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The most revolutionary change suffered by any religious body in America, in adjusting itself to the changed conditions after the War of Independence, was that suffered by the latest arrived and most rapidly growing of them all. We have seen the order of the Wesleyan preachers coming so tardily across the ocean, and propagated with constantly increasing momentum southward from the border of Maryland. Its congregations were not a church; its preachers were not a clergy. Instituted in England by a narrow, High-church clergyman of the established church, its preachers were simply a company of lay missionaries under the command of John Wesley; its adherents were members of the Church of England, bound to special fidelity to their duties as such in their several parish churches, but united in clubs and classes for the mutual promotion of holy living in an unholy age; and its chapels and other property, fruits of the self-denial of many poor, were held under iron-bound title-deeds, subject to the control of John Wesley and of the close corporation of preachers to whom he should demit them.

It seems hardly worthy of the immense practical sagacity of Wesley that he should have thought to transplant this system unchanged into the midst of circumstances so widely different as those which must surround it in America. And yet even here, where the best work of his preachers was to be done among populations not only churchless, but out of reach of church or ministry of whatever name, in those Southern States in which nine tenths of his penitents and converts were gained, his preachers were warned against the sacrilege of ministering to the craving converts the Christian ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, and bidden to send them to their own churches--when they had none. The wretched incumbents of the State parishes at the first sounds of war had scampered from the field like hirelings whose own the sheep are not, and the demand that the preachers of the word should also minister the comfort of the Christian ordinances became too strong to be resisted. The call of duty and necessity seemed to the preachers gathered at a conference at Fluvanna in 1779 to be a call from God; and, contrary to the strong objections of Wesley and Asbury, they chose from the older of their own number a committee who "ordained themselves, and proceeded to ordain and set apart other ministers for the same purpose--that they might minister the holy ordinances to the church of Christ."[218:1] The step was a bold one, and although it seemed to be attended by happy spiritual results, it threatened to precipitate a division of "the Society" into two factions. The progress of events, the establishment and acknowledgment of American independence, and the constant expansion of the Methodist work, brought its own solution of the divisive questions.

It was an important day in the history of the American church, that second day of September, 1784, when John Wesley, assisted by other presbyters of the Church of England, laid his hands in benediction upon the head of Dr. Thomas Coke, and committed to him the superintendency of the Methodist work in America, as colleague with Francis Asbury. On the arrival of Coke in America, the preachers were hastily summoned together in conference at Baltimore, and there, in Christmas week of the same year, Asbury was ordained successively as deacon, as elder, and as superintendent. By the two bishops thus constituted were ordained elders and deacons, and Methodism became a living church.

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The two decades from the close of the War of Independence include the period of the lowest ebb-tide of vitality in the history of American Christianity. The spirit of half-belief or unbelief that prevailed on the other side of the sea, both in the church and out of it, was manifest also here. Happily the tide of foreign immigration at this time was stayed, and the church had opportunity to gather strength for the immense task that was presently to be devolved upon it. But the westward movement of our own population was now beginning to pour down the western slope of the Alleghanies into the great Mississippi basin. It was observed by the Methodist preachers that the members of their societies who had, through fear, necessity, or choice, moved into the back settlements and into new parts of the country, as soon as peace was settled and the way was open solicited the preachers to come among them, and so the work followed them to the west.[219:1] In the years 1791-1810 occurred the great movement of population from Virginia to Kentucky and from Carolina to Tennessee. It was reckoned that one fourth of the Baptists of Virginia had removed to Kentucky, and yet they hardly leavened the lump of early frontier barbarism. The Presbyterian Church, working in its favorite methods, devised campaigns of home missionary enterprise in its presbyteries and synods, detailing pastors from their parishes for temporary mission service in following the movement of the Scotch-Irish migration into the hill-country in which it seemed to find its congenial habitat, and from which its powerful influences were to flow in all directions. The Congregationalists of New England in like manner followed with Christian teaching and pastoral care their sons moving westward to occupy the rich lands of western New York and of Ohio. The General Association of the pastors of Connecticut, solicitous that the work of missions to the frontier should be carried forward without loss of power through division of forces, entered, in 1801, into the compact with the General Assembly of the Presbyterians known as the "Plan of Union," by which Christians of both polities might coöperate in the founding of churches and in maintaining the work of the gospel.

In the year 1803 the most important political event since the adoption of the Constitution, the purchase of Louisiana by President Jefferson, opened to the American church a new and immense field for missionary activity. This vast territory, stretching from the Mississippi westward to the summits of the Rocky Mountains and nearly doubling the domain of the United States, was the last remainder of the great projected French Catholic empire that had fallen in 1763. Passed back and forth with the vicissitudes of European politics between French and Spanish masters, it had made small progress in either civilization or Christianity. But the immense possibilities of it to the kingdoms of this world and to the kingdom of heaven were obvious to every intelligent mind. Not many years were to pass before it was to become an arena in which all the various forces of American Christianity were to be found contending against all the powers of darkness, not without dealing some mutual blows in the melley.

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The review of this period must not close without adverting to two important advances in public practical Christianity, in which (as often in like cases) the earnest endeavors of some among the Christians have been beholden for success to uncongenial reinforcements. As it is written, "The earth helped the woman."

In the establishment of the American principle of the non-interference of the state with religion, and the equality of all religious communions before the law, much was due, no doubt, to the mutual jealousies of the sects, no one or two of which were strong enough to maintain exceptional pretensions over the rest combined. Much also is to be imputed to the indifferentism and sometimes the anti-religious sentiment of an important and numerous class of doctrinaire politicians of which Jefferson may be taken as a type. So far as this work was a work of intelligent conviction and religious faith, the chief honor of it must be given to the Baptists. Other sects, notably the Presbyterians, had been energetic and efficient in demanding their own liberties; the Friends and the Baptists agreed in demanding liberty of conscience and worship, and equality before the law, for all alike. But the active labor in this cause was mainly done by the Baptists. It is to their consistency and constancy in the warfare against the privileges of the powerful "Standing Order" of New England, and of the moribund establishments of the South, that we are chiefly indebted for the final triumph, in this country, of that principle of the separation of church from state which is one of the largest contributions of the New World to civilization and to the church universal.

It is not surprising that a people so earnest as the Baptists showed themselves in the promotion of religious liberty should be forward in the condemnation of American slavery. We have already seen the vigor with which the Methodists, having all their strength at the South, levied a spiritual warfare against this great wrong. It was at the South that the Baptists, in 1789, "_Resolved_, That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government, and we therefore recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land."[222:1] At the North, Jonathan Edwards the Younger is conspicuous in the unbroken succession of antislavery churchmen. His sermon on the "Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave-trade," preached in 1791 before the Connecticut Abolition Society, of which President Ezra Stiles was the head, long continued to be reprinted and circulated, both at the North and at the South, as the most effective argument not only against the slave-trade, but against the whole system of slavery.

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It will not be intruding needlessly upon the difficult field of dogmatic history if we note here the widely important diversities of Christian teaching that belong to this which we may call the sub-Revolutionary period.

It is in contradiction to our modern association of ideas to read that the prevailing type of doctrine among the early Baptists of New England was Arminian.[222:2] The pronounced individualism of the Baptist churches, and the emphasis which they place upon human responsibility, might naturally have created a tendency in this direction; but a cause not less obvious was their antagonism to the established Congregationalism, with its sharply defined Calvinistic statements. The public challenging of these statements made a favorite issue on which to appeal to the people from their constituted teachers. But when the South and Southwest opened itself as the field of a wonderfully rapid expansion before the feet of the Baptist evangelists, the antagonism was quite of another sort. Their collaborators and sharp competitors in the great and noble work of planting the gospel and the church in old and neglected fields at the South, and carrying them westward to the continually advancing frontier of population, were to be found in the multiplying army of the Methodist itinerants and local exhorters, whose theology, enjoined upon them by their commission, was the Arminianism of John Wesley. No explanation is apparent for the revulsion of the great body of American Baptists into a Calvinism exaggerated to the point of caricature, except the reaction of controversy with the Methodists. The tendency of the two parties to opposite poles of dogma was all the stronger for the fact that on both sides teachers and taught were alike lacking in liberalizing education. The fact that two by far the most numerous denominations of Christians in the United States were picketed thus over against each other in the same regions, as widely differing from each other in doctrine and organization as the Dominican order from the Jesuit, and differing somewhat in the same way, is a fact that invites our regret and disapproval, but at the same time compels us to remember its compensating advantages.