[From Grindrod's Compendium, 1842]
LAW is a rule of action, and has respect to man as a responsible and social being. That man is an accountable creature, may be fairly inferred from the constitution of his intellectual and moral nature, and from the relation which he bears to the omniscient Judge of human conduct. He is rational, and therefore capable of distinguishing good from evil: without this faculty, no creature is deserving either praise or blame, reward or punishment. He is a free agent: were his actions the result of an uncontrollable necessity, he would not be personally responsible for them; but they must be attributed to the power which placed him under that necessity, as justly as the movements of a machine are ascribed to the hand which guides and propels it. Man is a created and dependent being: had he no superior, he would be under no responsibility. There is only one Being who is absolutely irresponsible: it is " He who sitteth in the heavens, and giveth not account of his matters." To man, however, He has furnished a law, by which he may, in all cases, decide between right and wrong. " Where there is no law, there is no transgression." There must be a rule of good and evil, or there is no ground for reward or punishment. Mankind, in general, have either the external and written law of God, or the inward law of conscience: 'For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work- of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." Nor is it less obvious, that man is a social being. His language and intelligence, his wants and weaknesses, his hopes and fears, his instincts and sympathies,-all characterize him as a creature formed for society; he cannot live alone, and he has not the courage to attempt it. There never was a period in the history of our species, when human society did not exist in one form or another: in the primitive ages, its form was patriarchal; mankind dwelt together in separate families or tribes, subject to the paternal rule of their venerable sire, and pursuing those pastoral occupations which were necessary for the supply of their immediate wants; and as they grew and multiplied, this original form was superseded by those imperial governments which have always been considered as better adapted to the state of general and enlarged society.
These views of the nature and condition of man naturally suggest the division of law into two essential parts: the first is that which defines makes duty to God, as the moral Governor of the world; and the second, that by which 'his conduct is to be guided in his intercourse with his fellow-man. In the revealed law, which was written by the finger of Jehovah 'himself, this *division is observed. This is the basis of all law; and whilst it teaches us our duty to God, it embodies the original principles of all wise and beneficial human legislation. The inspired Scriptures are the only sure and infallible guide in the formation of law, whether national or international, civil or ecclesiastical; and no community will ever be permanently prosperous or happy, which does not recognise the law of God as supreme.
The establishment of law, in all its degrees, from that which produces the least shade of difference in the natural condition of mankind, to that which carries society to the highest point of refinement, involves the concession of some rights, for the attainment of higher advantages. The law which guards our lives from the hand of violence, and our property from fraud and plunder, requires us to be honest, upright, and kind in our dealings with others: the community which secures the rights of the individual, demands from him, in return, obedience to its laws, and support of its government; without which, the protection of men's mutual rights would be impossible. The untutored savage, who at his pleasure roams through the desert and the forest, claiming, as his royal domain, every barren waste on which, for a time, he fixes his migratory tent, relinquishes his native freedom, and subjects himself to other law than that of his own will, and the strength of his arm, that he may exchange the miseries of his barbarian state, for the comforts and blessings of civilized life: and in the most improved state of general society, its members are called to concede some acknowledged rights, and submit to some new restraints, in order to attain the exalted privileges of fellowship with the church of God, The rules which govern that holy community disallow and condemn many things which the best human laws tolerate. This fact, which needs no argument to sustain it,, is often overlooked by members, of Christian churches. Hence, in seasons of excitement and agitation, when, for the preservation of peace and good order, it becomes expedient to restrain turbulent and factious men in their career of strife and division, the cry of oppression and tyranny is raised against their spiritual rulers. "You assume to deprive us of our rights as Britons: by what authority do you prohibit us from holding any meetings we please to convene, without your presence, discussing any subjects, issuing addresses to any parties whom we wish to interest in our cause? These are rights which are secured to us by the constitution of the realm; and who shall dare to abridge our liberties m Englishmen?." It is true, these are your birthrights as. British subjects ; but are they yours in your distinctive capacity., as members of any denomination of Christians ? You may be atheists 1]EL your crowd, and profligates in your practice, without rendering yourselves obnoxious to the laws of your country. You may be sportsmen, gamblers, dissipated sensualists, without forfeiting your characters as good citizens ; and to require you to renounce these, is to interfere with your national liberties. But these, and many similar rights, you abandon, when you become members of any scripturally constituted church. You then place yourselves under a new moral code; and the question (which, it is presumed, you have previously settled) is not 'Does this code agree, in all points, with the laws of your country and require nothing more than they enjoin?' but, is, it in agreement with the laws of Jesus Christ ? In his church you have no right to do any thing which would interrupt its peace, stain its purity, subvert its order, or retard its progress. ,
The ecclesiastical constitution of Wesleyan Methodism has been proved, by many able writers of our own, to be in perfect agreement with the platform of a Christian church, as laid down in the New Testament. There is not a religious denomination in Christendom, whose rise and progress more strikingly resemble the. history of primitive Christianity than our own., We cannot read the Journals of our fathers,, without feeling ourselves insensibly carried back to the ages when the first heralds of the cross traversed the regions of Judea, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, preaching salvation by Jesus Christ, and turning multitudes from Satan to God. We are not a secession from another community, but a people collected from the world, which lieth in the wicked one, and converted to God by the labours of holy and apostolic men, What ministry is more pure that of the primitive church than that which instrumentary raised us into being, and which still exists among us? Where are personal conversion to God, suitable. gifts. and graces, a divine and providential call, more strongly insisted upon as indispensable qualifications for the sacred office ? In what section of the Christian church are purity of morals, holiness of life, zeal and diligence in preaching and pastoral duties, more imperatively demanded, or more generally exemplified, than they are in the Wesleyan Connexion? And what people have: so secure a guarantee for the continued soundness of their doctrines, and the purity of the lives of their Ministers, as that which is found in the legal and disciplinary guards which our ceguoiny provides? Whatever truth there may be in the insinuation, that the Ministers of our Connexion exercise a strict rule over the members of the society, it is certain that we exercise one more strict and severe over the members of our own fraternity. Twice in the year our Christian and ministerial characters are subjected to official investigation and scrutiny; and a renewed profession of our faith in the great doctrines of the Gospel, as taught amongst us, is required; and no heresy, no act of immorality, is tolerated in any instance. As to our success in turning men from a sinful course of, life, to the enjoyment and practice of true religion, it is not boasting to say, we are honoured of God equally with the most useful of our contemporaries. To the fruit, of our labours, the great community, now amounting to half a million of people, gathered out of the world, and generally walking in the fear of the - Lord, and in the comfort. of the Holy Ghost, we may appeal, as our epistles in Christ Jesus, known and read of all men. For, Christian morality; dutiful loyalty, especially in seasons of political agitation; for the promotion of education at home, and the propagation of the Gospel abroad; for the maintenance of humane and charitable institutions; and the exercise of a catholic spirit towards those who differ from them; we need not fear a comparison of them with any class of their fellow-citizens or Christian brethren. Our creed is derived from the pure fountain of, revealed truth ; the standards to which we subscribe, 11 teach- nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which may be concluded and proved by the Scripture.'-' We em. brace the orthodox faith taught by Jesus Christ and his Apostles, and held by the faithful in all ages; we devoutly revere and constantly observe the sacraments and ordinances which our Lord has appointed in his church,, and humbly endeavour "to maintain and set forwards, as much as lieth in us, quietness, , peace, and love among all Christian people."
In our form of church government we are a Scripture presbytery, resembling, to a great degree., the sta established Church of Scotland,-the model of which was taken from the platform laid down by the Genevan Reformer. Their courts and ours are the same in their number and order, and in the relation in which they stand to each other; and they are similar in their composition and functions. The chief difference between them and us consists in the superior degree of authority, as to spiritual matters, with which our system intrusts the ministry. In Scotland, the Clergyman presides over all their ecclesiastical Courts; but it is only as Moderator of their debates; and all matters of discipline, in the particular church of which he is the Pastor, are decided by a majority of votes, in which he can be no party, excepting when the members of the session are equally divided; in which case he has the casting voice. In our Circuit Courts the Minister presides, not as a mere Chairman, but as the Christian Pastor: he is one party, and the lay-officers are an other ; and between them there is a nice and equitable balance of power, operating as a safe-guard against abuse on either side. It is the province of the Minister to admit members into our communion; but he cannot do this without the recommendation of a Class-Leader, with whom the candidate must have met on trial two months; and when an appeal is made to a Leaders'-Meeting, against admission, in any particular case, the Meeting has the right of exercising a veto.* The power of excommunication is with the Minister; but he can in no case exercise it, until the accused party has ' been found guilty of immorality or of a breach of our conventional laws, by the verdict of a Leaders' Meeting. To appoint to the offices of Society and Circuit Stewards, Local Preachers, and Class Leaders, is the prerogative of the Minister; but he cannot do this without the consent of the different Meetings to which they respectively belong; the nomination being vested in him, and the rejection or acceptance. resting with the Meeting. The same principle applies to the introduction of persons into our ministry: without the approval of a Quarterly Meeting, no Preacher can be received on trial with the Conference. On the other hand, none of these Meetings can oblige the Superintendent to admit to membership, or induct into office, any person, of whose unfitness or incompetency he is conscientiously persuaded. This just and even balance of power has been established amongst us for a long series of years : its practical working is generally found very beneficial ; and attempts to disturb it, whenever they are made, cannot but be regarded as unwise and criminal: it becomes both parties to respect each others' rights, and studiously to avoid intrenching upon them.
To bring our discipline to its present state of maturity, has required the application of great talents and much practical wisdom, through the period of an entire century. Our constitution has been framed by slow degrees; from the beginning, our legislators have moved with great caution and prudence;. and have only enacted laws as exigent circumstances have rendered them necessary; and they have subsequently modified, amended, or superseded them, according to the results of their operation. During the life-time of Mr. Wesley, his will was law to the whole Connexion; and, with few exceptions, all parties implicitly confided in his eminent wisdom, his unquestionable integrity, and his superior piety. He, however, in conjunction with the annual Conference, over which he presided, from time to time, passed and published Rules for the government of the societies under his care; and to these he required their strict obedience. In the year 1763 the disciplinary relations of former Conferences were collected and published; twenty-six years after that date, and within two years of his decease, Mr. Wesley revised and enlarged that publication, and issued a pamphlet, containing the substance of all the Minutes on discipline which had been adopted, from the first Conference, in 1744. This official document was entitled, " Minutes of several Conversations between the Rev. John Wesley, M. A., and others; " and was given to every Preacher upon his admission into full connexion, inscribed as follows: "As long as you freely consent to, and earnestly endeavour to walk by, these rules, we shall rejoice to acknowlede you as a fellow labourer." This instrument contained an excellent form of discipline, for the government of the Preachers and the societies intrusted to their care; but standing alone, it did not provide for the permanent existence of the Connexion : something more was felt to be necessary to meet the exigences of the Connexion, in case of the demise of its Founder.
At a somewhat early period " it was agreed," says Mr. Wesley, "that, after the decease of my brother and me, the Preachers should be stationed by the Conference. But ere long a question arose, What does that term mean? Who are. the Conference? It appeared difficult to define the term. And -the year before last, (1783,) all our brethren who were met at Bristol, desired me to fix the determinate meaning of the word. Hitherto, it had meant (not the whole body of Travelling Preachers, it never bore that meaning at all; but) those persons whom I invited yearly to confer with me. But to this there was a palpable objection,-Such a Conference would have no being after my death. And what other definition of it to give I knew not; at least I. knew none that would stand good in law. I consulted a skilful and honest Attorney, and he consulted an eminent Counsellor, who answered, 'There is, no way of doing this but by naming a determinate number of persons., The Deed which names these must be enrolled in Chancery. Then it will stand good in law.'
"My first thought," continues Mr. Wesley, "was to name a very few, suppose ten or twelve persons. Count Zinzendorf named only six who were to preside over the community after his decease. But on second thoughts, I believed there would be more safety in a greater number of counsellors, and therefore named a hundred, as many as I judged could meet without too great an expense, and without leaving any Circuit naked of Preachers while the Conference met. In naming these Preachers, as I had no adviser, so I had no respect of persons; but simply set down those that, according to the best of my judgment, were most proper. But I am not infallible. I might mistake, and think better of some of them than they deserved. However, I did my abelst .. and if I did wrong, it was not the error of my will, but of my judgment.
"This was the rise, and this the nature, of that famous Deed of Declaration, that vile, wicked Deed, concerning which you have heard such an outcry! And now can any one tell me how to mend it, or how it could have been made better? ' O yes. You might have inserted two hundred as well as one hundred Preachers.' No; for then the expense of meeting would have been double, and all the Circuits would have been without Preachers. 'But you might have named other Preachers instead of these.' True, if I had thought as well of them as they did of themselves. But I did not. Therefore I could do no otherwise than I did, without sinning against God and my own conscience. But what need was there for any Deed at all?' There was the utmost need of it. Without some authentic Deed, fixing the meaning of the term, the moment I died the Conference had been nothing. Therefore any of the proprietors of the land on which our preaching houses were built, might have seized them for their own use; and there would have been none to hinder them; for the Conference would have been nobody, a mere empty name. "You see, then, in all the pains I have taken about this absolutely-necessary Deed, I have been labouring, not for myself, (I have no interest therein,) but for the whole body of Methodists; in order to :fix them upon such a foundation as is likely to stand as long as the sun and moon endure. That is, if they continue to walk by faith, and to show forth their faith by their works; otherwise, I pray God to root out the memorial of them from the earth."
Thus did our venerable Founder constitute the Conference an ecclesiastical corporation, in law, empowered to appoint Preachers to the chapels conveyed in trust during his life; to admit Ministers into connexion, and to expel from it; and to exercise generally that governing influence which, during his life-time, emanated from himself personally. At the Conference held in Leeds, 1797, the code of laws published by Mr. Wesley was "carefully revised," and all our ancient Rules made before his death, whether deemed essential or prudential, were selected, and were solemnly signed, by all the Preachers present, one only excepted; who, in consequence, withdrew from the Connexion. This collection of Rules, which included the regulations passed in the same year, was, by order of the Conference,, published in that- year, in a pamphlet entitled, "Minutes of several Conversations between the Rev. John Wesley. A.M., and the Preachers in Connexion with him: containing the Form of Discipline established among the Preachers and People in the Methodist Societies."
* This instrument, and the Deed of Declaration, form the basis of our code; and, although many of the rules contained in the former have, since then, undergone important modifications, and some of them have been wholly superseded, in all subsequent acts of legislation a strict regard has been paid to the essential principles which they contain.
During the last thirty years our general polity has been improved beyond all parallel in any previous period; the most important additions have been made to our code, whilst all our first principles have been sacredly guarded and preserved, Our system of finance has undergone a complete renovation: the funds for the support of our cause in the home department have been placed on such a foundation, and under such restrictions, as to prevent the possibility of incurring those serious connexional debts, to which, in former years, we were so painfully and frequently subjected. Laymen have been admitted to their fall share of power, in the distribution of all our public funds. Committees of which they are component parts, have been appointed to meet preparatory to, and in connexion with, the annual sessions of the Conference, and to their decision all cases of mere finance are referred; so that now especially the time of the Conference is exclusively employed upon matters strictly within the province of Christian Pastors and Ministers. The maxim on which our fathers acted has been carried out by their sons in the Gospel, to a much greater extent: "Spiritual matters belong to the Preachers, and temporal to the people." The legislation of this period is marked by a candid and liberal consideration of the people's legitimate rights, and their privileges and powers have been greatly enlarged, whilst the scriptural authority of the pastoral office has been equally respected and maintained.
During this period our legislation bears intrinsic evidence of being the production of one superior mind; other parties may have contributed original suggestions, and emendations ; but it is obvious that one master hand, for the last generation, has framed the great majority of the acts of our Conference. Besides many minor regulations dispersed through our annual Minutes, the invaluable system of finance, particularly in the department of the Contingent-Fund ; the entire constitution of the Missionary Society, of the Theological Institution, and of our Sunday-schools, were framed by the same honoured Minister. There are two other public documents which have contributed in is high a degree as the best productions of our fathers, to promote the spirit of ardent piety, and high-toned Christian morality in our ministerial community, composed by him; the " Instructions to Missionaries," and the " Liverpool Resolutions." These, being, by authority, annually read in our District-Meetings at home and abroad, and made the subjects of serious conversation and prayer, exert a paramount influence in forming the principles, habits, and characters of our Ministers, and essentially contribute to the preservation of the primitive spirit and discipline of Wesleyan Methodism. May the future leaders in our spiritual Israel be adorned with the same virtues which have so eminently characterized his honourable and useful career!
E. G. LAMBETH, December 10th, 1841.
THE following Compendium is published upon the sole responsibility of the author; its plan and execution are entirely his own; and he only is answerable for the sentiments contained in the notes and comments which, without any assistance from other parties, he has ventured to introduce. In conformity with an existing regulation, he asked permission of the Conference to make use of. our public documents, and their consent was kindly granted; but it was with an explicit understanding, that the author alone should be held responsible for the entire performance. In copying the Minutes he has not observed the form of question and answer, in which they are published by the Conference: but wherever the question contains a reason for the rule, he has made it a preamble to it. He has attempted to present his readers with a complete code of the existing laws and regulations of Wesleyan Methodism, arranged, not in chronological order, but according to the natural affinity of those laws to each other; whilst, at the same time, he has, especially by marginal notes and a copious index, taken pains to render a reference to any particular law easy and convenient. In his historical notices he has been guided by a strict regard to matters of fact; and in his explanatory notes and remarks he has aimed at correctness and perspicuity.
See note at page 142.
1 Extracted from a paper entitled, "Thoughts upon some late Occurrences," signed "John Wesley," and dated "Plymouth-Dock, March 3d, 1785." Wesley's Works, vol. xiii., pp. 216~ 217.
See Jackson's Advertisement to the Large Minutes, p. 4.