THE very best speech that could be made for Home Missions they would find in their own Report. Reports of societies were, as a rule, very useful things when a man could not sleep. If he would sit by his bedside and read a portion of one of the Reports usually presented he would be pretty sure to obtain a good night’s rest. But the Report just read seemed to have no narcotic quality. In listening to it he was quite awakened and quickened, and he hoped they would get the benefit of it in his speech. In writing such a Report Mr. Clifford had departed from all real precedent, and they might consider him a thorough Radical. What worse could they say of any man?
Let us hold a council of war to-night. I do not compliment you on the Report. It must be greatly improved. It would never do for churches belonging to a society, and pledged to support it, not to do so. One did not know what to do with such churches sometimes. It was very easy to get them to pledge, but they did not always redeem their pledges, which are so far like the pledges at the pawnbrokers with the sign of the three balls, which he had been told was two to one if ever anything came out again. It must not be so amongst them, but all promises must be faithfully kept, and exceeded if possible, and he would like to hear the Report another year in which it would be said that not one church had failed of its word. Some of the sums might be very small, but they were very acceptable. Little fishes were very sweet, and there was no nicer dish than whitebait. If they could not send up a sturgeon, a royal fish of one hundred pounds, let, them send a few pence or shillings, and the society would be glad to make a hearty meal thereon.
Now for the council of war. What had they met together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to contemplate? That was rather poetical, and in the region of high-flying still. They did intend this grand work by God’s grace — the saving of souls. At least, he used to think people had souls to be saved, but he had been informed that they had not got souls until they were saved. He did not believe it, but looked on every man as immortal, and would not care twopence about his salvation if he did not. If the heathen were dogs and cats let them keep so. If they were as the horse or the mule, let them keep as they were. He could assure them they would get no tears of sorrow from him, and no energetic action for their salvation. But the loss of an immortal soul was depressing, and might keep him sleepless on his couch, unless it awakened him up to lay his life down that; he might be enabled to save some. They did wish to save souls, and they did not go in for anything else. The preaching of fine sermons, or even the erection of fine houses in which churches can be gathered, was a very poor object compared with the winning of souls, the piling together of living stones into a spiritual temple for the habitation of Jesus Christ by the Spirit. They hoped to affect the whole world, for it was quite by the winning of souls, they thought, that every good, moral and spiritual, would come; for when a man is made a Christian he should be made to attend to the laws of health better, though he was afraid some of the members did not think as much of that as they should, and forgot the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” If they did or tolerated anything in their houses engendering disease, they virtually killed their neighbors and broke the law of God. But if a man can be made temperate, honest, to love his kind, and seek their good, it is to be done by saving his soul, for when his heart gets right, his habits, his family, and his neighbors will, through his being blessed, participate in the blessing. They consider themselves the best moral reformers that live, and the best political reformers, for the principles of truth, right, justice, and freedom must spread where the grace of God is put into the hearts of men. There would come an end of war, of slavery, of tyranny, of class legislation, if the great vital principles of loving God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves, shall be spread by the grace of God in the hearts of men. They had, therefore, a very high mission to purge this fallen world by turning the stream of loving waters flowing from the altar right through it. The Lord send a copious stream very speedily, for there was much need of it, and might they have some part in fashioning the channel along which the mighty stream might flow.
They went in also for the universal spread of Christianity. He hoped they believed in it. There was some miserable theory that the world is a great wreck, and that they could only pick a few poor seamen off it, and that all else must drift and go to pieces. He believed the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. He could not imagine that the great drama of human history would otherwise wind up, and that it could be possible that on the present lines the Eternal would admit that the world is not to be saved, and begin again a new dispensation. Nay, it was a great thing he should have chosen by human weakness to overcome all the strength of sin and Satan, and get to himself the victory. Would he give up the conflict as altogether disastrous, and begin again by something wonderfully physical — a material splendor among the sons of men? If it be so, he knows best, and all glory to his name; but he (the speaker) could conceive that throughout eternity it would redound more greatly to his everlasting praise to still continue to work as he has been working by his Spirit given to poor feeble men, who went forth to battle with the sling and the stone, and ceased not from the conflict until they came back with the giant’s head. Yes, the world for Christ and Christ for the world. They did conceive that their business had not only to do with time, but with eternity. A soul converted affects every golden street in Paradise, and shall not only affect every wave of time that shall pass over this globe, but affect yonder golden harps when they shall resound his praises. They expected to people heaven by their exertions, to crown the Christ of God by their honest endeavors to spread the glory of his cross. Theirs was an immense aim, not readily compassed even by the imagination. He liked a man to think he had a great work, or he would not be likely to put forth all his strength in it. Certainly never was such a work proposed to human mind and heart as the conversion of the world to Christ, that it may lie at Jesus’ feet and there sing his praises for ever and ever. This was what they expected to do.
He hoped, nobody there sought and made it the great object of his life to answer all the objections ever raised against Christianity. He was sick of objections. They had been answered so many times, and had sprung up again so rapidly. It had been well said — and he gave it, homely as it was — that “a fool can ask many questions which a wise man cannot answer”; and that had been verified. It was the business of fools to ask questions.
Let them continue to do so. It was the business of other fools to spend their lives in answering them. They belonged to neither class. The skepticism of most men was of the heart, and not of the head. They would believe if the thing suited them, but because it does not, therefore, they cannot believe; even as Christ said, “How can ye believe which receive honor one of another?” There was some sin lying at the door, some slavery; and being believers they would say to them, “We cannot help it; it is a hard stone on which you will stumble to your overthrow,” for “he that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned”: and we say it solemnly, without retracting one word of it, or in the slightest degree attempting to diminish its force. No, if you will not believe, you must perish; if you will not accept Christ, you must be lost. How can you be happy? how can you get right, and get things right with you, unless you first get right with the Creator of all things by believing and trusting him? Trying to answer every objection. was like the task of Sisyphus — for ever rolling a huge stone up hill, but it was constantly rebounding; or like that of the daughters of Danaus, trying to fill a bottomless tub with buckets equally bottomless. It was not to be done. If they would demolish the skepticism and “vigorous thought” of the present time, there were., thousands of men who would make as many objections again. Like spiders spinning, there was no end to it. They had something else to do besides sweeping away cobwebs. Let them walk through, scarcely noticing there were such things.
It was an age of taste. They did not hope to gratify everybody’s taste. They must not sing the praises of God unless they were great singers, or somebody in the choir would look down and frown. How dared they thus interfere? He went in for singing anyhow, so that the heart poured itself out before God. He thought God would accept his poor, growling music, if it be sincere, as better even than that sweet chorister’s voice if he was looking round the chapel all the time he was singing.
They did not attempt to gratify taste in the style of their sermons either.
They did not wish needlessly to offend, but taste was so strange a thing that those sermons which seemed as if they could not by any degree have offended a mouse, offended some critics. Let them break men’s hearts, not tickle their ears; get at their consciences, rather than give them what he had heard a sermon called, “a fine intellectual treat.” A fine intellectual treat is an abominable sin, and a great sermon is generally a great crime. To do anything on the grand scale, of what service was it? A French writer had said that poets were of no use whatever, for they never served either the church or the world; and they might as well play at nine-pins as write poetry. He hoped, by-the-by, that some of those who sent him poetry would take to that work. He did not care for the modern Miltons and Cowpers. The old writers were good enough for him. If, then, poets could not satisfy taste, how could poor preachers hope to do it? If even the poets failed, they had better not attempt it. No, let them go as the Lord helped them, and speak out of warm and honest hearts to the souls of men, Let them pluck their words up by the root out of the field, and not spend so much time in the conservatory making them up into grand bouquets, for perhaps they would not have half the scent and beauty about them of the wild flowers, or of the heather torn from its native soil. Seven-leagued boots were fine things to go in, but they did not fit him; he could walk better in the boots made to his own last. They did not, therefore, propose to go in for those grand things.
Neither did he think they proposed to obliterate all moral distinctions. So far as he could make out some of the most modern philosophical works on Christianity, every man was as good as another, only a little better. They would all get right at last he was given to understand, except the righteous perhaps, who seemed rather in a difficulty as to whether they ever would have everlasting life at all, because there was a question whether the word everlasting does mean everlasting in relation to their joy. he pitied the poor righteous. The ungodly seemed to have virtue as their advocate, and sin was rather cried up — at least it was said to be a very mitigated evil, soon coming to an end. He believed, however, that there was a great gulf fixed between righteousness and wickedness, and that men must still be born again. They did not, therefore, shade off their preaching like heat and cold on the thermometer. There was a vital and real distinction between men in and out of Christ;, and the distinction would continue, and this must be recognized in their prayers and teaching still, if they were to have men saved and brought to Christ. They did not want to slur over evil, but to get at the bottom of it as far as they could. God would have them preach against sin; not try to make the world into the Church, which would only end in dragging the Church into the world; but try to make a distinction between good and evil. Still he came back to this: — Their object was to save souls. There died a suicide about a fortnight ago; his body was dragged out of the Thames, and in his pocket was a letter, in which occurred the following words, “I greatly respect Jesus of Nazareth” — a great deal for a suicide to say — “I die safe, saved is ridiculous.” Really there had been a good deal. of teaching which looked like that. They believed in no safety apart from being saved. They believed in real loss, and in real ruin, and in real salvation; and their work was to go in for the latter, in the power of the Eternal Spirit, that men might be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of sin and Satan unto God.
That was the poetry of the work; now for the prose. How must they set about it? First they must set about it, and get into actual service. There was a great deal of sentimental godliness in the world, or what he was accustomed to call disembodied grace. It was a ghostly thing, He always felt pleased in trying to prick the bladders, and in fetching down these unsubstantial things. He dare say they had read the queer story about the appearance of the spirit of Daniel Webster. A cute Yankee put some tin tacks on the floor, which the spirit, when he began to tread, discovered, and at last; sat down and swore in the most celestial manner. They would meet sometimes with some purely spiritual brethren — very spiritual they were all spirit; and if one of the tin tacks of the Home Missionary Society, or of Foreign Missions, was put before them, up went the foot. If they got at them, and gave them something to do, or tried to extract a little metallic currency from their pocket, they sat down with that kind of celestial swearing which they might occasionally have heard when a brother was out of temper with them, and felt himself much better than they were — going about their work in such an ordinary common-place manner.
He had heard a great deal of religious talk about what was going to be done. And when he had heard it, and happened to knew of individuals who were doing nothing, being at meetings where it was also stated that twothirds of the churches represented did not subscribe to the Mission Fund, he was reminded of Dr. Johnson who received a Ladies’ Committee, appointed to wait upon him by a number of ladies who had read his “Rasselas,” to read a paper of adulation and praise for its composition.
The old gentleman listened to it, and then said, “Fiddle-de-dee, my good gals, fiddle-de-dee.” Had they, never themselves said a good deal that was fiddle-de-dee? Actually doing something for Jesus Christ was better than all the talking about it. Instructing one poor ignorant child, or cheering one poor faint-hearted believer, or sitting by the bedside of one poor dying saint and uttering a cheering word, was better than all the day dreams in which they sometimes indulged about what they would like to do and hoped to do. They must get at it if they wanted to save souls; they really must, in their Master’s name, put their shoulders to the Wheel. The man in the shirt sleeves was the man who would do it by God’s grace — not the gentleman in the kid gloves, especially lavender, Let them not be too nice about it, but get to work. What was wanted was personal service, if they were to achieve the grand purposes. Every one of them must endeavor to win a soul for Christ. Mr. Clifford used the editorial “We,” in his magazine, and he (the speaker) did the same, and he felt very grand when he said “We.” There (pointing to Mr. Clifford) was The General B aptist Magazine “We”; and here (alluding to himself) is The Sword and the Trowel “We “; and if they saw the “We” of The Times, who dealt with thunderbolts, very likely he was a very “Wee” man. They had a deal of that “we” in their churches. Reports said, “We have an excellent Sunday-school.” Perhaps they said,” We have good lay preachers societies.” Did they preach? No; we think a good deal of the Sunday-school. Had they ever visited it? Did they subscribe to it? Were they teachers in it? Perhaps to those questions no answer was given, and yet it was” We.” He would agree to the “we” where there was anything done. Of course the man who blew the bellows might say:, “We played finely.” That was all fair. Those good people who found the wind for the society ought to have a part in the “we” as much as the speakers. All could not be mouth. There was a denomination who believed in all mouth, and the result was a vacuum. Each one must do something personally. Each member of the body must take its own share in the organization of the body according to the intent of him who made that body. Only through personal service could they expect their great designs to be accomplished. And then there must be plodding, sticking to the work, going on with it. There were some souls who never would be brought to Christ by one entreaty, nor by two, nor twenty. There must be entreaty year after year in different ways, with many tears, if people are to be saved; and it was the Lord’s will they should be. Let them drive the Church before them, and drag the world behind them. They had their work cut out, and they would have to keep on and on. Sunday-school work was very pleasant for six months, but not pleasant, perhaps, for twenty-six years. Doubtless there were many veterans present who had been many years in it who, at times of depression, would have run away if the Lord had permitted them.
But, they must plod on; if it took millions of years before the world was converted they must keep on. He believed in the coming of the Lord, even that night he would be glad to see him; but he did not stand and open his mouth gazing for him. Blessed was the servant whom the Lord should find hard at work at his post. If they should not accomplish the work they would pass the banner on to their grandchildren, for Moses prayed, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.” They must work personally and individually, never ceasing until the work was done.
And they must do the, work then present before them. Did they ever find themselves inclined to bring the world to Christ there and then? Yes, that was very pretty and right, but it was poetry. To bring that one poor servant to Christ was prose — reality. That was the work of Christ. What splendid schemes they sketched on paper! He liked to see them on paper because he never saw them anywhere else. A better thing than scheming great things was to do little things, just the things they had to do; to teach the infants, or call at that little lot of cottages in the hamlet and leave a tract. Perhaps it was a work which would never get into the report, except the one above, which would be published one day and have abundance of readers, on that memorable day when all should hear it. Let them do the next thing — put their hands out and do the thing nearest to them. In large towns no one need inquire for work. They were lazy, or they would not ask. In God’s name let them get at it. Their time was short; their day could not be long.
There must be hard, plodding, persevering work, and it must be done very unselfishly if souls were to be saved. He had read a book about the art of sinking. He would liken the art of sinking to being nobody, for a man was never so big. The door-mat at the house of the Lord was the best article after all. If a man was willing to lay there and let all the brethren wipe their boots upon him it was a great thing to do; if any would be great, by being the least he should become the greatest. The mischief of the churches was that every one wanted to be the first horse. He supposed the General Baptists never fought? If they wanted a really respectable row in a church, a Baptist church used to be the place for it. They were so conscientious, that if a man did not see as they did they knocked both his eyes out by way of improving him. He thought, however, they had a better spirit now. They wanted plenty of backbone, but they wanted marrow in it. They must be nobody if Jesus Christ was to be all in all, and if anybody stood in his way he must come down.
They must also work hopefully. A crown was given to the man who never despaired of the republic. Let them give the crown to the man from the village church who never despaired of it. They need not despair if they did not; but when once despair entered a church that church might as well shut up its doors. Let them believe that though the squire and the parson were very big, yet God is. bigger still; believe that though the cathedral was very cold and very dense, yet the shadow of Jehovah’s wing was better far, and had more influence. There were forces against which they had to contend which they could not calculate. They were immense, and their own strength was little enough, all too little for such an enterprise. None but madmen would enter the work with it. But there was one who made their work both sane and safe. The Lord taketh part with them that help me, I shall look into the faces of mine enemies. There was no cause for fear when a man could say the Lord was with him. They must keep themselves up, and not let even a notification, that one hundred and twenty churches had not subscribed, damp their spirits. They would cheer them up until they expended a little more; and try and make them so happy that they could not help feeling they must have their honest share in the good work.
They wanted, too, more home-life godliness. London would never be reached by ministers. The people would not come to hear them. They saw the fustian jacket and the blouse only occasionally; he got a fair proportion of working men, but no proportion of those in London compared with what they ought to get. He knew district after district where not more than one man in the street goes to a place of worship, and everybody in the street knew him because he was so remarkable an individual. In country towns everybody goes, but in London the non-chapel or church going people were getting to be the dreadful rule. They could not get at them.
The only way was for their church members to live Christ at home.
Some people talked a good deal of the doctrines of grace, but directly one preached anything decided it was bigotry. Better, however, that, than not believing in anything, and give up everything worth retaining. They must have in the churches the real solid, down-right, up-straight people, who would not do wrong for the whole universe, who would not be, bought by all the soup at Christmas-time nor by all the attentions of the parish priest.
He knew some who followed the plough who were grand theologians, and knew the Scriptures by heart and life. They must have such people if ever the nation was to be permeated with gospel truth, and if ever they were to go through the toil. and achieve the wondrous purposes set before them.
Then, after all, true religion was God’s work. If there was any faith in the world, God gave that faith and wrought it in the men; therefore it did not come by any process of reasoning, and was not sustained but through the operation of the Spirit of God. If the work of God was within them, all things were easy to them, for he who could give faith could open blind eyes, could change hard hearts. They felt they could not do it of themselves, let them, therefore, fling themselves back on the Eternal. It must be done, for he never did fail, nor could he fail or be discouraged till he had set his kingdom in the midst of men.