I am happy to be here on this occasion to celebrate the long pastorate of my dear and venerated friend. There is so much involved in being fifty-five years in the same place, so much that does honor to the man, so much that brings glory to God. Think how the Lord has sustained him, how he has given him fresh matter to keep up the interest, how he has guided him in the direction of such a church as this, how his Spirit must have been with him, sustaining and blessing him in a thousand ways! We shall never know how much we owe to the grace of God. I suppose it will be one of the occupations of eternity to make discoveries of the amazing grace which God has bestowed upon us at times when perhaps we scarcely knew what was being done, how he has steered us away from the rocks, and guided us both by storm and calm into the desired haven. To God be all the glory.
I sat on Monday last by the bedside of one of my old members. I went to comfort her, for I heard she was ill; but, instead of comforting her, she set about comforting me, so that I went away rejoicing. She began in this way, “My dear pastor, I shall never be able to tell to any soul what I owe to you, both personally and relatively.” I said, “Now, do not talk about that.” She replied, “I will, for my former pastor, Joseph Irons, once preached a sermon upon the words, ‘King Solomon shall have a thousand, but they that keep the vineyard shall have two hundred,’ and that dear man of God said, ‘Give God the glory, give Solomon his thousand, but let his ministers who are keepers of the vineyard have their two hundred. Give them all the encouragement you can.’ Now (said she), that sermon did me good. I used to be afraid to cheer ministers and tell them what God had done by them, for fear that they should be proud; but from that sermon I learned that it was God’s business to keep them humble, and my business to encourage them.” Now, I must give God the thousand — blessed be his name! — ten thousand; but I should like to give my friend Toller his two hundred. I am sure he is not an ordinary man. No man of ordinary character could have remained for so many years in this place.
I do not think there was much intelligence in the people that originally chose him for a minister, nor in those that kept him, because I was going to say any fool can see he is a fine fellow. I am a very simple, natural sort of being, and I took to my dear friend Toller the first time I saw him. Whether he took to me or not; I cannot tell you. [Mr. Toller: “Yes.”] Well, he looked very much as if he did. Even dumb animals know kind people somehow, and though I am not dumb, I have the same feeling that they have, and I took to him directly. There is something about the man that attracts and nothing at all that repels, He is the positive, not the negative pole. I have had the pleasure of knowing some ministerial brethren who have had great gifts of dispersion. Only place them in a chapel that was as full as this, and they would secure admirable ventilation. Everybody would be able to have a seat, and perhaps, a whole pew to himself. Those brethren have the negative, or the repelling, quality very prominent. My dear friend does not seem to have anything of that kind; he has that disposition of kindness and love which attracts and retains.
But that is not all. Ira man keeps a congregation together long, he must have given them some food. When I was in Venice I saw the pigeons coming into the square at St. Mark’s in great numbers just about the time when the clock strikes two. I did not know anything about their habits, but I felt certain that they were going to be fed, or they would not come in such numbers. When I see people coming together for fifty years I am morally certain that they must have been fed, or they would not have continued to come. Have any of you tried what it is to keep up fresh matter, good matter, substantial gospel truth, and yet give it freshness for a year? Well, take fifty times that number of years, and think what it must be.
It is certainly a great feat, because the subjects that we have to handle are not so very numerous. True, there is a wonderful power of freshness about them of themselves, yet it is a feat to continue constantly to preach the same gospel to the same people, and yet to interest them; and interested I believe you feel. Your pews do not help your minister, I am certain, except that they prevent your going to sleep, for their backs are uncomfortably straight. Perhaps they were made so with that idea, and it raises my notion of Mr. Toller’s ministry to think that you have been able for fifty years to sit with your backs as upright as that. More of you would have gone to sleep, perhaps, if you had been more comfortable. My dear brother must have given you good matter to have kept you so long together.
When riding in Yorkshire a long time ago, and speaking to a good man in the carriage, he told me that he was a member of a certain church there. I said, “How are you getting on?” “Oh,’” said he, “our parson is a mooff.” I said, “What is a mooff’?” He said, “Well, there is one of our deacons who has a mill. One Sunday, when the people were going to chapel, they saw the mill was going, and so they said, ‘Hulloa! here is a Baptist deacon’s mill going on Sunday.’ However, it appeared that they had not turned the water off; so that the wheel was going round, and it went click clack, click clack, but, bless you, it was not doing anything. ‘Well, that is just like our parson; he goes round ‘click, clack,’ but there is nothing at all in it.” Then I understood for the first time what a “mooff” must be. People won’t continue for fifty years going to hear a muff, or, if they do, they must be muffs themselves.
I bless God for our dear friend, Mr. Toller, that during fifty years he has been enabled to feed his people, and so to behave among them that there has not been any sort of division. He says he has not had any personal encounter with anybody. Well, you must be excellent people to have lived in all this peace and quietness and happiness for so many years. I think something must be said for a congregation that has put up with anybody for fifty-five years. It must have been a good people, Mr. Toller, and you say they are. My predecessor, Dr. Rippon, used to say that he had in his church some of the best people in England, and some of the worst. Well, that is just my experience; I have got some of the best people in England — put that down in capital letters, then add in small letters small ruby type — some of the worst. Now, Mr. Toller fortunately seems not to have had many of the worst, but to have had some of the best people in England.
Dear friends, I say it in all seriousness, that a minister is very much in the hands of God what the people make him. I feel certain that there is many a man who is discouraged by unkindness, who might, if he had been in a warmer, happier atmosphere, have become very useful in the cause of God.
I get letters from churches wanting a young man to fill a chapel. I remember replying to one such application that I had not a man that was half large enough. How could I send them a man big enough to fill a chapel? Many asked me what I meant by it, and I said I had a notion that it was the duty of the, congregation to fill the chapel — that the minister could not possibly do it; but if they wanted a man around whom a congregation might gather that would fill the chapel, and if they meant filling it, I could find them a young man who would try and do his best to help them, but I always discouraged the notion that it was the minister’s duty to fill the chapel.
My dear friends, if you, in years to come, have a young man amongst you, do not say to yourselves, “He is not what old Mr. Toller was.” Do you expect to get a man like Mr. Toller? If you do, you will be mistaken. How can you expect a young fellow just starting to have all the knowledge and experience of a man that has been many years in the service? The proper thing to say is, “We will think kindly of him, we will speak kindly about him, we will do all we can to encourage him, and to get him a congregation.” If that were done, I have no doubt that many a chapel that is half empty now would soon be filled. Come to the chapel yourself, and tell your friends and acquaintances. Pick out the good bits of what the minister says, and tell your friends. Get your cousin to come, get your friend to come, and soon the house will be filled. A minister is, like other men, very subject to depression if things do not go quite right, and a cheerful word, oh, how it will help him! Did you never hear the story about the fireman in Gray’s-inn-road? Two years ago there was a fire there, and a fire-escape was put up to the windows. It was a little too short, so that the fireman could scarcely get at one of the windows, and he was about to leave a poor woman to die, for he felt that he could not save her. However, the people said, “Let us give him a cheer,” and they shouted “Hurrah!”
Then he thought he must do it, and he managed to rescue the old woman, and brought her safely down. “Ah,” said he, “if they had not given me that cheer I never should have dared to do it, for it was such a desperate thing.”
Every now and then a minister has something to do which seems a little beyond his power. Do you pray for him first, and then give him a cheer afterwards. That will stir his soul, and he will be sure, under God’s blessing, to accomplish what he had set his heart upon.
What a blessing it is to you at Kettering to be kept together all these years!
Fall out whenever you find that it will be for the glory of God to do so, but do not do it till then. Keep close together. What a blessing unity is!
Without unity what would be the best of preaching, and the best of organizations? Be as one man, heart and soul together, for many years to come, as you have been during all these years that are past.
I had a long talk with Mr. Toller this morning to get out of him all I could, and I asked him whether the people here were as liberal as they should be, and I think he said “yes.” I do not know whether he meant they were as liberal as they should be, but he said they were very liberal. You have always had that character. It is so with my own people. I sometimes tell them that I began early milking them, and they have got so much into the habit of it that they would feel uncomfortable if I left it off. My people are, in the habit of giving and supporting the cause of God liberally, and those who do so would be uncomfortable if there were not something to give to.
It is such a relief to them to feel that, in some little way, they can make a return to God to prove their gratitude. I believe the collection is the grandest part of any service; the apostle Paul thought so. You remember the grand chapter about the resurrection, where he finishes up by saying “O death, where is thy sting?” and so on. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Having got wound up to that pitch, he cannot say anything more than, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Then he seems to have felt, “Having got so far, having built up this temple all but the last stone, where am I to get it from?” Then he goes on to say, “Now concerning the collection, brethren?” That, you know, is the next verse. Oh, you say, but it is in the next chapter. Yes; but there are no chapters in the original, no chapters in the Inspired Word; they are merely divided as a matter of convenience, and so the phrase follows straight on. You smile, but there is a great deal in it, for when a person’s religion does not affect his pocket it is no religion at all. A man that says that he loves the Lord, and all that, and yet gives nothing to the cause of God, is a hypocrite. That poor, paltry money is often one of the best tests and gauges of the real spirituality of a man’s mind; therefore, I felt glad and thanked God when Mr. Toller said, “Yes, our friends have not lacked in that respect. They have given liberally of their substance to the cause of God, and still continue to do so.”
Now, dear friends, how can we celebrate this jubilee? You say, “We have had a sermon, we are going to have a meeting, and we are going to make a presentation.” The best, celebration I can suggest would be for every Christian to give himself more unreservedly to God, for every member of this congregation, who is still unconverted, immediately to seek salvation, so that you may be able to put down the date, and say, “Yes, I know when I found the Lord; it was at Mr. Toller’s jubilee.” Happy day! That would be a blessed celebration — why should it not be so? Jesus Christ is always ready, it is we that are unready. The “fountain filled with blood” is always open, but we are not willing to come. If we are, willing to come, we may come; if we really desire to be saved, there is salvation. We have but to lay hold on what God so freely gives. But I must not go beyond my time, as I have to be elsewhere, and others are waiting. God bless you, friends! I am most happy to be with you.