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METHODISTS have always been trustful believers in divine providence. Their founder taught them to be such both by his example and doctrine. He left them a notable sermon on the subject, in which he denied the common distinction between a“ general” and a “particular” providence, and included the latter in the former. Much of the “morale" of Methodism has been owing to the prevalent belief of its people that it has been signalized by providence, and that, therefore, extraordinary providential designs are to be accomplished by it.
Thus far there have been three well-defined stages in its progress.
The first is comprised in the period of Wesley's personal ministry, in which it began, extended in both hemispheres, and was at last more or less consolidated into an organic system. The second was its testing period, its great seven years' war of “fiery trial,” from the death of Wesley to near the beginning of the nineteenth century. At the conclusion of this probation its fidelity was rewarded by remarkable prosperity, and by the sudden appearance in its ranks of men of extraordinary capacity, who quickly elevated its intellectual character, confirmed its systen, and developed its energy in plans for universal missionary conquest. This missionary development may be considered its third and, it is to be hoped, its permanent stage; permanent at least till the evangelization of
FOURTH SERIES, VOL. XIII.-1
. the world. It was a system of propagandism from the beginning; Coke had especially promoted its spread in the West Indies, and it had ventured furtively into France from the Channel Islands, but it had conceived no very distinct missionary scheme till the death of Coke threw it upon that necessity, and the important men who were providentially raised up about the conclusion of its great testing trials, after the death of Wesley, seemed to be designated to this particular development of its power. It was found worthy, by its protracted trial, of them, and of the sublime destiny to which they could lead it.
With the period of Wesley's personal ministry we are all familiar, but not with the ensuing season of hard probation. The latter is a rich study for the historical student, rich in lessons. We can here only glance at it, hoping it will be presented in another and more complete form hereafter.
JOHN WESLEY died in the spring of 1791, and now was to be determined the question, whether or not the great work of his life had coherence enough to survive his personal superintend
It is a law of history, or rather of providence, that great public bodies, states, or Churches, must, like great individual men, be disciplined by adversity, and derive thence much of their best strength. While Wesley was serenely passing through his last days, both his friends and his foes were anticipating, with anxious or curious speculation, the approaching crisis of Methodism. All supposed that it would be perilous; many that it would be fatal. “Pray! pray! pray!" wrote his traveling companion, Joseph Bradford, from the side of his dying bed, to the preachers, and the alarming word sped over the kingdom, calling the societies to their altars with supplications for the future. The pious throng that gathered around his corpse, as it lay in state in City-road chapel, mourned, not so much his departure to his rest, as the privation and probable peril of the “connection;" and when, in the early morning of the 9th of March, he was interred by torchlight, to avoid the pressure of the anxious crowd, doubtless many a hostile conjecture was uttered in the metropolis, that the hope of Methodism was buried with him. The biographies of the old preachers of the day abound in sad and ominous allusions to its possible fate.
The determination of the problem could hardly have been devolved upon more inauspicious times. Wesley died while the tumults of the French revolution were alarming the civilized world. During the preceding two or three years continental Europe had been surging with the first violent motions of that grand catastrophe. While he was dying the throne of France was falling, and in a few weeks her king was flying from his people only to be brought back to the guillotine. More than twenty millions of Frenchmen were soon after plunged in a saturnalia of tumult and terror, tens of thousands flying to arms or flying before them. The best political doctrines were abused to the worst ends; the worst moral doctrines were consecrated as a religion of vice and honored with hecatombs of martyrs. The throne, the altar, and social order were prostrated, and for a quarter of a century the political foundations of Europe, from Scandinavia to the Calabrias, from Madrid to Moscow, were shaken as by incessant earthquakes.
The American people had presented a remarkable example of self-liberation and self-government. The French Revolution followed in the wake of the American Revolution, and, as it adopted the American democratic ideas, it is not surprising that liberal Englishmen at first hailed it as a new era of liberty and progress
for the human race. Such an uprising of a great people for such principles had never before occurred in the history of the world. Generous minds were everywhere too much interested in its sublime energy and promise to perceive at first its radical and disastrous errors. All England became more or less infected with these errors. Liberal and learned divines, like Price and Priestley, sympathized with the revolution and promoted its doctrines in their country; both these clergymen were honored with the rights of French citizenship. Literary men' generally hailed with hope the mighty uprising, especially the new poets of the age, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey. The gentle and pure-minded Wordsworth held in Paris, three years after the death of Wesley, relations of intimacy with the ferocious Robespierre; and Watt, the greatest benefactor the human race has had in the practical arts, shared the poet's friendship with the demoniacal revolutionist. Mackintosh wrote his “Vindiciæ Gallicæ," and was made a French citizen; and Leigh Hunt and James Montgomery suffered imprisonment under suspicion of French principles. Horne Tooke was their active partisan. Fox, Sheridan, and other Whig leaders, yielded to the new influence. One month before the death of Wesley, Fox pronounced the new French constitution “the most stupendous edifice of liberty” ever erected. Under such auspices the dangerous doctrines, though generally associated with profound religious errors, could not but spread rapidly among the masses. An extraordinary man, Thomas Paine, a man of the people, direct and energetic in thought, vigorous though often coarse in style, of indomitable persistence, and not without generous purposes at first, suddenly appeared and spread the new opinions over most of the realm. His writings did more to corrupt the moral and political sentiments of the common people of both England and America, than those of any other author of the last or present century. They were scattered over the kingdom by the hundred thousand, sold at a sixpence a volume, or distributed gratuitously into the obscurest corners of the country by revolutionary clubs, which held their head-quarters in London, but had ramifications all over the land, and were in relations of correspondence with the Jacobin club of Paris. England was, in fine, pervaded by the new opinions, Ireland was in rebellion, and the United Kingdom seemed fast drifting toward a disastrous crisis.
Such were the auspices under which Methodism had to meet its great trial—the loss of its founder, the experiment of a new administration of its system, the solution of new ecclesiastical questions which were agitated by the excited people. The country was rocking with political and infidel tumults, its pulpits were resounding with discussions of the French revolutionary doctrines, the masses were maddened with agitations, and breaking out in one island with insurrection, in the other with mobs.
It would be neither interesting, nor is it necessary to record here the details of the internal strifes of Methodism which followed the death of Wesley. It was an age of pamphlets; printed “appeals” and “circulars," on the questions in controversy in the Church, flew over the United Kingdom, like the leaves of autumn, during the ensuing seven years. Public