« ZurückWeiter »
Sabbath-school Teachers, whose care it is that in "the sweet hour of prime," those children who have become entitled to the external privileges of the Church, shall be religiously instructed, and, by a judicious discipline, formed to religion and virtue. They have persons who hold social meetings for prayer and exhortation, among people who would never enter church or chapel; and they carry in their censers, into the midst of this moral malaria, the only remedy provided for the plague. Their Class-Leaders gather the diseased, yet hopeful, into the hospital, tend them with the affection of a nursing relative, and deal with their diseases and wounds with the decision and care of those who are skilled by experience both of the ill and the cure. It is the province of these persons to watch over the morals of those in their charge, so as to be able to report to the Minister any serious failures; and to instruct them in things pertaining to the spiritual life. They have Local Preachers,-lay helpers in preaching the word, before alluded to,-who permeate a district with saving truth, so preached that the most illiterate may learn the way to heaven. They have, moreover, various offices of stewardship and trust, connected with the financial and economical affairs of a large body, which do not require spiritual gifts, but which are yet of incalculable importance to the sustentation and well-working of so vast a machinery. They find persons for all offices, even those which involve considerable pecuniary responsibilities; and others who are willing to sacrifice a portion of that time which might be productive of wealth, or be enjoyed in the pleasures of home, or of literature and science, in order to attend wearisome Committee Meetings, which in their progress involve most anxious thought, while their results are often comprised in a few sentences or figures.
Why should not the Methodists fully occupy the field before them? Does not their whole history afford them prestige? Are not their triumphs on the page of every county which they have fairly occupied? Has not their success among the colliers, and all masses of population, been glorious, and acknowledged even by their enemies? They have a wonderful system of religious agency, formed for aggression. Why not perfect it by separating a class of Ministers who, by their fervour, by their combined courage and discretion, and by their mental habits, are obviously fitted and called to the work of enlarging the Church by entering the waste places? Let these, both in the larger and smaller towns, evangelize a destitute neighbourhood; partly by their personal labours, and partly by gathering together a number of lay agents, who shall act under their direction, work on system, and augment both the congregations and the Churches. Domiciliary visits, the distribution of tracts, short addresses, a vigorous canvass for scholars, both for weekday and Sabbath schools, and judiciously conducted open-air
The Claims of Large Towns.
services, would bring Gospel truth to bear directly upon the masses of our ignorant and irreligious population. This must be done by the right class of men,-men of warm hearts, and able to suit their style to their audience. The doctrines of Methodism, the character of its agents, and the spirit which generally marks its worship, all fit it for the work; and its practice of finding employment for every convert, as a means of confirming grace, gives it great advantages.
The call of Divine Providence is obviously to large towns, and the most densely populated parts of the country, after the example of the Apostles and the early Churches. Here is felt the influence of a denominational yet catholic rivalry; and here the greatest wickedness, the greatest facilities, and the greatest results, are found. There is more acuteness of intellect, and there are more opportunities of repeated and systematic efforts, and more means of gathering the results. All souls are of equal value; yet all conversions are not so. In large towns there is the greatest probability of immediate success; agencies are quick and powerful, and the good is cumulative.
The increase of the population in our great cities and towns is upwards of three times the rate of the increase of the whole kingdom, and more than four times that of the agricultural parts. On these, therefore, let the Methodists expend a greater amount of cultivation. The villages need the light of the Gospel as much as any other portions of the country; and their system is admirably adapted to its diffusion; but it must not be to the damage, and at the expense, of the towns, and of the masses of our population. They need not lose their glory of village preaching, but they may increase it by strengthening their town work. From thence they are to obtain those supplies which are the sinews of war; and they will be better able to sustain the discursive warfare of their itinerancy by having strong Churches as the base-line of their operations. They have not done their work. They cannot be spared from the ranks of diligent and successful labourers. They have not lost their original character, and during late years have furnished more than one astonishing instance and illustrious example of noble and self-denying liberality for the extension of Christianity,-examples which, like their early labours, have had a powerful indirect influence upon other Churches.
And why not lay the claims of our own country more distinctly before their people? A quarterly periodical, presenting ample and authenticated statements of the moral and religious condition of localities, with the allowance of full credit and prominence to the labours of other Churches; detailing the exertions already made to meet these wants; showing the need of further aid; recording instances of success; suggesting modes of useful
action; and appealing for help,-would most certainly have a powerful effect upon a people so eminently missionary in their spirit. A small Committee to regulate grants in aid for both ministerial and lay service,-and, still more, to afford counsel and encouragement to the often disheartened labourers,-would accomplish great things in a few years. The system of giving grants, cold and dry, without a correspondence, or with a correspondence that is merely formal, distant, perfunctory, often chills the recipient. Let the heart of a brother pulsate in the official communications,-the voice that cheers and encourages, and counsels that are not merely authoritative, but affectionate,and a mighty impulse would be given to every department: weak stations would be strengthened; the care of large families would be lightened by an augmentation of salary; and Methodism would be strengthened at home, where she needs it, and be better able to prosecute those Missions which are her undying glory. Facts of the most encouraging character would rapidly accumulate; a deep interest in the home-work would be excited; and a mighty power, now slumbering in the Church, would be made manifest in spiritual conquests.
If it be inquired, How is a Church, already burdened with so great a pecuniary pressure, to attempt so mighty a work? we ask again, What is needed? Have they not already a "Contingent Fund," the great object of which is to furnish help to poorer Circuits? It is true that a portion is applied to meet contingent expenses; but let that portion be separated, and the amount of it lessened. Those Circuits need only to make out their case, and the supplies will meet the demands. A few public meetings, to give the key-note to such a people, would kindle the enthusiasm of a Church notorious for its willingness, and equal to many in its means.
The object here contemplated is essential to Methodism. She cannot afford to let her home work decline. This is primary and vital. All other things depend upon it. Here is the mighty heart which must send forth its pulsations to the ends of the earth. Her home work must be sustained. All her Ministers and people must be made to feel this; and this once settled, necessity and Christian zeal will drive them to the proper means of sustaining what is vital.
One real source of weakness is the scanty salary that many Ministers obtain. We are no advocates for pampering Ministers of the Gospel with the genteel patronage and ill-advised kindness of mere partiality, or with large incomes; but every faithful Minister, giving up all worldly gains, and living amidst a prosperous people, is entitled to a supply, not merely of necessaries, but of comforts,-to whatever is not detrimental to his spiritual efficiency. But many, to our certain knowledge, are without what is needful for themselves and families; and are distressed
The Suburban Christian.
and weighed down by caring for this life. Indeed, it is notorious that no men are so ill-paid as Ministers. Surely it cannot be known to Christians of ample resources, or they could not expect their Pastors to bring their whole souls into the work of ministering to their spiritual welfare. These remarks do not apply to any Church in particular; and of this we are sure, that the Methodists, as a body, would rejoice to see the scale of allowances to their Ministers improved. There has been an attempt of this kind in America, and their salaries have been generally raised as much as one fourth.
An evil has arisen,-as the result of that worldly prosperity which religion generally secures,-which now afflicts all the Churches in our large towns, but for which it would be difficult to devise a remedy, the more influential members leaving the town, and residing in the country. They are thus uncertain in their attendance at their places of worship, and frequently do not purpose to attend more than once on the Sabbath; and this is in itself, and especially in its influence and tendency, an immense evil, especially in families. It shuts them out from the week evening and other social means of instruction and edification. It deprives the Church almost altogether of their active service in Committees, and other spheres of useful influence. The complaints of this evil are very great; but how can it be remedied? It is the privilege of wealth, and the hope of all who are in the way to wealth; and the condition of things in the Church is such, that its work cannot be sustained without money; such is the largeness and number of the schemes of religious action, that rich men have become necessary. But the worldly success which gives them the means of suburban residence and superior enjoyments, brings with it no release from the obligation to personal labour and sacrifice, but rather an increased responsibility. The whole question of lay agency turns upon this: is it personal and universal? or is it transferable? May a Christian be excused from painful or inconvenient personal service, by pecuniary contributions, or the loan of his influence? We conceive not; none can be excused, nothing can excuse any one but inability. Service, real and personal service, is an obligation imperative upon all and each. It is the law of the Master, and the delight of the true servant. The best days of the Church will be when laymen devote to the Church a due proportion of their time as well as property. These duties are untransferable. Neither position in society, nor fastidiousness of taste, nor disgust at humbler associates, nor offence at the grossness of vice or the squalor of poverty, nor fear of contempt, or rebukes, or opposition, can excuse a Christian man from some personal, and even self-denying, service.
But we fear the practice is too generally to transfer duties to
official persons, and especially to Ministers, which neither by reason nor by precept belong to them. The secularities of the Church fairly belong to the laity; and yet, if not attended to by Ministers, generally they will not be attended to at all. How large a portion of the moneys to be raised for various departments must be gathered in by them! and although the management of Funds is not exclusively left to them, yet they have constantly to "leave the word of God to serve tables." The tendency is to lower the moral tone of ministerial character, and to hinder their great work, both by the absorption of their time, and by a dissipating and deadening effect upon their ministry.
A great defect in the action of the Church is superficiality. In many departments the value of the work done is estimated by its apparent amount, by the surface covered. In some religious societies this is avowed: for example, in some City and Town Missions, the number of visits is the main criterion; and where the rule is not declared, this is a chief consideration in estimating the value of their agents. The tendency, and sometimes the effect, is, that a large portion of the work is performed perfunctorily. This is mere machine work: the Church wants agents. Moral impressions are not ordinarily made at the first stroke: the work of the chisel upon marble must be long continued before the beautiful form is evolved. When the seed of truth is to be sown, time must be taken to plough deep, and to put in the seed with care; and the patient husbandman must wait for the latter and the former rain. It is not enough to put a tract into a house, or to speak a few words of truth, and pass Men must be won; they must feel the kindness of heart in the speaker. They want to state their objections, and to have their difficulties removed. Arguments and appeals must be reiterated until they are felt. The coldest iron may be made hot by continued hammering. The most arid soil will generally repay persevering culture. We are persuaded that if less were attempted, more would be effected; if religious agents would have patience to cultivate a smaller patch of ground, by the • slower process of what we may call spade husbandry, they would see more fruit, and have a richer harvest. There is no real gain, where there are no decided individual results; and the permanent recovery of one sinner from the error of his ways, is a fact which tells through a neighbourhood, and for a long season.
The gravest suspicion, or rather fear, that we would indicate as to the Churches of our land is, that their doctrinal views, and therefore their spirit, are not thoroughly evangelical: we refer to the doctrine of divine influence. Its reality, necessity, and fruits may be, are, held as points of faith; but they have not great practical force. All is evangelical, in the Churches of which we speak, concerning the work of our Redeemer. The