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Gilpin, the Rev. S. Pearce, of Birmingham, the Rev. Philip Henry, and honest William Penn.
Nor is their charity limited to Protestants: they have even published the life of Xavier, and other Roman Catholics, and have circulated them through the three kingdoms. It is not a little singular, that whilst Mr. W. condemns the Methodists for their want of candour, he himself indulges in the most severe reflections, Where the clergy are the objects of it, he censures every species of detraction;* and yet his work is a piece of detraction from beginning to end, -detracting from the piety, abilities, and usefulness of Methodists and Methodist Preachers. The system itself is represented as productive of superstition and hypocrisy and destructive of the interests of pure christianity; and its advocates, are ignorant, artful, fanatical, and enthusiastic. In the midst of all, he takes to himself the credit of impartiality.t It is true, he honours them with the appellation of Christians;ť but he destroys the character to which that name is attached. When I hear a person descanting on charity without displaying the principle, it reminds me of the efforts of a person intoxicated, endeavouring to impose upon others by the attempt to walk steady. It is no consideration of his, that whatever be his individual condition, others are sober. There are not many but will subscribe to the justice of Mr. W.'s introductory remark,—“ Among the numerous follies and inconsistencies of mankind, there are few more conspicuous than their assumption of qualities which do not belong to them, and the confidence with which they endeavour to persuade the world that the character they have assumed is really their own."s
After a severe philippic against modern political reformers, || Mr. W. glides into the subject of religious reform, and associates the spirit and proceedings of the Methodists with the former; the one hostile to the state, the other to the church. Dissenters in general, and the Methodists in particular, are * Pages 192, 193. + Pages 191, 195. Preface, p.7. s Page 1.
| Pages 1-6.
beheld as united, though distinct in other things, in their opposition to the Establishment.* From both, the clergy meet with nothing but contumely and contempt. It is not for me to stand forth in vindication of slander, however justly the Dissenters might retort. The fact is, the Methodists, as a body, do not oppose the Church of England as an Establishment. They consider it the best in the world; though like cards and theatrical amusements, which, according to Mr.W.'s views, are good things, not exempt from abuse. Do not start appalled, my good Sir; I am not going to justify theatrical amusements : I only wish to profit as I proceed by Mr. Wi's observations. As he contends, when pleading so strenuously the utility of the particulars just specified, that the best things may be abused, the Methodists maintain, that the Established Church, though generally speaking a good one, not only may be, but actually has been abused, by permitting men to assume the priestly office within her walls, whose lives have done her great discredit. Ignorant persons, for want of properly discriminating, may possibly have condemned the Establishment, where they ought only to have censured her abuses; and when the whole weight of their indignation ought to have fallen upon the persons who introduce improper characters to her altar; and upon those characters, for eating her bread without promoting her interests. The Methodists are among some of the best friends of the Establishment. On the Established Church and its abuses, the following will be found to be pretty generally the sentiments of the Methodists. religious establishments, vile persons who have no higher motive, may, and do, get into the priest's office, that they may clothe themselves with the wool, and feed themselves with the fat, while they starve the flock. But where there is no law to back the claims of the worthless and the wicked, men of piety and solid merit only can find support; for they must live on the free-will offerings of the people. Where religion is established by law, the strictest ecclesiastical discipline should be kept up, and all hireling priests and ecclesiastical drones, should be expelled from the Lord's vineyard. An established religion, where the foundation is good, (as in ours,) I consider a great blessing; but it is liable to this continual abuse, which nothing but careful and rigid ecclesiastical discipline can either cure or prevent. If our high priests, our archbishops and bishops, do not their duty, the whole body of the clergy may become corrupt or inefficient. If they be faithful, the Establishment will be an honour to the kingdom, and a praise in the earth."*
* Preface, p. 7; p. 197.
+ Pages 17, 192,
# Pages 168, 174.
For a clergyman, like Mr. W. to praise the Established Church, is what will readily be pardoned by the Dissenters, and applauded by its members. Not satisfied, however, with this, Dissenterism must be viewed as destructive of Christianity. Hence, it is affirmed, “A multiplicity of insulated sects, are, as they obviously must be, prejudicial to the interests of the gospel of Christ.”+ As the Methodists are associated with those sects which are prejudicial to the interests of the gospel, a word or two may be necessary on the subject. Mr. W. can perceive no medium between a man's exertions to aid his own cause, and a design to oppose that of others. Certainly a person may attend to the domestic concerns of his own family, and cultivate his own plot of ground, without troubling his next door neighbour. He may use a different mode of discipline, and may work his ground in a different manner; but while the members of his family conduct themselves with propriety, and he brings his proper proportion of grain to the market, we are not warranted to say, that domestic peace is destroyed, or that the agricultural interests are injured, merely because of a little variation in the government of the one, and of the management of the other. Where the essentials of religion remain animpaired, the different religious sects are so far useful to the general “ interests of the gospel of Christ," as to provoke each other to love and good works. Never, perhaps, was Christianity more aided in this way, than at present. Mr.W. is unfortunate enough, and yet prefers the charge against the Methodists, to view the Established Church as the only true Church, and the means employed by her as the only legitimate means to be employed for the diffusion of knowledge. On this subject he will find a diversity of opinion. Let us not quarrel with others because they do not immediately follow our track. Italy, you will recollect, Sir, produced, almost at the same time, three eminent poets, Dante, Petrarch, and Bocaccio. These men received from nature a different direction of genius. To ascend Parnassus, they took three roads so distinct from each other that they reached the summit without ever meeting; and we enjoy their productions at this day, without those of the one being capable of giving an idea of, or of being preferred, or even compared to, the rest. He who entered on the journey last of the three seemed to rise to a less point of elevation than his predecessors; but it is the style in which he excelled that is less elevated. And cannot the different sects ascend, I do not say different eminences, but the same mount—the Mount of God, without coming in contact with each other, or at all endangering their individual safety ? I do not here include those who deny the most important doctrines of Christianity; though they are not altogether without their use. This is strikingly illustrated by Leslie; “You see multiplicity of sects and divisions," says he, "which our blessed Saviour foretold should come, for the probation of the elect: as some Canaanites were left in the land to teach the Israelites the use of war, lest by too profound a peace they might grow lazy and stupid, and become an easy prey to their enemies. So might Christianity be lost among us; if we had nothing to do, it would dwindle and decay, and corrupt by degrees, as water stagnates by standing still: but when we are put to contend earnestly for the faith, it quickens our zeal, keeps us upon our guard, trims our lamp, and furbishes the sword of the Spirit, which might otherwise rust in its scabbard. And it gives great opportunity to shew us the wonderful providence and protection of God over his
* Dr. A. Clarke's Notes, 1 Sam. ij. 36. + Page 8, 9.
church, in preserving her against a visibly unequal force. And in this contest, to some this high privilege is granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also suffer for his sake. These go to make up the noble army of martyrs and confessors, for ever triumphant in heaven. Others conquer even here on earth, that God's wonderful doings may be known to the children of men.' Every new sect affords truth an additional conquest; controversies are agitated, and truth flourishes. Southcottarianism was not altogether uninstructive, though beneath the dignity of an intelligent controversialist: it served to make us ashamed of our common nature. Had Mr. W. only learned to make the best of what cannot well be avoided in a mixed state of things, his censures would have been less frequent.
While every excellency is associated with the Established Church, not any thing can be beheld in others worthy of unqualified approbation, or even of what is deserving the name of toleration.
It is granted, Mr. W. observes, “ the real friends of our venerable hierarchy cannot feel themselves justified in wishing that it should be invested with coercive powers, or that its weapons of defence should be any other than argument and persuasion.”+ But this is not without its corrective. He hesitates not to applaud Lord Sidmouth's Bill, to whom his work is respectfully dedicated, and ridicules the “groundless apprehensions" of the Dissenters on the occasion. He even attempts to prove, that toleration is not incompatible with restriction, and that its “ principles" would not have been violated by the plan recommended to be carried into effect by his Lordship. Hence it turns out, that law is to be converted into “
argument,” restriction into “persuasion.” Though he objects to the fire and the wheel, yet he has no objection, in some other way, to the free exercise of civil power. Thus, as it respects the act of 1812, in favour of Protestant Dissenters, “ There are some members of the church,” he states, “s who conceive
* Short and Easy Method with the Deists, page 85, 86. + Page 12, 13.
Page 10, 194.