This conference assembled in the city of Baltimore May 1, and was opened by Bishop Roberts by reading a portion of the Holy Scriptures and prayer. John A. Collins, of the Baltimore conference, was appointed secretary, and James B. Houghtaling, of the Troy, and Thomas B. Sargent, of the Baltimore conferences, assistant secretaries. The following is a list of the delegates who were present: --
New York Conference: Nathan Bangs, C. W. Carpenter, Joshua Holdich Samuel Luckey, Daniel Ostrander, Fitch Reed, Phineas Rice, Marvin Richardson, Peter P. Sandford, Nicholas White.
New England Conference: Phineas Crandall, Jotham Horton, A. D. Merrill, Joshua A. Merrill, Orange Scott, E. W. Stickney, Fred Upham.
Main Conference: Moses Hill, B. Jones, W. C. Larrabee, D. B. Randall, Ezekiel Robinson.
New Hampshire Conference: John F. Adams, Charles D. Cahoon, Schuyler Chamberlain, Jared Perkins, Elihu Scott, James Templeton.
Troy Conference: J. B. Houghtaling, Noah Levings, Sherman Minor, Truman Seymour, Charles Sherman, Tobias Spicer.
Pittsburgh Conference: C. Cook, George S. Holmes, Robert Hopkins, Thomas M. Hudson, J. G. Sansom.
Erie Conference: John C. Ayers, John Chandler, H. Kingsley, B. O. Plimpton, David Preston.
Black River Conference: G. Baker, S. Chase, John Dempster, George Gary.
Oneida Conference: Elias Bowen, George Harman Zechariah Paddock, George Peck, D. A. Shephard.
Michigan Conference: Henry Colclazer, E. H. Pilcher, A. Poe, John H. Power.
Genesee Conference: Asa Abel, Jonas Dodge, A. N. Filmore, Glezin Filmore, J. Parker, Manley Tooker.
Ohio Conference: William B. Christie, S. Hamilton, L. L. Hamline, William H. Raper, R. O. Spencer, John F. Wright, Jacob Young.
Missouri Conference: Andrew Munroe, Thomas Johnson.
Illinois Conference: P. Aker, Peter Cartwright, John Clarke, Hooper Crews, J. T. Mitchell, S. H. Thompson.
Kentucky Conference: Henry B. Bascom, Thomas N. Ralston, Jonathan Stamper, George W. Taylor, J. S. Tomlinson.
Indiana Conference: E. R. Ames, A. Eddy, C. W. Ruter, Allen Wiley, A. Wood.
Holson Conference: Samuel Patton.
Tennessee Conference: A. T. Driskill, John B. McFerrin, S. S. Moody, Robert Paine, F. E. Pitts.
Arkansas Conference: John Harrell, John C. Parker.
Mississippi Conference: Benjamin M. Drake, William Winans.
Alabama Conference: E. Callaway, E. V. Ivert, William Murrah.
Georgia Conference: Ignatius A. Few, Samuel K. Hodges, William J. Parks, Lovick Pearce.
South Carolina Conference: Charles Betts, Bond English, Hugh A. C. Walker, William M. Wightman.
North Carolina Conference: Moses Brock, J. Jameson.
Virginia Conference: Thomas Crowder, John Early, William A. Smith.
Baltimore Conference: Samuel Brison, John A. Collins, J. A. Gere, John Miller, S. G. Roszel, H. Slicer, N. Wilson.
Philadelphia Conference: Solomon Higgins, Joshua Lybrand, Levi Scott, Matthew Sorin, Henry White.
New Jersey Conference: Manning Force, R. W. Petherbridge, C. Pitman, John S. Porter, Isaac Wilmer.
This conference was favored with the presence of the Rev. Robert Newton, as a representative from the Wesleyan Methodist conference, and the brethren Joseph Stinson, president of the Canada conference, John and Egerton Ryerson, members of said conference, John Harvard, chairman of the Lower Canada district, and Matthew Richie, principal of the Upper Canada Conference Academy.
These were severally introduced to the conference, and were recognized as brethren beloved, and worthy representatives of Wesleyan Methodism, both in Europe and British America.
Owing to the indisposition of Bishop Soule, who, in consequence thereof, was not present until some days after the conference opened, the address of the bishops was not presented until about a week after the conference commenced its sessions. Though long, yet as it presents the particular views of the episcopacy on several important points, the reader will, no doubt, be pleased to have it preserved in this permanent form. It is as follows: --
|Address of the Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church to the General Conference, held in Baltimore, May, 1840
|Dear Brethren, -- The meeting of this solemn and constitutional body, just at the opening of the second century of Wesleyan Methodism, is a peculiarly appropriate occasion for reviewing the rise and progress of that great and blessed revival of pure Christianity, which, commencing with the labors of that eminent man of God, the Rev. John Wesley, has, during the last centennial period, spread over large portions of our globe, conveying the blessings of the gospel salvation to millions of the human race. It is highly proper for us, at such a period, and under such circumstances, to direct our careful attention to the measures and means which, under God, have been accompanied with such auspicious results. It will appear, it is presumed, upon such an examination, that human policy has had less to do in the origin, progress, and final accomplishment of this great work, than in any other important and extensive enterprise since the days of the apostles. The rise, and progress, and ultimate success of Methodism are marked with the special openings and interpositions of the providence of Almighty God. And although we are a hundred years removed from that era of precious memory when this great light first shone forth from Oxford, we look back through every successive period of its advancement, deeply impressed with this sentiment, Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but unto thy name give glory!' We have stood still to see the salvation of God, or moved forward as his providence opened the way.
|In the progress of this great work on both sides of the Atlantic many instruments have been successfully employed, who would never have been engaged in the enterprise had their selection depended merely on the wisdom of men.
|In England, while a Wesley and Fletcher, with a few kindred spirits, were wielding the mighty artillery of gospel truth, with all the panoply of various and profound science and literature, made mighty by the arm of God to the pulling down of the strongholds of error and infidelity, a considerable number of unlettered men, taken from ordinary occupations, and with no pretensions to any extraordinary human qualifications, with such weapons as the Holy Spirit had supplied, were marching through the kingdom, attacking the citadel of the heart, and bringing thousands into a happy allegiance to the Captain of their salvation. The same order of things is observable from the commencement till the present time. It has pleased God, from time to time, to raise up men, in different parts of these States, who were endued with extraordinary intellectual powers, and those powers disciplined to sound argument by a thorough education. In these men the Church has found able defenders of her doctrines and order; and although some of them have fallen asleep, they still speak -- while others, in the order of Providence, have been raised up in their stead. Thus we have a host of the venerable dead, united with a succession of living witnesses, and all set for the defense of the gospel of Christ.
|But had only such distinguished instruments been employed in preaching the gospel on this continent since the first Wesleyan missionaries crossed the Atlantic, and commenced their labors in the colonies, what, in all human probability, would have been the state of the church in these lands at the present day?
|How many thousands and tens of thousands have been converted to God by the instrumentality of the preaching of men who have never explored the regions of science and literature-and who, having ' fought their way through,' are now resting in Abraham's bosom! And what living multitudes bear witness to the efficiency of the same means, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, in bringing them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God! Indeed, if we carefully examine the history of the church, from the days of the apostles to the present time, at what period of her progress shell we find her amply supplied with ministers combining in themselves a profound knowledge of science and literature, and genuine piety, and giving proof, by the sanctity of their lives, and the fruits of their labors, that they were truly called of God to the work of the ministry?
|The probability is, that one chief cause of the great deficiency of evangelical ministers in the Church of Christ is the neglect of that solemn command, Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth more laborers.'
|Our venerable Wesley was fully convinced that the supreme authority to constitute and perpetuate the gospel ministry belonged only to the Author of salvation; and that those who gave the Scriptural evidence of being moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them the work of the ministry were not to be rejected on account of a supposed deficiency in human acquirements.
|This truly evangelical sentiment, so strikingly illustrated in the history of the last century, should deeply impress us on the present occasion; and we should continue to adhere to it as one of the first principles in that system which is destined to evangelize the world. Our blessed Redeemer, after he had settled the constitution of his kingdom among men, -- after he had accomplished the work of human redemption, -- after he had risen from the dead in confirmation of his divine commission and authority, -- and in his last interview with his disciples, just before his ascension into heaven-said, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; go ye therefore and teach all nations.' All the attending circumstances conspire to render this one of the most solemn and important declarations ever made to the world. It asserts the exclusive authority of Jesus Christ to select, and commission, and send forth the ministers of his gospel; an authority which, by right of office and government, he carried with him to the right hand of the Father, to be possessed and exercised till the final issue of his mediatorial kingdom. In strict conformity with this declaration of their divine Master, the apostolic college claimed no right to constitute ministers in succession; but sought, with earnest prayer and diligent examination of spiritual gifts, connected with holiness of life and usefulness in labor, whom God had called to this sacred employment; and in this is involved, as we believe, the true doctrine of apostolic succession.
|Keeping steadily in view this fundamental principle in the constitution and perpetuity of the Christian ministry, and in connection with it the unity of the church of Christ, we, as your general superintendents, have thought it proper to invite your deliberate attention to several subjects which, in our opinion, have a special claim to your consideration-earnestly praying that all things may be done, whether in word or deed, as in the immediate presence of God, and with an eye single to his glory.
|To preserve and strengthen the unity and peace of that great and increasing body of Christians and Christian ministers which you represent in this General Conference, and to devise and adopt measures for the more extensive and efficient promotion of the work of God in these lands and in foreign countries, ale the primary and very important objects of the institution of this body; and in these objects your counsel, your acts, and your prayers should concentrate. The connection of Wesleyan Methodists in all parts of the world should remain one united household, keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. One in doctrine, and in all the essential points of discipline, they should remain undivided in affection; and no minor considerations, growing out of difference of country, civil government, or other circumstances, should ever separate us, or interrupt our Christian fellowship. Laborers together with our brethren in Europe, and in the provinces, in the same vineyard of our common Lord, we should avail ourselves of every favorable opportunity, and especially of the occasion of the meeting of this body, to convey to them our Christian salutations, and the expressions of our undiminished affection and esteem.
|Although it may be safely admitted that every system, except that which has a just claim to inspiration, is capable of improvement, it is a wise and prudent maxim, as well in ecclesiastical as in civil jurisprudence, that principles and measures which have been long established and generally successful in their operations, should be changed or modified with the utmost caution. The history of communities sufficiently proves that innovations upon such a settled order of things are very liable to result in consequences unfavorable to the peace and well-being of society. This being the case, no ordinary considerations should induce us to remove the ancient land-marks which our fathers have set up.'
|In a body so numerous as the Methodist connection, embracing twenty-eight annual conferences, extended over these United States and territories, and connected with different civil and domestic institutions, it is hardly expected that all should see eye to eye' relative to the meaning and administration of the discipline of the Church, or the fitness and expediency of measures which may be adopted in conformity to such a state of things.
|It has been the constant aim and united endeavor of your general superintendents to preserve uniformity and harmony in these respects; and, as far as practicable, prevent conflicting action in all the official bodies in the Church. But, although we record, with unfeigned gratitude to the God of all grace and consolation, the general peace, and harmony, and prosperity of the body, since your last session, it becomes our painful duty to lay before you some exceptions to this happy and prosperous condition.
|At the last session of the General Conference the subject of slavery and its abolition was extensively discussed, and vigorous exertions made to effect new legislation upon it. But, after a careful examination of the whole ground, aided by the light of past experience, it was the solemn conviction of the conference that the interests of religion would not be advanced by any additional enactments in regard to it.
|In your pastoral address to the ministers and people, at your last session, with great unanimity, and, as we believe, in the true spirit of the ministers of the peaceful gospel of Christ, you solemnly advised the whole body to abstain from all abolition movements, and from agitating the exciting subject in the Church. This advice was in perfect agreement with the individual as well as associated views of your superintendents. But had we differed from you in opinion, in consideration of the age, wisdom, experience, and official authority of the General Conference, we should have felt ourselves under a solemn obligation to be governed by your counsel. We have endeavored, both in our official administration, and in our private intercourse with the preachers and members, to inculcate the sound policy and Christian spirit of your pastoral address. And it affords us great pleasure to be able to assure you, that our efforts in this respect have been very generally approved, and your advice cordially received and practically observed in a very large majority of the annual conferences, as will more fully appear to you on the careful examination of the journals of those bodies for the last four years. But we regret that we are compelled to say, that in some of the northern and eastern conferences, in contravention of your Christian and pastoral counsel, and of your best efforts to carry it into effect, the subject has been agitated in such forms, and in such a spirit, as to disturb the peace of the Church. This unhappy agitation has not been confined to the annual conferences, but has been introduced into quarterly conferences, and made the absorbing business of self-created bodies in the bosom of our beloved Zion. The professed object of all these operations is to free the Methodist Episcopal Church from the |great moral evil of slavery,| and to secure to the enslaved the rights and privileges of free citizens of these United States. How far the measures adopted, and the manner of applying those measures, are calculated to accomplish such an issue, even if it could be effected by any action of ecclesiastical bodies, your united wisdom will enable you to judge.
|We cannot, however, but regard it as of unhappy tendency, that either individual members, or official bodies in the Church, should employ terms and pass resolutions of censure and condemnation on their brethren, and on public officers and official bodies over whose actions they have no legitimate jurisdiction. It requires un very extensive knowledge of human nature to be convinced that if we would convert our fellow-men from the error of their ways, we must address them, not in terms of crimination and reproach, but in the milder language of respect, persuasion, and kindness.
|It is justly due to a number of the annual conferences in which a majority, or a very respectable minority of the members are professedly abolitionists, to say, that they occupy a very different ground and pursue a very different course from those of their brethren who have adopted ultra principles and measures in this unfortunate, and, we think unprofitable controversy. The result of action had in such conferences on the resolution of the New England conference, recommending a very important change in our general rule on slavery, is satisfactory proof of this fact, and affords us strong and increasing confidence that the unity and peace of the Church are not to be materially affected by this exciting subject. Many of the preachers who were favorably disposed to the cause of abolition, when they saw the extent to which it was designed to carry these measures, and the inevitable consequences of their prosecution, came to a pause, reflected, and declined their cooperation. They clearly perceived that the success of the measures would result in the division of the Church; and for such an event they were not prepared. They have no disposition to criminate their brethren in the south, who are unavoidably connected with the institution of slavery, or to separate from them on that account. It is believed that men of ardent temperament, whose zeal may have been somewhat in advance of their knowledge and discretion, have made such advances in the abolition enterprise as to produce a reaction. A few preachers and members, disappointed in their expectations, and despairing of the success of their cause in the Methodist Church, have withdrawn from our fellowship, and connected themselves with associations more congenial with their views and feelings; and others, in similar circumstances, may probably follow their example. But we rejoice in believing that these secessions will be very limited, and that the great body of Methodists in these states will continue, as they have been, one and inseparable. The uniformity and st ability of our course should be such, as to let all candid and thinking men see that the cause of secessions from us is not a change of our doctrine or moral discipline -- no imposition of new terms of communion -- no violation of covenant engagements on the part of the Church. It is a matter worthy of particular notice, that these who have departed from us do hot pre tend that any material change in our system, with respect either to doctrine, discipline, or government, has taken place since they voluntarily united themselves with us. And it is ardently to be desired that no such innovation may be effected, as to furnish any just ground for such a pretension.
|The experience of more than half a century, since the organization of our ecclesiastical body, will afford us many important lights and landmarks, pointing out what is the safest and most prudent policy to be pursued in our onward course as regards African slavery in these States; and especially in our own religious community. This very interesting period of our history is distinguished by several characteristic features having a special claim to our consideration at the present time, particularly in view of the unusual excitement which now prevails on the subject, not only in the different Christian churches, but also in the civil body. And, first, our general rule on slavery, which forms a part of the constitution of the Church, has stood from the beginning unchanged, as testamentary of our sentiments on the principle of slavery and the slave trade. And in this we differ in no respect from the sentiments of our venerable founder, or from those of the wisest and most distinguished statesmen and civilians of our own, and other enlightened and Christian countries. Secondly, In all the enactments of the Church relating to slavery, a due and respectful regard has been had to the laws of the states, never requiring emancipation in contravention of the civil authority, or where the laws of the states would not allow the liberated slave to enjoy his freedom. Thirdly, The simply holding or owning slaves, without regard to circumstances, has at no period of the existence of the Church subjected the master to excommunication. Fourthly, Rules have been made from time to time, regulating the sale and purchase and holding of slaves, with reference to the different laws of the states where slavery is tolerated; which, upon the experience of the great difficulties of administering them, and the unhappy consequences both to masters and servants, have been as often changed or repealed. These important facts, which form prominent features of our past history as a Church, may very properly lead us to inquire for that course of action in future which may be best calculated to preserve the peace and unity of the whole body, promote the greatest happiness of the slave population, and advance generally, in the slave-holding community of our country, the humane and hallowing influence of our holy religion. We cannot withhold from you, at this eventful period, the solemn conviction of our minds, that no new ecclesiastical legislation on the subject of slavery at this time will have a tendency to accomplish these most desirable objects. And we are fully persuaded, that, as a body of Christian ministers, we shall accomplish the greatest good by directing our individual and united efforts, in the spirit of the first teachers of Christianity, to bring both master and servant under the sanctifying influence of the principles of that gospel which teaches the duties of every relation, and enforces the faithful discharge of them by the strongest conceivable motives. Do we aim at the amelioration of the condition of the slave? How can we so effectually accomplish this, in our calling as ministers of the gospel of Christ, as by employing our whole influence to bring both him and his master to a saving knowledge of the grace of God, and to a practical observance of those relative duties so clearly prescribed in the writings of the inspired apostles? Permit us to add, that, although we enter not into the political contentions of the day, neither interfere with civil legislation, nor with the administration of the laws, we cannot but feel a deep interest in whatever affects the peace, prosperity, and happiness of our beloved country. The union of these States, the perpetuity of the bonds of our national confederation, the reciprocal confidence of the different members of the great civil compact; in a word, the well-being of the community of which we are members, should never cease to he near our hearts, and for which we should offer up our sincere and most ardent prayers to the almighty Ruler of the universe. But can we, as ministers of the gospel, and servants of a Master whose kingdom is not of this world,' promote these important objects in any way so truly and permanently as by pursuing the course just pointed out? Can we, at this eventful crisis, render a better service to our country than by laying aside all interference with relations authorized and established by the civil laws, and applying ourselves wholly and faithfully to what specially appertains to our high and holy calling;' to teach and enforce the moral obligations of the gospel, in application to all the duties growing out of the different relations in society? By a diligent devotion to this evangelical employment, with an humble and steadfast reliance upon the aid of divine influence, the number of believing masters' and servants may be constantly increased, the kindest sentiments and affections cultivated, domestic burdens lightened, mutual confidence cherished, and the peace and happiness of society be promoted. While on the other hand, if past history affords us any correct rules of judgment, there is much cause to fear that the influence of our sacred office, if employed in interfering with the relation itself, and consequently with the civil institutions of the country, will rather tend to prevent than to accomplish these desirable ends.
|But while we sincerely and most affectionately, and, we humbly trust, in the spirit of the gospel of Christ, recommend to you, and to all the ministers and members you represent in the body, to pursue such a course in regard to this deeply exciting subject, we think it proper to invite your attention in particular to one point, intimately connected with it, and, as we conceive, of primary importance. It is in regard to the true import and application of the general rule on slavery. The different constructions to which it has been subjected, and the variety of opinions entertained upon it, together with the conflicting acts of some of the annual conferences of the north and south, seem to require that a body, having legitimate jurisdiction, should express a clear and definite opinion, as a uniform guide to those to whom the administration of the discipline is committed.
Another subject of vital importance, as we apprehend, to the unity and peace of the Church, and not unconnected with the foregoing, is the constitutional powers of the general superintendents, in such relations to the annual conferences, and in their general executive administration of the government; and the rights of annual and quarterly conferences, in their official capacities. In the prosecution of our superintending agency, we have been compelled to differ in opinion from many of our brethren composing these official bodies; and this difference of opinion, connected with a conviction of our high responsibility, has, in a few cases, resulted in action which has been judged, by those specially concerned, to be high-handed, unconstitutional, tyrannical, and oppressive. In all such cases, we have given the most unequivocal assurances that we should, with unfeigned satisfaction and the kindest feelings, submit the whole matter in controversy, with all our official acts in the premises, to the enlightened deliberation and final judgment of this constitutional tribunal. And we cannot but indulge the hope that those who have differed from us will cordially abide the decision of such a judicatory, should it not accord with their views. We have no disposition to enter into an extensive examination of the merits of the case, which, we regret to say, has been a matter of prolonged discussion in self-created conventions, and in some of the religious periodicals of the day. But our object is to lay before you the simple points involved, and leave the issue to be settled as your united wisdom shall determine, requesting liberty, at the proper time, if occasion should require, to correct erroneous statements, and remove improper impressions, having reference to both course of action. In presenting this subject to your consideration, it is due to a very large majority of all the annual conferences, and to the members composing them, individually, to say that the utmost harmony, and confidence, and affection exist between them and the general superintendents. The geographical bounds of the controversy are very limited.
The whole subject may be presented to you in the following simple questions: When any business comes up for action in our annual or quarterly conferences, involving a difficulty on a question of law, so as to produce the inquiry, What is the law in the case? does the constitutional power to decide the question belong to the president, or the conference? Have the annual conferences a constitutional right to do any other business than what is specifically prescribed, or, by fair construction, provided for in the form of Discipline? Has the president of an annual conference, by virtue of his office, a right to decline putting a motion or resolution to vote, on business other than that thus prescribed or provided for?
|These questions are proposed with exclusive reference to the principle of constitutional right. The principles of courtesy and expediency are very different things.
|As far as we have been able to ascertain the views of those who entertain opinions opposite to our own on these points, they may be summed up as follows: --
|They maintain that all questions of law arising out of the business of our annual or quarterly conferences are to be, of right, settled by the decision of those bodies, either primarily by resolution, or finally by an appeal from the decision of the president: that it is the prerogative of an annual conference to decide what business they will do, and when they will do it:' that they have a constitutional right to discuss, in their official capacity, all moral subjects:' to investigate the official acts of other annual conferences -- of the General Conference, and of the general superintendents, so far as to pass resolutions of disapprobation or approval on those acts. They maintain that the president of an annual conference is to be regarded in the same relation to the conference that a chairman or speaker sustains to a civil legislative assembly: that it is his duty to preserve order in the conference, to determine questions of order, subject to appeal, and put to vote all motions and resolutions, when called for according to the rules of the body: that these are the settled landmarks of his official prerogatives, as president of the conference, beyond which he has no right to go: that although it belongs to his office, as general superintendent, to appoint the time for holding the several annual conferences, he has no discretionary authority to adjourn them, whatever length of time they may have continued their session, or whatever business they may think proper to transact. From these doctrines we have felt it our solemn duty to dissent. And we will not withhold from you our deliberate and abiding conviction, that if they should be sustained by the General Conference, the uniform and efficient administration of the government would be rendered impracticable.
|The government of the Methodist Episcopal Church is peculiarly constructed. It is widely different from our civil organization. The General Conference is the only legislative body recognized in our ecclesiastical system, and from it originates the authority of the entire executive administration. The exclusive power to create annual conferences, and to increase or diminish their number, rests with this body. No annual conference has authority or right to make any rule of discipline for the Church, either within its own bounds or elsewhere. No one has the power to elect its own president, except in a special case, pointed out, and provided for, by the General Conference. Whatever may be the number of the annual conferences, they are all organized on the same plan, are all governed by the same laws, and all have identically the same rights, powers, and privileges. These powers, and rights, and privileges are not derived from themselves, but from the body which originated them. And the book of Discipline, containing the rules of the General Conference, is the only charter of their rights, and directory of their duties, as official bodies. The general superintendents are elected by the General Conference, and responsible to it for the discharge of the duties of their office. They are constituted, by virtue of their office, president of the annual conferences, with authority to appoint the time of holding them; with a prudential provision that they shall allow each conference to sit at least one week, that the important business prescribed in the form of Discipline may not be hurried through in such a manner as to affect injuriously the interests of the Church. The primary objects of their official department in the Church were, as we believe, to preserve, in the mot effectual manner, an itinerant ministry; to maintain a uniformity in the administration of the government and discipline in every department, and that the unity of the whole body might be preserved. But how, we would ask, can these important ends be accomplished, if each annual conference possesses the rights mid powers set forth in the foregoing summary? Is it to be supposed, that twenty-eight constitutional judges of ecclesiastical law, and these, too, not individuals of age and experience, who have had time and means to thoroughly investigate, and analyze, and collate the system; but official bodies, many members of which are young and inexperienced, and without the opportunity or necessary helps for such researches, and without consultation with each other on the points to be decided, will settle different questions of law with such agreement as to have no material conflict between their legal decisions. Is it not greatly to be feared, that, with such a system of ecclesiastical jurisprudence, what might be law in Georgia might be no law in New England? that what might be orthodoxy in one conference might be heresy in another? Where, then, would be the identity of the law, the uniformity of its administration, or the unity and peace of the Church?
|A well-digested system of collegiate education, under the direction and control of the General Conference, is, in our opinion, loudly called for by the present state of the Church, and by our widely extended and extending influence, as a religious denomination. Such a system is of such vast importance, in connection with the general principles and designs of Methodism, as to render the policy of submitting its direction and superintendence to sectional control, to say the least, very doubtful. For many years, the state of the Church was such in these States as to render it impracticable to accomplish much in the cause of education, any further than as we were associated with other bodies, or were connected with the institutions of the country. And it is not to be denied that there existed among us, to a considerable extent, even down to a recent date, strong opposition to commencing this important enterprise among ourselves. But during the last twenty years, the spirit of inquiry has been wakened up, and a very general interest excited on this subject; and the energies and means of our preachers and people have been employed to a very considerable extent in the promotion of such a worthy and noble object. What appears to be especially necessary at the present crisis is a well-organized system which shall give the best direction to those energies and means. It will not be at all surprising to men who have made themselves acquainted with the former and present condition of the Methodist Church, relative to the promotion of literature, that there should be at the present time a spirit of zeal and enterprise in operation, which, if not guided by the soundest principles of wisdom and policy, and concentrated in a general and harmonious system, may fail to accomplish the desirable and important object, and ultimately result in injurious reaction. This can hardly fail to be the case, if colleges, or other high institutions of learning, which must depend upon other means of support than the revenues arising from tuiition, are multiplied beyond the available means necessary for their adequate and permanent endowment. And it is to be feared that in this respect we are not entirely free from error and danger. We scarcely need to say to this enlightened and experienced body of ministers, many of whom are familiar with the polity and fiscal concerns of literary institutions, that such of them as we have just named cannot be considered in a safe and sound condition in regard to their efficiency and perpetuity, until they realize a revenue from permanent endowment entirely sufficient to support their faculties, leaving the fund arising from tuition to meet contingent expenses. If this is a correct rule of calculation in regard to the safety of collegiate institutions, it is very doubtful whether any of our colleges or universities can be considered permanently secure. It appears to us that the time has arrived for the General Conference to take this subject into their deliberate consideration, and adopt such measures as, in their wisdom, may the most effectually secure our colleges already in operation from liability to failure, and guard against the erection of others till sufficient available means are secured to place them on a firm foundation. The circumstance that there are members of the faculties or boards of trustees of nearly, if not quite all our colleges, present as representatives in this body, is, in our opinion, peculiarly favorable to such a design. We cannot too deeply impress upon your minds the importance of preserving in our own power the direction and control of the system of collegiate and theological education in the Church. Perhaps a more favorable opportunity than your present session will seldom, if ever, occur, for devising and adopting a judicious and uniform course of literary and moral discipline in all the collegiate institutions under our superintendence. And we will not withhold our solemn conviction, that any course of study in a Methodist college or university would be essentially defective if it did not embrace the Bible -- the most ancient, the most learned, and the most important book in the world. As a Christian community, all our institutions of learning should be sanctuaries of theological science. Do we send our sons to explore the regions of science and literature, merely, as did idolatrous Greece and Rome, to prepare them for the senate, the forum, or the field? Do we not rather desire that they may be qualified by mental and moral improvement, to diffuse, in every circle of society in which they may move, the influence of the enlightening, peaceful, and benevolent principles of our holy religion? Do we intend them for professional life? In what profession can they be employed in a Christian country in which the Bible is not a most important text book? Are not the civil governments of Christendom based upon it? Is it not the fountain of law, and the charter of rights? When do you see the statesman, the judge, or the advocate, more clear, convincing, authoritative, or sublime, than when he appeals to its doctrines, morals, or sanctions? Do we desire our sons to practice the healing art? Would we send them forth to mingle in scenes of wretchedness and suffering without the knowledge of those divine truths taught by Him who went about doing good, and healing all manner of diseases? In a word, we cannot but believe that the doctrines, history, evidences, and morals of revelation, should be regarded as forming one of the most important departments in our system of collegiate education. We are aware that such a feature in the course of study in our colleges would subject them to the too common objection of being theological seminaries. This objection would certainly come with more grace from the lips of infidels than from the tongues or pens of professed believers in the divine authenticity of the Christian revelation. While, in our opinion, the science of the word of God should be a paramount branch of instruction in our literary institutions, we desire not to be understood as recommending the establishment of Theological Seminaries,' in the common acceptation of the term; that is, for the special purpose of educating men for the work of the gospel ministry. We feel, with many enlightened Christians and able ministers, both in our own and other religious denominations, the importance of an able and efficient ministry. Nor are we unapprised of the great advantages of a thorough education to those whose business it is to preach Christ and him crucified.' But we are free to acknowledge that the policy of establishing schools of divinity for the exclusive purpose of preparing young men for the sacred office, as for a profession, is, in our opinion, to say the least, of doubtful authority and expedience. The history of such institutions, from their earliest establishment, admonishes us, that the speculators of human science have but too frequently obscured and adulterated the doctrines of the revelation of God; and that, in many cases, where they have been commenced on evangelical ground, in their onward course they have wandered into the wilderness of metaphysical disquisitions, or been lost in the still darker regions of rational Christianity.' When the history, doctrines, evidences, and duties of the revelation of God shall form a distinct and primary department of study in our institutions of learning our children be dedicated to God, and trained up in his knowledge and fear, and the whole Church united in devout and fervent prayer that God would raise up, and send forth into his vineyard, men of his own selection, and Scriptural proofs be required of those who profess to be called to preach the gospel, it is believed that human agency will have reached its legitimate bounds in the premises, and that this great concern will be perfectly secure with the supreme Head of the church, to whom alone belongs the authority to perpetuate the ministry of his gospel to the end of the world. But should this body differ from us with regard to the expediency of establishing institutions for theological education separate from our literary establishments, and for the exclusive purpose of preparing the students for the work of the ministry, we cannot too strongly recommend to you the propriety and importance of having the whole subject under the direction and control of the General Conference. We are well persuaded that your wisdom and experience will lead you to apprehend the great impropriety of sectional institutions in the Church for such a purpose. To intrust a matter of such vast moment to a self-organized association, or to an annual conference, or
|A regular and uniform course of study for the under graduates in the ministry has, in our judgment, a special claim to your attention at your present session. At a former session it was made the duty of the general superintendents to point out a course of study for the candidates, preparatory to their admission into full connection, with discretionary privilege of appointing a committee for that purpose. By this rule, no provision is made for a course of study for preachers, for the two years previous to their induction to the office of elders. This has been thought to be a defect in the system, and at the request of many of the annual conferences, an advisory course has been prepared, embracing these two years. The result, as far as we have knowledge, has been very advantageous in the improvement of the ministry. And we recommend to the General Conference to extend the course so as to embrace the whole period from the time of admission on trial, until the full powers of the ministry are conferred. The situation of the superintendents is such, in visiting all parts of the work, extending over all the states and territories, as to render it extremely difficult, and for the most part impracticable, without great labor and expense, to meet for consultation with each other on this, or any other, important interest of the church; and their duties are so various and weighty as to incline them to the opinion, that the great object contemplated in this provision would be better accomplished by a uniform course of study prepared by this body, and published in our form of Discipline. The local ministry is to be regarded as forming an important department in our system. They are truly helpers in the work of the Lord. As such we should always esteem them. And nothing should be neglected which has a tendency to preserve and strengthen the bonds of affection and confidence between them and the itinerant connection. Many of this useful class of ministers have deeply felt the necessity of a regular system of study, adapted, as far as practicable, to the condition and circumstances of local preachers, embracing studies preparatory to their receiving license, and extending to the time of their graduating to the office of elders. Many and great advantages might doubtless be derived from such a course, judiciously formed in adaptation to the circumstances of our local brethren, whose time must necessarily be employed, to a greater or less extent, in secular avocations. We recommend the subject to your deliberate consideration.
|We invite your particular attention to a review of the process prescribed in the Discipline in the provision for locating a preacher without his consent. The course directed in case of the trial of a superannuated preacher, residing without the bounds of the annual conference of which he is a member, is found to be attended with great inconvenience, and is liable to result in injustice to the accused, or injury to the church. A considerable number of superannuated preachers (and the number is constantly increasing) have their residence many hundred miles from the bounds of the conferences where they hold their membership. The consequence is, that it repeatedly occurs, that the communications which the Discipline requires them to make to their own conference fail to be received, in which cases the passage of their characters may be involved, and they are liable to be deprived of their regular allowance, even when they sustain the fairest reputation, and when they are in real need of the amount to which they have a lawful claim. But these points are far from being the most important, though they are certainly entitled to consideration. The subject embraces deeper interests, both to the individuals and to the church. In case of the trial of a superannuated preacher, within the bounds of a conference remote from his own, as provided for in the Discipline, there are several difficulties which experiment can hardly fail to make obvious. It is provided that the presiding elder, in whose district the accused may reside, shall bring him to trial, and in case of suspension, shall forward to the annual conference of which the accused is a member, exact minutes of the charges, testimony, and decision of the committee in the ease, and on the testimony thus furnished, the conference must decide. The great difficulty of deciding important cases equitably, from minutes of testimony thus taken, is well known. This difficulty is increased in proportion to the complexity of the ease, and the conflicting character of the testimony. Add to this, that it will rarely be practicable in such cases for the accuser and accused to be brought face to face, or for either to be present to plead in the premises. Distance of place, length of time required, and the labor and expense involved, would, in most eases, form an insurmountable obstacle to the parties being heard before the tribunal where judgment must finally be given. And, further, in cases of this kind it must frequently happen that the testimony will be voluminous, and the difficulty and expense of its transmission very considerable. And finally, documents forwarded a great distance are very liable to fail of reaching their place of destination, in which case the administration of justice might be delayed, if not finally defeated, and the church suffer reproach. Besides, the present provision in our Discipline is, in our opinion, too liable to abuse. Should any one of the annual conferences think it proper to enter upon any favorite enterprise, for the success of which they might conceive it necessary to have agents operating without their own bounds, it would be no difficult matter to place such brethren as would very well serve their case in a superannuated relation. And if the object to be accomplished was of very deep interest, the liability of their agents to trial and suspension by a committee would hardly form an obstacle, especially as the final decision of the case would be in their own power. In view of all the difficulties to which the present provision is liable, we are inclined to the opinion that a different course might be devised, by which the ends of justice might be obtained more readily, and with greater certainty, and in perfect accordance with our system of government. As the trial and expulsion of a preacher is not to be regarded simply as a process affecting only his relation to the conference where he belongs, but is to all intents and purposes an expulsion from the itinerant connection, and from the Church; and as the same rules for the trial of preachers must govern the action of all the annual conferences, and the same rights and privileges are secured to all by the constitution and Discipline of the Church, we are not apprised of any valid objection to the trial of traveling preachers by the annual conferences in which they may reside at the time of the occurrence of the offense of which they are accused. Indeed, it would seem that the principle of constitutionality in such a course is fully recognized by the General Conference in the present provision: -- For if a presiding elder may have jurisdiction over a superannuated preacher, residing within his district, and out of the bounds of his own conference, so as to suspend him from all official acts and privileges, which is the utmost extent of his authority in regard to the preachers stationed in his district, it will be difficult, it is presumed, to raise valid constitutional objections to the jurisdiction of an annual conference to prosecute such cases to a final issue. And it can hardly be doubted that these two great advantages would be secured by such a process -- it would secure a more ready and easy access to testimony, especially such as might be presumptive and circumstantial, on which, it is well known, the final issue may materially depend, and afford the accuser and accused the opportunity of appearing face to face, to plead their own cause. And we respectfully suggest whether a provision, in some respects similar, might not be made for the trial of local preachers in the circuits where they are charged with committing offenses. With these views we submit the subject to your consideration. Since the General Conference provided for the appointment of preachers to the charge of seminaries of learning, many institutions for the education of youth of both sexes have sprung up, preferring their claims to such appointments. Most of these schools have been originated by individuals, or associations of individuals, having no other connection with an annual conference than such as consists in the courtesy of patronage, connected with the annual visits of a committee appointed for the purpose of attending their examinations, and reporting the results.
|In discharging the important and responsible duties of their office, your superintendents have not been so happy as to avoid difficulty from this department; and in some eases their convictions of the limits of their authority, in connection with their judgment of expediency, have compelled them, though with the most friendly reciprocal feelings, to differ from the views, and decline to meet the express wishes of annual conferences. And it is with the most sincere satisfaction that they refer their opinions and acts to this body, that if in error, as they are certainly liable to be, they may be corrected, and the whole body harmonized on all material points. There are two distinct cases in which the superintendents are authorized to appoint preachers to institutions of learning. The one respects such institutions as are or may be under our superintendence, and the other, such as are not. Out of these cases several important questions have originated, which have been the ground of the difference of opinion of which we have just spoken. These questions may be stated as follows: 1. What is necessary to constitute a seminary of learning so far under our superintendence as to bring it fairly within the rule of the General Conference authorizing the appointment of a preacher to it? 2. What classes of literary institutions was it the intention of the General Conference to embrace in this provision? 3. In providing for the appointment of preachers to 'seminaries of learning' not under our superintendence, was it the intention of the General Conference to include all classes of literary institutions, if the appointment was requested by an annual conference, or to limit the appointment to seminaries of collegiate literature? 4, Is an appointment under this provision discretionary with the superintendent, or does the request of an annual conference create an obligation as a matter of duty, as in the case of appointments in the districts and circuits? There are principles and interests, in our opinion, involved in these questions which have a special claim to the deliberate consideration of this body. From the numerous applications which are made for the appointment of preachers, to be school teachers and agents for various institutions, it is to be feared that unless the subject be clearly defined, and carefully guarded by suitable limitations and restrictions, our grand itinerant system may be impaired by a virtual location of many valuable ministers, and the Church suffer in spiritual interests from the loss of useful labors. There are at this time about seventy of the effective traveling preachers employed as presidents, professors, principals, and teachers in literary institutions, and as agents devoted to their interests. These ministers are selected from the several annual conferences with reference to their qualifications for the duties of their station. They are men of talent, science, and learning, and many of them ministers of age and experience. And the calls for such appointments are constantly multiplying on our hands. While we readily and thankfully acknowledge the usefulness of brethren employed in this important department of our great work, we must be permitted to doubt whether the cause of God might not be more effectually and extensively promoted, if, to say the least, a very large proportion of these able ministers of Christ were exclusively devoted to the work of the gospel ministry. And we respectfully suggest the inquiry, whether pious and learned men may not be obtained from the local ministry, or from the official or private membership, well qualified as teachers to advance the cause of education, and by this means bring into the regular field of itinerant labor a great weight of talent and influence now almost confined to the precincts of academies and colleges.
|At the last session of this body the publication of three religious periodicals was provided for, in addition to those previously established. They have now, it is presumed, been before the religious community a sufficient time to enable you to form an opinion of their intrinsic merits as official papers, going forth to an enlightened and reading people, under the authority and patronage of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and of their usefulness in promoting the great enterprise in which we are engaged, by spreading abroad the light of gospel truth, advancing the interests of our important institutions, and strengthening the bonds of peace and harmony in the Church. The influence of the periodical press, either for weal or woe, is too well ascertained to render it necessary for this body to be reminded of the importance of throwing around it, so far as it is under their direction and patronage, those safeguards which shall preserve its unity, and render it subservient to the promotion of intellectual, moral, and religious improvement. We have no doubt but you will agree with us in sentiment, that our religious papers should take no part in the political warfare of the day -- that they should never interfere with the civil institutions of the country that they should promote, as far as practicable, quietness, peace; and love, among all Christian people, and especially in the Church by whose authority and patronage they exist, and whose interests they are particularly designed to serve. Whatever might have been the views of the General Conference at the time of the establishment of these papers, it did not occur to the superintendents that they were to be mediums of mercantile or professional advertisements; and we respectfully submit it to your enlightened judgment, whether it is consistent with the character of the Church, and the grand designs of her religious institutions, among which the periodical press is one of the most efficient, to make them such. We are not apprised whether recourse has been had to this measure from courtesy to friends in secular occupations, or for the purpose of realizing funds sufficient to meet the expenses of publication. But with due deference, we must be permitted to doubt whether the credit or the general interests of the Methodist Church will be promoted by the publication of a paper under the official sanction of the General Conference, which cannot obtain a patronage sufficient to meet its expenses without devoting its columns to business advertisements. Your timely and judicious advice to the annual conferences, not to establish any more conference papers, has been respectfully regarded, so that no new paper has been published by any conference for the last four years, except one, which has since been discontinued, and it is believed there is an increasing conviction in the conferences generally, that it is inexpedient to publish such papers. Several papers, however, are published, assuming to be in the interests of the Methodist Church, and edited by Methodist preachers, and which are patronized to a considerable extent by many members of several annual conferences. We are already admonished by the history of the past, how easy it is, under the popular pretext of the right of free discussion, to disturb the harmony and peace of the Church, stir up strife and contention, alienate the affection of brethren from each other, and finally injure the cause of Christ.
|Applications from members and ministers of other churches, with whom we are in Christian fellowship, are becoming more frequent, and a variety of opinions being entertained by preachers of age and experience, with regard to the manner of receiving them among us, the Discipline making no special provision in the case, we have thought it advisable to bring the subject before you, with a view to the adopting a course which may harmonize the views and official action of all concerned, and manifest that spirit of Christian charity which should always abound in the church of Christ. It is only necessary for us to lay before you the different opinions entertained on the subject, which, from the character and number of those who hold them, are certainly entitled to respectful attention. With regard to private members of other churches who make application for membership with us, it has been maintained on the one hand, that they should be admitted and remain on trial for six months, as the Discipline provides, before they are received into the Church; and on the other, that the circumstance of their being regular and approved members of other churches, with which we are in Christian fellowship, virtually answers the essential ends of the provision for a probationer, and consequently that they should be received into the Church without requiring such trial. The views which are entertained with respect to receiving ministers from other churches are not capable of so simple a definition. But they may be summed up as follows: -- Many are of the opinion, that, in common with all other persons, they should be admitted on trial, and pass a probation of six months, before they are received as members of the Church. That, being received as such, they should obtain recommendation and license and graduate in the ministry, in strict conformity to the letter of the Discipline, without regard to their ordination by the constitutional authorities of the churches from which they came. Others are of the opinion that, coming to us with accredited testimonials of their Christian piety and official standing, and giving satisfaction, on examination as the Discipline directs, with respect to their belief in our doctrine, and approval of our discipline, they should be immediately received and accredited as ministers among us. And that on answering the questions, and taking upon them, the solemn obligations of our ordination service, they should receive credentials of authority to administer the holy sacraments without the imposition of hands repeated by us, unless they themselves should incline to it. These conflicting opinions, in connection with the fact that a number of ministers have been received among us in conformity to the latter view, seem to require that the General Conference take such order upon it as in their wisdom may be best calculated to produce unanimity of sentiment and action, and promote Christian confidence and affection between ourselves and other religious denominations, without impairing any fundamental principle of our order and government
|Of your general superintendents, six in number, three are enfeebled by labor, age, and infirmity. We are of one heart and one mind, acknowledging our obligation according to our ability, and to the utmost extent of it, to serve the Church of God in that highly responsible office which you have committed to us; but, in view of our own weakness and the arduous work intrusted to us, with fear and much trembling, we have cause to exclaim, Who is sufficient for these things?' There are now twenty-eight annual conferences represented in this body, and in all probability the number will be considerably increased during your present session. These embrace a country extending from New Brunswick to Texas on the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico, and from the sea-board to the vast northern lakes, and to the territories on the upper Mississippi and Missouri. The general superintendents sustain the same relation to all these conferences; and our system requires that we should be annually visited. Between three and four thousand traveling preachers are to be appointed every year to their fields of ministerial labor. These appointments must be made with due regard to the qualifications, age, infirmities, and domestic circumstances of this vast body of ministers, and with the same regard to the condition and wants of the millions of people to whom they are sent. To minds capable of grasping this vast machinery of our itinerant system, it will readily appear that an effective itinerant superintendency is indispensably necessary to keep it in regular, energetic, and successful operation. It must be effective, not imbecile; general, not sectional; itinerant, not local. Destitute of either of these prerequisites, the probable result would be a disorganization of the system, and weakness and inefficiency in all its parts. In the relation we sustain to you as the highest judicatory of the Church, and to the whole itinerant connection, it becomes us to be cautious and unassuming in presenting you with our sentiments on a subject like this, in which it may be supposed we have a special individual interest. We will only suggest two points for your consideration, which we are confident will appear to you in the same light in which we view them. The first is to preserve a sufficient number of effective superintendents to secure to the conferences their regular annual visits, taking into view the number of conferences, and their relative locations. And, second, that there be no greater number than is strictly necessary to accomplish this work, carefully guarding against the increase of the numbers of laborers beyond the proportionate increase of the work, bearing in mind that, if we would have laboring preachers, we must have laboring superintendents. As the number of annual conferences increases, and the work extends in the states and territories, it becomes necessary to strengthen the general superintendency in due proportion. But, as you will doubtless have an able committee to examine and report on this important subject, we forbear any further remarks in relation to it.
|Our missionary operations among the Indians, and in foreign countries, especially on the continent of Africa, are recommended to your special attention. The condition of the Indian tribes located on the western boundary line of Arkansas and Missouri, and the territories on the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers, calls aloud for united and vigorous efforts to disperse among them the light of the gospel, and the blessings of civilization. We are encouraged to such effort by the circumstance that there is an increasing disposition among most of the tribes to encourage the labors of our missionaries, and improve their condition by the establishment of schools for the instruction of their children in the knowledge of our language, and in agriculture and mechanical arts.
|Since your last session, a plan has been devised, with the approbation of the officers and board of managers of the Parent Missionary Society, to establish a central Indian manual labor school, with the design of collecting and teaching the native children of the several adjacent tribes. The plan has been submitted to the executive department of the national government having the superintendence of Indian affairs, and has met with a favorable and encouraging consideration; and we are much indebted to officers and agents of the civil government in, and adjacent to, the Indian country, for the extensive aid they have given in the establishment of the institution, both by employing their influence in recommending it to the Indians, and advising in its structure and organization. This school is already, to a considerable extent, in successful operation. Native children, from five different tribes, are collected; and men from these tribes have visited the institution, and have very generally been satisfied with its government and objects. We cannot but regard this establishment as full of promise of lasting benefits to the Indian race. But as a detailed report of its organization, designs, and prospects, will come before you, we will only add our earnest recommendation of the plan to your deliberate consideration, with regard to the present condition and wants of the Indians, and its adaptation to the great objects it is designed to accomplish -- the conversion of the Indians to the Christian faith, and their improvement in all the arts and habits of civilized life. And we would further recommend an inquiry into the expediency of establishing one or more institutions, at suitable locations in the Indian country, on the same plan, and for the same purposes.
To Africa we look with the deepest solicitude. Our sympathies, prayers, and efforts mingle on her coasts. In our missionary enterprise commenced at Liberia, we aim at the conversion of a continent to God. The handful of precious seed which has been sown in that infant colony, and watered by the tears and prayers of the missionaries and the Church, shall spring up and ripen to be sown again with a hundred-fold increase, till Africa shall become one fruitful field, cultivated in righteousness. Although a number of faithful and devoted missionaries have fallen in that field of labors we should by no means be discouraged in the prosecution of so great a work. They have fallen asleep, but they sleep in the Lord. And being dead they still speak; and the voice from their tombs is a call to the church of Christ on the American continent to emulate their holy zeal, and fill up the ranks from which they have been removed. We have no doubt but you will be disposed to take some efficient measures for the constitutional organization of the Liberia annual conference, and to provide for the ordination of ministers in their own country, that the infant African church may be duly and regularly supplied, not only with the ministry of the word, but also with the holy sacraments.
|The character which the Oregon mission has recently assumed, is well calculated to invite your particular attention to that extensive and important field of missionary enterprise. We can have little doubt that, with the blessing of God attending our efforts, the time will arrive, when the interests of the missionary colony, and the success of the work among the aboriginal tribes, will call for the organization of an annual conference in that vast territory. And our grand object should be to preserve one harmonious compact, in the unity of the Spirit, and the bonds of peace, and that Methodism may be one on either side of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and on all the islands of the sea;
And mountains rise and oceans roll To sever us in vain.'
|It was doubtless a wise and safe provision, that copies of the records of the proceedings of the annual conferences should be forwarded to the General Conference for examination. By this means the General Conference may obtain the knowledge of the official acts of those bodies, from evidence which cannot be disputed or contravened, and consequently they may correct errors in their proceedings, if found to exist, on the simple authority of official records. We regret to say that, in our opinion, this judicious provision has not been sufficiently regarded, either on the part of the annual conferences, in forwarding copies of these records, or on the part of the General Conference in a careful inspection of them. As these records contain, not only the official transactions of the conferences, having an important connection with the government and general interests of the Church, but also frequently embrace the opinions of the superintendents on questions of law, and the administration of discipline; and as it is the constitutional prerogative of this body to correct what is erroneous in these transactions and opinions, with an earnest desire that all things may be done in every official department of the Church in strict conformity to her constitution and Discipline, we recommend a careful examination of these records at your present session.
|Finally, brethren, we commend you and ourselves, and the ministers and people connected with us in the bonds of the gospel of Christ, to the guidance and protection of the great Head of the church, whose we are and whom we serve; sincerely and ardently praying that your deliberations, with all their results, may be under the influence of that wisdom which is from above; which is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality or hypocrisy.
|We are, dear brethren, sincerely and affectionately yours, in the unity and fellowship of the gospel of Christ,
|R. R. Roberts, |Joshua Soule, |Elijah Hedding, |James O. Andrew, |B. Waugh, |Thomas A. Morris, |Baltimore, May 4,1840.|
The several subjects adverted to in this very able address were referred to appropriate committees; and so far as their reports were adopted by the conference, they will be noticed in the proper places. After the address of the bishops was received and disposed of, Mr. Newton presented the following address from the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, which was read by the seminary, and referred to a committee of three to consider and report thereon:
|Address of the British Conference to the Bishops and Members of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America
|Very Dear Brethren, -- We gratefully avail ourselves of this opportunity to renew the tokens of our fraternal intercourse with you; and, while we unfeignedly rejoice in all the blessings with which it has pleased Almighty God to accompany your cares and labors, we devoutly pray that mercy unto you, and peace, and love' may be yet more abundantly multiplied, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.'
|It has afforded us great satisfaction to hear from different quarters of your continued prosperity, and especially to receive the personal communications which have been made to us at this conference by the Rev. Dr. Olin. We are thankful that, notwithstanding the languor of indisposition, this esteemed minister in your Church, and our beloved brother, has been able to attend several of the sittings of the conference, and to address us, at considerable length, on topics which are more than usually gratifying to our best affections. Most sincerely do we hope that God will, in his goodness, more fully restore his health, and prepare him, by an increase of vigor, and of every spiritual gift, long to occupy the important station which, to speak according to the views and feelings of frail mortality, has been so prematurely left vacant by the decease of the excellent and lamented Dr. Fisk.
From a wish to perpetuate a free and familiar interchange of kindly offices with you, in the way which we doubt not is most agreeable to you as well as to ourselves, we have requested our dear friend and brother, the Rev. Robert Newton, to visit you at your next General Conference. To enlarge on the high regard which we entertain for our honored messenger -- a regard which he has justly merited by his unweariable and faithful services in every province of our work, and by the exemplary manner in which he has, at two different times, sustained the most momentous office in our body -- would be a welcome task to us; for it is pleasant to speak of those whom we love but it is, on the present occasion, perfectly unnecessary. You are not unacquainted with the character which he bears in this country; and yon will receive him as a chosen representative of the British Conference, and as one in whose views and principles we repose entire confidence.
The subject which has this year engrossed no small portion of our attention, cannot fail to awaken the deepest interest in every part of the Wesleyan community throughout the globe. You will anticipate our reference to the close of the first century of our existence as an organized religious society. On a review of the hundred years which have now reached their termination, we humbly acknowledge and adore the mercy of God, who marvelously raised up our ever-revered fathers as the instruments, in his hands, of so extensive a revival of primitive Christianity; who has preserved us, as a connection, in the midst of many conflicts and changes; and who has granted us, at this time, so cordial a sense of attachment, which we trust that nothing shall ever be permitted to abate, to the doctrines, spirit; and usages of those venerated men who now rest in eternal peace. May the Lord God of our fore-elders, and of all who fear his most holy name, bestow upon us a larger measure of his Spirit's grace, and grant that the second century of the Wesleyan Society may be marked by still more illustrious displays of his power and love in the church universal, and in the world!
|But while we freely indulge in sentiments such as these, we cannot forget that on one subject especially -- the subject of American slavery -- you, our beloved brethren, are placed in circumstances of painful trial and perplexity. We enter, with brotherly sympathy, into the peculiar situation which you are now called to occupy. But, on this question, we beg to refer you to what occurs in our address to you from the conference of 1836, a proper copy of which will be handed to you by our representative as also to the contents of our preceding letter of 1835. To the principles which we have affectionately but honestly declared in these two documents we still adhere, with a full conviction of their Christian truth and justice.
|The time which has elapsed, and the events which have taken place, since the preparation of the above-mentioned papers, serve only to confirm us yet more in our views of the moral evil of slavery. Far be it from us to advocate violent and ill-considered measures. We are, however, strongly and unequivocally of opinion that it is, at this time, the paramount Christian duty of the ministers of our most merciful Lord in your country to maintain the principle of opposition to slavery with earnest zeal, and unflinching firmness. May we not also be allowed, with the heart-felt solicitude of fraternal love, to entreat that you will not omit or qualify the noble testimony which we have extracted, in a note to our address, from your Book of Discipline, but that you will continue to insert it there in its primitive and unimpaired integrity.
And now, very dear brethren, we commend you to the protection and mercies of the only wise God, our Saviour,' with united prayers that you, and all who labor with you in the word and doctrine, with the multitudes who are happily brought to share in your Christian fellowship, may enjoy a richer effusion of the Holy Spirit's promised unction, and may at last be presented faultless before the presence of our common Saviour's glory.' To Him be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.'
Signed, by order of the conference,
|Theophilus Lessey, President. |Liverpool August 16, 1839.|
The following is the answer which the conference returned to the above address of the Wesleyan Conference: --
|Answer of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church -- To the Reverend the President and Members of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in Great Britain
|Honored and Very Dear Brethren, -- We acknowledge with grateful emotions the reception of your letters at the hand of your excellent representative, our honored and esteemed brother, the Rev. Robert Newton, whose visit, as your messenger, we esteem the best and kindest proof you could have given of your love for us, and desire to promote our blessed unity. His bright example of love and courtesy, simplicity and dignity in conference, and of pure essential Methodism, full of faith and charity, abounding in hope, rejoicing only in Christ Jesus, and knowing no respite from labor, in his public ministry, has been alike edifying and refreshing to us; while also, we have felt our hearts warmed thereby, and drawn closely to you in affection, partakers of the same spirit with you, walking by the same rule, minding the same thing, one people, and our name one in the Lord Jesus.
|And it will not be unwelcome to you that we add, further, an expression of the gratification it has afforded us to be favored with the presence of our beloved and endeared brother Mr. Harvard, and our friend Mr. Richie, of the district of Lower Canada, and of Mr. President Stinson, and the excellent brethren, John and Edgerton Ryerson, representatives of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Upper Canada. May the God of our common fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, that from you the word of the Lord may sound out unto all people as unto us at the beginning, and the fruits of your labors be multiplied in all the earth, to the glory of God, by the power of the holy Ghost, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
|We fully unite with you, dear brethren, in the expression you give of your cordial and even jealous attachment to the principles, doctrines, and usages of Methodism, as established under the heaven-directed ministry of our venerated fathers. Those principles, doctrines, and usages we have especially felt that we were called to review, (and reviewing them, have taken, we trust, still closer to our hearts,) on the great occasion of our first centennial jubilee. This has been a joyful time with us, even as with you, our whole communion joining in extraordinary acts of devotion and offerings to the Lord, giving grateful evidence of our common character the world over, and covenanting to keep Methodism still unworldly and spiritual, abounding in charity, a work of righteousness and peace, rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.
|We greatly rejoice, and give thanks unto the Lord for all your prosperity, brethren, and especially for your peaceful state, and the success of your missions. Missionary zeal, founded in love, is the vital pulse of Methodism, the purity and fruitfulness of which, in its home department, depend on the active sympathy there with the work abroad. Methodism, indeed, might not so much as exist in a narrower parish than the world, nor act on any other than her own gospel principle of equal duty to all tongues and kindreds. Actuated by this principle, we have labored to carry the gospel into every part of our great country; and now into Texas, the territory of Oregon, South America, and Africa at the entrance of Liberia on the western coast. But, alas, how feeble and insufficient are our efforts to accomplish, to any considerable degree, the great work of evangelizing mankind! We long for the salvation of God to become universal.
|The unusual and unwelcome fact of a decrease in our numbers the year previous to our last General Conference, and to which you so kindly and piously allude in your letter of August following, induced much searching of heart, both among our preachers and people; and through God's abounding grace, we have not been afflicted since on a like account. At that time our numbers were -- of traveling preachers, 2,781, and of members, 650,678. And in September last they were, of traveling preachers 3,296, and members 740,459; showing an increase of 515 traveling preachers, and 89,781 members since our last General Conference. We record it with thanksgiving, though we reckon not our strength by numbers.
|We have considered, with affectionate respect and confidence, your brotherly suggestions concerning slavery, and most cheerfully return an unreserved answer to them. And we do so the rather, brethren, because of the numerous prejudicial statements which have been put forth in certain quarters to the wounding of the Church. We assure you then, brethren, that we have adopted no new principle or rule of discipline respecting slavery since the time of our apostolic Asbury; neither do we mean to adopt any. In our General Rules, (called the General Rules of the United Societies,' and which are of constitutional authority in our Church,) the buying and selling of men, women, and children, with an intention to enslave them,' is expressly prohibited; and in the same words, substantially, which have been used for the rule since 1792. And the extract of part ii, section 10, of our Book of Discipline, which you quote with approbation, and denominate a noble testimony,' is still of force to the same extent that it has been for many years; nor do we entertain any purpose to omit or qualify this section, or any part thereof. For while we should regard it a sore evil to divert Methodism from her proper work of 'spreading Scripture holiness over these lands,' to questions of temporal import, involving the rights of Caesar, yet are we not the less minded on that account to promote and set forward all humane and generous actions, or to prevent, to the utmost of our power, such as are evil and unchristian. It is our first desire, after piety toward God, to be merciful after our power; as we have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible to all men, to their bodies,' but especially, and above all, to their souls.'
|Of these United States, (to the government and laws of which, according to the division of power made to them by the constitution of the Union, and the constitutions of the several states,' we owe, and delight to render, a sincere and patriotic loyalty,) there are several which do not allow of slavery. There are others in which it is allowed, and there are slaves; but the tendency of the laws, and the minds of the majority of the people, are in favor of emancipation. But there are others in which slavery exists so universally, and is so closely interwoven with their civil institutions, that both do the laws disallow of emancipation, and the great body of the people (the source of laws with us) hold it to be treasonable to set forth any thing, by word or deed, tending that way. Each one of all these states is independent of the rest and sovereign, with respect to its internal government, (as much so as if there existed no confederation among them for ends of common interest,) and therefore it is impossible to frame a rule on slavery proper for our people in all the states alike. But our march is extended through all the states, and as it would be wrong and unscriptural to enact a rule of discipline in opposition to the constitution and laws of the state on this subject, so also would it not be equitable or Scriptural to confound the positions of our ministers and people (so different as they are in different states) with respect to the moral question which slavery involves.
|Under the administration of the venerated Dr. Coke, this plain distinction was once overlooked, and it was attempted to urge emancipation in all the states; but the attempt proved almost ruinous, and was soon abandoned by the doctor himself. While, therefore, the Church has encouraged emancipation in those states where the laws permit it, and allowed the freed-man to enjoy freedom, we have refrained, for conscience' sake, from all intermeddling with the subject in those other states where the laws make it criminal. And such a course we think agreeable to the Scriptures, and indicated by St. Paul's inspired instruction to servants in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. vii, ver.20,21. For if servants were not to care for their servitude when they might not be free, though if they might be free they should use it rather; so, neither should masters be condemned for not setting them free when they might not do so, though if they might they should do so rather. The question of the evil of slavery, abstractedly considered, you will readily perceive, brethren, is a very different matter from a principle or rule of Church discipline to be executed contrary to, and in defiance of, the law of the land. Methodism has always been (except perhaps in the single instance above) eminently loyal and promotive of good order; and so we desire it may ever continue to be, both in Europe and America. With this sentiment we confide the subject, adding only the corroborating language of your noble Missionary Society, by the revered and lamented Watson, in their instructions to missionaries, published in the report of 1833, as follows: --
|As in the colonies in which you are called to labor a great proportion of the inhabitants are in a state of slavery, the committee most strongly call to your remembrance what was so fully stated to you when yon were accepted as a missionary to the West Indies, that your only business is to promote the moral and religious improvement of the slaves to whom you may have access, without in the least degree, in public or private, interfering with their civil condition.'
|We have judged it necessary, for the preservation of the children of our people from irreligious or unMethodistical principles while pursuing their education at a distance from home, and for the maintenance of a due proportion of influence in this great country, to encourage the establishment of schools and colleges under the control of our annual conferences, at which a liberal education should be afforded in intimate and graceful connection with Christian training. Accordingly we have now twelve collegiate and twenty-one academic institutions thus established, which, though not as amply endowed as they require to be, are doing well, and we hope will continue to do well.
Permit us, reverend and dear brethren, to refer you to our most honored and beloved brother, Mr. Newton, for any further information you may desire on the above subject, or the present state of our affairs in general. And again we thank you for having sent him to us, whose name had long been known as that of one whose noble efforts in the cause of Christ had placed him with our Bensons, Watsons, Clarkes, and Buntings, men who have lived for the whole world, and for Methodism in all the world. And we pray for his safe return to you, and that it may please God our heavenly Father to make him more and more useful among you, even to old age. If it shall please God that our venerated and beloved Bishop Some shall be in health to do so, and the work can possibly allow it, we expect him to make it convenient to visit your conference two years hence; and we have appointed one of our body to accompany him to you, or if the bishop cannot go, to represent us fully at that time. And we solicit, brethren, a continuation of this so pleasant and profitable interchange, at our next General Conference.
|Finally, brethren, we commend you to God's most gracious blessing, praying for you in the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, (as you also do for us,) that you may be enriched with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, and abound in good works, to the glory of God, among all people, and for evermore.
|Signed in behalf of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Baltimore, Md., May, 1840.
|R. R. Roberts, |Joshua Soule, |Elijah Hedding, |James O. Andrew, |Beverly Waugh, |Thomas A. Morris |John A. Collins, Secretary.|
An address was also received from the Canada Conference, full of tender expressions of fraternal regard, and of a determination to maintain with us an indissoluble union in doctrine, moral discipline, and brotherly affection. This was referred to the same committee, and an answer was returned reciprocating the same sentiments and feelings, and pledging the conference to the inviolate preservation of the doctrines and usages of Methodism.
The managers of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church presented the following, expressive of their feelings and views in relation to the great cause in which they were engaged.
|Address of the Managers of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to the General Conference, to be held in Baltimore, May 1, 1840
|Dear Fathers and Brethren, -- We gladly embrace the present opportunity to present for your consideration and adoption, if you shall concur with us in their propriety, some amendments to the constitution of our society, which have been suggested by the experience and practice of another four years. The most important of these relate to the appointment of n assistant corresponding secretary; the enabling the managers to provide for those superannuated missionaries, their wives, widows, and children, who, being on foreign missions, are not provided for by the ordinary funds of the annual conferences; and that which was recommended by the last General Conference, to empower the society to make any alterations in the constitution in future which may be recommended by the General Conference. Should therefore your experience of the practical workings of the system enable you to detect any defect in the provisions of the constitution, or perceive the necessity of any amendment by which its objects may be more readily accomplished, by pointing them out they will be considered, it is hoped, with that calmness and respectful deference which is due to the collected wisdom and long experience of Your venerable body.
As to the other amendments which are proposed, they appear to us so obviously necessary for the more perfect and equitable operation of the principles of the society as to need no special arguments to enforce them. Leaving them therefore to be explained by those of our brethren who compose a part of your body, and who fully comprehend our views, and the reasons on which they are founded, we will only say that we shall cheerfully acquiesce in whatever disposition you may be pleased to make of them, believing, as we do, that the General Conference is equally interested with us in preserving the integrity and promoting the prosperity of the society.
There is another subject connected with the interests of this society which we beg permission to present to your consideration. We have been much gratified to find that all the annual conferences, in making provision for a suitable celebration of the centenary of Methodism, have devoted a portion of the money which shall be realized on that occasion to the cause of missions, most of whom, we believe, leaving the final disposition of it to the General Conference. That this celebration has had a most happy effect upon the cause of Methodism, we have abundant reason to believe not only in raising money for the various objects specified, but also and more especially in reviving true religion among us.
|For some time past we have felt the need, for the prosecution of our great and benevolent objects, of having mission premises procured, and suitable buildings erected, for the accommodation of our local offices, and the meetings of the managers, &c. An estimate of the expense is herewith presented. Should your venerable body concur with us on the propriety of securing such premises, it would not only accommodate the society, and be a saving of expense, but would stand as a lasting monument of the liberality of the donors, and tell to posterity what was done on the one hundredth year of Methodism in behalf of missions. We therefore confidently rely on the approbation of the General Conference of this measure, and the more so as it was fully understood at the time the division of the avails of the centenary collections was made that this object was in contemplation by the managers of the Missionary Society.
|The following statement will exhibit, at one view, the amount received and expended during the past four years; for the particulars of which we refer to the treasurer's account, as published in the annual reports, herewith presented: --
1837: Received [USD]62,749.01; Expended 66,536.85
1838: Received [USD]90,105.36; Expended [USD]95,110.75
1839: Received [USD]135,521.94; Expended [USD]103,664.58
1840: Received [USD]116,941.90; Expended [USD]146,498.58.
From this it will be seen that there has been a rapid increase to the resources of the society from one year to another, thereby enabling us to meet the enlarged demands upon our treasury created by the extension of the fields of missionary labors. We only add, that, relying upon the good providence of God for direction and aid in urging the important trusts committed to our charge, and upon the wisdom and integrity of the General Conference for devising the most efficient means for carrying into practical effect the general and benevolent objects of the society, we once more pledge ourselves to the faithful performance of our duties, according to the light and ability which God may be graciously pleased to vouchsafe unto us.|
The following was also read and referred: --
|Report of the Committee on the Journal of the Corresponding Secretary of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church
|The committee to whom was referred the subject of the office of the corresponding secretary, his journal, &c., respectfully report:
|That it appears by the records submitted to their examination, that the duties of the corresponding secretary have been extensive and arduous both at home and abroad, demonstrating the necessity of having such an officer, as represented by the board to the last General Conference. In addition to the preparation of the annual reports and other documentary manuscripts, the correspondence of the society exhibits more than five hundred official letters to missionaries, &c.; and during the last four years, we learn from the journal kept by the present officer, that besides the duties of corresponding secretary in the office at home, and the preparation of multiplied reports for publication in the Advocate, he has traveled in the service of the society more than eleven thousand miles, in visiting ten annual conferences, some of them twice and thrice, and in holding missionary meetings in ten different states in the Union. |It also appears that he has delivered one hundred and thirty-four missionary sermons and addresses, in various parts of the country, and been directly instrumental in this way of bringing into the treasury the amount of [USD]13,427. How far his labors and writings have been further tributary to the increase of our funds, we have no data upon which to make the estimate. We invite attention, however, to the increased contributions to our treasury since his appointment, as affording evidence that the cause is improving annually under the present system of operations. During the first year of his appointment, the receipts were [USD]62,749 -- the second, [USD]90,105.36 -- the third, [USD]135,521.94 -- and this, too, notwithstanding the unprecedented prostration of the times. The amount of the fourth and last year is not yet ascertained, but will be found comparatively large, though less than the previous year, because of the special efforts made for the centenary fund, a portion of which is destined to our treasury.
|From a review of the whole subject, your committee respectfully submit the following resolutions to be communicated to the next General Conference: --
|Resolved, That the experience of the last four years has amply confirmed the propriety of the appointment of a corresponding secretary devoted to the interests of this society, as prayed for at the last General Conference.
|Resolved, That this board bear their united testimony to the diligent, faithful, and successful performance of the duties of the office by the present incumbent; and in view of his long experience in the service of the board, we shall rejoice at his reappointment by the next General Conference.|
A number of petitions and memorials were received on a variety of subjects, particularly in reference to slavery and abolitionism, all of which were referred to appropriate committees. It seems that among these, some of the petitioners were not content with asking simply for the abolition of slavery instantly and unconditionally, but they also coupled with it a desire for an alteration in some important features of our Church organization. This latter subject was referred to the committee on the itinerancy, who presented the following report, which was concurred in by the conference:
|The committee to whom were referred the petitions and memorials on the subjects of a moderate episcopacy, the election of presiding elders by the annual conferences, and a lay delegation in the General Conference, have bestowed upon the matters submitted to them the attention which they were conceived to merit, and submit the following report:
|It appears the petitions and memorials on these subjects have been obtained by a concerted operation, under the direction of some single intellect, inasmuch as nearly every petition on any one of these subjects is not only substantially, but literally the same -- most of them being printed slips, cut from some newspaper, and where they are written, literal copies of such as are printed. This fact induced a conviction in the minds of the committee that these petitions and memorials are the result of agitation, and not of original dissatisfaction on the part of most of the persons signing those petitions and memorials; and, therefore, by no means deserving the same consideration as if they were the spontaneous expression of the dissatisfaction of the petitioners and memorialists. But if it were otherwise, the number of petitioners is so very small in proportion to the entire membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that, in the opinion of the committee, these memorials and petitions, regarding not individual grievances, but general interests, are entitled to no other consideration than that to which they are entitled as mere arguments in favor of the courses indicated. And as the committee have not seen reason to attach much importance to them in this light, they are not prepared to recommend the measures which are called for by these petitions and memorials.
|Moreover, the committee, having witnessed the operation of the present system of Methodist Episcopal Church government, and being persuaded that its operation has been eminently useful, would require the most cogent reasons to induce them to recommend changes so important and so fundamental; especially as two, at least, of these changes have been, after long, grave, and deliberate consideration, recently declined by the Methodist Episcopal Church. The committee refer to the proceedings of the General Conference of 1828, for the light in which the election of presiding elders by the annual conferences, and a lay delegation in the General Conference, was then viewed; and the decision which was made by the Church on these subjects.
|With the views above presented, the committee can do no other than present the following resolution, viz.: --
|Resolved, That it is not expedient to change the form of our Church government in any of the matters suggested in the petitions and memorials which have been under the consideration of the committee.|
While this report was under consideration, the following conversation took place between some members of the conference and the Rev. Mr. Newton, the respected representative from England.
Having expressed his willingness to answer any questions which might be put to him in reference to the subjects then under discussion, he was asked,
|Whether there was any authority among them equal in extent of power to our superintendency?
|Rev. Mr. Newton. -- We have the thing without the name. The president of our conference exercises more authority than your venerable bishops. He can, at any time, arrest debate by his decision; and, although Mr. Wesley did not assume the title, he claimed and exercised the prerogatives of a Christian bishop. Our chairmen of districts are, in their sphere, also representatives of the president.
|Rev. Mr. Horton asked, whether the presidents were not elected annually?
|Rev. Mr. Newton. -- Unquestionably they are; but the president never dies.
|Is not the chairman of the district also elected annually? asked Rev. Mr. Horton.
|Unquestionably he is, but he never dies, replied Rev. Mr. Newton.
|The chair also inquired of Rev. Mr. Newton, whether the president of the British Conference did not decide many questions which we decide by the vote of the conference; to which he received an affirmative response.
|Rev. Mr. Horton also asked, how long the chairman of the district might retain his office? to which he received the reply, that it depended on circumstances. He always deferred to seniority in case of the presence of a more aged minister. This was generally, if not invariably and universally done.|
It is due, perhaps, to the interests of truth, as well as to the character of our people, to say, that the dissatisfaction evinced by these memorials restricted to comparatively few, the great majority of our preachers and people being entirely satisfied with our general economy, and in love with our peculiar doctrines and features of Church government, and were therefore heartily sickened with the perpetual complainings of a few restless individuals respecting tyranny and oppression.
On the subject of education the committee reported as follows on those parts of the bishops' address which referred to an increase in the number of literary institutions a general course of instruction, and to Biblical knowledge and ecclesiastical history, the episcopal power of stationing preachers in seminaries of learning, and the zealous of their support: --
|Your committee believe that the advantages of education are most widely diffused and certainly secured, by multiplying institutions of learning within proper limits, but it is obvious enough that if their number is too great to admit of their being competently endowed, the ends of their creation must be defeated; it is certainly wise policy, therefore, for the different annual conferences to secure the permanence of those already established, before they attempt to found others.
|In regard to the course of studies to be pursued in our literary institutions, to which the attention of the committee has been called in the address of the bishops, and by a resolution of the Baltimore conference, they believe that it would be inexpedient to lay down a course which should be pursued in all cases. The board of trustees and faculties will desire to exercise some control in this matter, and it seems to your committee proper that they should. There is a wide and allowable difference of opinion upon the subject, and an attempt to produce uniformity would be most likely to cause dissatisfaction, without accomplishing the object; but your committee do not hesitate to recommend that the commonly received English version of the Bible should be introduced into every school and college, and that it should be studied according to some system which may be adopted by the different boards of instruction in their several institutions, and in those institutions which embrace the ancient languages, they recommend that the Old and New Testaments be studied in the originals critically; they also recommend that the Evidences of Christianity,' and Ecclesiastical history,' constitute a part of the regular course in all our colleges and universities. When it is remembered that heathen mythology, Roman and Grecian archeology, and profane history, enter into the regular course of most literary institutions, and are believed to be essential to the education of an accomplished scholar, it can need but little argument to prove that knowledge, so much more important, should be imparted to the student.
|Your committee recommend that in all the universities and colleges under the control of the Church, the instruction given in every department of science and literature, in their broadest sense, be full and thorough. Some arguments may be urged in favor of a limited education, none can have weight in favor of a superficial one; a limited education is better than none, and one who cannot take a full course may be greatly profited by a partial one, provided it is thorough; but those who are superficially taught, have lost their time and money, and at the close of their collegiate education are helpless in themselves, and useless to the community. It is a happy omen to the world, that the Church generally is awaking to the sense of its responsibility in providing for, sustaining, and directing public education. It must not shrink from this responsibility; it cannot without hazarding the most fatal consequences. Mind, energized by its own exertions, and furnished from the armories of science, unless controlled by the restraints, and guided by the counsels of religion, becomes the most powerful auxiliary which infidelity and vice ever won over to their cause; while on the other hand, the intellect, brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,' august in the integrity of its object, and the directness of its means, vigorous from the concentration of power to one end, and invigorated by the special blessing of God, given to those who seek to honor him, when supplied with the argument which the learning of this age furnishes, becomes a champion for Christianity, before whom infidelity, superstition, and bigotry must cower and fall. It is readily conceded that principles of morality should be taught as soon as they can be understood. It inevitably follows that religion, which furnishes the only incontrovertible arguments to prove the obligations of morality, and the only sanction which can enforce its precepts, should be taught still earlier; and that all knowledge which is afterward imparted should be harmonized with it. The neglect of this obvious duty has caused the strange result that education fostered infidelity. It first grew out of the efforts made to improve the gross absurdities and foul deformities of a godless and miscalled Christianity upon the mind; and, unhappily, has been suffered to continue after the cause ceased to exist. It should be so no longer. Science, in its conventional sense, is a knowledge of the works of God, the laws which govern them, their relations to each other, and their combination into one harmonious whole. Its discoveries demonstrate the existence of a God; and learning, in its widest sense, arranging and concentrating the facts, proves, by a circumstantiality of evidence and a directness of inference which are irresistible, that this God is the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and the time has come when, if the Church is true to her trust, learning will be the great agent in promoting religion, by every one of her ten thousand instrumentalities, and over all the face of this earth. In view of the premises, your committee believe that no jealousy should be felt in relation to the calls which our schools and colleges are making upon the ministry for teachers and professors. The number required will be necessarily small in proportion to the whole number of ministers, and when they are otherwise properly qualified, they are undoubtedly the most suitable persons to be employed in the business of education. No fear need be entertained lest their labor should be too light, or that they should become effeminate and self-indulgent; a little experience would soon remove such apprehensions. Your committee can see no good reason why preachers on trial should not be appointed to schools and colleges.
|Your committee do not believe that the conference should make any regulation controlling or limiting the episcopal power of stationing the preachers, and in answer, therefore, to the question asked by the superintendents in their address, whether an appointment to seminaries of learning, when an annual conference requests such a one to be made, renders it obligatory upon the bishop to comply with the request? would recommend that it be answered in the negative.
|In conclusion, your committee, in view of the vast importance of this great trust committed to the Church, for the purpose of making a permanent provision for sustaining our literary institutions, recommend the adoption of the following resolution, viz.: --
|Resolved, That any annual conference may direct public collections to be taken up by the preachers in charge of circuits and stations, in each society, once in each year, for the purpose of sustaining the literary institutions under its control or patronage, if it should judge it expedient so to do, or may adopt such other measure for that end, as may seem to the members thereof most advisable.|
As this report was very unanimously adopted by the conference, we may consider the present policy in respect to establishing colleges and academies as settled, and that it is highly proper that Biblical instruction should be adopted in all our seminaries of learning.
Questions of administration had been mooted in some of the annual conferences, on which the bishops and many members of these conferences had disagreed respecting the power of the episcopacy to decide points of law, to refuse putting certain questions to vote which the presiding officer might consider unconstitutional. To settle these questions, the subject had been submitted to the conference, and the following was the result of its deliberations in reference to it:
1. That it is the province of the bishop |to decide all questions of law in an annual conference, subject to an appeal to the General Conference; but in all cases the application of law is with the conference.|
2. That it belongs to the president of a quarterly meeting |to decide all questions of law in the quarterly meeting conference, subject to an appeal to the president of the next annual conference; but in all cases the application of the law shall be with the conference.|
These words, |application of the law,| appeared involved in obscurity to some. The meaning is, I apprehend, that the conference, after the law has been explained, is to judge of its applicability to the particular case under consideration. Suppose a man is accused of an act of immorality; the president of a conference explains the law, its nature and penalty in reference to the particular act of immorality of which the person is accused; the members of the conference then, as the judges or jurors in the case, examine into the facts, hear witnesses, decide upon the guilt or innocence of the accused; and then apply the law to that particular case, and if found guilty, bring in their verdict accordingly, while the presiding judge passes the sentence of condemnation. Here the law is applied to, or brought to bear on that particular person, according to its legitimate intent and meaning, the presiding officer being responsible for the interpretation, and the conference for the application of the law to the case in hand.
The conference also decided that the president of an annual or a quarterly meeting conference had a right to decline putting a motion or resolution to vote, if he considered it foreign to the proper business of a conference, or inconsistent with constitutional provisions; and also to adjourn a conference without a formal vote.
In respect to slavery and abolitionism, though these subjects were much discussed, referred to a committee, and reported on, there was no final action of the conference on either of them, but all things remain as they were, both in the Discipline and the resolutions of the conference.
There was one other subject which excited a deep interest. An appeal had come up from a member of the Missouri conference, appealing from a decision of said conference condemning him for admitting colored testimony against a white person. The appeal was sustained, and the decision of the Missouri conference reversed. As this reversal was considered as sanctioning the practice of admitting colored testimony against the character of a white person, the following resolution, offered by Dr. Few, of the Georgia conference, after a strong and protracted debate, was adopted: --
|That it is inexpedient and unjustifiable for any preacher to permit colored persons to give testimony against white persons, in any state where they are denied that privilege in trials of law.|
|The passage of this resolution gave great dissatisfaction to many members of the conference; and after a variety of expedients had been resorted to, in vain, to obviate the difficulties which seemed to grow out of it, Bishop Soule offered the following resolutions, which were adopted by a great majority, ninety-seven voting in the affirmative and twenty-seven in the negative: --
1. Resolved, That in the decision of this conference in the case of the appeal of Rev. Silas Comfort, it is not intended to express or imply that the testimony of colored persons against white persons, in Church trials, is either expedient or justifiable in any of the slave-holding states or territories where the civil laws prohibit such testimony in trials at law.
2. Resolved, That it is not the intention of this conference, in the adoption of the resolution of Rev. Ignatius A. Few, of Georgia, in regard to the admission of the testimony of colored people, to prohibit such testimony in Church trials in any of the states or territories where it is the established usage of the Church to admit, and when, in the judgment of the constitutional judicatories of the Church, such testimony may be admitted with safety to the peace of society, and the best interests of all concerned.3. Resolved, That it is not the intention of this conference, in either of the above cases, or in any action had by this body, to express or imply any distrust, or want of confidence in the Christian piety and integrity of the numerous body of colored members under our pastoral care, to whom we are bound by the bonds of the gospel of Christ, and for whose spiritual and eternal interests, together with all our fellow-men of every color, and in every relation and condition in life, we will never cease to labor.|
The subject of temperance was again discussed, at great length and with lively interest; and although a memorial had been sent the rounds of the several annual conferences, praying for the substitution of Mr. Wesley's rule in the place of the one now in the Discipline; and although, out of the two thousand and eighty who were present and voted on the resolutions praying for and authorizing the General Conference to make the alteration, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four voted in the affirmative, and only three hundred and six in the negative; yet the committee to whom the subject had been submitted reported against the change, because they thought that the |true grammatical construction of the language of the Discipline implies that there must be three-fourths of the members of every annual conference in favor of the contemplated measure, in order that it may be lawfully carried into effect.| This novel interpretation of the law, though I believe it was not by any means sanctioned by a majority of the conference, tended much to defeat the measure so earnestly recommended and desired by such a large majority of both preachers and people; for when the vote was taken there were seventy-five for and thirty-eight against it, and these not being a majority of two-thirds of the whole number of delegates, the motion was declared lost.
I have already expressed my opinion freely upon the inconclusiveness of the reasoning of this report. In addition to what is there said, it may be remarked, that the doctrine would put it into the power of one single annual conference, and that too the smallest in the Union, to defeat the wishes of all the rest, though these wishes should be unanimously expressed. And surely it was never the intention of the General and annual conferences who proposed and adopted the proviso in the Discipline thus to authorize so small a minority to rule the whole Church, for this was the very thing they designed to defeat or to prevent. Several attempts had been made at preceding conferences to adopt some uniform method by which ministers of other denominations might be received into the Church and recognized in their proper character. At this General Conference the following regulations were adopted: --
Question 1. In what manner shall we receive those ministers who may come to us from the Wesleyan connection in Europe or Canada?
Answer If they come to us properly accredited from either the British, Irish, or Canada Conference, they may be received according to such credentials, provided they give satisfaction to an annual conference of their willingness to conform to our Church government and usages.
Question 2. How shall we receive those ministers who may offer to unite with us from other Christian churches?
Answer Those ministers of other evangelical churches who may desire to unite with our Church, whether as local or itinerant, may be received according to our usages, on condition of their taking upon them our ordination vows, without the reimposition of hands, giving satisfaction to an annual conference of their being in orders, and of their agreement with us in doctrine, discipline, government, and usages; provided the conference is also satisfied with their gifts, grace, and usefulness. Whenever any such minister is received, he shall be furnished with a certificate, signed by one of our bishops, in the following words, viz.: --
This is to certify, that ____ has been admitted into conference as a traveling preacher, [or has been admitted as a local preacher on ____ circuit,] he having been ordained to the office of a deacon, (or an elder, as the case may be,) according to the usages of the ____ church, of which he has been a member and minister; and he is hereby authorized to exercise the functions pertaining to his office in the Methodist Episcopal Church, so long as his life and conversation are such as become the gospel of Christ.
|Given under my hand and seal, at _____ this _____ day of _____ in the year of our Lord, _____.
Question 3. How shall we receive preachers of other denominations who are not in orders?
Answer They may be received as licentiates, provided they give satisfaction to a quarterly, or an annual conference, that they are suitable persons to exercise the office, and of their agreement with the doctrines, discipline, government, and usages of our Church.|
The custom of receiving person on trial for six months before they are admitted into full membership had been made to apply, by the generality of our preachers, to those who came to us recommended from other churches, while some had admitted them without this intermediate process. To settle this question, and to produce uniformity in this branch of the administration, the rule in relation to receiving members was so altered as to read as follows: --
|Let none be received into the Church, until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months on trial, and have been baptized; and shall, on examination by the minister in charge, before the Church, give satisfactory assurances both of the correctness of their faith, and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church. Nevertheless, if a member in good standing in any other orthodox church shall desire to unite with us, such applicant may, by giving satisfactory answers to the usual inquiries, be received at once into full fellowship.|
The Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church had become defunct. This had originated partly in an injudicious attempt to amalgamate the Bible, Tract, and Sunday School Societies together, by which the business of these several societies might be transacted by one board of management, and partly from the little control which the parent society exercised over its auxiliaries and branches, and, I may add also, from the peculiar manner of our organization in respect to the duty of furnishing books for sabbath schools. While the boards of other denominations were responsible for the entire management of all the affairs of the societies under their supervision, ours had nothing to do with raising money to meet the expense of publishing books, this, as well as selecting and printing them, being in the hands of the agency of the Book Concern. In consequence of this wise arrangement, the managers of the Sunday School Union incurred but few responsibilities, and had but little to do, while the mingling of many things together rendered that little perplexing and inefficient.
It must not be supposed, however, that the sabbath school cause had been suffered to languish. The various societies continued their existence, were in efficient operation, and the children were regularly taught in nearly all our congregations, particularly in our large cities and villages; but they acted independently of each other, and were therefore not connected together by any general head, or bond of union, except so far as the agency of the Book Concern exerted its influence in furnishing the books on the cheapest terms, according to the provisions of the Publishing Fund.
There were supposed to be defects, however, in this system, which ought to he remedied. To do this, a memorial was presented to this General Conference, by a number of brethren in the city of New York, praying for the reorganization of a Sunday School Society according to the principles of a new constitution which was submitted to the conference. The deliberations resulted in the adoption of the constitution, and of the following section in the Discipline: --
Question What shall we do for the rising generation?
1. Let Sunday schools be formed in all our Congregations where ten children can be collected for that purpose. And it shall be the special duty of preachers having charge of circuits and stations, with the aid of the other preachers, to see that this he done; to engage the co-operation of as many of our members as they can; to visit the schools as often as practicable; to preach on the subject of Sunday schools and religious instruction in each congregation at least once in six months; to lay before the quarterly conference at each quarterly meeting, to be entered on its journal, a written statement of the number and state of the Sunday schools within their respective circuits and stations, and to make a report of the same to their several annual conferences. Each quarterly conference shall be deemed a board of managers, having supervision of all the Sunday schools and Sunday school societies within its limits, and shall be auxiliary to the Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church; and each annual conference shall report to said union the number of auxiliaries within its bounds, together with other facts presented in the annual reports of the preachers as above directed.
2. It is recommended that each annual conference, where the general state of the work will allow, request the appointment of a special agent, to travel throughout its bounds, for the purpose of promoting the interests of Sunday schools; and his expenses shall be paid out of collections which he shall be directed to make, or otherwise, as shall be ordered by the conference.
3. Let our catechisms be used as extensively as possible, both in our Sunday schools and families; and let the preachers faithfully enforce upon parents and Sunday school teachers the great importance of instructing children in the doctrines and duties of our holy religion.
4. It shall be the special duty of the preachers to form Bible classes wherever they can, for the instruction of larger children and youth; and where they cannot superintend them personally, to appoint suitable leaders for that purpose.
5. It shall be the duty of every preacher of a circuit or station to obtain the names of the children belonging to his congregations, and leave a list of such names for his successor; and in his pastoral visits he shall pay special attention to the children, speak to them personally, and kindly, on experimental and practical godliness, according to their capacity, pray earnestly for them, and diligently instruct and exhort all parents to dedicate their children to the Lord in baptism as early as convenient; and let all baptized children be faithfully instructed in the nature, design, privileges, and obligations of their baptism. Those of them who are well disposed may be admitted to our class meetings and love feasts, and such as are truly serious, and manifest a desire to flee the wrath to come, shall be advised to join society as probationers.|
Whether this society will he able to perform the duties and to accomplish the objects which the other failed to do, remains to be seen. If, however, the members and managers heartily co-operate with the book agency in the selection and publication of books, and otherwise carry into practical effect the spirit and objects of their organization, they will no doubt render important service to the sabbath school cause.
A very able report was adopted near the conclusion of the conference on the subject of ordaining ministers in slave-holding states who own slaves, and will not liberate them from their bondage. This arose out of the practice of the Baltimore conference in refusing to ordain some local preachers, who lived in the state of Virginia, where they pleaded that the laws would not permit emancipation.
As this subject had never before been so fully investigated, and as the report, dawn up by Dr. Bascom, very clearly unfolds the principles by which the Church has ever been governed upon this grave and important question, I think the reader will be pleased to have the entire report before him. It is as follows: --
|The committee, to whom was referred the memorial and appeal of some fifteen official members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Westmoreland circuit, Baltimore conference, on the subject of alleged withholdment of right from a portion of the local ministry within the limits of that conference, and to when was likewise referred the report of the judiciary committee upon a similar remonstrance from the same division of the Baltimore conference, signed by about thirty official members of the Church, and addressed to the General Conference in 1836, after giving to the subject the attention its obvious importance demands, beg leave to report the following as the result of their deliberations: --
|The particular portion, or rather general section of country in which these remonstrances have their origin, although belonging to the Baltimore conference, is found within the limits of the state of Virginia; and the memorialists represent in strong but respectful terms, that local preachers within the jurisdiction of the Baltimore conference, but residing in the commonwealth of Virginia, have, in considerable numbers, and for a succession of years, been rejected as applicants for deacon's and elders orders in the ministry, solely on the ground of their being slave-holders, or the owners of slaves. In the memorials referred to it is distinctly stated, that election and ordination have been withheld from the applicants in question on no other ground or pretense than that of their being the owners of slave property; and it is further argued that the Baltimore conference avows this to be the only reason of the course they pursue, and which is complained of by the petitioners. The appellants allege further, that the laws of Virginia relating to slavery forbid emancipation, except under restrictions, and subject to contingencies amounting, to all intents and purposes, to a prohibition; and that the Discipline of the Church having provided for the ordination of ministers thus circumstanced, the course pursued by the Baltimore conference operates as an abridgment of right, and therefore furnishes just ground of complaint. The memorialists regard themselves as clearly entitled to the protection of the well-known provisional exception to the general rule on this subject found in the Discipline; and assume with confidence, and argue with firmness and ability, that no other objection being found to the character of candidates for ordination, it is a departure from the plain intendment of the law in the case, and a violation of not less express compact than of social justice, to withhold ordination for reasons which the provisions of the law plainly declare are not to be considered as a forfeiture of right. It is set forth in the argument of the appellants, that, attaching themselves to the Church as citizens of Virginia, where, in the obvious sense of the Discipline, emancipation is impracticable, the holding of slaves, or failure to emancipate them, cannot be plead in bar to the right of ordination, as is the ease in states where emancipation, as defined and qualified by the rule in the case, is found to be practicable. In the latter ease the question is within the jurisdiction of the Church, inasmuch as the holding or not holding of property of this kind depends not upon the constitution and regulation of civil property, but upon the will and purpose of individuals. Under such circumstances the conduct in question is voluntary, and in every final sense the result of choice. In the former, however, where emancipation is resisted by the prohibition of law, it may be otherwise and in many instances is known to be resulting entirely from the involuntary relations and circumstances of individuals connected with the very structure of civil polity, and the force and array of public opinion and popular interest. The memorialists advert to the fact, that we have in the Discipline two distinct classes of legislative provision in relation to slavery -- the one applying to owners of slaves where emancipation is practicable, consistently with the interests of master and slaves, and the other where it is impracticable without endangering such safety, and these interests on the part of both. With the former, known as the general rule on this subject, the petitioners do not interfere in any way, and are content simply to place themselves under the protection of the latter as contracting parties with the Church; and the ground of complaint is that the Church has failed to redeem the pledge of its own laws, by refusing or failing to promote to office ministers, in whose case no disability attaches on the ground of slavery, because the disability attaching in other cases is here removed by special provision of law, and so far leaves the right to ordination clear and undoubted, and hence the complaint against the Baltimore conference. In further prosecution of the duty assigned them, your committee have carefully examined the law, and inquired into the system of slavery as it exists in Virginia, and find the representation of the memorialists essentially correct. The conditions with which emancipation is burdened in that commonwealth preclude the practicability of giving freedom to slaves as contemplated in the Discipline, except in extremely rare instances say one in a thousand, and possibly not more than one in five thousand. The exception in the Discipline is therefore strictly applicable to all the ministers and members of the Methodist Episcopal Church holding slaves in Virginia, and they appear clearly entitled to the benefit of the rule made and provided in such cases.
|As emancipation under such circumstances is not a requirement of Discipline, it cannot be made a condition of eligibility to office. An appeal to the policy and practice of the Church for fifty years past will show incontestably, that, whatever may have been the convictions of the Church with regard to this great evil, the nature and tendency of the system of slavery, it has never insisted upon emancipation in contravention of civil authority; and it therefore appears to be a well-settled and long-established principle in the polity of the Church that no ecclesiastical disabilities are intended to ensue either to the ministers or members of the Church in those states where the civil authority forbids emancipation. The general rule therefore distinctly and invariably requiring emancipation as the ground of right, and the condition of claim to ordination where the laws of the several states admit of emancipation, and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom, and which, in the judgment of your committee, should always be carried into effect with unyielding firmness, does not apply to your memorialists, and cannot by any fair construction of law affect their rights.
|On the other hand, your committee have given the most careful consideration to the position of the Baltimore conference complained of by the appellants. The journals of the several sessions of the Baltimore conference, for a series of years, have been carefully examined, and found to be silent on the subject of the rejections in question, except the single statement that A, B, and C, from time to time, applied for admission or orders, and were rejected. We find no rule or reason of action, no evidence of preconception, no grounds or reasons of rejection, stated in any form, directly or indirectly. Nothing of this kind is avowed in, or found upon the face of the journals of that body. The charge of particular motives, it occurs to your committee, cannot be sustained in the instance of a deliberative body, say the Baltimore conference, unless it appears in evidence that the motives have been avowed by a majority of the conference; and it is not in proof that the conference has ever had an action to this effect, whatever may have been the declaration of individuals sustaining the charge of the appellants. The fact charged without reference to motives, that there has been a long list of rejections, both as it regards admission into the traveling connection and ordination, until the exception seems to be made a general rule, is undoubtedly true, and is not denied by the defendants. The evidence, however, in relation to specific reasons and motives is defective, and does not appear to sustain the charge of a contravention of right by any direct accredited action of the Baltimore conference had in the premises.
|That this view of the subject presents a serious difficulty is felt by your committee, and must be so by all. The rule applicable in this case allows an annual conference to act under the circumstances; but does not, and from the very nature and ubiquity of the case, cannot require it. Among the unquestioned constitutional rights of our annual conferences is that of acting freely, without any compulsory direction, in the exercise of individual franchise. Election here is plainly an assertion of personal right on the part of the different members composing the body, with regard to which the claim to question or challenge motives does not belong even to the General Conference, unless the result has turned upon avowed considerations unknown to the law and rule in the case. The journal of the conference is the only part of its history of which this body has cognizance, and to extend such cognizance to the reasons and motives of individual members of conferences not declared to be the ground of action by a majority, would be to establish a rule at once subversive of the rights and independence of annual conferences. In the very nature of the case an annual conference must possess the right of free and uncontrolled determination, not only in the choice of its members, but in all its elections, and keeping within the limits and restrictions of its charter as found in the Discipline, can only be controlled in the exercise of such right by moral and relative considerations, connected with the intelligence and interests of the body.
|The memorialists prayed the last General Conference, and they again ask this to interfere authoritatively by change or construction of rule so as to afford relief; and in failure to do so in the memorial of 1836, they ask to be set off to the Virginia conference, as the only remaining remedy. In their present petition they are silent on the subject of a transfer to Virginia. Under all the circumstances of the case, and taking into the account the probabilities of future action in the premises, your committee cannot but regard this as the only conclusive remedy. But how far this may be considered as relatively practicable, or whether advisable in view of all the interests involved, the committee have no means of determining, and therefore leave it to the judgment of those who have. That the petitioners, in accordance with the provisions of the Discipline, whether said provisions be right or wrong, are entitled to remedy, your committee cannot for a moment doubt, inasmuch as they are laboring, and have been for years, under practical disabilities actually provided against by the Discipline of the Church. The alleged grievance is by the petitioners themselves regarded as one of administration, not of law. No change of legislation is asked for, unless this body prefer it; and it does not appear to your committee to he called for by any view of the subject they have been able to take.
|Your committee are unwilling to close the brief view of this subject, without anxiously suggesting that, as it is one of the utmost importance, and intense delicacy in its application and bearings throughout our entire country, involving in greater or less degree the hopes and fears, the anxieties and interests of millions, it must be expected that great variety of opinions and diversity of conviction and feeling will be found to exist in relation to it, and most urgently call for the exercise of mutual forbearance and reciprocal good will on the part of all concerned. May not the principles and causes, giving birth and perpetuity to great moral and political systems or institutions be regarded as evil, even essentially evil in every primary aspect of the subject, without the implication of moral obliquity on the part of those involuntarily connected with such systems and institutions, and providentially involved in their operation and consequences? May not a system of this kind be jealously regarded as in itself more or less inconsistent with natural right, and moral rectitude, without the imputation of guilt and derelict motive, in the instance of those who, without any choice or purpose of their own, are necessarily subjected to its influence and sway?
|Can it be considered as just or reasonable to hold individuals responsible for the destiny of circumstances over which they have no control?, Thus conditioned in the organic arrangements and distributions of society, is there any necessary connection between the moral character of the individual and that of the system? In this way the modifying influence of unavoidable agencies or circumstances in the formation of character is a well-known principle, and one of universal recognition in law, morals, and religion, and upon which all administration of law, not unjust and oppressive, must proceed. And your committee know of no reason why the rule is inapplicable, or should not obtain, in relation to the subject of this report. In conclusion, the committee would express the deliberate opinion that, while the general rule on the subject of slavery, relating to those states only whose laws admit of emancipation, and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom, should be firmly and constantly enforced, the exception to the general rule applying to those states where emancipation, as defined above, is not practicable, should be recognized and protected with equal firmness and impartiality. The committee respectfully suggest to the conference the propriety of adopting the following resolution: --
|Resolved, by the delegates of the several annual conferences in General Conference assembled, That, under the provisional exception of the general rule of the Church on the subject of slavery, the simple holding of slaves, or mere ownership of slave property, in states or territories here the laws do not admit of emancipation and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom, constitutes no legal barrier to the election or ordination of ministers to the various grades of office known in the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and cannot, therefore, be considered as operating any forfeiture of right in view of such election and ordination.|
It will be seen by a reference to the address of the managers of our Missionary Society, that they prayed for certain alterations in its constitution. After considerable debate, provision was made for the election of two additional secretaries, and likewise empowering the managers to provide for the widows and orphan children of such missionaries as have fallen in foreign missionary work where an annual conference has hen or may he found, inasmuch as they had no claim upon the ordinary funds of the annual conferences. And the general report of the conference regarding missions gave an encouraging view of the great and growing missionary field of labor, and invited preachers and people to a united and vigorous prosecution of this holy and benevolent enterprise.
A memorial was presented to the conference by the secretary of the American Colonization Society, which was referred to a committee, and the following report was adopted almost unanimously: --
|That, after mature deliberation, we are convinced that the American Colonization Society is deserving the patronage and support of the entire Christian community as exerting a most beneficial influence upon the colored population of our own country, and more especially upon the inhabitants of Africa, particularly the colonists of Liberia, and the neighboring native tribes. It is chiefly however, as Christians, and as Christian ministers, that we view this enterprise favorably, on account of the facilities which it affords to the Christian missionary to extend the blessings of the gospel to that benighted portion of our globe. The success which has already attended our missions in that country is, to us, a sure indication that Providence designs to make Liberia a means of enlightening Africa with the light of salvation, as well as a place of refuge for the distressed. With these views the committee respectfully recommend to the conference the adoption of the following: --
1. Resolved, by the delegates of the several annual conferences in General Conference assembled, That we view with favor the efforts which are now making by the American Colonization Society to build up a colony on the coast of Liberia with free people of color by their own consent.
2. Resolved, That the success which has hitherto attended this noble and philanthropic enterprise is a sure pledge that, if still prosecuted with wisdom and energy, it will be rendered a great blessing, not only to the colonies themselves, but also to the vast population of Africa, now enveloped in heathenish darkness.3. Resolved, That we recommend this society to the attention and patronage of our brethren and friends; and that the several annual conferences which may feel themselves free to aid this enterprise of benevolence to the souls and bodies of people of color, both in our own country and in Africa be, and hereby are affectionately advised and requested to adopt such measures as they may think suitable to promote its objects, by taking up collections on or about the fourth of July in each year.|
Much inconvenience had been experienced in some of the conferences in consequence of supernumerary preachers leaving their stations with a view to become agents for societies not in connection with our Church, and which, in some instances, even operated against the peace and harmony of the body. To prevent evils of this character, the following clause was inserted in the Discipline: --
|A supernumerary preacher who refuses to attend to the work assigned him, unless in case of sickness or other unavoidable cause or causes, shall not be allowed to exercise the functions of his office, nor even to preach among us; nevertheless, the final determination of the case shall be with the annual conference of which he is a member, who shall have power to acquit, suspend, locate, or expel him, as the case may be.|
The rule incorporated in the Discipline at the last General Conference respecting the trial of superannuated preachers who reside out of the bounds of their respective conferences, was found inadequate to its object, as it was impossible to arrest the progress of a disorderly person who might choose to evade the rule, if justified in his course by the conference to which he belonged. This conference, therefore, so amended the rule as to make it read as follows: --
|If the accused be a superannuated preacher, living out of the bounds of the conference of which he is a member, he shall be held responsible to the annual conference within whose bounds he may reside, who shall have power to try, acquit, suspend, locate, or expel him, in the same manner as if he were a member of said conference.|
These comprehend all the important acts of the conference. There were, to be sure, several verbal alterations in some portions of the Discipline, which, however, do not materially alter the sense, or any principle of the government. The motion for a complete revision of the Discipline, so as to harmonize its several parts, to make a more systematical arrangement of its sections, and to correct the phraseology, which had become, in consequence of haste or negligence, somewhat unintelligible, notwithstanding its obvious necessity, was lost, chiefly because the object of the mover was misapprehended. It is hoped, however, that such a revision will yet be made, as it would add greatly to the perspicuity of the Discipline, and prevent much of that discordant administration which arises from the ambiguity of the law in certain cases.
Before the conference adjourned, Bishop Soule was appointed to attend as a representative to the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in 1842, and he nominated Thomas B. Sargeant to accompany him, and the nomination was confirmed by the conference. Bishop Hedding was requested to attend the Canada Conference, or, in the event of his being unable to go, the bishops were authorized to select a person for that service.
The following is the pastoral address: --
|Dearly Beloved Brethren, -- As the representatives of the several annual conferences in General Conference assembled, we assume the pleasing duty of addressing to you our Christian salutations: Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,' both now and for ever.
|In reviewing the history of the past four years, while we see some occasions for humiliation before God, we see much in the dealings of our heavenly Father with us which calls aloud for gratitude and praise. The unwelcome and startling fact of a diminution of the numbers in society had awakened in our minds great solicitude. Fearing lest we had so far departed from our original purity of character as to be cursed with barrenness, and to give place to others whom God would constitute more appropriate instruments in achieving the moral renovation of the world, we sent up our cry to heaven,' Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.' At this point in our history we very justly concluded that instead of indulging in fruitless speculations upon the causes which had brought about this state of things, it became us to gird ourselves for new exertions, and to look up to the great head of the Church for a renewed and signal manifestation of his power and grace, to raise the fainting spirits and cheer the trembling hearts of the armies of our Israel. And how wonderfully have our efforts been succeeded! Truly may we say, In a little wrath he hid his face from us, for a moment, but with everlasting kindness' has he had mercy upon us.'
|Within the last year the state of the American Methodist Church has assumed a most interesting and cheering aspect. The spirit of grace and supplication has been poured out upon her, and her converts have been greatly multiplied. Extensive and powerful revivals have been reported through our excellent periodicals, from almost every point of the wide field occupied by our regular itinerant ministry, or by our missionaries. Multitudes of fallen and miserable men have been happily renovated and brought within the pale of the Church. Many desolate and barren fields have become as the garden of the Lord; presenting to the gaze of the world the variegated tints of moral beauty, sending up to heaven the sweet odors of pure devotion, and yielding the precious fruits of righteousness, to the glory and honor of God.
|The first centenary of Methodism has brought with it a state of great enlargement and prosperity. The pious zeal which you exhibited in the appropriate celebration of this new era in our history, and the liberal offerings you presented to the Church, exhibit a praiseworthy regard for her institutions, and doubtless constitute a sacrifice with which God is well pleased. Though, on this interesting occasion, you did no more than was your duty to do, God blessed you in the deed, having brought your tithes into the storehouse of the Lord, and proved him therewith, he has poured you out a blessing that there is scarcely room to contain.
|It affords us great pleasure to witness the strong tendency which develops itself among the Methodists to adhere to the peculiar principles which have characterized them from the beginning, and to remain one and indissoluble. Though some have entered into doubtful disputations,' and a few of our societies have been hurtfully agitated, yet to the honor of our enlightened membership, and to the glory of God, would we at this time express our solemn conviction that the great mass of our people have remained firm as a wall of brass' midst the commotions of conflicting elements. There seems at this moment far less occasion to fear from the causes of dissension than there was at the last meeting of this conference. Indeed, brethren, we have no doubt but if we all continue to walk by the same rule, and to mind the same things,' in which in the order of God we have been instructed, the gates of hell shall not prevail against us,' and the enemy who would divide and scatter, in order to destroy us, will be dis appointed.
|Since the commencement of the present session of the General Conference, memorials have been presented principally from the northern and eastern divisions of the work, some praying for the action of the conference on the subject of slavery, and others asking for radical changes in the economy of the Church. The results of the deliberations of the committees to whom these memorials had a respectful reference, and the final action of the conference upon them, may be seen among the doings of this body, as reported and published. The issue in several instances is probably different from what the memorialists may have thought they had reason to expect. But it is to be hoped they will not suppose the General Conference has either denied them any legitimate right, or been wanting in a proper respect for their opinions. Such is the diversity of habits of thought, manners, customs, and domestic relations among the people of this vast republic, and such the diversity of the institutions of the sovereign states of the confederacy, that it is not to be supposed an easy task to suit all the incidental circumstances of our economy to the views and feelings of the vast mass of minds interested. We pray, therefore, that brethren whose views may have been crossed by the acts of this conference will at least give us the credit of having acted in good faith, and of not having regarded private ends or party interests, but the best good of the whole family of American Methodists.
|Radical changes in our economy are conceived to be fraught with danger. After having so long, and under such a variety of circumstances, proved the efficiency of our existing institutions, we conceive that it is now no time to go into untried experiments. The leading features of our excellent Book of Discipline, we have every reason to believe, commend themselves alike to the enlightened judgments and to the pious feelings of the great mass of our people. Upon this subject they hold the sentiment expressed in the language of our Lord: No man having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new, for he saith the old is better.' They desire to continue on in the same tried path, and preserve, in its simplicity and purity, Methodism as we received it from our fathers. With these convictions, we should prove recreant to the trust committed to us were we in the slightest degree to yield to the spirit of innovation.
|After this free expression of our views and feelings in relation to those great interests which naturally come under review in such a communication, will you, brethren, permit us, as your pastors and servants, for Jesus' sake, to 'stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance,' in relation to several important duties, which at the present time especially demand your utmost care and diligence? 1. In addition to the ordinary means of grace to which we are bound to attend as Christians, there are certain duties which are obligatory on us as Methodists; among these are our class meetings and love feasts. Numerous melancholy instances have proved that these means cannot be wantonly neglected by our people without the loss of their religious comfort, a total paralysis of their spiritual energies, and utter uselessness i the Church. As you then desire to be useful, to be happy, and to glorify God in this life and that which is to come, we beseech you, brethren, never for a moment to decline in your attention to these precious means of grace.2. Exercise the utmost vigilance and care over the moral and religious training of the rising generation. In a very few days we shall be with our fathers: and it is for us now to say what influence our children shall exert upon the condition of society, and the destinies of the world, when we are no more. Give your infant offspring to God in holy baptism. When they are of sufficient age, put them into the sabbath school, impart to them personal religious instruction, pray incessantly for their conversion and salvation, and by all means, if possible, give them the advantages of the excellent institutions of learning which have been reared by your benevolent and praiseworthy exertions.
3. We would also apprise you who are heads of families, of the vast importance of supplying those committed to your trust with such reading as will have a tendency to make them wiser and better. Preoccupy their attention with our excellent books and periodicals, and to the utmost of your power guard them against the dreadful tide of froth and corruption which is making such ravages upon the intellectual and moral character of the age, under the general title of novels. These publications, with very few exceptions, like the dreadful sirocco, blast, and wither, and destroy wherever they come. Superinducing a state of intellectual languor, and blunting the moral feelings, they prepare the young mind for the more open and decided demonstrations of error, in the various forms of infidelity, or make it an easy prey to the seductions of vice. Recollect that to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.' Take care, then, to supply the appropriate aliment of the mind in sufficient variety and abundance, that there may be left no opening for the entrance of these mischievous agents.
4. We furthermore exhort you, brethren, not to forget the high and holy object of our organization. We profess to be a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness; united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to help each other work out their salvation.' We are a voluntary association, organized, as we believe, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for purposes of a purely spiritual nature. It was with reference to our mutual spiritual edification that we struck hands before God's altar, and gave to each other pledges of future fidelity. Let us then labor to the utmost to do each other good, praying for one another, bearing each others burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ,' forgiving one another if any have a quarrel against another.' Our obligations to these duties we took upon ourselves voluntarily, and under the most solemn circumstances. Can we then lightly cast them off, or claim them at the hands of others, when we will not discharge them ourselves' Nay, brethren, they are mutual, perpetual, inviolable.5. We exhort and beseech you, brethren, by the tender mercies of our God, that you strive for the mind that was in Christ Jesus.' Be not content with mere childhood in religion; but, having the principles of the doctrines of Christ, go on unto perfection.' The doctrine of entire sanctification constitutes a leading feature of original Methodism. But let us not suppose it enough to have this doctrine in our standards: let us labor to have the experience and the power of it in our hearts. Be assured, brethren, that if our influence and usefulness as a religious community, depend upon one thing more than any other, it is upon our carrying out the great doctrine of sanctification in our life and conversation. When we fail to do this, then shall we lose our pre-eminence; and the halo of glory which surrounded the heads, and lit up the path of our sainted fathers, will have departed from their unworthy sons. O brethren, let your motto be, holiness to the Lord.' And may the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and we pray God, that your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.'
|Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, what soever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.' And now, we commend you to God and the word of his grace, who is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.' AMEN.|
On the evening of Wednesday, June 3, the conference adjourned to meet again in the city of New York, May 1, 1844. At an early period of the session of this conference a resolution prevailed to employ a reporter to take down the proceedings of the conference, that they might be published weekly in the Christian Advocate and Journal, and the other papers published under the direction of the General Conference. The following is the reporter's account of the closing of the conference: --
|A motion being made to adjourn sine die, Bishop Soule addressed the conference:
|Dear Brethren, -- Under any other circumstances than those in which we are now placed, I should esteem it a high privilege, as well as a solemn duty, to offer you an extended parting salutation. But the extreme lateness of the hour requires that we should close our session without further delay. Indulge me a few, and but a few, moments.
|It has afforded me much pleasure to witness so little improper excitement. I do not recollect that I ever attended a conference in which I saw less. While great difference of opinion has existed on various subjects, I rejoice to have seen exhibited, universally, so much brotherly kindness and affection. I am more especially rejoiced in the firm persuasion, the steadfast belief, that great and important principles have been investigated and established, destined to exert a most salutary influence on our future prospects, our peace, and our unity. In this I do rejoice, and I will rejoice.
|And now in separating, to carry out the measures here adopted -- to further the cause of God with renewed zeal and energy -- I entreat brethren to refrain rigidly from all unkind expressions in regard to each other; and to be careful how, as members of this body, they pass their animadversions, publicly or privately, upon its acts. It becomes us to speak, if we speak at all, with great respect and due deference for the opinions of those who have acted under responsibilities so vast and momentous.
|Let us keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.
|And may the God of all grace continue to strengthen our union, until we shall see the accomplishment of the great design for which Methodism was raised up, viz.: to spread Scriptural holiness all over these lands.
|The bishop then read that admirable and appropriate hymn, commencing --
And let our bodies part, To different climes repair; Inseparably joined in heart The friends of Jesus are.'
|The whole body, together with a considerable audience, joined solemnly in singing these sacred lines; after which the venerable bishop addressed the throne of grace, amidst the responses, the tears, and the sighs bursting from the heaving bosoms of the conference and the audience.
|The conference then, at ten minutes past one o'clock, Thursday morning, June 4, adjourned sine die.
|Thus closed the Centenary General Conference, after the most protracted, the most interesting, and, to human judgment, the most auspicious session ever held. May its deliberations redound to the glory of God and the good of the Church. The Church! Esto perpetua.|