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A Laymen’s Convention was called to meet in Olean, February 1 and 2, 1860. As the principal members of the church in that place were in sympathy with the convention, it was designed to hold it in the Methodist church; but upon an application by a member of the church, Judge Green granted an injunction upon the trustees restraining them from, and forbidding them to, open the edifice for that purpose. With commendable liberality, the trustees of the Presbyterian church tendered the use of their house, which was accepted.
At 10:00 o’clock, on Wednesday morning, Abner I. Wood, president of the convention held at Albion, December and 2, 1858, called the convention to order, and S. K. J. Chesbro, secretary, assumed the duties of his office. After prayer, the call for the convention was read. The first action of the convention was to provide for the administration of the Lord’s Supper, by requesting Rev. Loren Stiles to officiate in the evening.
When the names of delegates were handed in, it was found that every charge in the Genesee Conference was represented.
A “Free Methodist Church” had been organized, and a delegate from that organization was invited to a seat in the convention.
The following petition to the General Conference was adopted, and a committee of five was appointed to circulate it through the conference for signatures.
“To the Bishops and Members of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, to be held in Buffalo, N. Y., May 1, 1860.
“Reverend Fathers and Brethren: — We, the undersigned, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in the bounds of the Genesee Conference, respectfully represent to your reverend body, that a very unpleasant state of things prevails in the church throughout this conference. This difficulty has grown out of the action of the conference. Many honestly believe this action to have been wrong and oppressive. We, therefore, ask your reverend body to give to the judicial action of the Genesee Conference, by which six of the ministers, to wit: B. T. Roberts, J. McCreery, J. A. Wells, William Cooley, L. Stiles, and C. D. Burlingham, have been expelled from the conference and the church, a full and careful investigation, trusting you will come to such decision as righteousness demands. We also ask your reverend body so to amend the judicial law of the church, as to secure to the ministers and members the right of trial by an impartial committee.”
A petition to the General Conference asking for the insertion of an antislavery chapter in the Discipline was also adopted by the convention. The following is a copy of that petition:
“Reverend Fathers and Brethren: — Inasmuch as there are now known to be, in the slave states, many members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who hold their fellow beings, and even then brethren in Christ, as slaves, contrary to natural justice and the gospel of Christ; and whereas, we believe the buying, selling, or holding of a human being as property, is a sin against God, and should in no wise be tolerated in the church of Christ: therefore,
“We, the undersigned, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the charge, Genesee Conference, would earnestly petition your reverend body to place a chapter in the Discipline of the M. E. Church, that will exclude all persons from the M. E. Church or her communion, who shall be guilty of holding, buying, or selling, or in any way using a human being as a slave.”
With the new year, Mr. Roberts had commenced to publish a monthly magazine, called the Earnest Christian, which called forth the following resolution, which was adopted by the convention:
“Resolved, That we are highly pleased with the appearance of the Earnest Christian. The articles, thus far, prove it to be just what is needed at this time, when a conforming and superficial Christianity is prevailing everywhere. We hail it with delight among us; and we pledge ourselves to use our exertions to extend its circulation.”
The committee on resolutions reported as follows:
“God deals with us as individuals. No man or body of men can take the responsibility of our actions. It is a Bible doctrine, very clearly taught, that “every one must give account of himself to God.”
“Ministers cannot take into their hands the keeping of our consciences. The right of private judgment lies at the foundation of the great Protestant Reformation. It forms the basis of all true religion. No person who does not act and think for himself can enjoy either the sanctifying or justifying grace of God. When John Wesley was told that he could not continue in the Church of England, because he could not in principle submit to her determinations,” he replied: “If that were necessary, I could not be a member of any church under heaven; for I must still insist upon the right of private judgment. I cannot yield either implicit faith or obedience to any man or number of men under heaven.”
“This is equally true of every honest man. In our church, the government is vested exclusively in the ministry; the bishops appointing the preachers to whatever charge they please, and thus having the power to influence them to a great extent, if not absolutely to control them, by the hope of obtaining preferment, if they are submissive, and the fear of being placed in an obscure position if they do not carry out the will of their superiors. They are elected by the ministers, and are responsible alone to the men who are thus completely dependent upon them for their position in the church. The General Conference, possessing all the power to make laws for the churches, is composed exclusively of ministers, elected by ministers. The annual conference, which says who shall preach and who shall not, is made up of ministers. The book agents, wielding a mighty pecuniary influence, are ministers. The official editors, controlling the public sentiment of the church, are ministers. The same principle is carried out in the administration upon our circuits and stations. The preacher sent on — it may be in opposition to the wishes of a large majority of the members — appoints all the leaders, nominates the stewards, and licenses the exhorters. If he wishes to expel a member, he selects the committee, and presides over the trial as judge. He goes out with them, and sees that they make up their verdict as he desires.
“The only check to this immense clerical power — without a parallel, unless it is in the Church of Rome — consists in the right of the laity to refuse to support those ministers who abuse their trust, and show themselves unworthy of confidence. This only remedy in our power against clerical oppression we have felt bound to apply.
“The course of those members of the Genesee Conference, known as the “Regency party, in screening one another when lying under the imputation of gross and flagrant immoralities; and in expelling from the conference and the church devoted ministers of the gospel, whose only crime consisted in the ability and success with which they taught and enforced the doctrine of holiness, and the fidelity with which they labored to secure the exclusion of slave holders from the church — this course, so contrary to the spirit of the gospel, as honest men going to judgment, we felt called upon to discountenance. We dare not give these ministers God speed in their bloody work, lest we be partakers in their evil deeds. We accordingly voted, in our conventions, that we could not sustain these preachers who were putting down the work of God.
“These efforts of ours to correct great evils have been met by persecutions worthy of the priests of Rome in her darkest days. Men of approved piety, of long standing, whose prayers and efforts and money have been freely given to promote the interests of the church, have been expelled from the communion of their choice for having dared to act according to their convictions. Therefore,
“Resolved, 1. That we heartily endorse the sentiments contained in the preambles and resolutions passed at the Albion conventions (December, 1858 and November, 1859). The position then taken we this day unhesitatingly affirm, in our estimation, to be right. Convinced more than ever, that we need to act as one body in this matter, we hereby pledge ourselves unflinchingly and uncompromisingly to stand by the principles then laid down; and to sustain by our sympathy and our aid our brethren in the ministry who have been the subjects of a heartless and wicked proscription.
“Resolved, 2. That we heartily condemn the practice pursued by many of the Regency preachers, in reading out members as withdrawn from the church without even the form of a trial, or without laboring with them. We deem it an act of outrage upon our rights as members of the church, contrary to the Discipline, and in direct opposition to the Spirit of Christ. We truly extend to our brethren and sisters who have thus been illegally read out from our beloved Zion, the right hand of fellowship. We rejoice that the Lamb’s Book of Life is beyond the reach of human hands. And while they continue faithful followers of Jesus, whether in or out of the church, we hail them as members of the body of Christ.”
The report of the committee, after remarks made by several persons, all on the affirmative, was unanimously adopted. The following resolution, concerning the adherence to the M. E. Church, was also adopted:
“Resolved, That we reiterate our unfaltering attachment to the Methodist Episcopal Church; while we protest against and repudiate its abuses and iniquitous administration, by which we have been aggrieved and the church scandalized. Our controversy is in favor of the doctrines and discipline of the church, and against temporary mal-administration. And we exhort our brethren everywhere not to secede, or withdraw from the church, or be persuaded into any other ecclesiastical organization; but to form themselves into bands, after the example of early Methodism, and remain in the church until expelled.”
On this resolution the following remarks were made:
Rev. J. McCreery said: — “Four years ago when we commenced this war, we sought to bring back Methodism to its pristine purity, and throw out these innovations which had crept in. We can spare all the preachers if the Lord and the people will be with us. We intend to stick to the church. We are where we stood years ago, and intend to stay there. We must stand on the Discipline, which is the constitution of the church. We are not secessionists, and they cannot drive us out, unless they expel us. We purpose to stay in the church. I am in favor of that resolution.”
T. B. Catton said -“We can organize bands and still be in the church, as it is in the Discipline. I am opposed to secession always. We have organized bands in Wyoming, and have met with good success, for the Lord has been with us.”
William Hart contended that the constitution of the church discountenanced slavery. He argued that the Discipline granted every member a fair trial. But all those who had been expelled had been denied that privilege. We have no need to secede, but to keep right on for God, and not be persuaded into any other ecclesiastical organization. Four were read out in my section on mere suspicion. He was in favor of the resolution.
B. T. Roberts contended that bands were no new things, but were being organized all over the country, and in Europe, for the salvation of souls; and said that Orville Gardner was the leader of one in New York. He hoped these bands would be organized everywhere. If the ministers will help, all right; if not, go right on without them.
S. K. J. Chesbro said, that the bands in his place had been prosperous, and many had been converted. He gave a history of their organization, which started with only ten members, but now it had thirty. He was strongly in favor of bands, and urged the brethren to do likewise.
J. McCreery did not want to follow the plan of Orville Gardner’s band, but the plan contained in the Methodist Discipline. The resolution defines itself. The members of the band in this section had not yet been turned out, and the authorities will not dare to do it.
J. W. Reddy said, that the Regency preachers held the opinion that these bands were unconstitutional; but he denied it, and argued that we have as good a right to do so as they have to join the OddFellows or Masons. He believed in standing by the church, but contended for the right of religious liberty. He hoped the brethren would go to work with energy and organize these bands.
These are characteristic remarks, and show the temper of the convention. The resolution was unanimously adopted.
Several other resolutions, were adopted, committees, etc., were appointed, and the convention adjourned sine die.
Mr. Redfield was watching these proceedings from St. Louis with deep interest. His letters and his labors in the West, including the proscription used by the church authorities there, show that the work East and West was one.
The following letter will show another phase that was beginning to be manifested, and was destined to become a prominent feature of evangelistic work. It will also show a philosophical vein in his thinking upon a subject that gets but little attention.
“ST. Louis, Feb. 1, 1860.
“My very dear Sister Roberts: — Your very interesting letter came to hand last night. I most deeply sympathize with you in your trying circumstances, and feel refreshed by the recital of your daring to obey God when I am so full of haltings in view of public opinion. I have long seen that our church must come to the exact state we now occupy, and that some one must take the stand and meet the conflict. I have shrunk and run from all responsibility I could, and yet preserve anything like peace with God. But I see God has thrust you out into the front rank, and I feel deeply ashamed that I have been so tardy in my labors for the cause of Jesus. Could I see you I could open my mind freely, and tell you my views relating to the matters of which you inquire.
“I will say, however, I am more than ever convinced that God is about to perform a work in this land which is to tell in the salvation of myriads, and to stimulate sister churches to a higher tone of religion. And I am equally sure that God will open this era by means and instrumentalities quite out of the old stereotyped forms. Among these instrumentalities I believe woman is to take a very prominent part. But aside from all theorizing, I shall ask but two questions: d) Does God bless them? (2) Are souls converted and sanctified under their labors? If these questions are answered in the affirmative, no man can say nay.
“As to the polish of rhetoric and philosophy to embellish the cross of Jesus, we have enough of it. As to great learning, to give the pedigree of Christianity and to illumine the dark sayings of the fathers in theology, we have it in abundance. But the world is not saved. Science, metaphysics, eloquence, and divinity have marched in solemn grandeur over Christendom, and yet the world is not saved. What we want, what we must have, is a type of religion that will bring God back to the world; that is, God in the moral phase of his character. And how can this be done except through the emotions of mankind? Men are bound too much by conventional rules, and strive to recommend the moral nature of God by his mental qualities or physical powers. We need to have manifested the love, justice, and purity of God, and this in the out-gushings of a heart that dares to be moved as God moves it. Man fears to betray such “weakness.” Women are more willing to let God bless them, and this seems to be their calling.
“Had any one told me six months before I came to St. Louis that ministers in the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) would abet the vile system of slavery, and not only that, but oppose the doctrines of Methodism, I should have regarded it as a slander. But I am compelled to own the humiliating fact, and that if some one is not raised up to reestablish the broken foundations of Methodism, she has run her race, and must soon be reckoned among the things that were. But whoever undertakes the task must tasks the consequences of his effort.
“J. W. Redfield.”
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