ART. V.--WAS WESLEY ORDAINED A BISHOP BY ERASMUS A LETTER written in the beginning of this century by a clergyman of the Episcopal Church to a brother clergyman of the Methodist Episcopal Church has called forth this present article. Its preparation is due to the belief that a free, full, and impartial investigation of the alleged ordination of Wesley by the Greek bishop, Erasmus, to the episcopacy, is not to be found in the range of Methodist literature. Why it has been almost banished from the writings of our excellent historians and casuists in Church polity I will not presume to show, being persuaded that their works will bear the test of severest criticism as to candor, prudence, and honor. It may be that the letter, soon to be given, will supply the reason for silence at a time when to speak would have been unwise. Whatever reasons may heretofore have had a constraining influence, nothing now restrains a laudable endeavor to "set up the ancient land marks" by which the line of Methodist ordinations may be traced to its source.
I propose to carry the subject through the following categories: 1. What proof have we of Mr. Wesley's consecration by Erasmus 2. What may be found to disprove such a statement 3. Word the admission of the Erasmian consecration be the best interpretation of Mr. Wesley's ecclesiastical actions!
1. Was Mr. John Wesley ordained bishop by Erasmus
In addition to the current literature, the following letter will be read with unaffected interest :
-Corlears Hook, NEW YORK, May 11, 1509.
Rev. And Dear Sir: I was highly entertained yesterday at the Conference in John-street, at which presided the Right Rev. Francis Asbury, Bishop over the Methodist Churches in America, whose episcopal authority has been spoken against by some of the Episcopalians claiming authority under the Latin Church, who boldly deny the validity of Methodist episcopacy, and found their assertions on a point by no means certain-that the Rev. John Wesley was never more than a presbyter in the Church of England, and, of course, could not consecrate Dr. Coke, Mr. Asbury, and others, to a higher order than a presbyter.
I took it for granted that the said denial was made with a view to expose the Methodist Bishops to the severity of the Preamunire Act of Henry VIII, if the Methodists should prove it at the Rev. John Wesley was consecrated a Bishop is the Christian Church by Erasmus, a Greek Bishop, and now Bishop and successor of Titus, first Bishop of Crete. But if the Methodists do not come forward and prove Mr. Wesley to be a Bishop-according to the Greek Church, then the enemy will say the Methodist episcopacy is but a Latin presbytery.
Seeing a book entitled, "An Enquiry into the Validity of Methodist Episcopacy," and considering its artful tendency, I published a vindication of the history of the Rev. Hugh Peters, and added a note which gives the origin of Methodist episcopacy in England. My design was to warn the Methodists to keep out of the reach of the English Preamunire Act, and to let their enemies vaunt over their own bold assertions rather than expose to certain misery and death their pious and conscientious bishops, who would sooner run their heads against a burning mountain than usurp episcopacy.
Had I been present when Erasmus consecrated Mr. John Wesley a Bishop in the Christian Church, I would sooner broil on the gridiron with St. Lawrence than divulge it and prove it, so long as the English Praemunire Act exists as a pillar to support the hierarchy of the Church of England
Dr. Seabury I introduced to Mr. John Wesley after the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to consecrate him Bishop of Connecticut, and Mr. Wesley would have consecrated him, and Dr. Seabury was willing to be consecrated by Mr. Wesley; but Mr. Wesley, by the best advice, would not sign the letter of orders to Seabury as Bishop in the Christian Church.'
Then Dr. Horn, Bishop of Norwich, Dr. Barkley, and others, advised Dr. Seabury to receive his consecration from the Jacobite Bishous in Scotland, who are not State Bishops, but were degraded from being Lord Bishops because they would not take the oath of allegiance to William III. in 1688.
I pretend not to be in the secret of the consecration of Mr. John Wesley by Erasmus, but t am so convinced of the fact that I would as soon be consecrated a Bishop in the Christian Church by Bishop Asbury, or ---, Bishop Coke, or ---, as by Dr. Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury, or by Dr. Porteus, lord Bishop of London. And that the jure divino of episcopacy from Erasmus came from St. John of Jerusalem Rome and England admit; but Rome admits not the jure divino episcopacy in the Church of England. The question still remains, Was Mr. John Wesley made a bishop by Erasmus, now Bishop of Crete The answer is valid -John Wesley would not have acted as bishop if he bad not been consecrated by Erasmus, nor would Dr. Coke, nor Mr. Asbury, etc. Thus believed Dr. Horn, Dr. Barkley, Charles Wesley, and hundreds of others who knew them, as well as, Rev. and dear brother, Yours affectionately, Samuel A. Peters.*
I am Bisbop elect of Ver(d)mont ; should I ever go there or in Connecticut, I would solicit a consecration by a bishop in the line from Erasmus, in order to be free of error supposed to exist in the Latin Church.
The Rev. Mr. Coates, Pearl-street, New York.
Who was Samuel A. Peters A minister of the Church of England ; a man, it is said, "of talents, learning, and extensive erudition." After having "a parochial charge in London for thirty years," lie emigrated to these United States, and Bishop elect of Vermont mention of which fact may be was found in the journals of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, where, also, it is asserted that his consecration was refused on the ground that the Convention of Vermont bad not signed the Constitution of the above-mentioned Church. He was personally known to the early Methodist preachers, one of whom has left the following interesting statement of a conversation with him
Dr. Peters informed me that when Dr. Seabury was refused consecration by. the Bishop in England, the said Bishop told him be was prohibited by the law of the realm from consecrating bun, but advised him to apply to Mr. Wesley for consecration. Dr. Seabury replied, "Is Wesley a Bishop" To which the Bishop answered, '.' We do not undertake to answer that question. It is not for us to determine. But apply to him; he can satisfy you, and consecrate you." Dr. Peters was present at the interview, and went with and introduced Dr. Seabury to Mr. Wesley, who was
*The shove letter was Written to Rev. Samuel Coate, who was St that time Presiding Elder of Lower Canada District. A copy of it was furnished to Rev. Ezekiel cooper, among whose controversial MSS. It was found. Mr. Cooper collected a large body of notes, with a view of publishing a book on the origin of Methodist episcopacy. The letter is marked No. VII in the list of papers he had arranged for publication. Mr. Cooper was himself well acquainted with Dr. Peters, and thus speaks of him: "Dr. Samuel A. Peters is an Episode minister of the Church of England-of talents, learning, and extensive erudition; was minister in parochial charge thirty years in London. He was Bishop elect for Vermont, (see the Journals of die General Convention. where it is mentioned,) and tie reason was offered for refusing his consecration but that the Convention of Vermont had not signed their Constitution." These highly valuable MSS. were kindly put into my hands by Mr. Cooper's nephew, Rev. I. T. Cooper, D.D., of Camden, Del.
so far satisfied that he would have been willingly consecrated by him if Mr. Wesley would have signed his letter of orders as Bishop), which Mr. Wesley could not do without incurring the penalty of the Praemunire Act. He would have signed as Superintendent, etc.
Dr. Peters also gave the following: "A clergyman once asked Mr. Wesley, Were you consecrated bishop by Erasmus Wesley replied, 'Have you read the Proemunire Act' 'Yes.' 'Would you have me answer you truly' ' Yes, or not at all.' 'Then, under the circumstances, I cannot answer you.
The point in the letter with which we are almost exclusively concerned is the consecration of Wesley by Erasmus. If the testimony of credible witnesses to the alleged act of consecration was available the question could he easily solved, but Dr. Peters does not pretend "to be in the secret of Mr. Wesley's consecration," nor have we ever hoard of any one who does. It may be that some traveler whose attention is drawn to the subject may discover in the Arcadian archives, among the documents of Erasmus, the necessary information to make the affirmative of the question positive. We commend the search to those who have leisure and inclination to make it.
Again, few will contend-we certainly should deny-that Mr. Wesley has ever stated publicly that he performed any act of an episcopal character by virtue of any authority supposed to be derived from the Erasmian consecration. His enemies called him the Bishop of Moorfields, but he styled himself a presbyter of the Church of England. On the other hand, it must be admitted by all that, though asked, both in public and in private, about the alleged consecration, neither he nor his friends who knew him best have ever denied that lie was so consecrated. And if he was, it was an act which he might obviously desire should be kept secret. He knew how great would be the peril to him and his societies on account of the malignity of his enemies; nor could he hope to escape from a persecution far more to be dreaded than that which was visited upon him for the consent he gave to ordinations by Erasmus, about which there has been no dispute. And, finally, through no public announcement of such an act has been made, and no record is traceable in all his writings, yet the allegation will be materially supported if upon investigation it be found that his acts, subsequently to his asserted ordination, will admit of a more intelligent and fairer explanation on that supposition than any other hypothesis will give them. Let us now proceed to particulars.
Erasmus, a Bishop in the Greek Church, of the diocese of Arcadia, in Crete, visited London in 1763. During his sojourn in that city he became acquainted with Mr. Wesley and some of his preachers. He was impressed by the magnitude and success of the wonderful revival then in progress, and likewise was aware of the grave embarrassments that pressed upon Mr. Wesley because of the urgent entreaties of the larger societies, especially, to have the sacraments administered to them in their own chapels. lie found John Wesley to be almost alone in the grave responsibility of caring for the thousands who had been awakened to a religions life. Of ministerial helpers he had but few. His brother Charles had ceased to itinerate in 1757. There was danger lest the Methodist preachers should undertake to administer the Lord's supper without previous ordination. Some had already done so. Mr. Wesley believed it to be a sin for an unordained minister to celebrate the eucharist; but he was unwilling to violate the established order by himself ordaining any of his preachers. Pressed by these conditions, he applied to the Greek bishop to ordain John Jones, one of his helpers, having first sought and obtained satisfactory evidence of the episcopal character of that prelate. Mr. Jones was ordained, as were also others who were recommended; but the storm of opposition beat so ruthlessly upon his head that, though he had put on tile gown, lie was soon forced to leave the connection.
In the following year a winter in " Lloyd's Evening Post , bodly asserted that (in addition to the ordinations made by Erasmus, in which number may be included Alexander Mather, subsequently ordained by Mr. Wesley to be his successor over the Methodist societies in England) " two celebrated Methodist preachers made also application to the same Bishop, to consecrate one or both of them bishops; but that the Greek told them it was contrary to the rules of his Church for the bishop to make another; yet, notwithstanding all he said, they very unwillingly took a denial."
Seven years later Rev. Augustus Toplady, among other categories propounded to Mr. Wesley, reiterated the charge above mentioned by the inquiry, "Did you not strongly press this supposed Greek Bishop to consecrate you a bishop, that you might be invested with a power of ordaining what ministers you pleased to officiate in your societies as clergymen" (The italics are ours.) "In all this did you not palpably violate the oath of supremacy which you have repeatedly taken-part of which runs thus: 'I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate bath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm' "
How did Mr. Wesley meet this implied charge According to one of his biographers, Rev. Richard Watson, "he was falsely reported to have sought consecration." *Another, Tyerman, says
We have the absolute declaration of Wesley himself that Erasmus never rejected any overture that he made to him, and if this were so, it follows that Erasmus did actually ordain him a bishop, or that Toplady's insinuation is calumniously un-true. To this, also, must be added the testimony of Thomas Olivers, who, with Wesley's consent, if not at his request, replied to Toplady's attack, namely, that though Mr. Wesley did get Erasmus to ordain John Jones, and though John Jones did dress as a clergyman of the Church of England, and did assist Mr. Wesley in administering the Lord's Supper in the Methodist societies, yet Wesley had authorized him (Olivers) to give the most positive and unqualified denial to the insinuation that he had asked Erasmus to ordain himself to the high office of a bishop. But [continues Olivers] suppose he had, where would have been the blame Mr. Wesley is connected with a number of persons who have given every proof which the nature of the thing allows, that they have an inward call to preach the Gospel. Both he and they would be glad if they had an outward call too. But no bishop in England will give it to them. What wonder, then, if he was to endeavor to procure it by any other innocent means
Having in these quotations the substance of all that can be positively asserted in denial of the Erasmian consecration of
Mr. Wesley, it remains that the denial itself be examined-
First, It does not deny the fact of the ordination, but that Mr. Wesley had asked the Greek Bishop to ordain him. Why did not Mr. Wesley authorize Olivers to deny the thing itself, as well as the form of the thing
Second, it does maintain the importance of connecting the inward call to preach the Gospel with the outward call, which both Mr. Wesley and his apologist, Mr. Olivers, regarded as securable through the ordination of a bishop, whether Anglican or Greek. If Mr. Wesley's episcopalianism went no further than some are disposed to assert, why did he ask Eras-inns, as bishop, to ordain Mr. Jones, and why was he so careful to satisfy himself first as to the episcopal character of that prelate Why should he induce a foreign ecclesiastic, contrary to the spirit of the law of his country, to perform an episcopal act that himself could have done as well if he believed that the outward call could be assured to one as truly by a presbyter as by a bishop
The conclusion is inevitable, from Mr. Wesley's stand-point in this transaction, that a valid ministry is dependent on episcopal prerogative. For the sake of perspicuity, an examination of Mr. Wesley's episcopalianism is herewith presented. His logic on the subject may be thus formulated : Every pastor in the Church of God, to be vivid, in that be constituted by the inward call of the Lord Jesus Christ and the outward call of the Church, through its episcopal head.
We apprehend that the founder of Methodism has suffered alike from friendly and hostile hands, by reason of a failure of each respectively to regard the broad distinction in Mr. Wesley's mind between the calling and work of a preacher and that of a pastor; yet in this respect his statements are clear, positive, and comprehensive. In 1789 he uttered a sermon on "The Ministerial Office." In it the distinction is purposely made between the office of an evangelist, or preacher, and that of pastor, in these words:
The great High Priest of our profession sent apostles and evangelists to proclaim glad tidings to all the world ; and then pastor, preachers, and teachers to build up in the faith the congregations that should be founded. But do not find that ever the office of an evangelist was the same with that of a pastor, frequently called a bishop. He presided over the flock and administered the sacraments the former assisted him, and preached the word either la one or more congregations. I cannot prove from any part of the New Testament, or from any author of the three first centuries, that the office of an evangelist gave any man a right to act as a pastor or bishop. I believe these offices were considered as quite distinct from each other till the time of Constantine."
Proceeding to show, by reference to the Presbyterians, to the Church of England, and to the Roman Catholics, that the office of evangelist or teacher did not imply that of a pastor, to whom peculiarly belonged the administration of the sacraments, and that authority to preach was not ordination, he gave an outline of proceedings in the Methodist societies for the half century that was then about closing. Nothing can be clearer than the following, addressed to his preachers:-
For supposing (what I utterly deny) that the receiving you as a preacher at the same time gave an authority to administer the sacraments, yet it gave you no other authority than to do it, or any thing else, where I appoint. But where did I appoint you to do this Nowhere at all. Therefore by this very rule you are excluded from doing it. And in doing it you renounce the first principle of Methodism, which was wholly and solely to preach the Gospel.
Again he says:-
I hold all the doctrines of the Church of England ; I love her liturgy ; I approve her plain of discipline, and only wish it could be put into execution. I do not knowingly vary from any rule of the Church unless in those few instances where I judge, and as far as I judge, there is an absolute necessity.
The points at which he varied arc stated, being limited to five: 1.) Preaching abroad; 2.) Praying extempore; 3) Forming classes; 4.) The yearly conference; 5.) Appointing the preachers for the ensuing year. He knew that men would think him inconsistent with bin)self, in saying that in varying from the Church of England he did not separate from it, and be said :-
They cannot but think so unless they observe my two principles-the one, that I dare not separate from the Church, that I believe it would be a sin to do so ; the other, that I believe it would be a sin not to vary from it in the points above mentioned (Both of which I have constantly and openly avowed for upward of fifty years) and inconsistency vanishes away. I have been true to my profession from 1730 to this day.
Observing the distinction thus made, our quest after the true position of Mr. Wesley will be facilitated by placing his teachings on the subject in two parallel columns under the captions.
1745. Wesley on the employment of laymen to preach:
"In all Protestant Churches ordination is not held a necessary pre-requisite of preaching; for in Sweden, in Germany, in Holland, and, I believe, in every Reformed Church in Europe, it is not only permitted hut required that before any one is ordained he shall publicly preach a year or more ad protandeas facnltettm."-Thernaan, i., 370.
1745. Hall:-"We believe it would not be right to administer either baptism or the Lords Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops whom we apprehend to be in succession from the apostles.
"We believe that the threefold order of ministers is not only authorized by its apostolical institution, but also by the written word."-Tyerman, i., 496. At the third days session of the Conference of 1745, points of Church government being debated, the question was asked, "Is episcopal, independent, or presbyterian Church government most agreeable to reason" The answer was that each is a development of the other. A preacher preaches and forms an independent congregation; he then forms another and another in the immediate vicinity of the first; this obliges him to appoint deacons, who look on the first pastor as their common father; and as these congregations increase, and as these deacons grow in years and grace, they need other subordinate deacons or helpers, in respect of whom they are called presbyters or elders, as their father in the lord may be called the bishop or overseer of them all."-Ibid, p.499
1746. Question at the Conference held this year, "Are the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons plainly described in the New Testament" Answer: We think they are, and believe they generally obtained in the Churches of the apostolic age."-Tyerman, i, p. 509
1746. In the Conference of 1746 Mr. Wesley's lay preachers were defined to be "extraordinary messengers, designed of God to provoke others to jealousy." Three points attested their call to preach -grace, gifts, fruits.-Ibid. i, 527, 528.
1748. Wesley alleged that the system of Quakerism differed from Christianity, (3,) "Because it sets aside ordination to the ministry by the laying on of hands."-Tyermans Wesley, ii, p. 30
1755. "If we cannot stop a separation without stopping lay preachers, the case is clear; we cannot stop it at all. "But if we permit them, should we not do more Should we not appoint them-since the hare permission pots the matter out of our hands, and deprives us of all our influence But is it lawful for presbyters circumstanced as we are to appoint other ministers This is the very point wherein we desire to be advised, he mg afraid of leaning to our own understanding."- Wesley's Letter to Rev. Mr. Walker, Meth. Mag., 1779, p.376.
To the Rev. Thomas Adams he wrote from London, Oct.31, 1755: "We vary from the rules of the Church, and permit laymen whom we believe God has called to preach.
"I say permit, because we ourselves have hitherto viewed it in no other light. This we are clearly satisfied we man do; that we may do more we are not satisfied. It is not clear to us that presbyters, so circumstanced as we are, may appoint or ordain others; but it is that we may direct as well as suffer, them to do what we conceive they are moved to by the Holy Ghost. It is true, that in ordinary cases both an inward and an outward call are requisite."
1756. " These preachers are not ministers; none of them undertakes the care of a single flock."
To Mr. Norton :-" You charge me with self-inconsistency in tolerating lay preaching and not lay administering." ."I tolerate lay preaching because I conceive there is an absolute necessity for it; yet I do not tolerate lay administering, because I do not conceive there is any such necessity for it." Letter of Mr. Wesley to the Rev. Mr. Clark :-
"I still believe the episcopal form of Church government to be scriptural and apostolical. But that it is prescribed in Scripture I do not believe. The plea of divine rig/it for diocesan episcopacy was never heard (if in the primitive Church."
Letter to the Rev. Samuel Walker:-
"What authority have I to forbid their (lay preachers) doing what I behave God has called them to do I apprehend, indeed, that there ought, if possible, to be both an outward and inward call to this work; yet if one of the two be supposed wanting, I had rather want the outward titan the inward call."
To Mr. Norton: -
"Some of our preachers who are not ordained think it quite right to administer the Lord's Supper, and believe it would do much good. I think it quite wrong, and believe it would do much hurt. You believe it is a duty to administer; do so, and therein follow your own conscience. I verily believe it is a sin, which, consequently, I dare not tolerate; and here-in I follow mine."
1761. "In every point of an indifferent nature we obey the Bishops for conscience' sake; but we think episcopal authority cannot reverse what is fixed by divine authority."-Tyerman, ii, p. 403.
These quotations represent Mr. Wesley's views of episcopacy up t6 the period when, it is claimed, the Erasmian ordination was performed. There is noticeable in them that remarkable consistency which distinguished the whole course of our venerable founder's life. The only change that time and research and the most patient reflection had produced was that of his former opinion concerning diocesan episcopacy. This opinion he abandoned; but he has nowhere asserted that himself, as a presbyter in the Church of England, was authorized to appoint or ordain ministers. Hence he did it not, although he was greatly embarrassed in his work and congregations because there were no preachers among the Methodists to assist him in administering the sacraments.
From these facts it is evident that Mr. Wesley, in 1763, was an earnest advocate of episcopal ordination as the medium of transition from the laical to the clerical state. And though, after reading and research, lie was convinced that at first presbyters and bishops were of the same order, yet in all this period, amid all the agitations in regard to administering the sacraments by some of his preachers, he was not in a single instance known to have suggested, either to his brother clergymen, or to the most trusted of his preachers, the propriety of presbyterial ordination. On the contrary, he doubted whether presbyters, so situated as he and his coadjutors were, were at liberty to do more than permit and direct lay preachers.
After the most careful inquiry and comparison of his subsequent work with the transactions and management undertaken by him, we are forced to the conclusion that from the close of 1763 to the end of his life Mr. Wesley became more magisterial in the management of his societies, and episcopal in his conduct toward and with his preachers.
The year 1764 is the date of a new departure. And the most reasonable explanation that can be furnished is that with which this essay has to do-that he was vested by the consecration of Erasmus with episcopal authority.
Candor compels us to note these instances of change with some degree of precision. First of all, we find that from henceforth he assumes the sole government of the Methodist societies. His brother Charles not only ceased to be his counselor, but the intercourse between them was well-nigh broken off. He issued a "Pastoral Address," as it was denominated by Tyerman, to the societies, in Bristol, over which his brother had had supervision for several years, without alluding either by name or association to his former companion and adviser.
He wrote letters to all the evangelical clergymen in England, with wisdom he desired to form, according to his own words, afterward uttered, "a league offensive and defensive," on the subject of Christian union, the basis of which, reduced to its simplest terms of expression, was that they should mutually agree in teaching the cardinal doctrine of redemption, defend each other's characters when assailed, and permit him and Ids societies to pursue their course unfettered, though that course might be declared irregular, wholly or in part. Though the Iliad constantly held that the Methodist societies were a part of the Church of England, yet when clergyman, acknowledged by him to be evangelical, and true spiritual leaders, proposed that Mr. Wesley should give up the sale management of the societies within their respective parishes to the duly accredited parish minister, he refused to withdraw his preachers, or to turn over the members gathered by them to the settled minister.
He asserted now for the first time that "all the Methodists throughout Great Britain and Ireland were one body." And in making this assertion there could be but the implied fact that that our body was under one head. As bead of that body he "opened chapels in the sense of consecrating them," (a prerogative of the Bishop in the Church of England,) and asserted that " no other consecration of church or chapel is allowed, much less required in England, than the performance of public worship therein." He sought to cement the bond of union in his societies by the raising of' a common fund, connectional in character, with which to pay the chapel debts; and in 1784, previous to his personal acts of ordination, made provision by which the Methodists, both as a conference and in their Church property, should have a legal standing in the kingdom.
In 1765 a person was sent through England to examine chapel deeds, and to appoint trustees where needed. To the Rev; Mr. Venn, the Vicar of Huddersfield, into whose ecclesiastical preserves some of Mr. Wesley's preachers had ventured, in violation of a formal compact agreed upon by them, Mr. Wesley wrote, June, 1765 "I want no man living, I mean none but those who arc connected with me, and who bless God for that connection. With these I am able to go through every part of the work to which I am called." Lie intimates that the distance between himself and the reverend vicar had been in-creased by some who accused him of love of power, and said in reply, "The power I have never sought. It was the undesired, unexpected result of the work. . . . I am not satisfied with 'Be very civil to the Methodists, but have nothing to do with them.' No. I desire to have a league, offensive and defensive, with every soldier of Christ."*
During the following year he sought to break down the estrangement that had grown up between him and his brother Charles, but he does not scruple in the least to style himself the head of the work. "If," says he, "I am in some sense the head, and you the heart," etc. He urges his brother's attendance upon the Leeds Conference, where the most thorough discussion of his own administrative power was had which. had yet taken place. To the consideration of that point especially attention is now directed.
In answer to the question, "What power is this which you exercise over all the Methodists in Great Britain and Ireland" he first recounts the history of the origin of the power of admitting into and excluding from the societies under his care, of choosing and removing stewards, of receiving and not receiving helpers, of appointing them when, where, and how to help him, and of selecting out of their number any whom he might desire to meet him when he deemed it good.
If men regarded it as too much power for one man to exercise, he told them he did not seek it; it came upon him unawares. He was never fond of it, but he bore it as a burden which God had laid upon him; that, in substance, if either preachers or members desired to leave him they were free to do so; "but he who stays" must do so on the same terms that existed when he joined him first. He admitted that he exercised this power singly, without any colleagues therein. It cannot escape observation that this complaint of Mr. Wesley's exercise of power was a new thing in the history of the Methodist societies. Hampson and others regarded it as more manifestly despotic during the last ten or fifteen years of his supremacy than before. We here have Mr. Wesley's explanation-a thing out of harmony with his life and work had there been no need for explanation.
The Conference of 1766 is further memorable as the date of the beginning of that more perfect form of keeping up a vitalized membership through systematic pastoral work. The great organizer, intent on the mighty purpose of his soul to build up
* Methodist Magazine 1752, p.495.
a great Church of godly members, took upon himself the development of the plan that would as certainly demand pastors for its execution as the former had demanded preachers. The Rules for Pastoral Visitation in 1766 have been the basis and substance of the rules of the Church down to the present time Here, too, begin the series of questions proposed to every preacher on probation, before his being received into full connection, which, with unimportant omissions; are now propounded to every candidate before his admission to ordination.
In 1768 the point was raised in the yearly conference as to whether the itinerant preachers should be allowed to engage in trade. They were meagerly supported, and were without any clerical status whatever; but Mr. Wesley now regarded them as practically occupying, though not in orders, "the same position as ministers in the Church of England, and hence he considered it as unseemly and as improper for his itinerants to engage in trade as it would be for the clergy of the Established Church." They who had engaged thus were accordingly advised to give up their business.
In 1769, having at Conference referred again to tile disinclination of the evangelical clergymen of tile Church of En-gland toward tile Methodist movement, Mr. Wesley invited his preachers to consider upon tile propriety of arranging to continue the work as a united society in the event of His death, by the selection of a proper stationing power. Tie set forth his own plan, and, at the request of the preachers, published the
Minutes," in which that plan was embodied, the following year. Nothing, however, seems to have come of it, and the matter gave no further concern, apparently, to Mr. Wesley until the year 1773, when he addressed a very remarkable letter to Mr. Fletcher of Madeley, the contents of which it is necessary to study most carefully.
Mr. Wesley was now seventy years of age, his health was seriously affected, and he began most earnestly to set his house in order." He felt the importance of securing a successor for the societies under his charge. Hence the letter, from which we extract the following :-
Dear Sir: What an amazing work has God wrought. in these
kingdoms in less than forty years! And it not only continues, but
Fourth Series, VOL. XXX.-7
increases throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland; flay, it has lately spread into New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Carolina. But the wise men of the world say, "When Mr. Wesley drops, then all is at an end!" And so surely it will unless before God calls him hence one is found to stand in his place. For Ouk agaqou polukiorauia. Eiz kiorauoz, (A government of many is not good. Let there he one governor.) I see more and more, unless there be one proestwz (bishop, president, or superintendent) the work can never be carried on. The body of the preachers are not united, nor wilt any part of them submit to the rest, so that either there must be one to preside over all, or the work will indeed come to an end.
After mentioning the necessary qualifications for such a person, lie insists that God has provided such a one.
Who is he Thou art the man! God has given yon a measure of loving faith, and a single eye to his glory. He has given you some knowledge of men and things, particularly of the whole plan of Methodism. . . Come out, then, in the name of God Come to the help of the Lord against the mighty! Come while I am alive and capable of labor! Come while I am able, God assisting, to build you up in faith, to ripen your gifts, and to introduce you to the people.*
To this significant letter Fletcher replied, promising that should God call Mr. Wesley first, he would do his best, by the Lord's assistance, to help his brother Charles "to gather the wreck, and keep together those who are not al) solely bent upon throwing away the Methodist doctrine and discipline." Lie further stated that he had some convictions of the propriety of taking the position of Mr. Wesley's deacon "Not with any view of presiding over the Methodists after you, God knows, but to save you a little in your old age, and be in the way of receiving, perhaps of doing, more good."
This, then, is the conclusion to which Mr. Wesley came, a conclusion somewhat different from that indicate to the Conference four years previously, and a conclusion that leaves the later plan open to two interpretations, in accordance with the construction of the term expressed in Greek characters.
The most natural conclusion is that proestwz was used by Mr. Wesley in the ecclesiastical sense. According to Justin Martyr the term was synonymous with epiokopoz, apciereuz, ierarchz+. So in the ancient Church the president of the brethren
*Tyerman, from Whitehead's Life of Wesley, vol ii, p. 335. +Apology., ii, p.67.
was considered to be the bishop. The less probable construction is that Mr. Wesley simply intended to use the term to indicate a presiding officer. Of the latter we have doubt, because of the character of the reply of Mr. Fletcher, who was in orders as well as Mr. Wesley, but who speaks of hearing the relation of deacon to Mr. Wesley, which he could not, except in the sense of a ministerial attendant on him as bishop. This was, also, in accordance with ancient Church usage, which was to regard them as adjutants of the bishops. "Let the deacon refer all these things to the bishop, as Christ did to the Father." "Such things as he is able, let him rectify by the power which he has from the bishop, just as the Lord is delegated by the Father to act and to decide; but let the bishop judge the in ore important cases." *
It remains to be added that both Mr. Wesley and Mr. Fletcher were too sincere to use terms in any other sense than that appropriated to them, without explanatory clauses to fix their meaning. Mr. Wesley and Mr. Fletcher alike, therefore, regarded our founder as a bishop, and both considered Mr. Wesley's proposition to be that of making Mr. Fletcher Bishop of the Methodists after Mr. Wesley's death. It is evident that Mr. Wesley was both to give up the plan suggested to Mr. Fletcher, and in 1776 the latter found it necessary to utter another refusal in a letter to the former, from which we take the following
Madeley, Jan. 9, 1776
Rev. and Dear Sir: . . . I could, if you wanted a traveling assistant, accompany you, as my little strength would admit, in some, of your excursions ; but your recommending me to the societies as one that might succeed you (should the Lord call you hence before me) is a step to which I could by no means consent. It would make people suspect that what I have done for truth and conscience' sake I have done with a view of being what Mr. Toplady calls "the Bishop of Moorfields." +
During the two following years the controversialists against Mr. Wesley frequently reiterated the charge that he had been long desirous of being made bishop. Our investigation now introduces us to the events that, by both time and circumstance, closely connect our matter with
*Apostol. Constitutions, lib. ii, c. 44, 30.
+ Tyerman's Life and Times of Wesley, iii, p.212.
the ordinations performed by Mr. Wesley. Thus far we have not been able to find a single expression or intimation of his change of opinion in regard to episcopal ordination. The records of the next five years ought, therefore, to have a very careful study. What will they prove
We shall find, in 1779, a lay preacher of talent, influence, and popularity, summarily dismissed from the connection by the sole act of Mr. Wesley because he resisted the latter's appointment of a certain deposed clergyman to the society in Bath, to which himself had been assigned at the previous Conference; Of Rev. Mr. Smyth, the clergyman referred to above, much could be said in praise of his Christian zeal and high ministerial qualifications, but Mr. MNab was his peer in every respect save in that of being found wanting in clerical orders. The setting aside of the lay preacher was peculiarly gratifying to Rev. Charles Wesley, whose spirit had for years been troubled on account of the growing popularity of the preachers, and the probability that after his brother's death they would break the societies off from the Establishment. We shall find Mr. Wesley in the following year receiving back into his ranks and his personal confidence the above preacher, "without an acknowledgment of his fault," much to the dissatisfaction of his brother. But, more especially, we shall find Mr. Wesley him-self declaring his conviction on the validity of presbyterial ordination.
We turn, then, with interest to the transactions of the year 1780. Grave difficulties had fallen across the path of the Wesleyan itinerants in America. To meet a want which it seemed could not be provided for in any other way, the most serious innovations had been introduced into some of the American societies. Lay preachers had administered the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the conclusion was now to be reached that should determine whether the nine thousand Methodists in America should be deprived of tile sacred ordinances of the Church, or ordained clergymen of the Church of England should be sent to them, or unordained preachers should he appointed to perform those offices, or lay preachers should be ordained by Mr. Wesley for the work. Appeal was made to the great Methodist in England. It brought him to a declaration which has hitherto been, and is now, regarded by many as the corner-stone of Methodist ecelesiasticism. In a letter to his brother Charles, of June 8, 1780, he writes :-
Read Bishop Stillingfleet's "Irenicum," or any impartial history of the ancient Church, and I believe you will think as I do. I verily believe I have as good a right to ordain as to administer the Lord's upper. Bat I see abundance of reason why I should not use that right, unless I was turned out of the Church. At present we are just in one place."*
What was thought of this by his brother may be gathered from the following :-
I am not sure they will not prevail on you to ordain them. You claim the power, and only say, "It is not probable you shall ever exercise it." Probability on one side implies probability on the other, and I want better security. So I am to stand by and see the ruin of our cause!
How are we to understand the letter of the 8th of June in comparison with the following, extracted from his letter to Bishop Lowth under the date of August 10 of the same year I
Some time since I recommended to your lordship a plain man, whom I bad known above twenty years, as a person of deep, genuine piety and unblamable conversation But he neither understood Greek nor Latin; and he affirmed in so many words that "he believed it was his duty to preach, whether ~e was ordained or no." I believe so, too. What became of him since I know not, but I suppose he received presbyterian ordination; and I cannot blame him if he did. He might think any ordination better than none.
The interpretation we put upon tile subject, as above presented, is that Mr. Wesley based his claim to the right to ordain, not on the ground of his being a presbyter in the Church of England, but on the higher ground of episcopal prerogative. He was that an advocate of a "presidency of order," to use the language of Bishop Stillingfleet. In the Church of En-gland he simply regarded himself as presbyter John, with no right to ordain, in and for that Church, either the preachers under him or other candidates for holy orders. He held him-self to be a bishop, (though he uses not the term officially,) because on him rested the self management of the preachers and societies which had sprung up by virtue of his immense
* Tyerman, iii, p.332.
activities and labors. As it was the prerogative of the bishop in the ancient Church to administer the Lord's Supper, and neither presbyters or deacons had a right to do so except by the authority of the bishop, so from the ancient Church stand-point lie had, also, the co-ordinate right to ordain. He knew that Presbyterian ordination would not avail for his societies while they remained members of the Church of England, and they that secured it, if any did so, left his connection.
We have almost come to the end of our investigation, without being able to find one single fact or utterance favorable to an advocacy of Presbyterian ordination by Mr. Wesley. Though admission to holy orders was not declared to be invalid if performed by a presbyter, yet it is most apparent that he both preferred and advocated such admission through the hands of a duly constituted bishop. Such is the situation as we approach to the crux ecclesiasticoum the ordinations performed by Mr. Wesley himself. Without giving in detail the text of the history of the ordinations of Messrs. Coke, What coat, and Vasey for America, of others for Scotland, and finally of others for England, we must content ourselves with the recital of the facts and their significance.
We have seen that in 1780 Mr. Wesley asserted his belief that lie had the right to ordain. In 1784 for the first time he exercised that asserted right. In its exercise he pursued wholly the episcopal plan, beginning with the lowest order, the diaconate, advancing the candidate to be presbyter, and advancing the presbyter to the office of superintendent or bishop. The form of ordination, as set forth in the liturgy of the Church of England, was scrupulously observed in every stage of the proceeding, the only difference being the substitution of the terms " elder" for " presbyter," and " superintendent " for "bishop." There was no difference whatever in the powers defined as pertaining to the three classes. In the American case, there being no Bishops of the Church of England, and but few parish priests in the whole country, " so that for some hundreds of miles together there is none either to baptize or to administer the Lord's Supper," lie conceived that, " violating no order and invading no man's rights," he was at full liberty to appoint and send laborers into the harvest.
Two theories of these ordinations are possible : first, that,
it having been clearly proved to Mr. Wesley that in the primitive Church bishops and presbyters were the same order, he, as presbyter, exercised the same functions which pertain to the episcopate, because episcopal consecration was not essential to the validity of ecclesiastical ordination; second, that his ordinations were episcopal acts, designed and executed on the ground that he was more than a presbyter, being a bishop, "as much so as any man in England."
The maintenance of tile first theory requires that it be proved that a presbyter of the Church of England in the eighteenth century was the same as a presbyter in the primitive Church. It' in the Anglican as in the primitive Church, the terms "presbyter" and "bishop" were synonymous, there is ground for belief, unless it is stated otherwise, that Mr. Wesley, being a presbyter in the former, was, by virtue of that position, " bishop," they being " of one order." But if; as all the facts show, the Anglican Church did not, and never did, regard these as " one and the same order," then Mr. Wesley's presbyterial ordination did not vest in him powers episcopal. The Anglican Church never gave to her priests authority to. ordain ; but all the authority they had came from that Church therefore it is plain that an English priest could not claim authority to lay on bands or ordain to the ministry. If he did not claim to be a bishop in and of the Church of England, because of the parity of orders, he could in no sense be more than presbyter of that Church; and in and with that Church alone all his ecclesiastical authority existed.
By what secret channel did Mr. Wesley receive that power which has been denied to presbyters for forty-two generations Whence came his authority to ordain, if he were not, as elder in the Church of England, the same character as was the primitive and apostolic elder Would it not be quite as arduous an undertaking to prove a succession of elders from the apostles, as of bishops Yet, if his authority came not by presbyterial succession from the apostles, on what ground could he believe himself to be vested with primitive presbyterial functions Unlike the primitive elders, all his ecclesiastical endowments were derived and received from diocesan bishops; unlike them, he exercised jurisdiction over a parish that was bounded by neither country, national, or geographical lines-his "ecclesiastical preserves" spanned kingdoms, stepped over oceans, and were bounded only by the world's horizon; unlike the primitive elder, who came to his place by the voice of his brethren, or the parochial bishop, who held his cure through the assent of the whole body of his compeers, he assumed jurisdiction without, and regardless of; the authority of his Church and the selection of his co-presbyters ; and, finally, unlike the presbyter of the primitive Church, he astonished the "Methodist connection" by himself selecting and proposing to ordain "deacon," " elder," and 'superintendent," men who were to found a Church on the crumbling ruins of the ecclesiastical system to which be was attached during his whole lifetime. This act may have been apostolical, it was not presbyterian, whether primitive or Anglican.
The second theory, that Mr. Wesley's ordinations were episcopal acts, designed and executed on the ground that he was more than a presbyter, being a bishop, " as much so as any man in England," is that alone by which his ordinations can he made to appear consistent, churchly, and intelligent. Indeed, without it, these essential elements and he part company. To separate them is to perpetrate a species of moral treason of which the present writer feels himself incapable. Let him hear his burden who would brand the grandest character of the eighteenth century with epithets such as were denied by the uniform purposes of his whole life. In his letter to his brother Charles lie defended his acts of ordination in the following words:-
Obedience I always paid to the Bishops, in obedience to the laws of the land. But I cannot see that I am under any obligation to obey them further than those laws require. It is in obedience to these laws that I have never exercised in England the power, which, I believe, God has given me. I firmly believe I am a scriptural epiokspoz, as much as any man in England or Europe; for the uninterrupted succession I know to be a fable, which no man ever did or can prove. But this does in it wise interfere with my remaining in the Church of England, from which I have no more desire to separate than I had fifty years ago.
In reference to the Bishops he says, in the same letter:-
I do, indeed, vary from them in some points of doctrine, and in some points of discipline (by preaching abroad, for instance, by praying extempore, and by forming societies,) but not a hair's breadth further than I believe to be meet, right, and my bounden duty.
Charles Wesley, in reply, said on the points of varying, "Might you not add; and by ordaining" Wesley did not add, and by ordaining," because lie did not believe he varied from the Bishops in doing this. Why did be not Because lie believed himself not a presbyter of the Church of England only, but Bishop of the Methodist Societies.
How was he constituted bishop He was not consecrated by any Bishop in the Church of England and, nor is there either ascertain or evidence that lie was chosen by the presbyters friendly to him, and ordained through their instrumentally. The preachers under him did not so choose bin), nor did they have the thought that lie would ordain any to the ministry. The proposition to ordain came not from them, but from Mr. Wesley himself. If he received not the authority from English Bishops, nor by the election of his co-presbyters, nor by the voice of the people under him, whence did lie derive the power flow did he obtain that outward call without which he would neither consent for Dr. John Jones to administer the ordinances, nor countenance the same thing in the American preachers He asserted no right to which lie was not truly entitled, nor did he perform a churchly act without due qualification for it. If he was ordained bishop by Erasmus, Bishop of Arcadia, the matter is at once clear, and his acts present no feature of embarrassment. If not thus qualified, his extraordinary acts can only be supported by tile argument of an extra-ordinary, independent, and special call of God to him to found a new Church, under a new ecclesiastical dispensation. Then would his investiture be divine, higher than either presbyterial or episcopal prerogative, and based on neither. His providential call would not have been because be was presbyter; the Methodist Episcopal Church would have been "a new thing under the sun," the creation of Wesley himself, who must have been regarded as the seminal head, called; constituted, and divinely endowed for that purpose. The departure of the Methodist societies from the bosom and service of the Church of England would have been an exode from old ecclesiastical
bondage, and the Bristol private residence where Dr. Coke received his ordination and authority, the Mount Sinai of Methodism, where the laws, liturgy, ordinances, and regulations of the departing bondsmen were delivered and accepted. I confess that this assumption would be far more consistent than that of basing Mr. Wesley's authority for his ordinations on the ground of his being a presbyter in the Church of England. It would not be, it is true, according to the views of one of his preachers, expressed after the great event had taken place, either "episcopal or presbyterian," but it could not then be declared "a hodge-podge of inconsistencies." * It would have been a divine unfolding of God's method, in the eighteenth century, for the delivery of his spiritual Israel, and of speaking by the great Head of the Church to the nations to put on their breast plates "Holiness to the Lord."
To sum up the result of our investigation, we have found by the letter of Dr. Peters that the allegation "that Mr. Wesley was ordained bishop by Erasmus" was not made public, though he was sure of the correctness of the charge, because of the peril which would have come to Mr. Wesley through the operation of the Paenunire Act. We have found the statement, further, that Dr. Seabury, of Connecticut, was so far satisfied in regard to Mr. Wesley's right to ordain to the episcopate that he was willing to be consecrated by him, and Wesley was wining to consecrate him, but not to sign his letter of order as bishop. We live found Mr. Wesley maintaining a uniform and consistent faith in reference to the pride bishop, and the prerogative of the office; that none not episcopally ordained were admitted by him to administer the sacraments in his societies, though he did not believe that all not so ordained were without authority in their own ecclesiastical organizations; that to secure the services of preachers, to assist in administering the sacraments, he only applied to Bishops of whose episcopal character he had no doubt. We have found that after the asserted Erasmian consecration there has never been a denial of the fact, but, according to Dr. Peters' statement, a strongly implied admission, that Mr. Wesley's acts from 1763 to the close of his life became more episcopal, and had their culmination in the ordination of 1784, and the following years; that lie did not claim that he had the power to ordain previous to 1763, though he had read Lord King's work on the primitive
* Whitehead's Life of Wesley, vol. ii, p.419.
Church, nearly twenty years before, and Stillingfleet's Irenicum soon after its publication. We have found that immediately after 1763 be promulged the idea of the unity of all the Methodist societies, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and subsequently in America; that he assumed the sole government of them, checking the aspirations of the preachers, and standing aloof from the counsel of his brother Charles; that he began immediately, too, to discipline his preachers in pastoral work, making their only deficiency, for several years, to be a want of holy orders. We have found him assuming a title of office known in the primitive Church to be applied only to a bishop, and inviting Mr. Fletcher to become his successor therein. We have, finally, found him ordaining to the offices of "deacon," "elder," and "superintendent," and recognizing the three separate orders as valid, true, scriptural, and proper, by virtue of authority not derived from the Church of England, which he felt himself to be "providentially" called upon to exercise.
Had it been formally announced in the Conference of 1764 that in December, 1763, Erasmus of Crete had ordained John Wesley Bishop of the Methodist Societies in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and had he then assumed publicly the title, his subsequent course in the management of his societies would have varied but little, if at all.
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