AND SOLD BY
HATCHARD & SON, PICCADILLY;
KNIBB, COLCHESTER; & ARTHY, ROCHFORD.
My Dear Friends,---
Not many weeks since, the Wesleyan Superintendent of this district, in alluding, as you will remember, to my former Address to you, intimated in his sermon that the Tract "was to be answered from head--quarters." He, of course, disapproved of it; but, as I am informed, expressed such disapproval in a very kind and courteous manner; which he also repeated to me in a similar tone in an interview which I had with him. The answer has appeared in the first number of the "Wesleyan Tracts for the Times," and has, no doubt, been heard, or read, by the greater number of you. Another Tract has also been put forth in Kent, by a Wesleyan Minister, professing to be an answer to mine; but written in a tone so coarse and vulgar, that as it can do no harm beyond that which it inflicts upon the writer, I shall take no further notice of it, than by stating that I shall meet the principal points on which he touches, in replying to those which I find as forcibly stated, though in [3/4] a tone the very reverse of his, in the calm and temperate "Wesleyan Tract for the Times."
The two main points in my "Address," which are objected to by the writer of this tract, and by other Wesleyan ministers who have communicated to me their opinions, are my statements, 1st, with regard to Mr. Wesley's views of the Apostolical Succession, and the Threefold Order of Ministers; and, 2ndly, as to the danger of the Wesleyan Methodists "eventually falling away into Socinianism." We will, therefore, if you please, consider these points in a quiet and friendly manner.
I had quoted from Mr. Wesley's works several passages to this effect: "We believe that it would not be right for us to administer either Baptism or the Lord's Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops whom we apprehend to be in succession from the Apostles;" and "We believe that the threefold Order of Ministers is not only authorized by Apostolic institution, but also by the written Word." I am told, in reply, that "Mr. Wesley's opinions underwent an entire change" on these points; that "the Threefold Order of Ministers, and the lineal Succession from the Apostles, he declares to be groundless notions." [Wesleyan Tract for the Times, No. 1, p. 6.] And that, in a letter written in the year 1784, he says, "Lord King's account of the Primitive Church convinced me many years ago that Bishops and Presbyters are the same order, and consequently have the same right to ordain." [Ibid. p. 7.] [4/5] Now I am ready to admit, with the writer of the Tract, that the remarkable circumstance to which he alludes (p. 7), that "Lord King's book was answered, and with so much success, that he himself was convinced of his error, and espoused the opinion he had opposed," does not affect the matter immediately in hand, as to what were Mr. Wesley's real opinions; but it is a circumstance which may well weigh with you, when you bear in mind that the person who is said to have convinced Mr. Wesley that the uninterrupted succession was "a fable," was afterwards convinced himself that it was a truth. And surely, if there be but a shadow of a doubt upon a point of such vital importance, it must be the part of a wise and humble Christian, and is surely the safest course, to believe what the whole Church uninterruptedly believed from the days of the Apostles, for 1500 years, rather than the new and contrary notion which Dissenters of yesterday have started for the purpose of justifying their dissent. "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken." However, let us turn to the matter immediately in hand.
It is admitted by all, that Mr. Wesley did hold the opinions on the Apostolical Succession and the Threefold Order of the ministry which I have [5/6] attributed to him, and that "the vehement prejudice of his education made him very loath to alter those opinions; but it is said, that convinced by the reasoning in Lord King's work, he succeeded in overcoming such prejudice." Now, when a man wishes a thing to be true, it is proverbial that he does not find much difficulty in believing it; but if such belief be accompanied by a very decided professed change of opinion, some little doubt of its sincerity will force itself upon us. And this doubt is very much increased, if his subsequent conduct and modes of proceeding appear to be more in accordance with the views he entertained before his professed change, than with those which he expressed himself as afterwards holding. Let us see if these remarks will in any way apply to Mr. Wesley.
It cannot be denied that his own irregular preaching led to a step on the part of others, which he, at first, most strenuously opposed, namely, that of laymen preaching. He at length, however, was induced to sanction it. But his admission of laymen, as preachers, arose solely from the force of the circumstances in which he had placed himself. He could not obtain sufficient clerical assistants; such as at that time he believed to be alone duly authorized and commissioned to preach the Gospel. Events progressed, the Methodists increased, and most cruelly and unwisely were they treated by many of the clergy, magistrates, and others, who ought to have known better. Wesley could not obtain from the Bishops ordination for his [6/7] lay--teachers, as they were not considered in all respects properly qualified. With the view, no doubt, of removing this obstacle, it is related that he once applied to a certain Greek Bishop for consecration for himself, that he might thus be qualified, as a Bishop, to ordain. But this was not effected. When, then, his inability to obtain ordination for his lay preachers brought him into a strait and difficulty, was not his mind, in spite of early prejudice, just in a state to be convinced by the reasoning of Lord King's book? Wesley was himself a Presbyter of the Church of England, and Lord King endeavoured to prove that Bishops and Presbyters were the same Order, and, consequently, have the same right and power to ordain. Wesley's mind was, we see, quite prepared to wish this to be true, --it was the very thing he wanted. Without, then, attributing to him anything worse than melancholy self--deception, we are not surprised at finding him saying, that he "was ready to believe" that Lord King's was "a fair and impartial draught." You will perceive, my friends, that the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession, which he then believed to be primitive and Scriptural, stood in the way of the ordination of his lay--preachers. He reads Lord King's book, and forthwith this Scriptural doctrine is declared to be "a fable;" and he rises from the perusal of it vested, in his own imagination, with the full powers of a BISHOP!
Now, if his subsequent conduct and modes of proceeding had been all in strict accordance with a [7/8] the conviction which he then professed to have derived, that Bishop and Presbyter were the same Order, and, consequently, that the Threefold Order of Ministers was as much "a fable" as he declared the Apostolical Succession to be, no one could, I think, have questioned his complete success in overcoming "the vehement prejudice of his education;" but I very sincerely crave forgiveness of his followers, if I pain them by saying that his modes of proceeding in after--life do strongly corroborate the impression, that he was self--deceived in imagining that he had really overcome this early "prejudice." But if they are unwilling to admit this, I fear I must call upon them to admit something which will be still less pleasing to them, namely, that his opinions had changed again, and had reverted very nearly, if not quite, to those which he entertained before reading the work of Lord King.
Mr. Wesley was, as I before said, a duly ordained Presbyter of the Church of England, and so was a certain Dr. Coke, who had become an active and zealous member of the Wesleyan connection. They were, therefore, both of the same order in the ministry. If Wesley had the power of ordaining because he was a Presbyter, so had Dr. Coke; but Wesley does not seem to have thought so: for when he sent him out to America, in the year 1784, he considered it necessary, by a solemn form or letters of ordination, to consecrate him as "Superintendent, to preside over the flock of Christ" in that country. It is most strange, that [8/9] the absurdity of such a proceeding should not have struck the mind of John Wesley: its absurdity, I mean, upon Mr. Wesley's own principles, as I will proceed to show. For now we come to a circumstance, the strangest and most unaccountable of all, if the Threefold Order of the Ministry, inseparably interwoven with the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession, were really believed by him to be "a fable,"--Bishop and Presbyter he had declared to be the same Order. Now the word "Bishop "means an "overseer," and another word for "overseer" is "superintendent." The word "Presbyter," of which the word "Priest" is only an abbreviation, means an "elder." And will it be believed, that when Dr. Coke reaches America, and lays before the American Wesleyan Conference, the form of Church government, as arranged by Mr. Wesley, that the notion of Bishop and Presbyter being the same Order is laid aside, and the Threefold Order of Wesleyan Ministers was thenceforth to consist of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon, only that they were to be called "Superintendents, Elders, and Deacons;" the "Deacons" to be ordained, not by a Presbyter, or "Elder," but by a "Superintendent," and the Presbyters, or "Elders," by the imposition of hands of a "Superintendent," and the "Elders" present. [See the Rubric preceding the words of ordination, in the Form for Ordering Priests, in the Prayer Book,--"When this Prayer is done, the Bishop with the Priests present shall lay their hands severally upon the head of every one that receiveth the Order of Priesthood."] In the face of a scheme of Church--government such as this, can it be said Mr. Wesley believed that Bishop [9/10] and Presbyter were the same Order, possessing equally the power to ordain? The Presbyterians, though in grievous error, are yet consistent in their error; for they reject the Apostolical Succession, and therefore, of course, reject Bishops. It is only an attempt to throw dust in people's eyes, to reserve the Order, only calling it by another name of the very same meaning. And this attempt has been most successful in blinding them, if it can prevent Wesleyans from asking themselves this very natural question, "How can the 'less' make the 'greater?' "If Mr. Wesley was only a Presbyter, or elder, how could he, as in the case of Dr. Coke, make a "superintendent?" For by his own plan of Wesleyan Church--government the "superintendent" was the person authorized to make an "elder."
What, then, were Mr. Wesley's first and last opinions? His first views are, "We believe that the Threefold Order of Ministers" (namely, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons) "is not only authorized by Apostolic institution, but also by the written Word." If Lord King convinced him that Bishop and Presbyter were the same Order, then the Order of Ministers would be only twofold. What are his last views, as shown in his own plan of Church--government for America? not twofold, but threefold; namely, Superintendents (that is, Bishops), [10/11] Elders (that is, Presbyters, or priests), and Deacons. Again, his first views were, as the writer of the Wesleyan Tract admits, that none but Bishops had authority or power to ordain. If Lord King convinced him that Bishops and Presbyters were the same Order, and, consequently, have the same right to ordain, how are we to account for his last opinions, as expressed in the scheme of American Church--government, that the deacons were to be ordained, not by an Elder, or Presbyter, but by a Superintendent, or Bishop; and the elders to be ordained, not by a Presbyter, but by a Superintendent and the elders present? If any will say, Mr. Wesley thought the plan of Church--government a good one, and, therefore, he adopted it; I will say, rather, he knew the plan to be a Scriptural one, and, therefore, he reverted to it. [See p. 2]
Surely all this is sufficient to show most clearly, that although he saw not how to reconcile it with the position he had taken up, he could not shake off his impression of the Scriptural character of the Threefold Order of Ministers, nor his inward belief of the Apostolical lineal succession. He took a step indeed, which, as far as the Wesleyans in America are concerned, has snapped the chain; but it is clear, from the circumstances attending this step, that before he took it he "demurred," while the evident "feeling that it required some justification to himself, as well as to the world," [Southey's Life of Wesley, 2nd edit, vol. ii. p. 437.] [11/12 ] betrayed the weakness of that conviction of which he spoke, that Bishop and Presbyter were the same Order.
But how do you think the writer of the "Wesleyan Tract for the Times" gets rid of all difficulties arising from Mr. Wesley's irregularities and inconsistencies? By asserting a principle, which, if admitted to be just, will prevent us from ever finding fault with any schemes which the wildest enthusiast may adopt. He says that Mr. Wesley proceeded upon one great leading principle, which was to this effect, "to do all the good he possibly could;" and I do most sincerely believe that this was his object, aim, and leading principle. But the tract writer justifies his disobedience to the laws of his spiritual rulers, by pleading "necessity" for such disobedience, and saying, "necessity has no laws," and that the change in his conduct, and departure from what most persons would regard as principles, is in his case only to be considered as a change in his plans! This is indeed overthrowing principles by wholesale; call principles plans, and there will be no difficulty in departing from them with a change of circumstances. Every true Christian will have as his leading principle, "to do all the good in his power," but he will best accomplish this by adhering to the principles of obedience and order; if these principles stand in the way of what he calls doing good, and he throws them aside, "he does evil that good may come." Can he justify himself by pleading that he only alters his plans? Take [12/13] one of the instances mentioned by the tract writer, (p. 10.) "He (Mr. Wesley) began upon the plan of seeking the help of the Clergy only." Plan? It was his principle, that none but the Clergy were authorized to preach; and when "he could not find Clergymen to assist him," he threw aside this principle and "accepted the help of laymen." And this the tract writer calls changing his plan! But this writer is not content with even such a method of justifying Mr. Wesley's irregularities, but would yet more effectually close the door, yea, bolt and bar it, against fault being found with any thing which he might have done, by saying, that "the case of Mr. Wesley must not be tried by ordinary rules!" that is, let a man start with the principle of "doing all the good in his power," if in his career he breaks through other principles, and if, in consequence, the good he does is accompanied with much evil, yea, even to the producing schisms and divisions in the Church of Christ, if he originates an irregular movement leading, with a mixture of much good, to a very great and appalling evil, which he himself cannot control, we are forbidden to "judge him by ordinary rules." I cannot too strongly protest against these most mischievous and most dangerous positions of the writer of this tract, or too carefully guard you against admitting them even for a moment.
The second point which I had proposed to consider in this address, namely, "the danger of Wesleyans eventually falling into Socinianism," must form [13/14] the subject of another tract, as, in considering it, it will give me the opportunity for making some remarks upon the second number of the Tracts for the Times, (a very weak production by the way,) which treats of Schism, and which has just made its appearance. I will therefore close this present address with a few observations upon the subject of the Apostolical Succession itself.
Just before our Lord left the world, when He authorized His Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,'' He added these remarkable words, "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." These words were spoken to the eleven Apostles, not to all who then believed on His name. As, however, the Apostles were not to continue on earth until the end of the world, it is clear that our Saviour intended this promise to extend to all those whom they should ordain and send, even as He had ordained and sent them, and then to such as these others should send, and so on "to the end of the world," in one continuous succession. The Scripture affords us proof of the Apostles exercising their power of ordaining, and of their delegating it to others; how also as they journeyed from country to country they founded branches of the Church, and left behind them those who might govern them, whom also they empowered to ordain others for the work of the ministry. St. Paul in his first Epistle to Timothy, and first chapter, states his reason for [14/15] leaving Timothy at Ephesus, that he might exercise authority over the other teachers or ministers there. In the third chapter, he gives him directions as to the character and qualifications of the persons whom he should admit into the different offices of the ministry. In the fifth chapter, he yet further shows us, how the office which Timothy held was superior in authority and jurisdiction to that of the ordinary Presbyters, inasmuch as he instructs him how he should act, when any charge should be preferred before him against any of the Presbyters. [1 Tim. v. 19, 20, 21.] This does not look like bishop and presbyter being the same order. Again, the direction, "Lay hands suddenly on no man," shews us, that the power to ordain was vested in the same person who had authority to govern, and rebuke, and punish. The same blessed Apostle, in writing to Titus, states these as the objects for which he had left him in the Island of Crete, "that he should set in order the things that were wanting, and that he should ordain Elders (Presbyters) in every city." [Titus i. 5.] Here we find precisely that which is vested in the bishops now; authority to govern the Church intrusted to them, and power to ordain ministers. And in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, we find the Saviour addressing Himself, not to many in each Church, but to one who evidently possessed the authority and power to govern His particular Church, (in one of which at least, that of Ephesus, we know that there were [15/16] many "elders," and whom He designates by the peculiar title of "the Angel." [See Acts xx. 17.]
But in these latter days of the Christian Church, we are told that it is not to be inferred that this is the true state of the case, because it is said that there are other passages in these and other epistles of this Apostle, which show that "Bishop" and "Presbyter" were the same order, and that therefore, a Presbyter has as much power to ordain as a Bishop. Thus arises a difference of opinion as to the meaning of Scripture; but as truth is one, so the teaching of Scripture was intended to convey to us the one meaning of God's mind in His Revelation. But at this distance of time, when all the writers of Scripture have been dead for centuries, how are we to ascertain their meaning? The New Testament is the last will or testament of God's Son, written by His Apostles and servants. How can we best ascertain the meaning of any disputed passage in this will? Why, my friends, much in the same way in which we should endeavour to ascertain the meaning of a disputed passage in the last will or testament of any deceased person now; any information which we could obtain from his former intimate friends or acquaintances upon the matter alluded to, would serve to throw light upon the subject; and if all his friends or acquaintances to whom reference should be made, agreed exactly in stating what they had heard the deceased [16/17] person state as his wish and intention, we surely should not hesitate in determining the interpretation of the disputed passage, according to the evidence of such witnesses. As for instance, a certain man possessed of a fair property had four sons; two of them were settled in different parts of India, one in America, while the fourth remained in England. Upon the father's death, his two executors had some doubts concerning the meaning of a portion of his will; the wording seemed doubtful, and they differed as to the meaning of it, but both were alike anxious to follow out the testator's real wishes. In order to arrive at the knowledge of these, they consulted the son who was in England, with the view of ascertaining, whether, before his death, the testator had ever expressed his wishes upon the subject mentioned in the will. For the same purpose they resolved also to write to each of the other sons who were abroad. In due time they received a reply from each, and these replies removed all doubt from the minds of the executors as to what was the true meaning of the disputed passage. For the four brothers, though so separated from each other that they could not have communicated together, one and all agreed in stating what they had heard their father in his life--time express as his wish and intention. It was this perfect agreement between the brothers which at once convinced the executors as to the true meaning and intent of the apparently doubtful words. And surely no evidence could be more satisfactory.
 Now we have evidence of the very same nature, and only stronger because it is given by a greater number of witnesses, as to the real meaning of the words "Bishop" and "Presbyter." In the very earliest accounts which we have of those Churches which were planted in different parts of the world by the Apostles, or by their companions or disciples, we find these three orders of ministers, "Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.'' Into whatever part of the world we look, at the time when the blessed Apostles were removed by death, we find in every Church Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Ignatius, who was a friend of the Apostle St. John, and was ordained by St. Peter, writes to this effect, "without Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, there is no Church." Following up the history of Christianity through all its periods of persecution, of triumph, or of corruption, for full 1500 years, we find, that whatever other corruptions or errors might have prevailed, none presumed to act as the ministers of Christ, or to administer His holy Sacraments, who had not received ordination by the imposition of the hands of a Bishop. Was it then likely, was it in any degree probable, that the first person who, after the lapse of 1500 years, ventured to call himself a minister without having been ordained by a Bishop was really right, and that the whole Christian Church, not the Roman Church only, but that the whole Christian Church throughout the world from the days of the Apostles, and for 1500 years after, had been entirely wrong and mistaken, and [18/19] had thus from the very beginning been ignorant of the real meaning of the words of Scripture concerning the Christian ministry? No man in his senses can for one moment think so: the evidence is too clear, the testimony too unanimous as to the meaning of Scripture. And if the first person who acted thus presumptuously were wrong, similar conduct on the part of five hundred, or five thousand, or fifty thousand, could not alter its character, so as to make that right which was wrong; if that man were not a Bishop, he could not make another man a minister, and none, therefore, whom he pretended to ordain could receive authority from him to preach or administer the Sacraments, because he himself had received no power to give such authority.
Now apply this to the first founder of Wesleyan Methodism. The Rev. John Wesley, when ordained, received authority to preach and administer the Sacraments, but he received no power to ordain. He could therefore no more give authority to another man to act as a minister, than a magistrate could give another person authority to act as a magistrate; and if the founder of your sect had no power to ordain, that is, to give authority to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, how utterly destitute of such authority must those be now, who tracing the origin of their society from him, presume to act as though they were authorized by God to administer His Holy Sacraments. If you say that John Wesley's interpretation of Scripture [19/20] is right, then, remember, you in effect assert, that the whole Christian Church was in error for 1500 years from the Apostles' days. But if the whole Christian Church was right, then John Wesley is wrong, and your ministers have no authority. Nay, I must go yet further and say, that by separating from the Church as you now do, you must admit that as Wesleyans you do not form a part of the Christian Church, for Mr. Wesley himself called the body he formed not the Church, but only "Societies,''' and those, Societies in the Church; to keep his societies in the Church he laboured night and day to the last hour of his life; and now that he is gone, you have taken your "societies" out of the Church, and so made his labour in vain. Will you therefore permit me to ask, WHEN and HOW the Wesleyan Methodists first became a Christian Church?