Bible Christians commonly styled BRYANITES, are a branch of the great Methodist body in England.
I. Origin and History. — This section of the Methodist family originated in the summer of the year 1815, through the labors of William O'Bryan. He was born ar Gunwen, in the parish of Luxillian, Cornwall, in February, 1778. Soundly converted in 1795, he immediately became anxious about the souls of his neighbors, and began to exhort publicly. These humble efforts were blessed, so that in a short time about seventy persons were converted and joined the Methodist society in Cornwall. The first text he took was Lu 19:10, and his first sermon was preached on Christmas- day. He longed to be called into the Wesleyan ministry, but several disappointing circumstances prevented. God had other purposes in reserve, which were in due course revealed. In 1804 he was again impressed with the conviction that he must preach, but the way to do so did not open, and he was sorely tried. The trial was followed by a dangerous illness, during which he resolved to preach the Gospel when he recovered; but, on consulting with the Wesleyan preacher, he was again discouraged in his projects. In 1809, while the Rev. William Womersley was absent from Cornwall, on a visit to Yorkshire, Mr. O'Bryan took his appointments. God abundantly blessed him in his preaching, and he visited some places where the Gospel had not before been preached — his labors being owned by the conversion of sinners. This greatly encouraged him to visit other places destitute of religious services, and, on inquiry, he found that in East Cornwall and West Devon there were about twenty parishes in which the people were without the privileges of the Gospel. He visited those in Devon County, preaching almost daily, with many converts as the result; but meeting constant opposition and persecution. In 1810, because he would not give up his itinerant labors outside of his own Methodist circuit, the resident preacher in November formally excluded him from the Wesleyan society.
Being assured of the good-will and affection of the poor neglected people, in the spirit of an earnest missionary he went from place to place, receiving abundant encouragement, and besought sinners to come to Christ; This course he continued for five years, being content with such support as the people were willing to give to secure his continued services. Among his converts were Mrs. Rattenbury, Mrs. Thorne, and her sons, then of Shebbear, a place which has since become famous in the history of their Connection.
In January, 1815, the Rev. Francis Collier, Wesleyan preacher at Bodmin, secured the services of Mr. O'Bryan in carrying on the work of God in his circuit; but, in addition, he was out at many special services, and preaching in places where no religious societies existed. He witnessed conversions at nearly every service, and, some places being quite beyond Methodist circuits, he was urged to repeat his visits. For doing so, at the June quarterly visitation, the preacher who met the class for tickets in which he was a member left Mr. O'Bryan no ticket, because he was not present to give account of himself. Consulting with his friends on this matter, they promised him subscriptions, and some gave money freely to keep him.in the work. The preacher having been admonished for countenancing his irregular itinerant labors, he saw there was no hope left him of being called into the ministry of Methodism; so he continued his journeys, content with hard work, hard fare, and sometimes no pay, excepting the testimony of a good conscience and the prayers of the people. At the Conference, in August, Rev. George Banwell was placed in charge of the Stratton Circuit, and, refusing to co-operate with or to recognize Mr. O'Bryan unless he gave up his independent action, the appeals of his many converts in destitute places determined his future action to look after the poor sheep in the wilderness, and he at once drew up a plan for the regular visitation of seventeen places, in Cornwall and Devon, the first of which was Cooksbury, and the seventh Lake and Shebbear. At Lake, where was the home of Mr. Thorne, many people gathered an hour before the time of service, so that the house was crowded, and a present salvation was earnestly preached by Mr. O'Bryan. At its close he explained the nature of the class-meeting, and asked any who wished to belong to such, a company of believers to remain. On that evening, Monday, Oct. 9, 1815, the first society was formed; twenty-two gave their names, among whom were Mr. and Mrs. Thorne, and their sons John, James, and Samuel. In doctrine and discipline they were Methodists, but they were slow to consider themselves a separate organization. At their second meeting, the clergyman of the parish was present and encouraged them.
When the Wesleyan preacher, George Banwell, next visited Week St. Mary, and heard what action the people had taken at Shebbear, he inquired the names of those members who had attended Mr. O'Bryan's preaching, and, finding that all the members of the Week St. Mary society had done so, he tore up the class-paper, and left the meeting without the usual concluding prayer. The indiscretion thus shown determined all the members to unite with Mr. O'Bryan, whose labors were incessant, Mrs. O'Bryan maintaining herself by the proceeds of a small business. Applications for the services of this earnest missionary multiplied so rapidly, in answer to his prayers, that, at the end of the year 1815, James Thorne, aged twenty, a young convert, began to preach in his father's house, and soon afterwards assisted in filling other preaching appointments. The first quarterly meeting of the new society was held at Holsworthy, Jan. 1, 1816, in Mr. O'Bryan's house, when two stewards were appointed, and the members in society were reported at 237. At the close of the meeting a sermon was preached, followed by a love-feast, which was a time of much good to many. Converts increased, so also did persecution; and among those converted were some women, who were constrained to publicly relate their Christian experience, and several of them shortly afterwards began to preach. The families which were first to encourage the new movement were those of Thorne, Rattenbury, Reed, Courtice, and Cottle. The first local preachers' meeting was held in February, 1816; and on March 15 James Thorne commenced his itinerant work, without any certain prospect of support, but trusting in God and the people. At the second quarterly meeting, held in April, the number of members had risen to 412, and by July they were 496; preaching having been introduced into ten new parishes, with new converts, and a new society in each. The preachers were men of faith and prayer. After one of Mr. Thorne's sermons at Lake, Shebbear, twelve persons prayed without the congregation rising from their knees. The fourth quarterly meeting reported 567 members in the society in Devonshire.
The most cheering results followed the labors of the evangelists everywhere. At the fifth quarterly meeting, January, 1817, the members were reported at 920. About that time a love-feast was held, at which the Spirit of God was so abundantly poured out that the meeting became one of incessant prayer; it was continued all night, and about fifty persons found peace. All this good work had been done in barns and private houses. In August, 1817, Mr. John Thorne resolved on having a chapel erected at Shebbear, and his son James preached a sermon on the corner- stone. It was finished and opened for divine worship, May 29, 1818. No other chapel then existed for many miles round. By the end of the year three circuits were formed, in which were six itinerant preachers, with 1522 members in the society.
It was resolved in 1818 to extend the work into Cornwall, and, although various forms of opposition and petty persecutions were tried to hinder the work, the hand of God was in it, and prosperity attended their efforts. During that year twelve godly women were employed as itinerant or local preachers, and much good was done by them, while the men were opening new stations. In July a tract society was formed, and the first Sunday- school for their children commenced at Shebbear, with 42 children. In September the rules of their society were first published, in which Mr. O'Bryan gave an account of his separation from the Wesleyan society.
The first Conference was held at Baddash, Launceston, from Aug. 17 to 26, 1819, Mr. O'Bryan presiding, and James Thorne was secretary. Twelve circuits were reported, with twenty-seven preachers, thirteen males and fourteen females. The chief business done was to justify the employment of women preachers.
In February, 1820, a mission was commenced in Kent; great discouragement at first disheartened the preachers, but in six months they counted 140 members in the Chatham society. The second Conference was held in August; 1820, when the payments for the preachers were fixed at £3 per quarter; the wife £4, children £6, per annum each; women preachers £6 per annum, with house-rent, coals, and candles found. At the Conference of 1821, there were eighteen circuits and forty-five preachers reported, including eighteen female preachers, one of whom was stationed in nearly every circuit. The Preachers' Annuitant Society was established by six members subscribing £1 each. In five years the fund had scarcely reached £54, and in forty years it had only reached £3853. A missionary society was also established at that Conference. During the year, a society was formed in the Scilly Isles by Mary Ann Werrey, and in less than a year 141 members were there united in Church fellowship.
In January, 1822, a monthly magazine was commenced, which has now reached its sixtieth annual volume, and in the interesting pages of which the history of the Connection is carefully written. Mr. O'Bryan was the recognized editor, and James Thorne the assistant editor. Mr. Thorne left the impress of his ever-active mind on the pages of that work for half a century not always as its editor, but as its patron and best friend. The Conference of 1822 was held at Stoke Damarel. Three new circuits were reported, and the Conference published in the Minutes their first Address to the Societies of the Arminian Bible Christians, which was marked by good, plain, practical counsel and encouragement. The members in society were 4918. The death of Margaret Adams, a female preacher, was reported as the first which had taken place.
During the year 1823, Mr. O'Bryan and James Thorne had a roving commission to visit all the societies and encourage them and their various agencies. At the Conference, twenty-seven circuits were reported, and these were, for the first time, divided into six districts. Samuel Thorne was appointed first book-steward, Stoke Damarel being the book-depot. A mission to the metropolis was commenced in the autumn of 1822, and in 1823 preaching-places had been secured in the north, south, east, and west of London; but the preachers' salaries had reached only £8, the expenses being £30 for the quarter and the receipts £17 — a discouragement truly; but they persevered, and succeeded in securing a permanent position in the capital of England. James Thorne was sent to London with three assistants in 1824, during which year annual district-meetings were first held. Henry Freeman, the first male preacher of the body in London, was sent to the Horsemonger-lane prison for preaching in the street. He refused to pay a fine; that imprisonment was greatly for the furtherance of the Gospel. Members in 1823 were 5050. In 1824, two of the preachers, not content with such small means, joined the Society of Friends, for which they had a preference; but the work advanced, and 6200 members were reported at the sixth Conference. The smallness of the income reported to the next Conference led to a reduction of ten shillings per quarter on the wife's salary. At the same time (1825), a chapel fund was established, and a form of chapel deed was read which secured the property to the Connection. The members reported that year were 6369. Lay-representatives were first admitted to the Conference in 1825; they have continued ever since to be an integral part of the Conference.
In the Minutes of 1826, the first official return of members is made, the number being 6433, with eighty-three preachers. The Chapel Fund was £55, all spent as soon as received. During the next year, although the members increased to 8054, the finances were so small that supernumerary preachers who married were thereby disqualified to be claimants for support. Still the work advanced, but trials were in store.
During nine years, Mr. O'Bryan had been at the head of the movement. The official record of their yearly proceedings had been entitled Minutes of the Annual Conference between Willian O'Bryan and the Preachers in connection with him. The tenth Conference, held at Lake Shebbear, changed all that, and their proceedings were entitled Minutes of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Ministers and Representatives of the People denominated Bible Christians, formerly termed Armninian Bible Christians. The word "Arminian" was discontinued. The Conference ordered that house-rent for the preachers should be £6 a year in towns, £4 in the country William Mason was the first elected president. At the previous Conference, much dissatisfaction was expressed at the authority claimed by Mr. O'Bryan, and a series of six hastily drawn resolutions was passed intended to limit that authority and to place Mr. O'Bryan more at the disposal of the Conference. A painful agitation was the consequence, which was continued through the year, Mr. O'Bryan increasing it by issuing a pamphlet in defence of what he considered his rights. Disaffection brought loss; a decrease of 209 had to be reported. This was further increased by the loss of 1302 in 1829. At the Conference held that year, Mr. O'Bryan tried to dissolve it by declaring, "I will do no more business with you; I adjourn this Conference to Liskeard next Monday." The preachers present prayerfully considered the matter, and refused to adjourn, continuing the business under the presidency of Andrew Cory. Mr. O'Bryan severed his connection with them, and took more than a thousand members with him.
Relieved from what had been a burden to many, the disruption turned out to be for the furtherance of the Gospel. Only one station was given up, and the members joined the Primitive Methodists, and not more than two preachers adhered to Mr. O'Bryan. At the following Conference, many who had left through excitement asked to be taken back, and they were heartily welcomed. All the funds were in debt, and to remove this burden the preachers agreed to a further reduction of their very small salaries; and this voluntary self-denial was again repeated next year, so that the people, who were mostly poor, might not be hindered in their desire to unite with them by being taxed financially. Revivals set in, new chapels were built and opened, the preachers were united, and a new departure was made by commencing to hold public missionary meetings in the circuits, conducted chiefly by the energetic and devoted James Thorne; and, to make the missionary work more real, two preachers were sent to America in 1831 —
John Glass to Canada and Francis Metherall to Prince Edward Island — although the debt against the Missionary Society was £66; but they had faith in God, so America has since had a place on their Minutes. Emigration to that country had, even at that early period, caused losses to the home societies which were felt to be such. Both the mission stations flourished, and most encouraging reports of their prosperity were sent home soon after they were established. Seeing how feebly he was supported after the disruption in 1829, Mr. O'Bryan witnessed his few adherents gradually leaving him, so that in 1835 he had only about six hundred followers, while the Conference had 8000. At the Conference of 1835, the seceders sought reunion with their brethren, and Mr. O'Bryan came back with them, but in no official capacity. The Conference undertook Mr. O'Bryan's obligations of a financial character as a trustee of chapels and as the founder of the Book-room. They gave him £85, and promised him an annuity of £20 a year for life. He lived more than thirty years afterwards. At the Conference of 1836, when the reunion formally took place, an increase of over 2000 members was reported, in addition to 545 old members returned. The total of members then reported was 10,786. As an illustration of the evils of disruption, the membership in 1827 was greater than it was in 1835, so that the labors of all their agencies for eight years were not sufficient to balance the losses sustained by the indiscretion of the separation. In addition to all this, chapel debts to about £300 had to be met by taking Mr. O'Bryan's societies, and the preachers generously taxed themselves to the uttermost to meet the emergency. And it was met. It was followed by a committee of inquiry as to the best way to raise the salaries of the itinerant preachers. At the Conference of 1837, the new scale was received and adopted. Its provisions were-single men, £10 a year; ministers in full connection, £12 12s.; after travelling twelve years, to be £14; female preachers, £7 a year; a married preacher and his wife, £30 a year. For their children, this rate of payment was adopted: first child, until sixteen years old, £6 per annum; second child, £5 10s.; third, £5; fourth, £4 10s.; but no allowance to be continued after the age of sixteen. House-rent was to be allowed, £6 a year in towns, £4 in the country. At death, for a preacher's funeral, £4 was allowed, £2 for a child's funeral. It was then resolved not to have their chapels licensed for marriages, but since that time half of their chapels have been licensed. Having recovered lost ground, removed many obstructions, and being assured of the blessing of God, every effort was made to consolidate and extend the work. In 1838, the Conference took the temperance question in hand, and gave it every encouragement. New chapels were rising in various localities, although small; but the poverty of the people caused most of them to be heavily burdened with debt, and that, in after-years, became a serious responsibility and hinderance to the work; still there was a strong undercurrent of faith in God and reliance on his aid to deliver. The subject of holiness was made a prominent feature in the pulpit, and a higher state of Christian experience was urged upon the people. Prosperity was reported on both the home and foreign mission stations, and, although opposition, intolerance, and bigotry in turn were doing all they could to hinder the work of God, it extended.
The importance of education was recognized in 1840, and steps were taken to provide for the wants of the Connection in that department. At a meeting held at Shebbear, Devon, Jan. 20, 1841, it was resolved to establish at that place a Connectional school for the education of the boys of the more affluent members, and, as far as means would allow, of making it a school for educating the sons of their preachers. The school was opened on Lady-day, in 1841. The Rev. H. C. O'Donoghue, M.A., an Irish clergyman who had resigned his position in the Established Church, became the first head-master, and with only eight pupils the good work was favorably inaugurated. He lived but one year to carry on the work, dying of paralysis in 1842. It has been continued ever since, and during the forty years of its existence it has been a great blessing to hundreds of boys. After a while it enlarged its sphere of operation, and became also a school of the prophets, opening its doors for the reception of young men intended for the itinerant ministry, who here received much valuable information as a preparation for their life-work. Some remained only three or six months, others two years, just as the demand for ministers was pressing or otherwise. For over twenty years it was superintended by the venerable James Thorne. The Rev. Robert Blackmore, president of the Conference in 1869, was next appointed governor of the institution, and at his death the Rev. John Gammon, president of the Conference in 1859 and 1876, was chosen governor, which office he still holds. In 1880 there were nearly one hundred boys in the College, which name was given to the institution in 1876 by resolution of Conference. In addition to the high intellectual and scientific attainments of some of the pupils, it is gratifying to record that not a few had been converted to God during their residence in the college. The debt on the premises in 1880 was £4300.
Among the aids introduced at the period when thirty vears of experience had been passed, we find at the Conferences of 1843 and 1844 that a committee to guard the privileges of the Connection was appointed, Sunday-schools were promoted and encouraged, the management of chapels and Connectional property was fully considered, mission-work in the destitute localities was extended, and a benefit society for the insurance of chapels was instituted. All these were contributory to the consolidation of the societies, which in the aggregate, in 1844, showed the following totals — namely, 50 circuits and mission stations, 107 itinerant preachers and 8 female preachers, 362 chapels, 1102 local preachers, 12, 000 Sunday scholars, 3063 teachers, and 13,793 members in society. Although the period was near the middle of the 19th century, yet their progress was not equal to their expectations; but considering their varied trials and hinderances with the small finances at their disposal, these results were of an encouraging and hopeful character, and the membership was considerably greater than was that of the New Connection at the end of thirty years, although it was not half that of Mr. Wesley's society at the end of the same period.
The year 1850 was a memorable one for the impulse then given to the foreign missionary cause. The society was then £400 in debt; but the work of revival had increased the membership, and it was resolved to send the two brethren, James Way and James Rowe, to South Australia, in compliance with the urgent request of members of the society who had emigrated to that country. Both those ministers were present at the Conference missionary anniversary, and the meeting was one of deep interest and profit to many. They sailed Aug. 12, and arrived in Australia Nov. 14, 1850. Then commenced a work in that distant locality which has been crowned with the abundant blessing of God, and has extended its operations to Adelaide, Victoria, and New Zealand. In 1880, as the result of thirty years' labors, there were reported as belonging to their Australian Conference 47 circuits, 58 preachers, 266 local preachers, 180 chapels, 33 preaching rooms, 1828 members, 600 Sunday-school teachers, and 3300 Sunday scholars The family of Mr. Way has been a most welcome addition to the colony, and his son has. for some years, been the lord chief-justice at Adelaide, and in other ways he has been a large benefactor to that city and district, In 1876 their societies in Australia were made into a separate Conference, although not with quite independent action. The English Conference reserved to itself certain specified rights, which will no doubt have to be relinquished as the society advances. The Conference of 1851 had to consider their missionwork under a different aspect. Two of their stations in America, in. Ohio and Wisconsin, had been struggling with heavy discouragements, and the illness of one of the missionaries had obliged him to remove to Canada. Had it not been for two brethren — John Chapple and Joseph Hodge — volunteering to carry on those stations, they would have been discontinued. They have not prospered as it was hoped and expected they would. The Wisconsin district is but feeble after more than thirty years' work.
Up to the year 1852, all the Conferences of the Bible Christians had been held in Devonshire or Cornwall. This year's Conference was held at Southsea, Hampshire, the Conference of 1856 at Newport, Isle of Wight, and that of 1859 in London, the capital of England. Two conferences have since been held in the city of Bristol. These four are the only places out of Devon and Cornwall where the societies are large enough to accommodate the Conference.
In 1855, the Canadian and American societies were made into a separate Conference-the English Conference to either send or select the president once in two years; delegates to be exchanged from time to time, the expense to be borne by the senders; missionaries to have the right of return, or be recalled in seven years; the Preachers' Fund to be common to both Conferences; the cost of sending out missionaries to be arranged mutually in England and Canada; the Canadian Conference to have entire control over local affairs, selecting their young ministers, and disposing of their own funds; the Prince Edward Island members to be part of the Canadian Conference.
The temperance question was early welcomed by the Bible Christians. James Thorne became a pledged tee-totaler in 1837, and from that time was the acknowledged leader in the denomination on that and similar social and moral questions. The cause has been sheltered in all their chapels, and has been a blessing to the societies, and especially to the young. As a small acknowledgment of those services, the Bristol Temperance Society presented a handsome sacramental service to one of the new chapels of the Bible Christians.
Although the first society in London was commenced as early as the year 1824, the membership was not large enough to justify them in inviting the Conference till the year 1859, when they met in Waterloo-road Chapel. Their London friends generously met the entire expense. The Rev. John Gammon was president. The Rev. William Cookej D.D., of the New Connection, paid a welcome fraternal visit to the Conference, the first of the kind. The Conference representatives, preachers, and laymen were tinder 120. At the Conference of 1860, held in the city of Exeter, the first subscription was taken towards the Jubilee Fund, which amounted to £600. An appeal was made to the Sunday-schools throughout the denomination to contribute to that fund.
In 1861, the Preachers' Annuitant Society, established in 1821, was found to be quite inadequate to the purpose designed-namely, to provide a maintenance to worn-out preachers. It was resolved, in 1861, to establish an Auxiliary and Beneficent Fund, to increase the annuities to superannuated preachers, to make grants to preachers in case of heavy affliction, to assist itinerants unable to do full work, to help to furnish houses for new supernumeraries, and to aid widows and orphans of preachers. This fund was to be raised by subscriptions from friends, and by a collection yearly, in August, in all circuits. At the same Conference an increase was made to the salaries of the preachers. Single preachers on trial were allowed £14 per annum; those in full connection, £16; married preachers, £36; those who have served four years in full connection, £42. These sums were exclusive of allowance for furniture, rent, board, etc., as given by circuits.
The year 1862 was marked by a large increase of members, 1653 being added to the total, with 1204 on trial. The year following was one which produced twenty-five young men for the ministry, a larger number than had ever before been realized. The increase of members in 1863 was only 614. A new district was made in Wales, with Newport as its centre and head. The Conference of 1863 was memorable for a fraternal letter sent to it by the Conference of the Methodist New Connection — the first of the kind — hoping that on special occasions they might unite more cordially in promoting the world's salvation, and looking towards a union of the several sections of liberal Methodism. The Rev. William Cooke, D.D., was the leading New Connection minister promoting union; the Rev. William Cocker, a man far inferior in position and acquirements, took the lead in opposing union. Dr. Cooke secured many hearty friends by the course which he so generously adopted. The Bible Christians cordially responded to the fraternal letter, and secured a true friend in Dr. Cooke.
In 1864, Prince Edward Island district was united to Canada for the more economical and efficient working of both. A good work had been carried on in the former place during several years. In the early part of that work, in 1860, a remarkably wicked man, aged ninety-nine years, a native of Nova Scotia, had given much anxiety to the ministers on the island. The ministers visited and prayed with him, and many prayers had been offered on his behalf. At length, amid sobs and tears, the aged man cried out, "Lord, have mercy upon my poor soul." Prayers for him increased. The next day he attended the sermon, and the lovefeast which followed, when the old man wept, and cried aloud, "I'm happy in my heart and soul! my sins be gone! my trouble be gone!" So God in his mercy converted the centenarian sinner, ands the work prospered. The membership at the Union was as follows: Prince Edward Island, 630; Canada, 4222 — total, 4852. By this union a yearly grant from the Missionary Society was saved.
The prosperity of the society in Australia had been of the most gratifying character. The veteran missionary, James Way, who as a fatherless youth had been brought to God under the preaching of Ann Arthur Guest thirty- seven years before in Devonshire, was, in 1860-64, travelling and laboring most successfully in Australia. When the Rev. Thomas Binney was in that country in 1860, he preached one of the opening sermons in one of their best chapels, and when he returned to England he wrote this testimony: "The Bible Christians are active and useful, penetrating and missionary in their character." The success. of that mission was mainly due to the liberality of Mr. William Hicks, of Lostwithiel, who did not belong to the Bible Christians, but who, to start their cause in Australia, in 1850, gave them £100 towards sending out the first two missionaries, and he generously gave them the same amount yearly for twelve years to give the mission a fair start. He continued his financial aid longer than he promised. The efforts made to extend the mission in Australia led to considerable expenditure in excess of income. Appeals were made for increased subscriptions, and for loans without interest, but the societies were unable to respond thereto.
The celebration of the Jubilee of the denomination "was observed by meetings in nearly all the societies. Great self-denial was exercised to raise a fund adequate to the occasion. The objects to be served by the Jubilee Fund were the erection of a chapel in London to hold one thousand people, to have a book-room and mission-rooms connected therewith, to remove debts on chapels and on the institution at Shebbear, to reduce the missionary debt, and to increase the annuities of the aged and worn-out preachers. Several years were given for contributions to be made to the fund. When the distribution took place in 1867, it was found that the total sum collected was £3300. For such an occasion, the sum was small indeed, but it indicated the limited extent and resources of the members identified with the society. The appropriations of the fund were as. follows: London chapel, £500; Preachers' Fund, £650; the Missionary Society, £600; Chapel Loan Fund, £1200; for the Adelaide chapel; Australia, £200; Shebbear school, £150; preachers' salaries, £104. The total-amount was in excess of the receipts, but the latter were afterwards increased by £200.
The year 1869 was memorable for the opening of the Jubilee Chapel, East Road, City Road, London, with rooms attached to be used for the Book- room and the Missionary Society. The venerable James Thorne was thanked by the Conference for nearly forty years' service as editor and book-steward, having, during that long period, conducted the printing and distribution of the Connectional literature at Shebbear and Plymouth. A new ara was commenced when the Book-room was opened in London. The Rev. Frederick William Bourne was appointed as new editor and book-steward, with a permanent residence in the metropolis. Ten years later, in 1879, the new editor established his headquarters and publishing office at No. 26 Paternoster Row. A small testimonial fund was collected for Mr. Thorne, but he died before it could be of any service to him.
The Australian Conference of 1875 having expressed a strong desire for an annual conference to be held in that colony, the English Conference gave consent for such meeting to be held, on learning that no legal difficulty existed, and the first was convened in the summer of 1877. The conditions were to be as follows. It was to be constituted like the English Conference, excepting that they might have every year, instead of once in five years, an equal number of ministers and laymen. The ministers in the colony sent from England have the right to return to England after ten years' absence; the English Conference to have the right to recall such ministers. The funds of the Annuitant Society are available in both countries. Delegates maybe exchanged. A General Conference may be held for the purpose of exchanging ministers between the Australian provinces. The English Conference has the right to appoint the president in Australia once in five years; to receive a copy of their minutes; and to disallow any act of the Australian Conference within one year, all such acts to be valid till disallowed.
The regulation in the Poll Deed which requires that the representatives at conference be an equal number of laymen and ministers only once in five years not having given satisfaction in many districts, the Conference of 1877 resolved that the number of representatives may be equal every year, but that official business and constitutional questions be decided by the legal Conference only, until the Poll Deed can be altered so as to admit of equal representation annually.
A proposal was considered in the English Conference of 1880 for the Bible Christians in Australia to unite with the other Wesleyan bodies in that country. It was resolved to defer action until after the Conference of 1881, when it was proposed to send a deputation from England to Australia to consider the question fully. The Rev. F. W. Bourne was nominated as the deputation to the Canadian, American, Australian, and New Zealand missions during the summer and autumn of 1881, his duties as connectional editor and general treasurer during his absence being undertaken by the Connectional, missionary, and book committees respectively.
II. Statistics. — The following figures represent the state of the denomination at the fiftieth conference, in 1868: Itinerant preachers, 253; local preachers, 1734; chapels, 784; preaching places, 267; members, 27,407; Sunday-school teachers, 8713; Sunday, scholars, 42 458. At the Conference of 1880 the totals of the denomination were as follows:
Itinerant preachers, 307; local preachers; 1882; chapels, 937; preaching places, 192; members, 30,842; Sunday-school teachers, 9860; Sunday scholars, 53,450. (G. J. S.)
III. Doctrines, Usages, Institutions etc. — The doctrines of the Bible Christians are the same as those of all other branches of the Methodist Church, and their interpretation of the Scriptures agrees with the principles adopted by the Wesleys.
In its Church government each society is governed by its own elder's meeting, consisting of the minister, the leader, the stewards, and all approved local preachers belonging to that society. The elders' meeting manages all the financial affairs of the society according to the rules of the Connection, and receives or dismisses members of the Church. A meeting of the itinerant and local preachers is held quarterly. Each circuit has a quarterly meeting of all the official persons belonging to the societies within the circuit. For the convenient working of the denomination the circuits are mostly grouped, so as to form districts, and the ministers, together with an equal number of laymen, hold an annual meeting preparatory to the conference. The annual conference is composed of an equal number of ministers and laymen appointed by the district meetings.
In 1821 the first missionary society of the Bible Christians was formed. In that year its evangelistic efforts extended to Canada West and to Prince Edward Island. In 1850 two missionaries were sent to South Australia. In 1855 missions were opened in Victoria, in 1866 in Queensland, in 1877 in New Zealand, and in 1885 in China. On the mission stations at home and abroad nearly two hundred agents are regularly employed; these are assisted by about one thousand local preachers, and they preach in nearly seven hundred chapels and preaching places. The annual income of the society amounts to $35,400.
Among the institutions of the Bible Christians is the Sunday-school department, book department, temperance, Chapel Fund, Preachers' Annuitant Society, and educational work.
See Jubilee Volume (1865); Luke, Origin, etc., of the Bible Christians (1878); Minutes of the 62d Conference (1880). (G. T. J.)