Mr. Spurgeon seconded the resolution — “That this meeting has heard with much satisfaction the Report now read, and while thankful to God for the rich and effectual blessing which he has bestowed on work of the Home Missionary Society during the sixty years of its history, has yet to deplore the need not only of continued but increased effort,” etc.
I am not conscious of having done anything to deserve your cheers, but I thank you for them all the same. I must confess, however, to a good deal of disappointment. When you were singing that hymn, I thought that somebody here had had an increase in his family, and that a ceremony in which you are all deeply interested was about to be performed, and I have been musing and meditating to discover whatever that hymn was given out for. In fact, I concluded that you had some naughty children, perhaps in your denomination, who had been crying a good deal, and that we were offering prayer for them. I am sure I sincerely join in the prayer concerning them, “Be thou their Friend and Father, their Savior, Guide, and King;” and I commend to some of them that they should themselves sing the third verse of the next hymn. I see all these hymns are for the young. I remember that Cruden, whenever he met with a young minister who did not believe in the doctrines of grace, made him a present of a :”Westminster Confession or Catechism,” which had on the outside of it, “For the young and ignorant;” and the next time you want to discuss this subject I would recommend you to sing, “Make an unguarded youth the object of thy care; help me to choose the way of truth, and fly from every snare.” I really think, brethren, you will then do very well, if, as Mr. Hebditch says, you are so thoroughly evangelical. I am happy to believe that you are, though I did not believe it till to-day. I have grown sorrowfully suspicious of a great many of you, and not without some cause, as I think. I am an impartial onlooker from the outside, except that I am wonderfully partial to evangelical doctrine; and inasmuch as you are so evangelical, and can say it, do say it. I always like to go on the policy of Cobbett, who said, “I speak not only so that I can be understood, but so that I cannot be misunderstood.” If ever there was a crisis in your history when I think you should do so, it has now arrived, and you may speak so that nobody in this world can misunderstand you, but all shall know that by the grand old truths of the gospel you stand as your fore, fathers did before you.
Well, still trying to find some mystical, spiritual reason for this little hymn having been sung, I afterwards discovered that it was a hymn which Mr.
Wilson wished us to sing on behalf of the new committee. The light dawned upon me that they were new comers, just taking up their new society, and I did feel it was a very delightful thing that we should ask that the Lord would seal for ever these, little ones as his own. I hope that the new-born society will grow up and be very strong. The organization is, as Mr. Morley says, perfect and complete, and I wish it success exceedingly abundant above what you ask or even think. Now, if I speak at all, I like to speak practically, and therefore I will come to the point.
The matter I thought of speaking upon was our Country Churches, for which we are all so anxious. If there is a point in which the weakness of our Independency shows itself it is in these small country churches, and this is constantly being brought against us. I myself often feel that the Presbyterian polity, or the polity adopted by the Wesleyans, has a greater adaptation for country towns than our own, but if I believe ours to be right, I do not care about want; of adaptation. I believe that somehow or other there must be some cog that has broken off a wheel, and we need not alter our polity, but should try to supply anything which is required where our principles do not work well. I believe there are many villages that find it difficult to support the ministry of the Word, but; where the gospel would be well kept up if we had some division of incomes, or some increase and augmentation to small incomes, after the manner of our Presbyterian friends. They have managed to evangelize all Scotland from its northernmost isle right down to the Tweed, and to maintain a ministry in :almost every parish by their methods of working. We cannot adopt their methods, I suppose, but we must aim at the same ends, and we will by God’s grace. We ought not to be ashamed to say that we feel any difficulties, or that our machinery does grind a little. I believe that it is a good thing to maintain our position as Dissenters most firmly, but sometimes we pick more holes in the Church than there are, and do not lay hold of the things that really are entirely bad; and occasionally when they touch what is a weak point with us we get a little angry about it. Let us rather say, “It is so, and we will try and mend it.” At present I think that is a weak point in our harness, and your plan will help to mend it. I plead to- day on behalf of the country churches. At all hazards they must be maintained in the greatest possible efficiency. If we leave hamlets and villages alone because towns appear to us to be so much more important, we shall fail in obedience to our Master’s command, who bids us “preach the gospel to every creature; “ we shall begin picking and choosing, which in his parable he never allows the sower to do.. but he is to sow his handful on the hard ground on the wayside as well as on the honest and good ground out of which the harvest comes. We shall be acting wrongly if we omit to care for the sparsely populated places, and I believe we shall also act very unwisely, because we shall then give occasion to the advocates of a State Church to say, “You see, the poor people of the villages are to be left altogether in heathenism, unless the State Church provides for them: the voluntary principle breaks down exactly at that point.” The voluntary principle cannot get blood out of gateposts; it cannot expect a people who are earning eleven or twelve shillings a week to support a minister. Poor souls, my marvel is how they support this mortal life at all with the wages some of the agricultural laborers earn. We never professed that the voluntary principle could make men give what they had not, and we must see to it that somehow or other we do provide for the poorer places and maintain a ministry suitable to the people in every village and hamlet throughout the whole kingdom. We must see to this, or else we shall indeed give cause to those who are on the opposite side to find just fault with us.
Moreover, I am persuaded that if we were to lose the work in the small country places we should lose from the larger churches some of their very best blood. Mr. Morley alluded to the heathenism of some of our large towns. It is very true, and I constantly notice with grief that we have a great number of our artisans and laborers in London who never go inside a place of worship, but the people who come, and are converted, are very often those that have come up from the country. The other afternoon I saw some twenty-five who had professed to have found the Lord, and one after another addressed me in such tones that I soon found the majority of them were persons who had attended the means of grace in country villages, and who, when there, never thought of being absent from the house of God. Of course, when they came to London they turned in to hear the Word of God preached to them. Our people in London are losing the habit of attending the house of God. That is not true merely of the poorer people, but out in the suburbs there are a number of persons whom you consider ladies and gentlemen, and who are so in position, who never go to a place of worship at all, and who live in such places somewhat more readily because they are not there under the bondage of a social custom that would lead them to the irksome task of going to the house of God. Well, if the country villages are not kept right, instead of having a pure stream of blood, as we now have, flowing to the heart of the country, we should have heathenism coming into it to swell its already awful sin. I thank God for your brethren in the country that you do send us up some fine young men. I wonder whether you feel as pleased to lose them as we do to get them. They come to London, and they are amongst our very best workers; and the ministers of the larger churches ought to feel that you are doing them grand service, and that they must return to you some token of gratitude for what you are doing. I feel sure that the country churches give us the sturdy backbone of our Nonconformity. I hope our London ministers are very sound Nonconformists, but the air is not so congenial to very strong speeches, because we get among very good friends, and having no Church rates to pay, and not having a squire — which is a great loss to us no doubt, — and feeling ourselves quite as good as the rector, and perhaps a little better, we do not get to feel the mind of the church as our friends do in the country.
But the black ox treads on the toes of our poorer brethren in the country very heavily sometimes, and they see in the denial of charities, in the habit of always boiling the Prayer-book up with the soup, and so on, various things which materially tend to keep them very sound in their Nonconformist principles. I believe a man is always the sounder for feeling a little of the weight of the whip upon him every now and then. Whenever there is a meeting of the Liberation Society, for instance, you can tell that a lot of the people came from the country by the loud “hear, hear.”
Welshmen, too — somebody said that everything was good that came from Wales; and our friends do really supply the very backbone of Nonconformity. I hope and trust, that for that reason, the greatest possible endeavors will be made by all our towns to maintain our country churches in efficiency.
I think, too, that our country churches contain some of the very soundest of our divines, and some of the very best orthodox members. “Well,” says one, “if that be so, it is because there is more ignorance in the country.”
Ah, I would like you to deal with countrymen, and see whether you will find any material ignorance among them. I wish that some of this so-called ignorance would wipe out some of the wisdom that we have in our towns.
You, gentlemen, sometimes hear about eminent scientific men. Now, some of the most eminent scientific men in England never sent a contribution to any magazine or paper, and never appeared in public. Every now and then they are disinterred, as one was by Mr. Smiles, in Banff, not long ago; and there are in our churches persons of remarkable attainments in different branches of science who remain faithful to the truth as it is in Jesus; and in my judgment — and I know something of country churches, taking them all round the members are as sensible and as shrewd as any congregations in the world, and have a great deal more common-sense titan they are sometimes given credit for. A man who has to work for his bread and cheese, when he goes to hear a sermon will have something solid, and soap-bubble blowing will not please him. He says, “All the week I am at work, and I don’t want my minister to make me work on a Sunday.” How many do break that commandment. You make a poor fellow turn over a big, long word fifty times to find out what it means, and so he has to work harder than he does all the week beside. And he knows you are breaking the Sabbath by making him work. He says to himself, “If that man understood what he was talking about he would make me understand it, but he, does not: he has gone down to the bottom of his subject, and has stirred up the mud, and he cannot see his own way out of it, nor can I.”
They will not go to hear that kind of thing. I know it is generally very young gentlemen who talk in that sort of way; but let a man have trial and considerable experience, and have to fight his way in the world, and I tell you on the Sabbath he want, the shew-bread and not the shew-stones; he wants the glorious gospel of the blessed God upon which his soul is fed, and nothing less will content him. I can point you to some country shopkeepers who are all the week busy behind the counter, but who oftentimes go five, six, or ten miles on a Sunday to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, without fee or reward. They are, at the same time, deacons, but they cannot attend their churches because they go out to preach; and they are the very best contributors to the funds of the church in proportion to their means, giving far more largely than some of the wealthy. If you go and take a cup of tea with them, you find they know what Nonconformity is very thoroughly; and if you just have a crack with them over theology, you will see if they do not understand whether man is fallen or not, whether they have not seen it in their children and felt it in themselves. If you ask. them about the atonement, see if they do not believe that. Ask them if they have seen the power of the gospel in converting men, and you will hear some things from some of them that you might not have beard if you had listened to a doctor of divinity, though I have an unbounded respect for every doctor of divinity. No, give me the old stamp of Christian after all, who knows his Bible and his own heart, and something of the power of grace upon his soul: and I am afraid you will very often have to go into the country to find that sort of people. A man said to me the other day, “I was a poor man once, and moved in quite another line of society. If half-adozen of us then met together, say twenty years ago, we used to talk about the things of God; but now, when I get on a Turkey carpet and into a very respectable house, it seems to be almost indecorous to talk about the things of God. Of course we talk together of such-and-such a minister, and pick his character to pieces — that is very good and profitable — and set up one man against another; but as to getting into the deep things of God, or talking about vital experience, how little there is of it.” I am afraid that the wear and tear of London life, and the going about to various meetings, may very often tend that way. Our country friends have not so much to do. The wear and tear of society, and town life, distract people; and they do not grow so deeply instructed in the things of God. May our country churches always furnish us with a contingent of sound divines, who will come up to London and set the London fellows right when they get wrong, though I believe in this particular instance the London brethren have been found faithful through and through. The Lord grant they may be so found even to the end.
One speaker has told us that the countryman will not take in Ritualism, and that is true, but he will not take in Rationalism either; he has a means of casting out both if he be, indeed, an instructed servant of God. Because you will find that some of your ablest ministers have come from the country, because some of your ablest Christians in all ranks of society first of all learn the name of Jesus in some rustic village sanctuary, therefore keep these places going with all your might. What is to be done to keep them up to the mark? Dear friends, there must be a large expenditure of money to help the country churches just now. I have in connection with the Metropolitan Tabernacle Colportage Society eighty-six brethren working as colporteurs, and we have had them up to London lately, and the reports I had from them were very, very sad. I think from almost every part of England the information was that many people were out of work, and that great distress prevailed. “How can I sell books?” said one. “Why, the people cannot even find bread: there, are hundreds and thousands out of work, and they have, in some cases, to tell their pastors, “We cannot possibly maintain you.” Some two hundred miners had contributed to support a colporteur, but they were obliged to say that they could not do it any longer. Now, there ought to be this year an extra expenditure upon the poorer ministers of the country; they will greatly want it just at this time. I labored under the delusion that you, dear brethren, of the Independent denomination, were very wealthy; but my dear wife; undertook, some time ago, to assist poor ministers, and she told me the other day, when I was looking over her books, that she believed the Independent denomination had more poor ministers than any other, with, perhaps, the exception of the Primitive Methodists. One reason why we do not know so much about your struggling men is, that you have a habit of having some men who really are pastors of churches, but are not down in the list as pastors at all.
They are, I suppose, paid by some county association, and if they were Baptists they could come up and say.,” We will attend the county association as well as anybody else..” And I would back them up. But some are very badly paid. I have heard of one, with six or seven children, who says he cannot find clothes for them, and does not know where to apply for help. He has been helped, but the help has been totally insufficient. I do trust that in this special time of need you will use double efforts to prevent the servants of the Lord from knowing any lack. Oh, that we could help all the poor, but especially those who are devoted to our Master’s service, and are our brethren in the ministry. They must have help, and especially just now. I do not know whether your society is going to do it, but it lies upon my heart to recommend it — to send to the country churches evangelists to preach to them. Choose out two of the best men in your denomination, and send them into a district for a month; get their churches to give them up for a month, and let them stay in a district and work up a series of earnest meetings, and the blessing it would be to humbler brethren who are laboring there no tongue can tell. I am sure that if some of the distinguished brethren whom you have in your midst would go into a country town and stay there, and work even for a week, it would give to your cause an impulse such as hardly anything else would give. I thank God for the work that was done by Messrs. Moody and Sankey, and I am thankful for a good deal of irregular effort that has been put forth. But I devoutly wish that we had such effort in a regular manner, and that we had men officially recognized as evangelists who would go right through England from end to end and stir up the people. A brother who can sing might go with a brother who can preach, for there is wonderful power about the singing. We are not to follow one standing rule, but really, when a brother has the gift of doing it well and tenderly, it often is a great means of attracting persons who otherwise would not attend.
We are always forming new committees and altering our machinery. I always speak tenderly of a committee: I almost feel as if I could fall down and worship a committee. There is a kind of idolatry that comes over my soul when I think of committees, though I am afraid it is idolatry, for “eyes have they but they see not.” I will not go on with the parallel. I beg to retract any observations I might have made that look like a want of deference to committees. I believe in committees, but I think that they should consist of three, and — two of them should stop at home.
Something will be done on that occasion.
Dear me, we of the Baptist denomination and you of the Independent denomination have been tinkering away for everlasting. We have always had the man with a little bit of fire and a soldering pot mending up our old things; now let us boil something in the pot — make some soup, do something. After all, what have our missionary societies done? A great thing, but compared with what our Lord. deserves, what a small thing it is.
God help us to get at it by some means, and that plan of sending out leading men who have influence and power to evangelize, strikes me as likely to produce great results in our country churches. But we must cultivate what is wrongly called the” lay” talent. You must entourage us laity to speak. You gentlemen, with the white neckties, let us lay-men have our turn. We have unbounded reverence for you of the clerical order in general, but at the same time there are a good many in our congregations who could preach almost as well as the ministers. Turn them out; do not let the fellows stay near you; turn them out. If a man comes to hear a minister preach a hundred and four times in a year, when he could do almost as well himself, and can criticize the minister pretty sharply, turn him out, make his seat uncomfortable. I know ways of putting gun cotton and dynamite under such brethren. I cause the cap to be so accurate a fit, that the brother very naturally puts it on. I owe very much to the opportunity I had at Cambridge of preaching in the villages in connection with the association of lay preachers. Might not many of our stations be just as well occupied by a brother who is engaged, as Paul was, tent-making all the week. Some of us, I am afraid, will never be able to rise to the dignity of earning our livings as well as preaching the Word. I sincerely wish we could, for it is a most respectable thing. Paul did it. I have never been able to rise further than our Lord, who was dependent upon his disciples. I want classes for young men to speak in. Opportunities to talk will do them good. “Oh, but they are fast enough already,” you say; well, give them rope enough. Why, oftentimes a pastor trying to keep a young man silent reminds me of this little country trying to keep the United States under it. Of course it could not be done, it was unnatural. Zwingle once said “In the name of the Holy Trinity, let all loose.” “Oh ! but they are ungrammatical!” “Never mind; people get to heaven ungrammatically.” “But they might not understand the doctrines.” “All right; they will learn them while they are preaching them.” Let every bit and shred of ability be used, and then God will bless us, and we shall see our denomination becoming strong and yet stronger in the midst of the land.
The last point is the one to which I attach most importance, and that is, that we do maintain with all our might, spiritual power. Brethren, I think some spiritual power is lost by many of our preachers not preaching in the English language. I have always felt that the use of the Latin tongue in public worship was not desirable; but some of my brethren are not of that opinion, for they use a very large quantity of Latin. There are half-a-dozen sets of languages in this country, and there is a certain stratum of language which is nearly all Latin, and that happens to be the peculiar lingo of a large number of my brethren. Depend upon it, our power over the masses will be in our speaking so that we can be understood. They make fearful blunders over what we say when we speak plainly, but if we use hard words they will not know what we mean. We must try and cut long words right in halves, and when we have done so we must burn the two pieces.
Take the common Saxon tongue. “But we should be vulgar,” says one.
Well, be vulgar. They used to make the sponsors at baptism promise that they would see that the child was instructed in the “vulgar tongue,” and we have to make the people comprehend the gospel, not to reverence us for our Latin. We have got to bring them to Christ, not to Lindley Murray.
A French dinner is very nice indeed, but some of us do want a cut of roast beef. So it is, I think, with some preaching. “There now, it’s wonderful,” and you stand and look on like Manoah while the angel performs his wondrous feats, but he is gone, and there is nothing left. Once, after hearing a very fine sermon, I felt like the Primitive Methodist after a dinner with the squire. The squire asked him to return thanks. “Lord, we thank: thee that we do not have such a good dinner as this every day in the week, or else we should be ill.” People want good, plain, substantial fare, to be well fed. The way to make strong Christians is to feed them well; let them have good spiritual food, and then we shall rear good, strong backboned Christians. We have got enough jelly-fish now. You have heard of the Hard Shell Baptists. I am not one of them myself; but for all that, I would rather grow a shell as hard as steel than be molluscous. I want to get to Christ, and not to be ever fighting about who he is and what he is. I want to get to his table, and sit down there, and enter into fellowship with him. We must fight. It is our duty to do so, but it is a great blessing when we get over all that, and just get into the house and enter into communion with our Lord.
May the Church arrive at that stage, and may the dew of heaven rest upon you.