John Ireland.

A second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author online

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ing such witness in the most inflimous light." Let this Council,if they,
intend the course they have now taken shall become a precedent
among their order, draw up this article in substance as above, and
let them if they please propose it as an additional rule of the disci-
pline of the Methodist Episcopal Church ! It may perhaps deter
some weak minds from giving their testimony against another Maffitt,
and induce them when under oath to tell the whole truth, to con-
ceal every thing they may suppose will be disagreeable to an Eccle-
siastical Council, lest that Council should revise the decision of the
court, and publish a libel on the witnesses, holding them up to pub-
lick ridicule and contempt. Perhaps too, were they to adopt such
an article, some judge might hereafter recognize th.-ir claim to an
exclusive jurisdiction over all offenders of their denomination, and
juries in every question affecting one of their clergymen, might be
induced to consult the opinion of a council of ministers before they
v^rould be so hardy as to give a verdict that might not suit their

We do not make these remarks tauntingly, they are serious, and
we appeal to every member in society whether the course taken
by this Council is not a threatening held out to the publick, which,
if it were to be countenanced would tend to defeat the ends of justice,
and deter all witnesses from ^ver appearing to testify against a Meth-
odist clergyman ?

We have the utmost respect for the body of the clergy,and believe
that it is necessary to the moral and religious well being of society,
that they should be held in high estimation ; but we should deprC'
cate any where, and especially in this country ,an assumption of priv-
ileges by this order of men, that were not equally enjoyed by other
citizens. Now it is obvious that if the course adopted by this coun-
cil of ministers should go into a precedent among all denominations
of christians, and every clergyman who was convicted by a jury of au
offence or a crime should be allowed to appeal to an Ecclesiasti-
cal tribunal of his own order, and that tribuual should reverse the
decision of the civil court and acquit him of every charge, and this
acquittal should be published and serve as a passport for the offender
to the good opinion of the publick, or even among the people of his
own denomination, it would at once establish a most formidable ben-
efit of clergy, and conrts of jastice must be brought into contempt
whenever an Ecclesiastical Council did not think proper to sanction
their proceedings. There is no ground for apprehension that an as-
sumption of such an appellate jurisdiction in Ecclesiastical tribunal*
will ever be countenanced by publick opinion. We have been ac-
eustomed in this country to consider a jury as the guardian of our
rights, and no good citizen fears to trust in their hands his property,
life and reputation. Their decision when final, no man will attempt
to oppose or discredit who has a proper regard for the laws of his
country, and with that decision it, least of all men, becomes ministers
of religion to interfere.


Until, therefore, these Methodist clergymen show us some au-
thority, delegating to them the power to reverse the decision of a
court of justice, we shall insist that they have grossly erred, and
have set themselves up in rebellion against the laws of the land.
Where is their system of Ecclesiastical polity ? Is it in the motto they
have adopted from, the Levitical law, and is this their rule of evi-
dence ? If so, we would inform them that whatever may have been
the force of this doctrine of evidence in matters of life and death, with
the Israelites, and however it may have influenced the Council in
their decision respecting Mr. Maffitt, it has long since passed away
with other rules of the Mosaick dispensation, and is no more appli-
cable to the proceedings of a court of justice, than the prescriptions
laid down in that dispensation for the cure of leprosy and other dis-
eases, are fitted for the practice of physicians of the present day.
Besides there is some httle difference between a decision which is
to deprive a man of the privilege of wearing his head, and one
which merely takes from him the right of wearing black silk gloves.

If the Council intended to act on this principle of the Levitical law,
which is recognized in their discipline page 62,why did they not avow
it at once ? This would have saved them from the Jaborious and un-
christir.ii task of attempting to convict Mr. Jones of perjury, and his
evidence where it was not confirmed by Mr. Mafiitt, and other wit- -
nesses, might, according to their rule, have been quietly set aside.
Does not this among other things show a disposition to slander and
injure Mr. Jones, where they might have avoided it ? Or are they
sensible that thepublick will rather abide by the laws of the land,
than by the Methodist discipline, and condemn Mr. Maffitt even out
of the mouth of one unimpeached witness, especially when that wit-
ness is corroborated by many circumstances and by the confession
of the party accused I

This motto however, shows the grounds on which this Council
proceed to set aside the unimpeached testimony of the principal wit-
ness against Mr. Maffitt ; and were there no other objections to Ec-
clesiasticaH^ouncils of the nature of the one we are condemning,
their extreme ignorance of the application or existence of all settled
legal principles, their consequent irregularity of proceeding and the
little confidence that could be placed in a tribunal assembling for the
purpose of decreeing just what they may happen to determine will
best promote the views of their own sect, without any rules to gov-
ern them, would be sufficient to deter every honest man from trust-
ing them with any power or influence in the community. We do
not demand of clergymen (and particularly of those who do not gen-
erally extend their information so far as is common with their breth-
ren of other denominations) that they should be learned in the law,
and therefore we do demand of them that they should not undertake
to revise a decision had in a court of law ; and if in despite of this in-
competency they do so undertake, they must suffer the consequences
in publick estimation, when they show such ignorance of the sim-
plf'st principles of the law of evidence, as is so grossly betrayed in
the pamphlet they have sent forth as the result ef their delibera-

There was a time in the dark ages, when the weight of evidence
went by numbers, and he who brought with him the most witness-
es to swear, they beheved him in the right, won his cause. This
however, although this collection of ministers appear never to have
been informed of the fact, has long since been abolished, and princi-
ples of evidence have been adopted which have very little to do with
numerical calculation. A certain distinction too has obtained among
lawyers between the competency and the credibility of witnesses ;
so that it will frequently happen that in a contradiction between two
witnesses of equal competency, and where the veracity of neither is
directly impeached, the one shall be entitled to full credit and belief
while the other from his situation and inducements to swear falsely,
shall be completely discredited. The competency of a witness is a
question for the judge merely, whether oe shall be permitted to testify in
the case, his credibility is a matter for the jury to decide under all the
circumstances. We state this principle, although one of the most com-
mon application in Courts of justice, for the instruction of this
Council, as their only estimate of evidence is numerical ; for in their
opinion whenever two witnesses swear against each other there is no
evidence on the point at issue, and " one oath destroys the other."
If this be correct there can be no need of a jury in trials, and the
only learning necessary for a judge is a sufficient knowledge of arith-
metick to determine which party has the greatest number of uncon-
tradicted witnesses

These remarks are made, not for the purpose of seriously com-
batting the idea that Ecclesiastick Councils have a right to exercise
a jurisdiction over matters that have regularly been decided in a
civil Court, because we do not believe this Methodist Council them-
selves are prepared to contend for such doctrine ; but to undeceive
the few who may suppose that the assumption of these ministers
to decide every matter connected with one of their preachers, is
founded in some sort of law or right ; an errour into which
many good people are led from believing that whenever a body of
ministers assemble and do any act, that act, from the character of
the persons concerned, must of course be proper, and realW
have some binding force in society. The Council of ministers, wha
convened for the purpose of acquitting Mr. Maffitt (although they
had a right to determine whether after the trial at Boston, a trial
which they could not gainsay, and the decision in which, they were
bound as good citizens to consider binding upon all persons concern-
ed) they should still continne in their communion a preacher who
had been so exposed to the publick, were no more authorised to
take the course they pursued in revising the vei'dict of the jury,
and accusing the witnessess of falsehood, than they would be to
assault the officers of the law, and rescue one of their preachers
when apprehended for some crime ; and their conduct in the former
case has rendered them as obnoxious to all persons who desire to
see the laws peaceably and decidedly administered, as if they had
been guilty of a direct outrage upon publick justice. Nay, the


latter would have met with prompt punishment, ^«rhich would have
deterrad all other offenders. The former, equally injurious in-its
consequences, may have a much more dangerous influence upon
society, because it will pass unpunished, and may serve as a prece-
dent for other councils to commit still greater outrages against the
laws- We have nothing to do with the private character of the
gentlemen who composed this Council. We only condemn them as
a body, and even there we would in some degree except those
who were not concerned in preparing the pamphlet which purports to
be the report of their proceedings. Our aim is principally to expose the
conduct of the Committee of Three, consisting of the President, Sec-
ret Ty and '!r. Hedding, who drew up the slanderous Report which
has oaen published as the result of the deliberations of the whole
Council. We will not believe that the other clergymen who were
on the council meant to sanction with their names so gross a libel
upon private character, and we trust that some of them, particularly
those who were dragged upon the council while sitting here, and had
but very little to do with its proceedings, will yet have the candour
to avow that they were surprised and displeased at the spirit and
tenour of the pamphlet published by this Committee, and that they
disclaim the intention of making their report a vehicle for attacks
upon private character, and sneering, slanderous abuse of in-
dividuals of worth and respectability, merely because they were
found guilty of having given their testimony in a legal manner against
a methodist preacher! Still, however, the whole of these men as
a body have rendered themselves obnoxious to the laws of their
country, by attempting to oppose their operation, and when we
view them as clergymen and teachers who are enjoined to inculcate
obedience to the powers that be,* and acquiescence in the decisions
of the magistrates and officers of the law who bear not the sword in
vain, we cannot too strongly reprobate their conduct and hold them
up to the publick indignation.

The course this Council have taken is not a little singular, even
when disconnected from their attack upon the civil Court, and con-
sidered in relation to their own discipline. Mr. Maffittwas' " under
report'^ of having been guilty of some "gross immorality," before
the article accounted libellous was published, and long before the
prosecution to vindicate his character was undertaken, and these
reports were well known to more than one Methodist preacher.
How happened it that the presiding Elder did not call a council of

*We cannot refrain frr.m citins; a passa^je which may be found in a litMe
book called "the Dnrtrines and disc pine of the IVIefhodi-t Episcopal CburrI ,*'
p. 17. and which we recommend particularly to the perusal of tbi? Council of
Melhodi'^t c'ergymen as a suitable commentary upon their late proceedings.
"As fnr as it respects civil affairs we believe it the duty of christians find
especiallt/ of christian be cubject to the .-.lupreme authoritv of (he
cnuntrv where they may reside, and to u^e all laudible means to enjoin obe-
dience to the powers that be; therefhre it is expected that all our preachers and
people will b«have theinselvea as peaceable and orderly subjects."

ministers, and have these " reports" examined ? Were the methodist
clergy willing that Mr. Maffit should continue in their connexion, no
matter what the charges and suspicions against him were, provided
they were not publickly proved ? Had they then instituted this in-
quiry, they were at liberty to have decided on the matter as they saw
fit. Did they reserve this engine to be played off against the civil
Court in case the trial should not terminate favourably for
Mr. Maffitt ? Why all this indifference about the characier of their
preacher, while " under report of gross immorahties," and this haste
to call a Council of ministers to investigate the matter, when he was
no longer '' under report" but under Zeo-aZ conviction of these oifen-
ces ? Let the presiding elder and his brethren, answer this to their
consciences and to the people, and let them reconcile it to the spirit
and injunctions of their discipline.

Had Mr. Maffitt been dragged into Court contrary to the wishes
of his friends, there might possibly be found some little excuse for
the conduct of this Council of ministers. But so far from this, they
themselves sought to put the character of their preacher upon this is-
sue. The prosecution, the Council, with characteristick caution,
admit, was undertaken by the advice and encouragement of '' indi-
viduals" of their own society, previous to which a committee had
been sent to Providence, to ascertain the probable result of the
trial, in case the truth should be admitted in justification.

We admit what the Council assert, that the result of the inquiries
of this committee so favourable {in their report.') to Mr. Maffitt, was
not made known to the " official members of the Church" in their
official capacity previous to the " complaint" entered by Mr. James
Brewer; but it was well known to those "individuals" who were
so anxious for the prosecution, (one of whom was the very chairman
of the aforesaid committee,) and no doubt when taken in connexion
with the probability, and almost certainty, entertained by that com-
mittee that the witnesses for the defence who resided in Rhode-Island
would not appear against Mr. Maffitt, and that those who were in his
favour would come at their bidding, provided all expenses were paid,
decided the question, which had been under discussion from the 18th
of October, to the 18th of November, as to the expediency or rather
safety of instituting the prosecution. These gentlemen therefore,
when they had the opportunity to decide between a Council of their
own ministers and the civil Court, after due deliberation, selected the
latter tribunal ; and however they may have been chagrined at the
result, it does not well become them to turn round and attempt to put
down a decision given by a tribunal of their own choice.

Suppose the decision had been favourable to Mr. Maffitt ? Does
any body believe these Ecclesiasticks would have assembled to re-
verse that decision ? What if the defendant had been found guilty,
and had summoned a council of printers, (who are as much authori-
zed as Methodist ministers to revise the decisions of civil Courts)
and these printers should proceed formally to set aside the verdict
ofthejury, and gravely decree, that they were constrained by their
" judgment and consciences" to differ from them, and should more*


©ver sueer at the judge, and by a course of exparte testimony at-
tack the veracity of the witnesses who testified against their brother
printer, rail at them for wearing striight coats instead o('- clerica^l
robes''^ and accuse them directly of going about to •' destroy th^
character of an unfortunate fellow-creature," and then publish this
libel upon publick justice and private reputation, with the sanction,
of the names of the President and Secretary of this disorderly com-
bination ? Think you reader, these Methodist ministers would have
acknowledged the authority of this body, and given full credit to their
proceedings ? Would they not have dealt out much eloquence on the
majesty of the la^s, and loudly complained of this outrage upon the
civil Court, and the characters of respectable individuals ? And yet
if the printers choose to adopt a rule similar in its application to
them, to the one on which the Council inform us they proceeded,
they would constitute a body as fully authorized to all intents and pur-
poses, as this assembly of some eight or nine private gentlemen,
holding the rank of elders and travelling preachers in the Methodist

We trust that our remarks in relation to this Council, will not be
taken at all in connexion with the highly respectable denomination
of christians to which the persons who composed that Council belong.
We believe the methodists will suffer errours to be pointed out even
in their preachers, and that they will not, as a sect, support them
against publick opinion at the expense of the reputation of their com-
munity for candour and honest intention, and uphold as Methodists
what they cannot but discountenance as good citizens and sincere
christians. The discipline of their community, founded on the prin-
ciples developed by the sagacity and illustrated by the sanctity of a
Wesley, are calculated to promote a subordination highly subservient
to moral purposes ; and we are convinced it is not the intention of
the Methodists or of their clergy generally, to set themselves up in
opposition to the laws, even where their operation shall happen to
interfere with some favourite opinions of their own, and affect the
character of one of their own body. Their ministers are not a com-
bination of men linked together for the purpose of supporting each
other, right or wrong, against all other persons, with the determina-
tion of resisting everj' interference of the civil tribunals with any in-
dividual of their own order. The rules of their discipline are in-
tended to conform to the laws of the land, and not to be quoted and
acted upon as authorizing proceedings in direct violation, and in con-
tempt of courts ofjustice. Such is not the light in Avhich this respect-
able body of christians design that they and their discipline shall be
presented, and tirmly believing this of them, we cannot believe that
when the excitement of the moment shall have passed away, they
will sanction the proceedings of a Council of their ministers who have
exhibited all the above intentions in the most gross and determined
manner, and who in the estimation of the publick, have brought great
scandal and discredit on the sect to which they belong, b}-^ the intem-
perate zeal, the slanderous attacks upon private character, and the
contempt of the laws of the country which are so skockingly lietraye*!


ia the pamphlet the committee of this Council hare published to the
world. Their own disciphne directly discountenances such a pro-
ceeding, and we call upon this committee to account to the Metho*
dists for having so grossly violated one of its positive rules. They
have a right so far as church discipline is concerned, to try their min-
isters, and to preserve the minutes ol that trial for the inspection of
their court of appeal, the Conference, in case of such appeal.
But we know of no authority they have to publish a report of a trial
before a Council of ministers, especially when that trial is not final
and is subject to a reversal. And further, their ministers are requir-
ed to publish no book or pamphlet without approbation of the
Conference. See page 185 of their discipline. " IS'o travelling
preacher is permitted to publish any book or pamphlet without the
approbation of ihe annual conference to which he belongs, or of a
committee chosen by them. It is recommended to the annual con-
ferences to caution and restrict our preachers from improper publtctt'
tions.''''* How will this elder and two or three travelling preachers
reconcile their publication with the first part of this article, and more
especially its temper and spirit with the latter ?

We will now proceed as temperately as is consistent with the mat-
ter under inquiry, to examine the proceedings of this Council and to
show as far as our limits will admit, wherein they have been guilty of
the serious offences we allege against them : in connexion with
which such documents will be produced as will fully support the
ground we have taken. In doing this we shall not hesitate to express
our indignation whenever we find these men trespassing against the
laws, and acting the part of libellers in publishing slanderous insinua-
tions against individuals of worth and respectability in the community ;
but we shall carefully avoid that low wit and sneering remark, which
so strikingly characterizes the publication of these reverend gentle-
men ; which cannot fail to convince the publick that they were la-
bouring under an infirmity of temper, and that however charitable
they were disposed to be toward Mr. Maffitt, they had no intention of
extending their kindness, except sneeringly, to any person who stood
in the way of the object of their association, a plausible acquittal of
the man they undertook to put upon his trial.

In order to get at the motives which influenced this Council of
ministers it is necessary to remark upon their conduct immediately
after the trial in Boston.

Astonished at the result of a judicial investigation which they them-
selves had earnestly sought for, and having improperly identified the

* This pamphlet is an ''improper publication," not only on account of the
epirit it betrays, unijeconiing even gentlemen and especially christian miniiters,
but because it publishes to the world the (ull acquittal o< a man who has not
yet had his final trial, and who by the Methodist discipline is liable to be set aside
by the comerence should they differ from the opinion of this Coaiicil. This is
a direct outrage upon the appellate juDsdiction of the conference. The Council
however have ingfniously provided for a reversal of their decision when they say,
Mr, M^tnit i»f>nlv on trial, and may yet be set aside, if the copference see cause
" wilhout any evidence qferime .'"


character of one of their preachers with that of their whole order, tlie
pride of sect was aroused. They viewed their infalUbiUty and pri-
vileges in danger, and it was pubhckly declared that they would not
submit to have one of their ministers put down by the testimony of a
clergyman of another denomination. In pursuance of this resolve,
while under all the bitterness of feeling and strong excitement, the
trial had produced, and almost before the ink that recorded the ver-
dict had dried, they assembled together under the pretext of a rule
of their discipline, which we are persuaded was never designed to
sanction such an outrage upon decencj'^ and the laws ; and erected a
tribunal which seriously set itself about revising the decision of a
civil Court, and arraigning and condemningjudge, jury, and witnesses,
who had been engaged in bringing about that decision.

So little prepared were they for the office of juds^e or jurors, that
two of their number had been on the committee who pretended to
investigate the matter before the trial, and hatl already decided that
Mr. Maffitt was completely innocent. One of these gentlemen had
also taken the part of prosecutor at the trial. He had been all the
way to Bristol tp " coax^'' Mr. Maffitt to appear as a witness "/or
the State.'''' and to recruit witnesses in Providence to support his
cause. He had used every exertion to find some means to impeach
the testimony of the principal witness for the defence, and we put it

Online LibraryJohn IrelandA second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author → online text (page 12 of 51)