Kilham, Alexander

Kilham, Alexander one of the most celebrated characters in the history of Methodism, the founder of the "New Connection of Wesleyan Methodists," frequently called simply " Kilhamites," and really the first man in the Methodist connection who advocated the representation of the lay element in the government of the Church, was born at Epworth, England, July 10, 1762. His parents were Methodists, and he enjoyed a training strictly in accordance with their own religious convictions. Vacillating in character and impetuous in temper in his youthful days, he struggled hard against all religious impressions, but was finally converted at the age of eighteen, and shortly after began preaching. Brackenbury, one of Wesley's right-hand men, met young Kilham one day at Epworth while himself on a preaching excursion, and engaged him at once as his travelling companion. In Brackenbury's missionary visit to the Channel Islands, Kilham proved himself an able assistant. In 1785, shortly after their return from the islands, Wesley received Kilham into the regular itinerant ministry. Like all other laborers of early Methodism, his ministrations frequently met with opposition, and an encounter with a mob was almost a daily experience. At Bolton his chapel was stoned; at Alford market-place he was attacked by a clergyman and a constable; at Spilsby he was assailed with dirt and eggs. In another place gunpowder was laid under the spot where he expected to preach, with a train extending some distance, but without effect, for he took his stand elsewhere and escaped the danger. It was amid such difficulties and trials that Kilham zealously labored for the cause of his Master. In 1791 the founder of Methodism expired. During the life of Wesley there had been no actual separation of the Wesleyans from the Established Church. He had been careful to avoid religious meetings during the hours for public worship in the Establishment. He had never allowed the celebration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper by his own preachers; his people received these at the hands of the ministers of the Established Church. Frequently a voice dissenting from this course was heard from among the Wesleyan ministers. Kilham himself had dared, three years before the death of Wesley, to record the wish, " Let us have the liberty of Englishmen, and give the Lord's Supper to our societies." About the time of Wesley's death he wrote, " I have had several warm contests with a friend because I would not have my child baptized in the usual way. The storm, however, soon blew over. I hope God will open the eyes of the Methodists to see their sin and folly in their inconsistent connection with the Church." The opposition against ecclesiastical subserviency to the laws of the Church of England became more determined after the decision of the Conference at Manchester, July 26, 1791, the first after Mr. Wesley's death, to " take the plan as Mr. Wesley had left it." "The controversy could not," says Stevens (History of Methodism, 3:38), 'but be resumed, and more definite results must be reached before the Church could be at rest. Partisans of the national Church regarded the pledge as binding the Methodists to the Establishment; the advocates of progress dissented, and, in the language of Pawson, declared, 'Not so; our old plan has been to follow the openings of Providence, and to alter or amend the plan as we saw it needful, in order to be more useful in the hand of God.' Hanby, whom Wesley had authorized to administer the sacraments, still claimed the right to do so wherever the societies wished him. Pawson wrote the same year that if the people were denied the sacraments they would leave the connection in many places. Taylor was determined to administer them in Liverpool; and Atmore wrote that, having 'solemnly promised upon his knees before God and his people that lie would give all diligence not only to preach the word, but to administer the sacraments in the Church of God,' he would do so wherever required by the people. 'We were as much divided,' he later wrote, ' in our views and practice as before;' and numerous disputes occurred during the year respecting the administration of the sacraments and a total separation from the Church of England. Circular letters in great abundance were sent into different parts of the kingdom, and the minds of the people were much diverted from the pursuit of more sublime objects by others which tended but little to the profit of the soul.' The diversified opinions of the connection were, in fine, resolving themselves into three classes, and giving rise to as many parties, composed respectively of men who, from their attachment to the Establishment, wished no change, unless it might be a greater subordination to the national Church by the abandonment of the sacraments in those cases where Wesley had admitted them; of such as wished to maintain Wesley's plan intact, with official provisions which might be requisite to administer it; and such as desired revolutionary changes, with a more equal distribution of powers among laymen and preachers." Kilham belonged to the third party, and used all the means at his command to influence the leaders in that direction. At the next Conference, however, he was severely criticised for his assertion of the popular rights, and for the publication of a pamphlet on the Progress of Liberty, in which he urged a distribution of the power of government between the clerical and the lay elements. In the course of the controversy severe remarks had been thrown out by Kilham, which were construed by the preachers into defamations of the society, and at the London Conference of 1796 he was formally arraigned, and expelled from the connection. This summary process precipitated the division of sentiment, and resulted in the establishment of an independent body (now known as the New Connection Methodists) in 1797 at Ebenezer Chapel. SEE METHODISTS, NEW CONNECTION. A writer in the Wesleyan Times of May 12,1862, furnishes documents which go to prove that Kilham's course, both in 1793-4, and even as late as 1796, had the approval of the most celebrated leaders of Methodism. At that time Dr. Adam Clarke, Pawson, Bromwell, and Cownley, all earnestly indorsed the movement. Kilham himself did not long survive the ecclesiastical censure of his brethren. He died July 20,1798. It is but just to his memory to say that he is acknowledged by all to have been a man of fervent piety, and that he was animated by great zeal for the success of the Wesleyan cause. What he actually sought to accomplish was the entire separation of the Methodists from the Established Church, with a due representation of the lay element in the government of the new Church, to be formed at once. See, for a fuller discussion of this subject, besides the article SEE NEW CONNECTION METHODISTS, and the authorities already quoted, Smith, Hist. of Wesleyan Methodism (new edition), ii, 36 sq.; Cooke, Hist. of Kilham. (J. H.W.)

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