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Progress of the Nation page 5

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The history of convocation during this period is a most painful history. After being restrained for many years from doing more than meeting, and being instantly prorogued, on account of its producing nothing but the bitterest dissensions, from the time that it was allowed to enter on discussion again in the last year of William III. to the year 1717, when it was prorogued, and not allowed to meet again for business, the whole of the time of the lower house, consisting of the deans, prebendaries, archdeacons, and clergy of the province of Canterbury, was spent in quarrelling with the upper house, in which sat the liberal bishops. Never did the odium theologicum flame out so fiercely as amongst these official ministers of peace and Christian love. They seemed to emulate the house of commons in a question of privilege. They declared their right to assemble and prorogue themselves without any interference of the upper house. When ordered to prorogue by the archbishop, they continued still sitting. In all these proceedings the litigious tory and Jacobite Atterbury took a very prominent part. He attacked the supremacy of the crown, both in speeches and pamphlets. They passed severe censures on the works of liberal bishops and divines; but at length their whole fury fell on Dr. Hoadley, bishop of Bangor, for a sermon he preached before George I., in 1717, and printed with the title " On the Nature and Kingdom of Christ." In this he openly asserted that Christ alone is head of his own church; that religion is entirely a spiritual matter, with which the civil magistrate has no right to interfere. A violent controversy, by denunciations in convocation, by polemic sermons and pamphlets, was soon on foot, called the Bangorian controversy, which convulsed the church, in which Dr. Snape, Nicholson, bishop of Carlisle, Dr. Kennet, Dr. Sherlock, and others figured, and which became so fierce, that the king suddenly prorogued the convocation; and it never was again allowed to enter on any business, having shown itself incapable of anything but mutual bickerings and rancour.

In the reign of George II. the clergy, though much curbed in their malice towards the dissenters, still continued to show that it existed. From the very passing of the Toleration Act to that time, tithes and church-rates enabled them to plunder and imprison, even to death, many of the quakers. So long as the Schism Act existed, they continued to make ample use of it against their dissenting fellow- subjects. Dr. Doddridge, by the advice of Dr. Watts, and the leading independents, commenced an academy at Northampton for training students for the ministry; but he was speedily prosecuted by the clergy in the spiritual court, and it was only by the king's express commands that the proceedings were put a stop to.

The treatment of Wesley, and Whitefield, and their companions, was of the most disgraceful kind. These remarkable men might be said to be the landmarks raised by Providence to show that spiritual darkness, ignorance, bigotry, and decline of morals had reached their climax. The whole nation, with some few bright exceptions, lay in the most deplorable condition of moral and religious destitution possible. The government had ceased to interest itself in almost everything except foreign wars and official corruption; the people at large were left totally without education or moral training; the clergy was become worldly, bitter, and persecuting, and indifferent to, or incapable of, their proper religious duties; the literature of the country was tainted by the most repulsive grossness and sensuality; and, in short, the whole land lay one frightful scene of mental poverty and abjectness. We have quoted the words of Burnet; those of Atterbury, a high tory, were quite as strong. A description of the state of religion in the country, drawn up by him, was presented by convocation to the queen, which stated that "the manifest growth of immorality and profaneness," "the relaxation and decay of the discipline of the church," "the disregard to all religious places, persons, and things," had scarcely had a parallel in any age. Dr. Calamy, a great nonconformist, equally complains that the "decay of real religion, both in and out of the church," was most visible. In Ireland, it was confessed that things, if possible, were still worse.

It was at this era of darkness, depravity, ignorance, and crime, that John, and Charles Wesley, his brother, and George Whitefield, came forward to preach a revival, and laid the foundation of Methodism - one of the most extraordinary instruments of religious, moral, and social regeneration which has appeared in any age of the world, and which not only stands as the far greatest fact of this particular period, but has operated in the great mass of the people an unparalleled life and elevation of mind and character, such as it is difficult to comprehend or calculate, and of which there are few who are fully aware. But, the more any one informs himself of the spirit and tone of the age we are describing, and then makes himself acquainted with this revival in the swarming populations of our manufacturing towns and districts, our great mining districts and coal districts, and weaving, and spinning, and pottery districts, and then traces its benign and invigorating influence over the wide regions of America and our colonies, the more he will stand amazed at the achievements of Methodism, and venerate its founders as amongst the greatest humanisers, civilisers, and benefactors of mankind. Nor is it amongst the masses only that Methodism has worked this beneficent work - its leaven has gone upwards through hierarchical and aristocratic heights, and may be safely said to have vivified the very throne. For nothing is more striking than the new life and zeal which have of late years pervaded the church, and nothing is so certain that this sprung from the root of Methodism, necessitated by the very sense of self-preservation, and, no doubt, increased by nobler motives, by their catching a portion of that same spreading and pervading fire, which was thrown into the darkness of the world by Whitefield and the Wesleys, but especially by the latter.

These young men, students at Oxford, all of them originally of clerical families but Whitefield - immediately the son of an innkeeper - with Hervey, afterwards the author of the well-known "Meditations amongst the Tombs," &c., and some others of their fellow-collegians, struck by the dearth of religious life of the time, met at their rooms for prayer and spiritual improvement. They were soon assailed with the nicknames of Sacramentarians, Bible Moths, and finally, Methodists, a term current against the puritans in those days, and suggested by the appellative methodistx, given to a college of physicians in ancient Rome, in consequence of the strict regime which they prescribed to their patients.

In 1734 the Wesleys commenced their career as preachers to the people, and were soon followed by Whitefield. This may, therefore, be considered the date of the foundation of Methodism. None of them had any the remotest idea of separating from the church, or founding new sects. The Wesleys made a voyage to Georgia, in America, and, on their return, found their little party not only flourishing in Oxford but in London, where they had a meeting-house in Fetter-lane. Whitefield, however, was the first to commence the practice of field-preaching, amongst the colliers at Kingswood, near Bristol; but in this he was soon imitated by Wesley. As they began to attract attention by the ardour of their preaching and the wonderful effect on the people, this became necessary, for speedily all church doors were closed against them. John Wesley had a peculiar genius for the construction of a new religious community, and he was ready to collect hints for its organisation from any quarter. The most prolific source of his ordinances for his new society was the system of the Moravians, whose great settlement at Herrnhuth, in Germany, he visited, and had much consultation with its head, count Zinzendorf. From it he drew his class-meetings, his love-feasts, and the like. In framing the constitution of his society, Wesley displayed a profound knowledge of human nature. The system of the Anglican establishment has this radical defect - that it makes the hierarchy everything, the laity nothing. No layman has any voice in its administration, except the sovereign, who is the head, and the humble churchwarden, sexton, clerk, and bell-ringer, who are the tail. Hence the little interest which the mass of the population feel in its movements. Wesley saw this and avoided it. He took care that every man and woman in his society counted for something more than a mere unit. If an individual was not a wheel in the system, he was, at least, a cog in a wheel. The machinery of class-meetings and love-feasts brought members together in little groups, where every one was recognised and had a personal interest. Numbers of men, who had no higher ambition, could enjoy the distinction of class-leaders. It did not require a man to go to college and take orders to become a preacher. Thomas Maxwell with Wesley, and Cowel Harris with Whitefield, led the way from the plane of the laity into the pulpits of methodism, and have been followed by tens of thousands who have become able if notlearned, and eloquent if not Greek-imbued, preachers. A new, and vast, and animating field was thus opened to native talent, sufficient of itself to create an ardent attachment in the hearts of the multitude to the new system. Wesley divided the whole country into districts, into which he sent one or more well-endowed preachers, who were called circuit preachers, or round preachers, from their going their rounds in their particular circuits. Under the ministry of these sprung up volunteer preachers, who first led prayer- meetings, and then ascended to the pulpit in the absence of the circuit preachers, and most of them - mere workmen, or labourers as they were, weavers, miners, smiths, butchers, potters, shepherds - soon discovered unexpected talents, and edifying their own local and often remote or obscure little auditories, became styled local preachers. Out of these local preachers ever and anon grew men of large minds and fertilising eloquence, who became the burning and shining lights of the whole firmament of methodism. Such was the origin of that great body of Methodists, now divided in various sections, which has done so much for the people, before utterly left to a dreary heathendom, and, by collateral action, so much for the general life of religion, all over the Anglo-Saxon world.

Whitefield and Wesley soon separated into distinct fields of labour, as was inevitable, from Whitefield embracing Calvinism and Wesley Arminianism. Whitefield became popular amongst the aristocracy, from the Countess of Huntingdon becoming one of his followers, and, at the same time, his great patron. Whitefield, like the Wesleys, made repeated tours in America, and visited all the British possessions there. When in England, he generally made an annual tour in it, extending his labours to Scotland and several times to Ireland. On one of his voyages to America he made some stay at Lisbon. Everywhere he astonished his hearers by his vivid eloquence; and Benjamin Franklin relates a singular triumph of Whitefield over his prejudices and his pocket. He died at Newbury Port, near Boston, United States. If Whitefield did not found so numerous a body as Wesley, he yet left a powerful impression on his age; and we still trace his steps, by little bodies of Calvinistic methodists, in various quarters of the kingdom, especially in Wales.

In Scotland the revolution of 1688 completely prostrated episcopalianism as the state church, and restored presbyterianism. The bishops to the last clung to James II., who had forced them on Scotland, and refused to acquiesce in the new settlement, fondly hoping that James would come back again. William therefore left the Scots to follow their predilections, and again re-established presbyterian ism; and, indeed, before William had shown his bias, the people, on the fall of James, had simultaneously, on Christmas day, stripped, in the southern counties, two hundred clergymen of their canonical attire, and driven them out of their churches. In a few weeks this example had been followed over the greater part of Scotland. On the 11th of April, 1689, an act was passed by the Scottish convention, conferring the crown on William and Mary, and abolishing the episcopal church in favour of the presbyterian. In the coronation oath the Scotch, with their usual zeal against heretics, introduced a clause, making the king swear to extirpate them; but William stopped, and declared that he could not be a persecutor; and the Scottish commissioners were obliged to say that the oath did not literally require that, on which William observed that he took the oath only in that sense. When the convention was converted into a parliament, this act was formally renewed; and on the 25th of April an act was passed, authorising that such presbyterian ministers still living as were expelled in 1661, should return, and take quiet possession of their manses and pulpits. On the 7th of June, by another act, all acts passed in favour of the episcopal church were abolished, the Westminster Confession was adopted as the confession of faith of the Scottish church, and its government was recognised alike by kirk-sessions, presbyteries, provincial synods, and general assemblies. The restored presbyterian ministers, only sixty in number, were authorised to fill the rest of the vacant livings; and such episcopal ministers as had not been already found out were soon chased thence by the eager and stern aspirants to their places.

The next and most difficult thing was to satisfy all parties by the mode in which ministers should in future be chosen. There was the difficulty of deciding betwixt the noblemen and great landholders, who, under the late system, were the lay patrons; and the mass of the people were to choose their own ministers, u according to the warrant of God's Word." A compromise was eventually made. By an act of July 19th, the candidate for a living was to be first selected by the heritors (landed proprietors) and elders; but the congregation might accept or reject him, as they thought best. If rejected, the case was then referred to the presbytery, who might still confirm the appointment, if they thought the objections to him insufficient. The people's share in the choice of a minister amounted merely to a veto on the choice of the heritors and elders, which the presbytery could set aside. If the heritors and elders thought proper to purchase the right of the original lay patron, they were bound to pay him six hundred merks - thirty-three pounds sterling. Under queen Anne, as in England, the episcopalians raised their heads, and endeavoured to disturb the order of things in Scotland. They succeeded so far that, in 1712, they procured an act, setting aside this mode of choosing ministers and restored the right of the lay patrons; but by what was called the jus devolutum, if a patron neglected for six months to fill up a vacant charge, the presbytery should fill it up. In 1732 the general assembly enacted that in all cases in which the patron had not filled the vacancy within the proper time, the heritors and elders, as before the act of 1712, should select the candidate, the ultimate appointment still belonging to the presbytery. This, however, led to a schism. The Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, of Stirling, declaring that the right of appointment of ministers belonged to the people alone, and had nothing to do with heritors or tenure of land, objected to an act of Assembly of 1732. Being joined by his brother, Ralph Erskine, of Dunfermline, and others, the General Assembly at length, in 1740, expelled the objectors from the church, and the expelled formed themselves into what they called "the Associated Presbytery," and in 1744 they took the name of "the Associated Synod," including the three presbyteries of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dunfermline, numbering sixteen congregations more than, they could find ministers for, but having a theological class, said to contain more theological students than at any of the Scotch universities, except that of Edinburgh. In 1747, however, a division took place in this body, on account of the oath which all burgesses were required to take in some of the Scotch corporations, declaring their hearty and entire agreement with the religion as by law established. This the members of the Secession, as it was called, had taken; but now many objected, and separated from the main body on that account, the party willing to take the oath being now styled Burghers, the objecting party being styled Anti- Burghers. Many of the Anti-Burghers afterwards reunited with the Burghers, and the body was then styled the "United Associate Synod;" but the parties of Burghers and Anti- Burghers have continued till the agitation of the Free-Kirk question in our time, when a great number of the Original Burgher Synod have returned into the bosom of the establishment. Besides these sects, or sections - for they all held the same religious opinions - there branched off, in 1730, a sect of independents called "Glassites," from the Rev. John Glass, the originator of the movement. In 1752 another secession took place at the instigation of the Rev. Thomas Gillespie, who was afterwards joined by the Rev. Thomas Boston. Their followers adopted the name of "the Relief Synod," who allow a greater freedom of communion than any other sect in Scotland; and, next to the Associate Synod, are the most numerous of the dissenters of Scotland. There is also a remnant of the old Cameronians, styling themselves "the Reformed Presbyterian Church," who have more than thirty congregations, chiefly in the southern counties, and an equally numerous body in the north of Ireland. They are also frequently called "Macmillanites," from Mr. Macmillan, one of their most distinguished preachers. The Free-Kirk movement is of our time, and requires no notice here.

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