connexion, the former in 1808, the latter in 1810, because of there violation of conference regulations had, in 1807, pronounced its judgment against camp meetings, which had been introduced into the country from America, whereas Bourne and Clowes were determined to hold such meetings. Founded thus by zealous and "irregular" lay preachers, "Primitive" Methodism, as the resulting new body called itself, bears still in its organization, its spirit, and its customs strong traces of its origin. It has been a very successful body, aiming simply at doing evangelistic work, is now numerous and powerful, numbering among its ministers, not only many useful preachers, but some of marked originally and power and also of superior cultivation. There has for many years past, if not from the beginning, been a very friendly feeling between the old Wesleyan Connexion and the Primitive Methodists. Its latest statistics (1881-2) show 1149 travelling preachers, 185,312 members, and 383,350 Sunday scholars.4

Bible Christians.—The Primiteve Methodists sprang up in the midland countries, the Bible Christians in Cornwall. These closely resemble the "Primitives" in their character and spirit. Their founder was a Cornish local preacher called O’Bryan. Hence the Connexion is often known as the Bryanites, and Cornish emigrants have propagated this denomination widely in the colonies. The Conference is composed of ten superintendents of districts, the president and secretary of the preceding Conference, lay delegates, one from each district meeting, and as many of the traveling preachers as are allowed by their respective district meetings to attend. In general it may be said that the ministerial and lay members of the Conference are about equal in number. The returns for 1881-82 showed in England (chiefly the west and south of England) and in the Church Islands 136 itinerant preachers, 21,209 members (besides 690 on trial), and 36,335 Sunday scholars. In Canada the number of members was 6652, and in Australia and New Zealand 3671.1

The Wesleyan Reform Union is an aggregate of local Methodist secession churches, loosely held together by a Conference, and is one of the results of the great Methodist disruption of 1851-52. The returns for 188-82 showed 18 ministers and 7728 members.

Oecumenical Methodist Conference.—This Conference was held in City Road Chapel, London, in September 1881. Representatives were present from all the Methodist bodies throughout the world, and it was estimated that these represented not less than 5,000,000 of members and 20,000,000 of population. Whilst in church organization these bodies differed, as has been shown above, in organization these bodes differed as has been shown above, in doctrine and in respect of their spiritual discipline and means of grace, they were all agreed in principal matters. The Conference was entirely practical in character. The object was to promote zeal and union among the constituent bodies as to all practical points of Christian sympathy and activity, at home and abroad, and especially as to home mission work, general philanthropy, Christian education, and a Christian use of the press. There were 400 representatives present from the Methodist bodies in all parts of the world.2

Welsh Calvinistic Methodist.—Between the Methodism of Wales and that of England there was never any other than incidental connexion. Indeed, although the name of the Welsh movement was borrowed from the English, not only was Welsh Methodism quite independent in its origin, but in reality its beginning, as an evangelical movement, was earlier than that of English Methodism was throughout distinguished by the fact that it was Calvinistic in its doctrine. For some years Whitefield’s name was placed by the leaders of Welsh Methodism at the head of their movement, but the connexion was not at any time much more nominal, Whitefield being, indeed, too often and too long together in America to exercise any real presidency over the Methodism of the Principality.

Distinction, however, must be between Welsh Methodism as an evangelistic movement and as an organization. In its later and distinctly organized form, its main elements date form, its main elements date form, its main elements date from so recent a period as 1864. At that date we find the Calvinistic Methodism of North and of South Wales for the first time united in a common organization and government, and brought under the supreme control of one "General Assembly."

The spiritual awakening from which Welsch Calvinistic Methodism derived its earliest inspiration and impulses began in 1735 and 1736, almost contemporaneously and quite independently, in three different countries of South Wales. Howell Harris, a gentleman of some position, born and bred at Trevecca in the parish of Talgarth, country of Brecon, is the most prominent name connected with early Welsh Methodism. His first strong religious convictions and impulses date from 1735. He was sent to Oxford in the autumn of that year to "cure him of his fanaticism," but remained only one term. On his return to Wales he began to exhort and preach in private houses and in such buildings as he could obtain the use of, being then and throughout his life a simple layman. Of learning or theology he had but little; but he was an extemporary preacher of prodigious vehemence, and often of overwhelming power and pathos. While Harris was thus preaching in a the country of Brecon, Daniel Row-lands had been spiritually awakened at Llangeitho in Cardiganshire, the two men knowing whatever of each other. Rowlands was an ordained clergyman, or some learning and of great eloquence. He was a pulpit orator, and carefully prepared his powerful discourse. In Pembrokeshire, again, in that same year 1735-36, Howell Davies began to preach the same doctrine in the same spirit as the other two preachers, and with effects scarcely, if at all, less remarkable. The work thus begun in three distinct centres within the space of one year was in strict connexion with the Established Church, and so continued to be throughout the last century. These single-mingled preachers pursued their work in Wales knowing nothing of the parallel work which Whitefield had just begun in England. In 1738, however, Whitefield, in the west of England, heard of Howell Harris, and in that year the two revivalists met in Cardiff. In 1739 Howell Harris had begun to extend his preaching tours far and wide, visiting not only South but North Wales, and, Wherever he went, founding religious societies in connexion with the Church of England, of a character resembling those called Dr Woodward’s societies, which had long been in existence throughout England, the chief difference being that the Welsh societies were "evangelical," Calvinistic, and revivalist. It was in the same year that Wesley founded his society in England. In 1742 clergymen connected with the Welsh movement were ten in number, and there were labouring in concert with these forty lay "exhorters," as they were called. In that year the first "association" of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists was held at Waterford or Watford, in Glamorganshire. Whitefield consented to preside, and joined his preaching to that of the Welsh evangelists. The first Calvinistic Methodist Conference was held at Waterford, under Whitefield’s presidency, on January 5, 1743, eighteen months earlier than Wesley’s first Conference. For a short time the Calvinistic Methodism of Wales was linked to that of England, and their organization, always loose, was gradually dissolved.

There was no Wesley in Welsh Methodism, and accordingly there was no organic unity among the societies of earlier Welsh Methodism. Each local society was under the care of an "exhorter," an unpaid into a district, over which an "overseer" had change. He also was usually an unpaid layman, although exercising many of the functions of a spiritual pastor. Sometimes, however, as in the case of Rowlands, he was a parish clergyman. The societies attended their parish churches and there received the sacraments. The meeting or preaching-houses for the societies were vaguely called "houses for religious purpose."

In 1751 Howell Harris ceased to itinerate and retired to Trevecca. From this time his leadership in the Methodist movement seems to have come to an end, and the movement languished for many years after. Not till 1762 is any "revival" chronicled. In 1763 Rowlands was obliged to quit his curacy at Llangeitho and leave the Established Church. His people built him a chapel. He thus, after 1763 became a Dissenting minister ; and, retaining his fame and much of his power to the end of his course, he died in 1790.

Fifty years had now passed since the first societies of Welsh Methodism had been established by Howell Harris, and the movement, instead of having grown to strength and maturity, appeared to have spent its force, almost in all directions, at least so far as any outward signs could show. But the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala was to be one of the chief means of reviving it. He, like the earlier Methodists, was a churchman ; he taken his degree at Oxford and served a curacy in Somersetshire. The doors of the Established Church having been closed against him because of his style of preaching, he joined the Welsh Methodists in 1785, and his first sphere of marked influence was in North Wales. In 1791 he tooks a leading part in a great revival of which Bala was the centres. From this period may be dated the second spring of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, from which its later successes were to grow. Charles zealously and successfully promoted the establishment of "circulating schools" and of Sabbath school. He was, in fact, the soul of the great Christian educating movement in Wales which began in the last decade of the 18th century ; and it was through his earliest zeal in seeking to provide Bibles for his Welsh schools, especially the Sunday schools, that the British and Foreign Bible Society was established. Though Methodism came then to be effectually rooted in the soil of the Principality, it was not till 1811 that the Welsh Calvinists took that step in the direction of ecclesiastical independence which the English Wesleyans had taken sixteen years before by calling their preachers to the official position of pastors and ordaining them to administer the sacraments.

From 1790 till almost the present time the work of gradually moulding the constitution of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism has proceeded. The "rule regarding the proper mode of conducting the quarterly association" were drawn up by Charles and agreed upon in 1790. In 1801 the Order and Form of Church Government and Rules of Discipline were published. In 1811, as has been shown, ministerial ordination was initiated. In 1823 the Confession of Faith was promulgated. And in 1864, as has been already mentioned, the first "General Assembly" was held, and the two associations of North and South Wales respectively were united into one body. The constitution is now a modified Pres-byterianism, each church managing its own affairs subject to successive appeal to the monthly meeting of the county and the quarterly association of the province, while the latter body may refer the decision to the annual General Assembly.

The Welsh Methodists (or Welsh Presbyterians, as they are now often called) have two theological colleges, one at Bala and the other at Trevecca. They have also a foreign missionary society, with missions in Brittany, among their congeners of the Celtic race, and in Bengal.

In recent years this church has made great progress. In 1850 the number of members was 58,678, in 1870 it was 92,735, and in 1880 the returns showed 1174 churches, 118,979 communicants, 185,635 Sunday scholars. The number of ministers is not officially given, but is estimated at 600. The North and South Wales associations are now also known as synods.3 (J. H. RI.)


FOOTNOTE (p.185)

(1) One evidence of this is to be found in the early and wide divergence of the various members of the Oxford Methodist company, after their brief association at the unervisity came to an end. We know which way the Wesleys went ; we know also the separate path that their-friend Whitefield made for himself. John Clayton, the Jacobite churchman, settled at Manchester, renounced the Wesleyss after they began their evangelical movement, and remained an unbending High-Churchman to the end. Benjamin Ingham became a great evangelist in Yorkshire, founded societies, and, with his societies or churches, in took the decisive step of leaving the Churh of England and embracing the position of avowed Dissent. The saintly Gambold, a poet as well as a theologian and preacher, became a Moravian bishop. James Hervey was in after life a famous evangelical clergyman, holding "Low" and Calvinitic views. These were the chief of the Methodists of Oxford.

(2) John Wesley and the Evangelical Reaction of the 18th Century.

(3) A disciple of Zinzendorf, then in England on his way to America.

FOOTNOTE (p.189)

1 In this regulation it was assumed that the old rule of society by which a member disqualifies and virtually expels himself by continued absence from class, without reason for such absence, still held good. The case provides only for expulsion for "immorality." Subsequent legislation has introduced a provision which ensures to any member before he ceases to be recognized on account of non-attendance the right of having his case brought before a leaders’ meeting if he desires it. This rule of 1797 has always been understood by the Conference as constituting the leaders’ meeting in effect a jury, leaving the superintendent with his colleague or colleagues as advisers to act as judge. Appeal has always lain from the leaders1 meeting to the district meeting, and finally, to the Conference.

FOOTNOTE (p. 190)

1 The "Warrenite" secession, as at first it was commonly called, gave rise to a lawsuit which led to the judicial recognition by the Court of Chancery of the Conference Deed Poll of 1784, and the "Large, Minutes" of 1797, as documents having the force of public law in the administration of Wesleyan Methodism.

FOOTNOTE (p.191)

(1) Chiefly in the West Indies, Africa, India and China.

(2) Besides Wesley’s Sermons and Notes, his Appeals and his treatise on Original Sin, in reply to Dr Taylor or Norwich, should be read in order to appreciate his theological views. After these may be particularly noted Joseph Benson’s Commentary, Watson’s Institutes (3 vol.s). Dr Pope’s Compendium of Theology (3 vols.) the series of Fernly Lectures, especially that by the Rev. B Gregory on "The Holy Catholic Church," and Dr Rigg’s Discourses and Addresses.

(3) For the history and constitution of Wesleyan Methodism the following works may be consulted:—Wesley’s Works, especially his Journals ; Southey’s Wesley; Tyerman’s Wesley; Rigg’s Living Wesley, and Churchmanship of John Wesley; Jackson’s Life of Charles Wesley; Minutes of Conference, vol. i., 1744-98 ; Dr George Smitt, History of Wesleyan Methodism. 3 vols.; Dr Williams, Constitution and Polity of Wesleyans Methodism ; Rigg, Connexional Economy ; and the Minutes, 1877 to 1881.

FOOTNOTE (p. 192)

1 The best authority as to American Methodism is Dr Abel Steven’s History, in 6 vols. The statistics are given in the Methodist Year Book, New York, 1882.

FOOTNOTE (p.193)

(1) See Bible Christian Memorial Volume, 1866 ; Minutes of Conference, 1881, Book-Room, 26 Paternoster Row.

(2) See Proceedings of First Methodist Cecumenical Conference, Wesleyan, Book-Room, City Road.

(3) See W. Williams Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, a Historical Skètch; The Life and Times of Howell Harris ; Tyerman, Life of the Rev. George Whitefield ; The Diary of the Calvinistic Methodists. 1882.

The above article was written by: Rev. J. H. Rigg, D.D., author of Chuchmanship of John Wesley.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries