CHAPTER XI. PROGRESS OF WESLEYAN METHODISM UNDER QUEEN VICTORIA, 1837-1897.
When the Queen ascended the throne Wesleyan Methodism in this country was recovering from the effects of the agitation occasioned by Dr. Warren, who had been expelled from its ministry; the erection of an organ in a Leeds chapel had caused another small secession. But the Conference of 1837, assembled in Leeds under the presidency of the Rev. Edmund Grindrod, with the Rev. Robert Newton as secretary, had no reason to be discouraged. Faithful to the loyal tradition of Methodism, it promptly attended to the duty of congratulating the young Sovereign who had ascended the throne on June 20, a few weeks before.
[Footnote: The writer desires to acknowledge special obligation to the Rev. J. Wesley Davies for invaluable aid rendered by him in collecting and arranging the material embodied in this chapter.]
We may read in its Minutes of the vote in favour of an address, which should assure the Queen of the sincere attachment cherished by her Methodist subjects for her person and government, and of their fervent prayers to Almighty God "for her personal happiness and the prosperity of her reign." By a singular coincidence, it will probably be one of the first acts of a Leeds Conference in 1897 to forward another address, congratulating Her Majesty on the long and successful reign which has realised these aspirations of unaffected devotion. The address of 1837 had gracious acknowledgment, conveyed through Lord John Russell.
At this time Methodism had spread throughout the world. Its membership in Great Britain and Ireland numbered 318,716; in foreign mission stations 66,007; in Upper Canada 14,000; while the American Conferences had charge of 650,678 members; thus the total for the world, exclusive of ministers, was 1,049,401.
Of ministers there were 1,162 in the United Kingdom and 3,316 elsewhere. It will be obvious that British and Irish Methodism even then formed a body whose allegiance was highly valuable.
The 1837 Conference had to discuss the subject of the approaching Centenary of Methodism, which had for years been anticipated with great interest. With Mr. Butterworth - a Member of Parliament and a loyal Methodist and generous supporter of our funds - originated the idea of commemorating God's goodness in a fitting manner, not in a boastful spirit; a committee which had been appointed reported to the next Conference "that the primary object of the said celebration should be the religious and devotional improvement of the centenary"; and that there should also be "thank-offering to Almighty God" in money contributions for some of the institutions of the Church. The Conference approved these suggestions, and appointed a day of united prayer in January, 1839, "for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" on the Connexion during the year.
There had been some difficulty in fixing the date of the birth of Methodism; but 1739 was determined on, because then the first class-meetings were held, the first chapel at Bristol was opened, the first hymn-book published; then the United Societies were formed, then field-preaching began, and then Whitefield, Charles Wesley, and others held that historic lovefeast in Fetter Lane when the Holy Spirit came so mightily on them that all were awed into silence, some sank down insensible, and on recovering they sang with one voice their Te Deum of reverent praise.
The centenary year being decided, a three days' convention of ministers and laymen was held at Manchester to make the needful arrangements; its proceedings were marked by a wonderful enthusiasm and liberality.
The Centenary Conference assembled at Liverpool in 1839. It could report an increase of 13,000 members. On August 5 it suspended its ordinary business for the centenary services - a prayer-meeting at six in the morning being followed by sermons preached by the Rev. Thomas Jackson and the President, the Rev. Theophilus Lessey. A few weeks later came the festal day, October 25, morning prayer-meetings and special afternoon and evening services being held throughout the country. Never had there been such large gatherings for rejoicing and thanksgiving; there were festivities for the poor and for the children of the day and Sunday schools. These celebrations, in which the whole Methodist Church joined, aroused the interest of the nation, and called forth appreciative criticism from press and pulpit.
When the idea of this first great Thanksgiving Fund was originally contemplated, the most hopeful only dared look for L10,000; but when the accounts were closed the treasurers were in possession of L222,589, one meeting at City Road having produced L10,000; and the effort was made at a time of great commercial depression. This remarkable liberality drew the attention of the Pope, who said in an encyclical that the heretics were putting to shame the offerings of the faithful.
Not a few meetings took the form of lovefeasts, where generous giving proved the reality of the religious experiences; for there has ever been an intimate connexion between the fellowship and the finance of Methodism. Part of the great sum raised went to the Theological Institution, part to Foreign Missions; Wesleyan education was helped by a grant, L1,000 were paid over to the British and Foreign Bible Society; and the laymen desiring to help the worn-out ministers and their widows and children, L16,000 were set aside to form the Auxiliary Fund for this purpose.
It was now that the Missionary Committee were enabled to secure the Centenary Hall, the present headquarters of the Missionary Society. The remaining sums were given to other useful purposes.