The following account of its doctrines is copied from the general Minutes of Conference, as consolidated in the year 1860: "This connexion is composed of protestant Christians, who hold the following doctrines : the, being of a God, including the Holy Trinity: :the Deity of Jesus Christ; the innocence of our first parents when they came from the hands of their Creator; their subsequent fall, and that of their posterity; general redemption by Jesus Christ ; repentance, including godly sorrow for sin, and corresponding reformation., the justification of the ungodly ly faith, on their turning to God; the witness of the Spirit to our adoption into the family of God ; sanctification by the Holy Spirit, producing inward and outward holiness; the resurrection of the dead; the general judgment, and eternal rewards and punishments."" In the connexional Deed 'Poll,' enrolled in Chancery this brief summary is illustrated by a reference to the doctrines taught by Mr. Wesley:-" The doctrines believed and taught by the Primitive Methodist connexion were and are that system of religious doctrines which was laid down and established by John Wesley; and which doctrines the said John Wesley believed to be none other but the doctrines of the Church of England, as by law established; and which were set forth by him in certain notes of the New Testament., and in the first four volumes commonly called his sermons, and reputed to be written and published by him."
The constitution and government of the denomination will require a more lengthy notice.
The members "are divided into official and unofficial, and none are allowed to be official members who promulgate doctrines contrary to the fore-named; nor are unofficial members allowed to remain in the connexion when their heterodoxy is likely to injure the peace and welfare of a society."
The members are formed into small companies, called classes, which meet weekly for religious conference and devotional exercises. One member in each class is styled the leader, because he usually takes the lead of the meeting, and administers instruction, counsel, or reproof to the respective members, as their varying states may require. An assistant leader assists the principal leader in the discharge of his duties, occasionally conducting the meeting of the class, and administering counsel or advice to the members. The members of each class have their names enrolled in a class-paper or class-book, and each member holds a society ticket, which is renewed quarterly, as a token of continued membership, when a visitation of the classes by a minister or other office-bearer takes place.
When a society has more than one class, the leaders, the society steward, who is frequently entrusted for a time with the contributions of the members, and a travelling preacher, or preachers, meet statedly to transact the society's business. These meetings are, called "Leaders' Meetings," being chiefly composed of leaders; but none can be legally held without the presence of a minister or travelling preacher, extraordinary cases excepted. Persons earnestly desirous of fleeing from the wrath to come, or who are penitently seeking salvation, may he admitted to meet in class on trial; but their earnest desires, penitential emotions, or proofs. of sound conversion must be consistently manifested three months at least before they be received into full membership. "No person must remain a member of the connexion if he attends vain and worldly amusements, wastes his time at public houses, buys un-accustomed goods, is dishonest in his dealings, or is guilty of any, other acts of immorality."
A number of societies united form a circuit, which is of more or less extent according to the number of the societies included, and the distance of the places at which the respective societies meet. These united societies share in the labours of the same preachers and. assist each other in the support of the ministry and the maintenance of different religious and benevolent institutions. A circuit has a meeting once a quarter, composed of leaders, stewards and preachers, and of such other persons as it chooses to admit. This is called "the quarterly meeting," and its duty is to transact the business of the respective societies within the circuit.
The preachers belonging to a circuit are usually of two classes called travelling and local preachers. The "travelling preachers" are regular ministers, wholly devoted to ministerial and pastoral duties, and receive a moderate stipend for their support. They are called "travelling preachers" because they generally travel from place to place in a circuit, and at stated times, after a shorter or longer period of residence, remove from one circuit or station to another. The "local preachers" are so called because they reside in one locality, according to their own convenience or desire, and are not removed by the decisions of church meetings. are "laymen," and when sent as delegates to district meetings or conferences are called "lay delegates," to distinguish them the regular ministers, or "travelling preacher delegates." They follow some worldly calling for a maintenance, and preach on the Sabbath as opportunities permit, but receive no pecuniary remuneration for their services. They are chosen to their office by the representatives of the united societies to whom they minister, and should their preaching prove unacceptable to the people generally, their services are discontinued.
In the transaction of the business of the circuit's quarterly-meeting travelling and local preachers are equal. A travelling preacher usually, but not always, presides ; but each preacher has an equal right to speak and vote.
Among the travelling preachers the leading minister is called "the superintendent," because he especially is required to look over the business of the circuit, and see that it be properly transacted. He is not a "bishop," in the ordinary sense of the term, but simply "the first among equals," much the same as a senior pastor in a Congregational church. When there is only one preacher in a station, he, too, is called a superintendent, he having the supervision of the different societies.
Between the circuit's quarterly meetings the general business is transacted by a committee, called the "circuit committee." This is composed of the travelling preachers, who are members of it by virtue of office, and of such local preachers, class leaders', or stewards as are appointed by the preceding quarterly meeting to represent the respective societies. The committee generally meets once a month, and is responsible for its doings to the ensuing quarterly meeting.
When the places in a circuit become too numerous or important to be conveniently managed at one quarterly meeting, a number of the places are frequently formed into a "branch," which is a portion of the circuit, having its; own office-bearers and regular meetings for business, but subordinate to the authorities of the home part of the circuit. So soon as branches are capable of supporting their own ministers, and of transacting the business of their respective societies, they are usually, but not always, formed into new circuits or. independent stations.
Places visited through missionary labours, and united in one station, like places in a circuit or a branch, are called "a mission." A few of the missions are under the supervision of circuits, but most of them are under that of the General Missionary Committee. Leaders' meetings are held on mission stations as early as convenient, as are also quarterly meetings and committee meetings. When a sufficient number of leading men are raised upon a mission to be entrusted with its management, and the station is able to support two or more travelling preachers, it is usually made into a circuit.
A certain number of circuits, branches, and mission stations form "a district." In each district a meeting is held yearly, called "The District Meeting." This meeting is composed of the delegate from each circuit; the respective circuits sending a travelling preacher one year, and a layman the two following, years, so as to secure, as nearly as practicable, two laymen to one travelling preacher. A member of the general or connexional committee, who is usually a senior. or influential minister, called "The General Committee Delegate," takes the lead in the transaction of the business, being held responsible to the conference for, its performance according to rule. A delegate from the district committee, a minister, or layman, according to its option, is styled "The District Committee Delegate," and occupied a subordinate position to the general committee delegate.- The district meeting receives the report of all the stations, including the number of its members, preachers, leaders, scholars and teachers, chapels and other preaching places ; inquires into the state of each, and stations the travelling preachers within the district ; subject, however, to appeals from the stations or preachers, and, to alterations at conference.
The "Conference " is a yearly meeting of delegates, from all the districts in the connexion, of twelve permanent members, and of four persons appointed at the preceding conference, in proportion of two laymen to one travelling preacher, or as nearly as circumstances will permit. The delegates meet to confer with eachother on all affairs connected with the body, to receive the reports of all the stations, to. appoint the ministers or travelling for the ensuing year, and to make such regulations for the welfare of the community at may seem necessary, most of these having been recommended by circuit quarterly meetings and by district meetings. The conference is the highest court in the connexion, from whose decisions there is no appeal.
A " General Committee," composed of ministers and laymen, usually in about equal numbers, is appointed to transact the most important business of the connexion between one conference and another. The executive has for some years resided in the metropolis, for the sake of convenience, and has made an important part of the General Missionary Committee.
A "District Committee," occupying a subordinate position to the General Committee, is appointed for each district, and adjudicates on certain cases submitted to its examination by the stations within the district.
From this brief description of the constitution of the connexion, or of its system of church government, it will be seen that it lies between the extreme of pure Independency on the one hand, and that of diocesan Episcopacy on the other. It is substantially the Presbyterian system of government, but contains a much larger mixture of the lay element than is found in most Presbyterian denominations. From a certain gifted writer. we learn that this circumstance causes "intelligent observers of the constitution and operations of the religious sects in Great Britain " to question " whether the Primitive Methodist connexion is adapted for perpetuity." As the object of this work is neither to glorify "our church principles," nor boast of our "liberal and beautiful system of church government," nor to praise our "wise economy," nor to attempt to solve problems which puzzle our wiser brethren, we shall content ourselves by stating, in reply to this writer, that whatever influence the liberal constitution of the connexion may exert on its future destiny it has, in our judgment, materially contributed. to its past success. That among thousands of lay office-bearers in the connexion none has ever abused his power would be too much to assert. No office in the church, not even that of the sacred ministry, is an infallible preventive of the undue assumption of power, or of its improperexercise