Page images

The first cause was this. Of the University of Oxford I had not been long a member, when, by a decree of the Vice-Chancellor in his court, five students were, under the name of Methodists, expelled from it. Heresy and frequentation of conventicles were the only offences charged upon them. Taking the word conventicle for the place of meeting-these conventicles were so many private rooms, the small apartments of the several poor students, for poor they were. The congregation consisted of these same poor and too pious students, with the occasional addition of one and the same ancient female. The offence consisted in neither more nor less than the reading and talking over the Bible. The heresy consisted in this—viz. that, upon being, by persons sent to examine them, questioned on the subject of the thirty-nine Church of England Articles, the sense which they put upon these articles were found to be in some instances different from the sense put upon those same articles by those their interrogators. The mode of inquiry employed was thus

mode which, in foreign parts, under the Catholic so-called Inquisition, was em

the very

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ployed for clearing the country of persons guilty of thinking differently from what was professed to be thought by the Church of Rome: the very mode which, here in England, by Elizabeth and James, was under the Church of England not-so-called Inquisition, employed for clearing the country of persons guilty of thinking differently from what was professed to be thought by the Church of England.* The judges made the crime; those same judges punished it. Bishop Taylor, had it happened to him, being then in being, to have exercised, in company with these poor students, that liberty, in defence of which he wrote— Bishop Taylor, would, if like them he had been undignified and unprotected, have shared their fate.

This cause, what was it ?—Exactly that and no other, the multiplication of which is the sole and professed object of all our Bible Societies. No, not any the slightest difference: unless while the study of that source of salvation is, when pursued by one's self a merit, the study of it, with the assistance,

[ocr errors]

* See Neale’s History of the Puritans.
+ « On the Liberty of Prophesying."

or in the company of a friend or two, is a crime: in which case it might not be amiss, that by due' warning given, all persons should, as effectually as possible, be preserved from the commission of this crime; and, in particular that to that end, the stereotype edition should be corrected, by the erasure of that text, in which Jesus is stated as promising to be in the midst of any two or three persons gathered together in his name.*

At this time, most strictly and literally true as it is, this statement will, upon the face of it, be apt to appear incredible. But these

young men, (it was asked), were they not really Methodists ?—To this question no answer could, with truth, be given otherwise than in the affirmative. For what was then, what is even now, a Methodist? What but a zealous and consistent Church of Englandist? Even now, let any one be generally recognized as being zealous as well as assiduous in the practice of the rites of the Church of England, holding up to view, at the same time, on all occasions, in the lan

* Matt. xviii. 20. For where two or three are gathered. together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. .

[ocr errors]

guage of the Bible, the ideas of salvation and damnation, will he not be as generally styled a Methodist ? Any known peculiarity of doctrine—any thing else whatever-is it necessary to his being considered as justly designated by that name?

And the place of meeting, was it not a Conventicle? Yes: for a Conventicle is any place, in which


in any number are gathered together. Nay, and among the University statutes--those statutes, of which these youths had been made to swear to the observance, and which by no man who ever was or is made to swear to them, were or are ever observed, is there not one by which all illicit Conventicles are prohibited in express terms ? and were not these their Conventicles illicit ? Yes : for in them used to be done, that which, had he known of it, the Vice-Chancellor would rather should not have been done, viz. the reading of, and conversing on the subject of the Bible.

See Koox's Essays; viz. in the 17th of those editions, in all which, for these thirty or forty years, a practice, which in these their own statutes is styled perjury, has been charged upon these rulers, and the truth of the charge acknowledged by their silence.

[ocr errors]

Be this as it may, by the sentence, by which those readers of the Bible were thus expelled from the University, that affection which at its entrance had glowed with so sincere a fervor,-my reverence for the Church of Eng. land-her doctrine, her discipline, her Universities, her ordinances,—was expelled from my youthful breast. I read the controversy : I studied it: and, with whatsoever reluctance, I could not but acknowledge the case to stand exactly as above.

Not long after—(for at my entrance, that immaturity of age, which had excused me from the obligation of signature, had excused me from the necessity of perjury)--not long after came the time for the attaching my signature to the thirty-nine Articles. Understanding that of such signature the effect and sole object was—the declaring, after reflection, with solemnity and upon record, that the propositions therein contained were, in my opinion, every one of them true, what seemed to me a matter of duty was—to examine them in that view, in order to see whether that were really the case. The examination was unfortunate. In some of them no meaning at all could I find : in others, no meaning but

« PreviousContinue »