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CHAPTER XII

LATER CHURCH WORK AND CLOSING DAYS

AFTER

FTER his appointment to the office of chief

superintendent of education, Dr. Ryerson still maintained both his connection with and his active influence and leadership in the Methodist conference. In that influence he was closely associated with his two elder brothers, the Revs. John and William Ryerson. The former down to his death in 1878, was respected by the whole conference for his eminent gifts as a legislator and administrator of Methodist polity. All three were active and able promoters of the reunion of the British with the Canadian Wesleyans which took place in 1847, and in the union of the Lower Canada District which took place in 1854. These various unions as well as the growth of the church introduced new elements and new leadership into the church in which three parties might now be distinctly traced. The British members of the conference with such men as Dr. Wood, Dr. Rice and Dr. Evans as prominent representatives constituted an able class of preachers, strongly conservative of all the views and usages of English Methodism. A thoroughly Canadian and progressive section of the conference was led and

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sented by such men as the Hurlburts, James Elliott, Jeffers and Spenser; while a more conservative Canadian section was represented by the Ryersons, Green, Jones, and Rose, with such younger men as Sanderson and Nelles. It would not be right to call these sections of the conference parties in the modern sense of the term, for there was no organization or pledged following; and in all the sections there were many men of such strong individuality that they followed no man. But history had given to each of these sections its peculiar tendency and character so definitely that the attitude of each on any great question might be safely predicted. The Ryersons, with the more conservative Canadians, were in general a mediating influence between the British and the more radical Canadians, and in that way did not a little to bring about and cement the unity of the body.

But in 1854 an incident occurred which for a time made Dr. Ryerson appear as the most extreme of radicals in Methodist polity, and even threatened to sever his connection with the conference. An intimate friend, a man whose Methodist lineage reached back to John Wesley's day, a man of spotless Christian character and life, and one active and useful in many fields of Christian work was “ dropped” from church membership for non-attendance at class. The circumstance was at once so painful, and, though according to the letter

THE CLASSMEETING

of the law as well as the practice of the time, so anomalous from the broader point of view, that Dr. Ryerson took up the question with great earnestness, published a pamphlet on the subject, and when his views were not sustained by the majority of the conference, emphasized his protest by tendering his resignation as a minister of the church. In his pamphlet he claimed that membership in the Christian church was a sacred right as inviolable as the rights of citizenship and only forfeited by positive wrong doing. He held that now that Methodism had assumed the status and responsibilities of a church, a condition of membership which was established for a society in the church was no longer the proper test of true church membership, which should be based only upon the requirements of the New Testament. Beyond this he also pressed the right of all baptised children to more definite recognition and admission to the full privileges of church membership.

Dr. Ryerson's presentation of the case made at the time a deep impression upon the younger members of the conference. It certainly contained large elements of truth which were obviously neglected by the Methodism of that day. These truths were emphasized by the constant exercise of a somewhat arbitrary power to drop members from the church roll by simply omitting their names in the copying of the list to a new page at the end of the quarter. Wesley's regulations required that this should be done only after the cases had been examined in the leaders' meeting and admonition had been duly given. But even this safeguard was now very largely omitted. In the majority of cases where the member had grown careless and no longer valued his position and privilege as a member of the church, it might be that no substantial injustice was done. It was but the lopping off of dead branches which would in time fall off themselves if they had not already done so. But in seasons of ecclesiastical convulsion both in Canada and in England this had without doubt been used as an easy way of getting rid of troublesome persons. On the other hand, up to this time both in Canada and in the old country Methodism laid the emphasis in all her work upon the revival as the important means of filling the ranks of her membership, and upon the class meeting as the manifestation of a living Christian experience. To admit as co-ordinate or even superior to these two fundamentals, the use of catechumen classes and a permanent roll of membership conditioned upon the maintenance of a consistent Christian life, appeared to the old country Methodists and to the more conservative Canadians, and even to many who ranked as progressives, but were intensely earnest in their religious spirit, a most serious forsaking of the old ways. Strong pamphlets were written in reply to Dr. Ryerson's tract, and one important truth was brought into prominence, viz., that Christian fellowship was in the Apostolic

W. M. PUNSHON

a

church a co-ordinate means of grace with the Word or teaching of the apostles, the stated seasons of prayer, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It was recognized as a scriptural ordinance and not simply as a human and prudential institution. On the other hand, from that date onward the legislation of Canadian Methodism moved steadily in the direction of more ample provision and more careful effort to gather the children into the church, and also in the direction of more careful guarding of the sacred right of church membership until finally the class meeting has been placed on a par with the other scriptural means of grace as a condition of membership in the church.

In 1866-7, while making an educational tour of Great Britain and Europe, Dr. Ryerson was once more brought into close touch with English Methodism, and especially with the late honoured William Morley Punshon, then at the height of his fame as a pulpit orator. The acquaintance ripened into fast friendship and resulted in Mr. Punshon's devoting his services for the benefit of Canadian Methodism for the five years following the summer of 1868, perhaps the most effective period of his pulpit and platform work. The impulse given to Canadian Methodism by this term of service can never be fully estimated. He began by attracting crowds of all classes of the population to the old, and hitherto often despised Methodist

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