« ПредишнаНапред »
under the protection of constitutional law in the first Restrictive Rule. But the Articles are entirely silent on “such important subjects as the Christian sabbath, the Scripture doctrine of marriage, and the whole subject of eschatology, beyond the naked fact that there is to be a future life, judgment, and everlasting life after death.” True—and they are also silent on the subject of the “ Witness of the Spirit,” and on “Christian Perfection," on both of which Methodist theology lays special emphasis. For these and other reasons we concur with the opinion that "it seems most likely that these articles were never intended to serve as a complete system of doctrine, and it is very certain that the accepted doctrines of Methodism have always been wider than the ground covered by them.” *
So far as we can ascertain from the histories and biographies of Methodism, no corporate attempt has ever been made to formulate“ a coinplete system of doctrine.” Methodist preachers have always been too busy in disseminating what they hold to be the essential doctrines of Christianity to undertake an achievement of that kind. Scholarly divines, belonging to national Churches, may find congenial employment in fabricating complete doctrinal standards. Methodists have always found such a task to be supererogatory. They had expositions of all the essential doctrines of God's word in the writings of Wesley that satisfied their most pressing spiritual needs while only “United Societies,” in other Churches; and when they organized themselves into an independent and distinct Church of Jesus Christ they adopted an Episcopal form of government, and with it an abridgment of the Articles of the Anglican Episcopal Church, and thus became the Methodist Episcopal Church “Our Articles of Religion” were superadded to “our present existing and established standards of doctrine at the Christmas Conference of 1784.
But some writers argue, and others impliedly admit, that the Articles constitute our sole denominational standards.
The Rev. J. Pullman, in an elaborate article on " Methodism and Heresy,” insists that John Wesley and the General Conference of 1784 intended “the Articles of Religion to be the only authoritative creed of the Church under which a minister should be tried," and "that the law of the Methodist Episcopal Church knows no heresy outside of the Articles of Religion”! According to this theory, a Methodist preacher may deny the doctrines of the direct and indirect testimony of the Holy Spirit to the believer's adoption into the family of God, and also the doctrine of entire sanctification, and yet not be guilty of heresy. Both of the writer's postulates are discordant with the facts of history, and with the moral convictions and judicial procedures of the Church.
*"National Repository,” April, 1879, p. 359.
Henry and Harris, on page 69 of their admirable work on " Ecclesiastical Law and Rules of Evidence, with Special Reference to the Jurisprudence of the Methodist Episcopal Church,” say:
Again, T 207 of the Discipline provides that when a minister or preacher holds and disseminates, publicly or privately, doctrines which are contrary to the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and will not solemnly promise to abstain from disseminating such erroneous doctrines, in public and private, [he shall be dealt with preliminarily as when guilty of gross immorality. Yet, notwithstanding his promise not to disseminate such erroneous doctrines, he is liable to be dealt with canonically before the Annual Conference.
In the revised edition of the same work, (1881,) p. 68, after the words, “ Articles of Religion,” follows this clause: “or established standards of doctrine," thus taking the authors out of the class of theorists who identify our established standards of doctrine with the Articles of Religion, and who repudiate all others.
Dr. Miller, one of the clerical counsel of Dr. II. W. Thomas, whose self-sought expulsion from the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church has occasioned much discussion by the secular as well as by the religious press, rejects all authoritative standards except the Articles. In his demurrer to the validity of the charges against his client, he urged that there are no authorized standards in the Church in relation to the endless punishment of the wicked ; that what are the established standards of doetrine, other than the Articles of Religion, has never been defined by any General Conference; and that there is no established standard of doctrine other than the Articles of Religion, or such doctrine as the one clearly stated in the Book of Discipline, and protected by the first restrictive rule.” *
The fact that the General Conference has never formally declared that the doctrinal standards of the European Methodists are also the doctrinal standards of the American Methodists does not prove that they are not. The fact that they are has not been disputed until lately. Had the attempt to deny it been foreseen it might have been guarded against by formal enactment; but as it was not, the consecutive General Conferences rested on the self-evident truth.
Dr. D. A. Whedon also states that the General Conference of 1784" received Wesley's abridgment of the Articles of the Church of England, which continue to be their standard of doctrine to the present day.” * Ile does not, however, maintain that this abridgment is the only standard of orthodox tcaching, but adds the following testimony :
“ The theology of the Church is thoronghly Arminian, as it has been from the beginning. In this it agrees with universal Wesleyan Methodism. ... Wesley's doctrinal Sermons, Notes on the New Testament, and other writings, have been its standards of Arminian orthodoxy; while the rigid examination to which all candidates for the ministry are subjected is its chief security that only what is deemed correct and sound in doctrine shall be preached in its pulpits.” |
The Methodist doctrinal standards include the first four volumes of Wesley's Sermons, his Notes on the New Testament, and also the “Large Minutes.” This proposition will not be challenged so far as the Wesleyan Methodist Churches in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies are regarded. In Great Britain and Ireland the Trust or “Model Deed," of all the churches, which is slightly inodified from time to time as social changes may render necessary, contains the following clause:
Nevertheless, upon special trust and confidence, and to the in tent that they and the survivors of them, and the Trustees for the time being, do and shall permit from time to time, and at all times for ever, such persons as shall be appointed at the yearly Conference of the people called Methodists, held in London, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, or elsewhere, specified by name in a deed enrolled in Chancery, under the hand and seal of the Rev. John Wesley, and bearing date 28th of February, 1784, and no others, to have and enjoy the said premises, in order that they may therein preach and expound God's holy word, and perform all other acts of religious worship; provided, that the persons so appointed preach no other doctrines than are contained in Mr. Wesley's Notes upon the New Testament, and his four volumes of Sermons, by him published. *
* "McClintock & Strong's Cyclopedia," vol. vi, p. 157.
Ibid., p. 171.
By this “deed” Wesley's Notes and Sermons are made the legal as well as the ecclesiastical standards of the doctrines expounded in the Church editices settled on Trustees for the use of the Wesleyan Methodists. The "Large Minutes” themselves, as weil as the Sermons and Notes of Mr. Wesley referred to therein, may fairly be classed with the doctrinal standards of Wesleyan Methodism.
Prior to the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Chnrch in 1784, the doctrinal standards of American were avowedly the same as those of European Methodism.
At the first Conference, held in Philadelphia, June, 1773, the following queries were proposed to every preacher, and answered affirmatively :
Qrest. 2. Ought not the doctrine and discipline of the Methodists as contained in the Minutes, (which specify Wesley's Notes and Sermons as the standards of doctrine,] to be the sole rule of our conduct, who labor in the connection with Mr. Wesley in America ?
“ Ans. Yes.
“ Quest. 3. If so, does it not follow, that if any preachers deviate from the Minutes, we can have no fellowship with them till they change their conduct ?
• Ans. Yes.” 1 Again, in the Minutes of 1781 the first question recorded is :
What preachers are now determined, after mature consideration, close observation, and earnest prayer, to preach the old Methodist doctrine, and strictly enforce the Discipline, as contained in the Notes, Sermons and Minutes published by Mr. Wesley, so far as they respect both preachers and people according to the knowledge we have of them, and the ability God shall give ; and firmly resolve to discountenance a separation among either preachers or people?
Ans.I [Here follow the names of thirty-nine, (probably all who were present save one,8) out of fifty four preachers.]
*"Minutes of Several Conversations between the Rev. Jolin Wesley, A.M., and the Preachers in Connection with him. Containing the form of Discipline established among the Preachers and People in the Methodist Societies." P. 65. These minutes are commonly known as the “ Large Minutes." + Emory's “ History of the Discipline," p. 10.
# Ibid., p. 16. & Stevens' " History of the Methodist Episcopal Church," vol. ii, p. 91.
In this practical unanimity the preachers were further strengthened by a letter from Mr. Wesley, dated at Bristol, October 3, 1783, and designed to guard the American preachers against foreign and domestic intruders who might attempt the
bringing in ” of “new doctrines, particularly Calvinian.” “Let all of you,” he exhorted, “ be determined to abide by the Methodist doctrine and Discipline, published in the four volumes of Sermons, and the Notes upon the New Testament, together with the “Large Minutes" of Conference.*
With this advice the May Conference, held at Baltimore in 1784, hastened to comply.
Quest. 21 asks, How shall we conduct ourselves toward European preachers ?
Ans. If they are recommended by Mr. Wesley, will be subject to the American Conference, preach the doctrine taught in the four volumes of Sermons and Notes on the New Testament, keep the circuits they are appointed to, following the directions of the London and American Minutes, and be subject to Francis Asbury as general assistant, whilst he stands approved by Mr. Wesley and the Conference, we will receive them.
The establishment of national independence had not, at that time, impaired the doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity of Methodism. But in the fall of the same year Mr. Wesley, pursuant to the indications of Providence and the desires of the American Societies, took measures to organize the latter into a distinct and independent Church. Assisted by presbyters of the Anglican Church he ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey to act as elders among them, by baptizing and administering the Lord's Supper. Ile also ordained Dr. Coke as superintendent “over our brethren in North America,” and signified his wish that Francis Asbury should be ordained as deacon, elder, and superintendent, and that he should be associated with Thomas Coke in the general oversight of the prospective Church.
He further prepared an expurgated and abridged edition of the Anglican Liturgy, Ritual, and Articles of Religion, and submitted it to the American Methodists for adoption.
Hlitherto what are called the “Large Minutes” of Wesley had been recognized as the authoritative Discipline of the American
* Bangs'" History of the Methodist Episcopal Church," vol. i, p. 148. + Emory's "History of the Discipline," p. 22.