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CHAPTER 63

The venerable Elias Bowen, D.D., in his history of the Origin of the Free Methodist Church, says:

“The General Conference — upon which so many anxious eyes were turned, on account of the Genesee difficulties, in the hope that all there would be made right — commenced its session May 1st, 1860, in the city of Buffalo, and continued its deliberations during the entire month. It was soon apparent, however, that the spirit of early Methodism had departed from that venerable body, and another spirit than that of the fathers — the spirit of a worldly, ambitious, temporizing policy — ruled the hour. The delegates belonging to secret societies, and those of a proslavery type, making common cause of it, refused by a majority vote which they contrived to command, to entertain Mr. Roberts’ appeal, though in barefaced opposition to one of our strictest rules; and, of course, this ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the action of the Genesee Conference in his case, stood expelled from the church.”

Rev. William Hosmer, editor of the Northern Independent, in that paper, said:

“Methodism has taught us to live in the presence of God, and to shape all our acts under the inspection of his eye. Whatsoever cannot abide this test, must be discarded and abhorred, because it will surely be condemned in ‘the eternal judgment’ to which we are hastening. That the Court of Appeals, constituted by the last General Conference, did not do its work so as to secure either divine or human respect, is a conclusion forced upon us from every view we have been able to take of the subject. Gladly would we pass by these judicial proceedings without further notice if it were allowable. But they are of too serious a character, and will be found too far-reaching in their consequences, to admit of silent acquiescence. Ecclesiastical courts are not famous for liberality and justice; but we believe the courts of Methodism have not generally sunk to the level indicated by the trial of these appeals.

“First in order was the case of Rev. C. D. Burlingham. He was expelled from the Genesee Conference and the Methodist Episcopal Church for doing three things:

“1st. Admitting B. T. Roberts into the church on trial.

“2nd. Licensing him to exhort.

“3rd. Officiating with expelled preachers at a general quarterly meeting held in a Wesleyan church, at the same time that his presiding elder was holding a regular quarterly meeting in the same charge, about three miles distant.

“Mr. Burlingham admitted the facts, but pleaded in justification:

“1st. That he received B. T. Roberts, and licensed him to exhort, on the unanimous recommendation of the society meeting of the church with which Mr. Roberts had last labored. In this action he believed he was covered by Bishop Baker, who says, in his work on the Discipline, page 159, “If, however, the society become convinced of the innocence of the expelled member, he may again be received on trial, without confession.”

“2nd. That when engaged to attend the general quarterly meeting, he supposed that Mr. Roberts had a right as an exhorter to hold meetings.

“3rd. That he did not know that the Methodist Episcopal Church had a society, or an appointment in the place where the general quarterly meeting was held. He supposed the ground was occupied exclusively by the Wesleyans.

“These were the only offenses with which Mr. Burlingham was charged.

“After his expulsion he waited patiently for the General Conference. He did not preach, nor lecture, nor exhorted — did not attend meetings held by expelled preacher — but did not penance up to the session of the General Conference. He should have been restored on the ground of having expiated his guilt, if he was guilty of any ordinary offense. if on no other. When his appeal came up, Mr. Fuller,1010The same man mentioned in the chapter on the revival in Albion. — T who had been chief prosecutor in all those trials, challenged several of the committee who had manifested a desire to have Genesee Conference matters fairly investigated. Though the General Conference, in constituting the committee, or Court of Appeals, had given to parties the right to challenge for cause, yet Mr. Fuller, after the first instance, was not required to give cause, but challenged as many as he chose, and they were set aside. He simply said of the challenged, “he considered them prejudiced.”

“Mr. Olin, of the Oneida Conference, managed the case for Mr. Burlingham with consummate tact and great ability. His plea was a masterly effort, and carried conviction to the minds, we believe, of all who heard it, except the committee. They sent the case back to the conference for a new trial. This we regard as a remarkable decision. Neither party asked for it. We never heard before of a case being remanded for a new trial, unless there was some alleged informality in the court below, or defect in the record, or unless one or the other of the parties claimed to have new testimony which could not be introduced into the first trial. But nothing of the kind was intimated in this case. There can be no new testimony, for Mr. Burlingham admitted all the facts with which he was charged.

“Do these facts, mentioned above, constitute a crime, for which an able minister, of spotless reputation, who has served the church for over twenty years, devoting the vigor of his manhood’s prime in self-sacrificing efforts to promote her interests, should be expelled? Then let the General Conference say so, that all who henceforth enter the Methodist ministry may understand that they are expected to lay their manhood in the dust, part with the right of private judgment, and yield a servile, unquestioning obedience to all behests of their ecclesiastical superiors.

“Was Mr. Burlingham, through party malignity, treated unjustly? Was he wrongfully deposed from the ministry, and excluded from the church? Then the General Conference should have restored him. This was due to him; it was due to outraged justice; it was due to the Methodist Episcopal Church, whose Discipline -- confessedly more susceptible of abuse than any other church in this country has been used for the purpose of inflicting ecclesiastical oppression without a parallel in the nineteenth century.

“But the General Conference, through its committee, or Court of Appeals, after gravely listening to the testimony and pleadings, sent the case back for a new trial, without a motion to that effect from either party. What, we ask, is there to try? There can be no issue on the facts — these are admitted.

“But Mr. Burlingham contends that these facts do not constitute a crime for which he should be deposed from the church.

“The Genesee Conference has said they do. Here is the issue -- who shall decide? The Discipline vests the power in the General Conference — the body to try appeals. The case was properly brought before them; they have sent it back for the Genesee Conference to decide over again. What an absurd decision! What an insult to Mr. Burlingham, and to common sense! Suppose the views of law and justice entertained by the Genesee Conference remain unchanged, and the same sentence be again pronounced against Mr. Burlingham, and he again appeals. After waiting four years for another General Conference, if he still survive, there will not only be the same reason for sending the case back for a new trial as now, but the additional one of precedent. Thus, this mockery of justice may continue ad infinitum.

“This looks more like the tiger playing with the victim he intends to devour, than like a body of Christian ministers bound by every consideration that can influence to right action, to judge righteous judgment.

“Another fact is worthy of especial notice. Though the decision in the case was not asked for in court by either party, yet it is precisely what partisans of the Regency party of the Genesee Conference have been endeavoring for months to persuade Mr. Burlingham to consent to. These efforts were continued up to the morning of the day on which the appeal was heard. Yet neither in their pleadings, nor at any time while the appeal was being heard, did the counsel for the conference signify their wish that the case might be remanded for a new trial. At whose suggestion was it done? When was the suggestion made? Was there any collusion in the matter? It is impossible for us to answer these questions. View it in whatever light you may, the whole case has a dark and suspicious aspect.

“Perhaps some clue to an explanation of the strange proceedings in relation to the Genesee Conference appeal cases may be found in the action had upon the slavery question.

“The Genesee Conference has heretofore been one of the strongest antislavery conferences in the connection. The proscribed party have been from the first uncompromising in their hostility to slavery in the church and in the state.

“The Genesee delegates were once regarded as antislavery; what they are now their votes will show. We asserted last fall that the conference had become proslavery, and gave as proof the fact that while it condemned this paper, it refused to take any action against slavery. The truth of our inference was denied by some; but the recent course of their delegates has made our words good. When the important question was decided in the General Conference upon a change of the constitution, so as to prohibit slave-holding in the church, the delegates of the Genesee conference voted against a change, and their vote turned the scale. And when the Genesee Conference matters came up, the border proslavery delegates voted solid with the representatives of the majority of the Genesee Conference. This may be all fair. It may be that men who, four years ago, took the stump to keep slavery out of the territories, have suddenly become convinced that it should be nestled and fostered in the bosom of the church! We should like to know by what arguments they were converted, and when it was done! Was this a part of a scheme to keep slaveholders in the church? Did the border delegates understand that if they voted as desired by the Genesee delegates, they would reciprocate the favor and assist them in their extremity? Or did this strange coincidence come about by chance?”1111“As a result the church was put to the sore extremity of changing the Discipline on slavery in 18t. when there was not as we left in the country. — T.

There were exciting scenes in the West about this time. In March, of this same year, after a three-months’ continuous meeting in St. Charles, the writer went to visit those converted the fall before. On arriving at the place he learned that the church trustees, by a majority vote, had adopted a resolution that neither Mr. Redfield nor himself should preach in the church again. Some of these men were also school trustees, and they had adopted a similar resolution as to preaching in the schoolhouse.

But few knew of this action of the trustees until we met in church the next morning. A large number of the young converts came together in the afternoon, at a private house, for prayer and testimony.

While we were singing the hymn,

“Jesus, lover of my soul,”

the power of God came upon us in a wonderful manner. But so great and so intense was the opposition here where we had formerly experienced such a signal victory that our enemies went from this meeting and reported that Mr. T_____ had the young converts get on their knees and swear that they would follow Mr. Redfield and himself.

At the close of the meeting the writer was asked when he would preach to them; and it was then that it became known that the trustees both of the church and schoolhouse had taken the action already referred to. J. W. Dake, now a Free Methodist preacher in Iowa (1888), and who was present, said, “I know of a schoolhouse where he can preach”; and agreement was made to have service in the one alluded to about two miles distant on Monday evening. This was announced at the church that evening in a private way. The next evening a large congregation gathered, and the power of the Lord was present to heal. Indications of a revival were so strong that we could not hold back from announcing a service for the next night. This was the occasion of the setting in of a severe persecution. Young people were forbidden to attend the meetings. Falsehood and slander began to do their best. The timid were frightened from their steadfastness, and the brave rapidly developed as soldiers for Jesus.

The second Sunday morning, the pastor of the church, instead of the usual Scripture lesson, read a long original paper, in which he accused the writer of being in league with Mr. Redfield to divide the church; and concluded with the proposition that, if he would confess the wrong, and promise to do so no more, they (the church at Mt. Pleasant) would take him to their hearts and to the church. Three weeks later he handed in his church letter, and was immediately given a regular appointment to preach in that church.

The meeting in the Union schoolhouse, as it was called, lasted but a fortnight, but quite a number were converted, some of whom became noted for piety and triumphant death.

At the close of this meeting the writer visited Marengo, in McHenry county, the scene of one of Mr. Redfield’s greatest victories. Here it was learned that the Bishop family, in whose country home the noted Monday-night holiness meeting had been held so long, were now cited to trial on a charge of disobedience to the order and Discipline of the church. The first specification was, non-attendance of public worship in the church where they belonged. The second was, non-attendance of class.

The facts were they had spent the most of the winter in a revival in a country schoolhouse, six miles from home — at great inconvenience to themselves — where more than forty persons had been converted. What had made it more easy for them to do this was the fact that they could neither attend preaching or class meeting without being made a target for sharp speeches, both by the pastor and the members of the church. It was also a fact that there were members of the church who not only did not attend worship, but they did not profess to be Christians at all. And more, there were more than one-half of the membership who never attended class. It was evident from these facts that the trial was persecution, and not a sincere attempt to bring the church to discipline. The family of five — father, mother, two sons, and a daughter — were all expelled. In his hot haste the pastor had forgotten that he had given a letter to the oldest son who was a Garrett Biblical Institute student.

A large company had gathered, as witnesses for the accused, many of them the fruits of the revival described, while some, like the writer, had come from sympathy. The minister at first ordered us all out of the church, but as it was a severe March day, this was impracticable, and while we were deliberating what to do, he adjourned the trial to his dwelling, and left us in peaceable possession of the church. An impromptu love-feast was inaugurated, and for several hours the time was fully occupied. During this time there was but one allusion to the trouble, save that, it was forgotten in the enjoyment of the hour.

Sunday the writer visited the young converts at the Brick schoolhouse, where the Bishop family had spent their winter, and found them giants in experience. Many of them were heads of families.

Monday evening there was a great gathering at Father Bishop’s for the holiness meeting. Father Coleman was present, and led the meeting. His was the only allusion to the trouble. He said, “Don’t pound your troubles; if you do, they’ll pound you, and you will get the worst of it. If they turn me out of the fold, I’ll go bleating around until they take me back in again?”

The General Conference came and went, but there was no redress of the grievances complained of. Mr. Roberts’ case was left as the Genesee Conference left it. Nearly every law-point, under which these wrongs had been perpetrated, was decided against the presiding bishops.

The conference declared that the interpretations of law by a bishop in the interim of conference did not have the force of law; that is, they were authoritative only when the bishop was presiding in a judicial capacity. This was aimed at Bishop Simpson’s interpretation of the law, that with the consent of the official board a preacher might declare a member withdrawn who did not attend the service of his own church. On this opinion, many had been excluded from the church in that summary way. But though it is, and was, a maxim of Methodism, that a member shall not suffer from the mal-administration of a preacher in charge, there was not a single instance, so far as is known, where there was an attempt to reinstate a member who had thus been excluded.

In view of taking such action as might be necessary after the General Conference, a Laymen’s Convention had been called to meet July 1, 1860, in connection with a camp meeting to be held on the grounds of J. M. Laughlin, near St. Charles, Illinois. A similar convention had been called in Western New York. The object of both was the same.

Mr. Redfield had charge of the religious services at St. Charles, assisted by Revs. B. T. Roberts, Seymour Coleman, G. H. Fox, and E. P. Hart, besides a large number of local preachers from various parts of the Northwest. St. Louis, Mo., Southern Iowa, and Wisconsin, and Marengo, Woodstock, Queen Anne, Garden Prairie, Brick Schoolhouse, Elgin, Coral, Clintonville, Geneva, Aurora, Wheaton, and Mt. Pleasant, within the state of Illinois, were represented by laymen. The camp meeting was one of great power. God was there, and many were saved.

The following are the minutes of the Laymen’s Convention:

“After devotional exercises, B. T. Roberts was chosen president, and C. E. McCollister, secretary.

“Members of the convention:

“St. Louis: — Richard Thornton, local elder; Daniel Lloyd, Ad. C. Coughlin, Charles R. Townsend (local preacher) J. W. Redfield (local preacher), C. E. McCollister, L. E. Benedict.

“St. Charles: — Elisha Foote, Warren Tyler, John Laughlin.

“Clintonville: — Joseph Corron, Benjamin Peaslee, C. E. Harroun (local preacher).

“Coral: — J. M. White.

“Union: — Joseph Deitz, L. H. Bishop, Wm. D. Bishop (local preacher), I. H. Fairchild (local deacon).

“Woodstock — S. Wilson, Warren Stanard, William Wright, M. Best.

“Queen Anne: — G. N. Fairchild.

“Mt. Pleasant: — Melville Beach, J. W. Dake, U. C. Rowe, J. G. Terrill (local preacher).

“A camp meeting was ordered to be held at Coral, McHenry county, Ill., commencing September 5, and holding one week.

“It was also ordered to hold another on the same grounds about the same time next year.

“President Roberts wrote and presented the following resolution, which was unanimously adopted:

“Resolved, That our attachment to the doctrines, usages, spirit, and discipline of Methodism, is hearty and sincere. It is with the most profound grief that we have witnessed the departure of many of the ministers from the God-honored usages of Methodism. We feel bound to adhere to them, and to labor all we can, and to the best possible advantage, to promote the life and power of godliness. We recommend that those in sympathy with the doctrine of holiness, as taught by Wesley, should labor in harmony with the respective churches to which they belong. But when this cannot be done, without continual strife and contention, we recommend the formation of Free Methodist churches, as contemplated by the convention held in the Genesee Conference, in New York.”

“I. H. Fairchild was recommended to take work in the itineracy of the convention.

“U. C. Rowe was licensed to preach.

“C. E. McCollister was appointed to missionary work in Michigan.

“A committee of five was appointed as a standing stationing committee, consisting of three ministers and two laymen, to hold their position until the next convention. I. H. Fairchild, C. E. Harroun, J. W. Redfield, E. Foote, and O. Joslyn, were made said committee.

“J. W. Redfield’s character was passed, and he was appointed superintendent of the Western work.

“President Roberts and J. W. Redfield were requested to appoint a preacher for St. Louis.

“The committee on stationing preachers was instructed to employ all local preachers under their charge.

“A motion was passed to recognize the ordinations of those ministers who have come among us.

“A. B. Burdick, a local preacher of St. Louis, was made a member of the convention.

“B. T. Roberts was unanimously elected general superintendent of the work.

“The stationing committee made the following appointments:

“Ogle Circuit, J. G. Terrill; St. Charles, C. R. Townsend; Clintonville, C. E. Harroun; Coral, I. H. Fairchild, and W. D. Bishop; Queen Anne, R. M. Hooker; Big Rock, D. F. Shephardson; Elgin, A. B. Burdick; Iowa Mission, P. C. Armstrong; St. Louis Mission, Ad. C. Coughlin, and Robt, Jamison; St. Louis Circuit, Joseph Travis; Michigan Mission, C. E. McCollister.”

The broken style of these minutes indicate that these men were new to the work of such assemblies, and that their action was unpremeditated. The General Conference was just over. In almost all of these places to which ministers were appointed there were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who had either been read out, or expelled, or were suffering from some form of proscription. Some of these local preachers were still members of that church.

In the month of August a general convention was held in Pekin, N. Y., in connection with a. camp meeting. Isaac M. Chesbrough, of Pekin, was chairman, and A. A. Phelps secretary. This was a delegated body, and was composed of sixty members — fifteen preachers, and forty-five laymen. The deliberations of the convention resulted in the organization of the Free Methodist Church, and the formation of their Discipline.

In September a convention was held on a campground at Aurora, Illinois, by which the new Discipline was adopted. The preachers who had taken work in June now went forth to organize Free Methodist churches wherever opportunity could be found.

The writer has thought it best to give this history of the rise and organization of the Free Methodist Church, first, because Mr. Redfield was so closely identified with it; and, secondly, to vindicate his course. It seems clear that he could do no other way. Necessity was laid upon him, as it was also upon others who were identified with the movement.


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