MODERATOR, Brethren, and Fathers in Christ — I have, first of all, by your permission, a message to deliver to you from the church of which I have the happiness to be the pastor. Knowing that I should have the honor of speaking to you, they begged me unanimously to bring to you their cordial Christian salutations, not merely because of our being one, as we are, in Christ Jesus, but because they regard you as being a strong, living, and powerful testimony to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ in his church. Many of them recollect your struggles — your noble struggles and heroic sacrifices — and they rejoice to see that all these have been abundantly rewarded, and that you are now a church free as the air, and deserving to wear the name by which you call yourselves the Free Church of Scotland. There are, moreover, certain doctrines dear to you which we enjoy with a peculiar zest; and while we are called, notwithstanding difference in doctrinal sentiments, to receive into the embrace of Christian charity all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, our souls may, I think in all sincerity, give an extra hug to those who hold those grand truths which are precious — equally precious — to us both. Though we have not been called to maintain those truths as you have been, by trials peculiar to your church polity, we have had to maintain the same distinctly Calvinistic truth by struggles which have rooted and grounded us in it. We are glad when we see our brethren more numerous than ourselves across the Border giving forth a louder sound — not, I hope, a clearer sound — than we do on the grand doctrines of salvation by sovereign grace. May you prosper in your upholding of the old banner for many, many years to come; and may God be with you and bless you.
I am glad to be here, and the only regret I have is that I have shortened the speeches of the brethren who addressed you, and who are more adapted by experience to speak to you upon your own Home Missions than I am. The significant circumstance is, that I am here as a Baptist. You have seen the shepherd gather the sheep from the hills — gather them into one flock, just when the storm was; coming on. Here, I think, the Shepherd of Israel is gathering us together, for doubtless a storm is lowering. We may hear his voice calling “Come ye closer together, and confess yourselves to be one flock, for the time of tempest is near.” The Captain seems to say, “Close your ranks, my soldiers: let every man draw nearer to his bother man;” and if some of you do not belong to the same regiment,, still let all strive as brethren to get close together, and nearer yet to the common standard. I can remember, some years ago, when I was in Scotland, in coming hither we came to a certain water which divided the two countries. We passed it so rapidly that it scarce made any difference at all. I hope that our different views upon baptism may be no more a formidable barrier to communion. I have gone from Scotland to England in former years, and when we passed the boundary my luggage was a little rudely shaken before I entered England. My countrymen were afraid of my taking with me a more fiery spirit; than I should be allowed to carry. I have never had my bags shaken in coming this way; you were not afraid of my bringing among you the water in which I take delight. I can now go back, and hope, without being overhauled for it, to take with me some of your strong spirit. I need not explain that I do not mean whisky, but some of your stern, strong spirit of orthodoxy and firmness which I think infinitely better. And now that I am here, I have to offer to those who have come to listen this double apology, that what I wanted to say has been already said to a great extent, and what I may yet say may be tinged by southern ideas gathered from my own experience, so that they may not seem suitable to be carried out by brethren here; but there are certain broad principles upon which I am sure we shall be agreed.
Home Mission-wor k, or, rather, Church-work — What is the object of it ? I shall not find many dissentients when I say that the great object of it is to testify the gospel of the grace of God to every creature, in order to the bringing out and perfecting of the chosen. There is a general, and a special, object. We are to go abroad and cast the net into all waters, that we may bring out as many as God may be pleased to call. We assert that we intend, as Christian warriors, to take the whole world by storm for the Lord Jesus.
We lay no limit to our ambition. It is a universal monarchy which we are endeavoring to establish. We do not believe that a single foot of ground among the mountains, however high or barren, is left for Satan’s undisputed range; we do not believe that any wynd, however narrow or dark, is meant to be a den for the Prince of Darkness. Not a single patch of the world’s field is to be left waste. We are to seek to gain every family to Christ, and every soul in the family, making all men know that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We shall be at one, then, in holding that the great end and aim of Home Missions is to testify the gospel to every soul, that thereby eternal purposes may be accomplished. We should take into consideration constantly the immense value of one single soul. It was Richard Knill, a blessed missionary of the cross, who said that, if there were only one person in the whole world unconverted, and if that person lived in the wilds of Siberia, and if every Christian minister, and every private believer in the world must make a pilgrimage to that spot before that soul were brought to Christ, the labor would be well expended if that one soul were so saved.
This is putting the truth in a striking way, but putting it in a way in which every one of us will concur. And so we must not leave any one of these neglected families that exist amongst as, but every one of them must be made to hear the blessed story of the gospel. Let us never rest until we have achieved that. I wish also that you should be reminded of the singular hopefulness of the hopeless class. If we will go down into the moral wildernesses, earnestly seeking fruit for Jesus, it is wonderful what rich clusters we shall find. When divers plunge down deep into the sea, they bring up glistening pearls; and such certainly are the rewards of the churches that toil earnestly in mission work. Their reward will be infinitely greater than their toil — their joy will be as that of a woman who forgetteth the pain of her travail for joy that a man is born into the world.
The church often finds its strength amongst the poor, its peers and nobles amongst those who were the slaves of Satan. We have a rough old English proverb, that reclaimed poachers make the best gamekeepers. And certainly such reclaimed sinners often make the best instruments in the hands of God for the salvation of others. These men, if they have been ringleaders in the devil’s service, will know best how to deal with those who are still held in bondage by him. Mr. Layard, I have no doubt, started with delight when he first brought to light the Assyrian marbles — when he first uncovered the head of the colossal bull; what a higher joy and excitement, dear friends, it must be when we find immortal souls not only saved themselves from the terrible state in which they were sunk, but also becoming the instruments of introducing others into the family of grace. If you do not win for Jesus what are called the lower ranks, your work will fall to the ground. I believe I am historically right in saying that wherever the Reformation was carried on only, or mainly, by the nobility, it did not succeed. You hear much of Anne of Bohemia, but you do not hear of the peasant people of that country largely taking part in the work of the Reformation; and where is the gospel in Bohemia now? The Spanish nobles also took the most active part in the work in Spain, and though there were noble martyrs among them, the lower class did not take part in the work; and where is it now? But in the Reformation in Scotland, under John Knox, it was not only the lords of the congregation, but some of the peasants were the first to draw their blood to sign the Covenant, and the work then begun stands now. You have in the midst of you still John Knox’s house, and the house, though not now in an aristocratic neighborhood, would not be on that account, I daresay, objectionable to honest old John. He would be as glad to preach the gospel to the dwellers there as to those in your new town. The spiritual interests of those on that side of the town would be as clear to him as the spiritual interests of those in the highest, circles in the land.
You must, dear friends, see that the subjection to this kingdom of Christ is entire; you are marching like warriors, and must not leave a single fort behind unconquered. We have little to fear in front. We have turned the battle, and are trampling down the foe; but we must protect our rear. We profess to be united in a glorious cause, but if any turn traitors to it, they will find adherents among the unconquered ones — those you have left behind unconverted; those who do not know the truth in the love of it.
Those who once get Christ into their hearts will not part with him; by the grace of God they shall be kept unto the end, but these dark places of the earth, especially the dark places in higher circles, will become the den of the wild asses of infidelity, and the haunt of the dragons of heresy. The necessities of this age demand you to push your missionary operations with the greatest; possible diligence. When the pestilence breaks out it is in those streets that are narrow and uncleansed, and the pest of false doctrine will certainly break out where Christian teaching has been neglected, I care not whether in high circles or low. Our churches south of the Tweed had need to be up in arms against popery. I could hardly imagine that you need fear its coming hither. When I walked through the ruins of your abbeys I fancied the nests had been so effectually pulled down that the birds could not come back again; and if they be built again, if you do not pull them down in a literal sense, you will down with them in a sense far from metaphorical, even though it be spiritual. But there may be danger; popery is ready armed at all points, and spreading its agencies in all quarters, and if you do not oppose it by the sound teaching of the gospel, you will find it gaining upon you. If you do not care for the poor of the flock, they will care for them; if you grow careless and fold your hands, you will find that the bishop of Hades never sleeps. He is a ploughman that ploughs to the end of the field, and never rests until he has ploughed it again and again, and sowed and reaped his deadly harvest. Be in earnest. But there seems to be something worse than popery not honest enough to come fairly forward for us to do battle with it. Would it assume a shape, we should manage to overcome it. It twists and winds itself round about; it insinuates doubts; it does not profess to hold these doubts; it propounds new theories, merely as if for diversion’s sake, or in the cause of liberty; it is a bigot for charity; it hates your bigots, it would burn your bigots; it would hang your bigots.
Your only chance, I say, of meeting latitudinarian laxity is to remain firm by the gospel of Christ Jesus. There is an argument used by Mr. Gladstone in his speech when he proposed a reduction of the national debt which I venture to yoke into the service. He said for the benefit of posterity. Well, may posterity get much benefit out of that portion of the national debt which we are about to discharge. But posterity ought to be considered, for if somebody had considered posterity in the ages of the Reformation, and taken a little more of the gospel into those valleys in your Highland where Romanism prevails, you would have had the benefit of it now. No doubt it was more difficult to travel there than to those other places where the gospel was carried; but if that additional trouble had been taken, you would not have been troubled with popery there now. And so in the case of your wynds and similar places. If more effort had been spent upon them in days gone by, you would have been saved the mischief which these threaten to you. In regard, then, to all these, you have always to remember the saying of the apostle, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” I cannot ask the Moderator to put this to the house, whether it be accepted that we must regard it as our home mission work to testify the grace of God to every creature, in order that we bring out and strengthen all the chosen ones of God; but if we can actually carry it out, there will be joy on earth, and glory in the highest.
But now that we have said what the objects of home mission work should be, — Who are the missionaries? Pardon me if I say that I will suppose myself rather speaking to my juniors than to you. The first of home missionaries must be the ministers of the church. It will be of no service to us to talk to our hearers and tell them what they ought to do, unless, first and foremost, we do it ourselves. The commander who shall sheathe his sword and say to his soldiers, “On, my brave lads, on,” will never take the stronghold; but he who cries “Come on,” and carries the flag ahead of his men, is the man who will win the day. We must do all we expect our people to do, and a great deal more. The age in which men are to be led on by mere official dignity is over. I fear you misjudge what I mean. I am sure it is over here. The age of officialism is over all the world over. The Christian church, and the world too, gives the dignity not; merely to the office but to the man who deserves it; and if there were no other proof, there is one here (turning to the Moderator’s chair). I could find in Scotland half-a-dozen ministers — I am not very uncharitable in saying that, I think — who might wear your robes, who would command very minute respect, and who, if they were to address the Assembly, would be very gifted in that style of oratory which I have heard as belonging to some one who was said to have a great gift of dispersion. If I find myself in any difficulty in what I say, will you all relieve me by putting a good construction upon it:, for I must venture into the deep again. The year in which a professor commands the respect of his class merely because he is a professor is not the year 1866. The respect is obtained by his learning and ability, and not by his position. And, in like manner, the day in which a minister commands the respect, by the mere fact of his being a minister, has gone; he will only get it by being fit to be a minister and giving full proof of his ministry. Some will try it; but we cannot go into our pulpits and stand there and say to our hearers, you ought to listen to us and do what we bid you, and we will give you no other reason than our official position. No; we must say. I ask you to be liberal, for I am liberal as far as I can. We ask you to be prayerful, and we endeavor to be prayerful; we ask you to consider your own souls, and you will see every Sabbath how we value them. We ask you to value the souls of others, and we will show you our concern for them. We must see to it that, as Christian ministers, we in everything go first in holy work. Richard Baxter says, “If there be any minister who finds the ministry to be an easy position, God forbid that I should stand in his place at the day of judgment.” If you are doing the work of a minister of Christ, you will agree with me that of all toils none is like ours, for we work in our sleep, we dream about our work, and we do indeed find it our meat: and our drink, our joy and delight, yet sometimes our burden, the burden of the Lord crushing us to the dust. If a man can play with the ministry he had better be away from it; if he can find he has any spare strength after he has done his ministerial work, he has mistaken his calling. The working of your Home Missions must depend very much on the pulpit. I was sitting over there yesterday when this house seemed to shake with a terrible sound. I soon perceived what it was when all the brethren pulled out their watches to see if they corresponded to the hour- gun. Now, I thought to myself, this is how I should like to preach; I would like to startle all my hearers into seeing whether they are right in the matters which concern their souls. But how can I do that? The electric wire brings down the force by which the gun is fired. The sun gives the time of day, and soon, you get it flashing along the wire. Union to the everlasting Sun of Righteousness will enable us to deliver ourselves with a force more startling, and our hearers will soon learn, not only where we are, but where they are themselves. How necessary is it that we should be right, for how many hundreds set not their watches but their lives by what we have told them on Sunday. And, in addition to being right, how necessary is it that we should speak with force, so that those who do not want to hear may be made to hear. I would like to speak so that none might misunderstand me, even if they wished to do so. We shall never get the people as a mass above the minister, for water does not run uphill. The Sabbath must be the market-day of the week to our people; but what if the stalls be empty? If we want our people to be home missionaries, we must preach a fullness of doctrine. Some preachers are always whipping people up to doing their duty. A farmer, referring to one of that sort, said, “I wish my parson would do as I do with my horses, put the whip in the manger.” Now, nothing will make a man work like sound Calvinistic theology. Tell a mart he is saved by grace, and relieved of the work of saving himself, and he will set about trying to bring others to salvation; while if you give a man muddled views of doctrine, he is always troubling himself about that, and has no time and no heart to go abroad doing good.
Not only is fullness of doctrine requisite, but a warm way of putting it. I heard a remark made yesterday about warm dinners on Sabbath, which I dare say are very terrible things. I am well content with cold meat; but cold divinity on Sundays, or any days, is dreadful. Always let us have the doctrines of grace served up thoroughly hot and warm. There are sleepy people in our congregations. That is sometimes their own fault, for they go to sleep before we begin to preach. There is an old story of a minister who recommended an old lady to use snuff in church, and she suggested to him that it would be better to put the snuff into the sermon. I would recommend a little snuff in the sermons, a lively and warm way of presenting the truth before the hearer’s mind. Sermons should be as much as possible simple in style. You would not have a man say that “Deity is my pastor, I shall not be afflicted with deprivation,” but — “ The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” You don’t like the Psalms put into any shape so well as your good old rugged meter. Though there may be prettier ways of putting the gospel, the plain, old, rugged way will take the ear, and be the readiest way to the heart. Earnestness is also essential. You may simulate earnestness of spirit, but your hearers will soon find it out. A sermon which is not earnest in itself can’t be made so by action, by stamping or thumping. You must speak from a warm heart, or your word will not come warm to the hearts of the people. What a blessed homemission spirit would be in all the churches if the Lord gave us much of that heavenliness of spirit which has characterized some few in the church rather than the many — not so much power of diction as heavenliness; such as we find in Rutherford, and, in modern times, in Mr. M’Cheyne: fullness of Christ, so that the preacher’s lips drop with fatness. That man may not always state his doctrine so logically as some, or lavish forth such riches of illustration, but he preaches the gospel, and not about the gospel; not what men say of Christ, but what Christ is, and is doing now, and what he can be to perishing sinners and rejoicing saints — he preaches the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It strikes me that a ministry somewhat like this is quite sure to elicit an earnest home-mission spirit.
I fear that sometimes our preparatory studies for the ministry injure our earnestness. I saw in Melrose Abbey a stone, under which is said to lie the heart of Robert Bruce. I am afraid that it might be written on the floors of some of our universities, “Here lies the heart of such-and-such a student.”
That is a poor education which fills the head, but leaves the heart empty.
Let us have learning by all means; you cannot have too much of it if it be of the right sort, but let the heart be also engaged. I am afraid that when reading the Bible in our studies we are often the victims of a temptation, for we read it officially as ministers, thinking of texts, and how to divide them. Before the Lord I have had to clothe my soul in sackcloth about that sin: but when I read the Bible, or come to the people as a poor sinner saved by grace like others it is then that I feel true power. Oh, that dreadful getting into ministerialism, which is so much the mischief of us; and oh, to be priests and kings to God in a nobler style than wearing the miter or putting on the crown.
I apologize for having said so much about those who are the leaders of Home Mission efforts. Now, about other persons who are also to carry it on — all the members of the church. It has been the forgetfulness of this truth which has been the origin of something I heard alluded to just now, only I sometimes make a mistake, and. say the Davenport Brothers instead of the Plymouth Brothers. There is something to do with tying knots in both cases, and slipping out of them. I believe if we keep our churches awake we have no great evil to fear from them, for their proposals are too wild. If all should be mouth, as they propose, what is the result? — a vacuum. Their plan of having no minister to instruct them, but each instructing the other, reminds me of the Irish school when it had no schoolmaster, about which one of the scholars said,. “‘None of us know nothing, and we all teach one another.” The Christian church should be like a beehive, into which every bee should be bringing honey. The drones are ejected from the hive, and there should be no drones in the church. All church members should be doing something, and doing something at all times for the Savior. All can do something — at least at the prayermeeting.
That is the top and the bottom of the success of all true success — the prayer-meeting. I have heard it said that if there were prayer in Edinburgh in proportion to the preaching, there would be much more done.
I don’t know whether that is the case, but if it be so, I say, dear brethren, amend in this respect. What can you do without prayer? Oh, it is but little worth preaching unless it is backed up with strong pleadings with God. Go into a cotton mill; see all its departments in operation; walk along the rooms; wander out by that door, and in the outside you may see an ugly shed, with a black looking machine making black smoke that is spoiling the blue sky. In that engine-house is the motive power. Preaching, Sabbathschool teaching, missionary and other agencies, are like the spindles, but the prayer-meetings — the despised shed outside — must supply the motive power, and give the real energy which works the concern. There was once a complaint made against a certain minister that he did not edify his congregation. His answer was, “It is not likely that I can edify you now, for I have lost my prayer-book.” His congregation did not know that he used a prayer-book, and they were somewhat indignant. “My prayerbook,” he said, “I had in your hearts, but I have lost; it; you don’t pray for me now; and there is little hope of any service from my labor if you are not supporting me at home, at the family altar, and at the prayer-meeting!” In this way, then, you must hold up the hands of your pastors.
Then there is another thing, that is, the collection. But some one tells me that this is a dry subject. Is it so? Let us take the apostle Paul, and appeal to his judgments on the subject. In that chapter which is so frequently read at funerals, which speaks of the resurrection, the apostle worked himself up to such a glorious splendor of eloquence, if I may use the expression, that he wanted something to finish with. He had got up to this — “Therefore be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”; and then what next? What was the pinnacle of that work? It was this — “Now, concerning the collection for the saints. That is the climax of his eloquence.
I take it that, when a man is made spiritual, he wants to do something for Christ; and those spiritual people who, when they get a degree of eminence, say, “Ah, this is a pleasant land to sit in; I can sit and sing, and never work,” are falsely spiritual. True elevation of soul is the consecration of spirit, soul, and body to the cause of the Great Redeemer. What odd notions people have of joining the church. Many a young man joins a rifle corps. There he is! When he joins the church, where is he? We have the distinguished honor of having the names of many young gentlemen on our books. But where are they? What are they doing? They think it enough that they have joined the church; and they don’t think that anything more is required. When they join a literary institute, or anything of that kind, they do so for the purpose of doing something, and obtaining an advantage from it; and I say to such young men, “Do you believe the Christian church to be a farce? If you do so, we could even dispense with your names; if you do not believe the Christian church is a farce, then show that you don’t by working so far as you can in the cause of Christ.” But we hear some say, “I could do nothing, though I were to try it, for Home Mission work.” Well, I would reply, “I would not have liked to say that of you. There is not a nettle in the corner of the churchyard without its virtues; there is not a spider in the world but has its web to spin; and there is no man in the world but has something to do for the cause of Christ, which nobody else can do but himself. I don’t think it is possible for you to be powerless. Can’t you speak to some one? Can’t you do something in your own place as a member of the church?” “Oh, but,”’ he says, “if I did attempt it, I should break down.” “Well,” I say, “suppose you did, would it not be a blessing?”
At a prayer-meeting I have heard a brother pray so long that I have thought it would be a mighty deal better if he did break down. After he had prayed for full half-an-hour, I have heard him ask God “to forgive his shortcomings “; and I have thought that, of all prayers, that was the one he had least need to offer. But when another has come to a stand because expressions had failed him — although emotion had not — there has been more prayer elicited by his stopping than by many and many an hour of mere religious talking to God. There is an American story told — and as I see an American yonder [pointing to the center of the hall] — I shall repeat it, for I believe it to be true, a story that is told of an American blacksmith.
There lived in a certain village a blacksmith, who was a hard hitter in more senses than one. Many had tried to bring him to a knowledge of the truth.
He always, however, mastered them in controversy; and when he found them not able to beat him, he proceeded to make fun of them. Ministers, elders, deacons, and other Christian friends had tried him, but all were alike unsuccessful. But at length there was one man who, having heard this, took the case in hand, and prayed earnestly for the blacksmith day and night. On one occasion, being :moved by the Spirit, he prayed for him all the afternoon; he continued praying for him the whole night; and in the morning he resolved to go and speak to the blacksmith. He mounted his horse for this purpose, and as he rode along he thought of this remark and the other, as being a proper thing to say; and at last he got a few good things strung together, which he determined to bring before the mind of the blacksmith. When he rode up to the outside of the smithy, out came the blacksmith. “Well, well, sir, said he in a gruff voice, “what do you want here?” and at once the harsh tones in which the question was addressed to him made the elder lose the thread of his discourse. After a pause, however, he burst into tears, and said to the blacksmith, “I wanted to speak to you about your soul, but I can’t. What I was to say to you seems all to have gone away, but I pray for you day and night; I prayed for you all last night, and I never shall be happy till your soul has been saved.” When he said that — and it was with a great effort he said it — he again mounted his horse, and away he rode on his homeward journey, thinking to himself, Well, that is always the way with me; I do more harm than good, What a mess I have made of that; they will all be speaking of this at the liquor-bars, and saying that the elder has made a fool of himself. But the case was not so. The blacksmith went into his smithy; he hit the iron, but he did not hit it straight. Something came into his eye, and he tried to wipe it out. The tear came again, for something had touched his heart. He could stand it no longer, but threw down his hammer, and went into the room where his wife was preparing the breakfast. She said, “You are looking ill.” “Yes,” he replied, “and I feel that.” “What is the matter with you?”’ asked his wife; and he answered, “Elder B — - has been here to see me and talk to me about my soul.” “Oh, but you don’t care for him,” said his wife, “you can answer anything that he can say.” “Yes,” said the blacksmith, “that is it — if he had argued I could have answered him; but he stood there crying like a child! He could not bear to think I should be lost. He said he had prayed for me all night, and if he cared thus for my soul, it is time that I cared for it too.” Within a few weeks it was the great privilege of this church officer to pass the communion cup to this blacksmith and his wife. Go on, then, and break down; and God grant that your break down may be so blessed.
That gives me a convenient place to pause, and, if I have not wearied you, I will go on a little further.
I meant to have taken a third point. I have already shown what the object of the Home Mission work should be, and who should engage in it. Now I desire, by your permission, to submit a few practical hints as to how he should carry out his work. I lay down as a theory, that the Christian church should be able to do everything spiritual in the education of its members. I would have it to be such a machinery that, from the time an infant is received into the infant-school, it need not go away from that church for any Christian privilege; and that, from the lowest to the highest point of grace, it may, by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, receive all through the church organization. Now, what is to be done with our young people? Of course, you all have Sabbath-schools. I don’t know your distinction between congregational and other Sabbath-schools; for we are afraid of schools that are not congregational. There is a disposition on the part of some to set up Sabbath-schools on their own account, not connected with any particular church, so that the children are not taken to a place of worship at all, and grow up unattached to the church of the parents. It is well to keep them in contact with divine service as much as possible. When a very young child I used much to admire, on my grandmother’s mantelpiece, a venerable apple in a bottle. Now, this apple was a good deal bigger than the neck of the bottle, and I was very anxious to know how it had got in. I was strictly cautioned not to meddle, but one afternoon I got a chair, and, at the risk of burning my pinafore, I mounted and took it down.
The source of the Nile was but a trifle to this great affair — how the apple could get into a bottle whose neck was so much too small to admit it. I thought it had a false bottom, and feared every minute that it would fall off and lead me into trouble. I failed at the time in discovering the great secret.
The next summer time came, and in the garden I observed that my grandmother had put a little apple into a phial, in which it grew till it quite filled it, when she snapped it off. Now, how are we to get people to attend the means of grace after they have grown up? It is rather difficult by your Home Mission operations. It would be well to bring them under religious organization early in life, and to get them into the bottle then. I think that every church should have its own Sabbath-school, and that the pastor should be president of it, the elders should be the managers, and, as much as possible, the teachers should be members of that church; of course there will occasionally be exceptions in this latter respect.
But we have a difficulty about Sunday-schools in England — not about the Sunday-school proper, but when Master John begins to feel his whiskers coming through he doesn’t like to go to the Sunday-school, and the girls are also too fine ladies to go any longer. What is to be done? I think that there must be different kinds of organization. We have at the Tabernacle — excuse my referring to it here — one class conducted by one of the elders for the sons of the elders and deacons themselves; and during this year — blessed be God for it — while we had a large addition of members at the beginning of the year, we had one or more from every deacon’s family, who made a fair and good profession, giving every sign of genuine conversion, as far as we could judge. Thus we have classes for the officers’ children, and for those who are sometimes called the upper classes. There must be two or three lads’ classes, and let the teacher be a good, genial soul, who laughs more often than he cries, for boys don’t like a miserable teacher: more flies are caught by honey than by vinegar. With a good, cheerful man to manage a young men’s class, it may be made useful in many ways. Under suitable oversight, youths’ prayer-meetings will do good service. The other day I saw a little girl of eleven years of age. “Annie,” said I, “are you a follower of the Lord Jesus?” “Yes, sir, I trust I am,’” was the reply. I asked, “What makes you think so?” “Because I trust Christ.” “When did you first come to Jesus?” “I think it: was the night of the mothers’ meeting. Cecilia spoke to me that night, and said that some of the girls were going to meet to pray for their fathers and mothers. They don’t go to a place of worship often, and now that they are going to tea, and Mr. Spurgeon is to speak to them, let’s meet and pray for them. I said to Cecilia, ‘I can’t pray, you know — I ain’t saved myself.’ ‘Oh, never mind, you come along with us.’ I went to the meeting, but I could not pray, though I wanted father to be saved. I could not pray, because I was not saved myself, but they explained to me what I didn’t know before.
They explained ‘substitution,’ you know.” I was so pleased to hear that word substitution come out of the girl’s mouth! Now, here are these young creatures praying for their parents; and I say that, if we have the means of getting boys and girls to interest themselves in the things of God, it would be a fine thing for the church, and it will be a good thing for the land’s future history.
We have a sort of catechetical seminary connected with our church, in which we teach a little book that is known by you all, your Shorter Catechism with Proofs, in which, of course, I have made a slight alteration in regard to baptism. Now, the fashion across the border is to laugh at this book, and say it is out of date, and so on. Well, I should like to see someone write a better summary of Scripture doctrine. Until somebody gives us a better book, we’ll stick to it. It seems to me that a minister, in preaching, could not find a better means of stating Scripture doctrine than in the words of the Shorter Catechism. Perhaps the learning of it right through by heart, alone and unexplained, is too great a task, but with numerous illustrations it would be pleasant enough. Why does somebody not give us a large volume of anecdotes on every one of the questions in the Shorter Catechism? It would be a pleasant way for fathers and mothers to teach their children. We must not change the bread, but we must crumble it down — we must crumble it down from loaves into morsels. We must keep by the Shorter Catechism and illustrate it. To show how useful a book it is — and I do not mention this to flatter anyone, but as a mere matter of fact — when I am sitting in my chair in the College, with a hundred young men around me, and any question is to be asked about the Scriptures, I frequently say, “Now, none of you Scotchmen answer, — I know that you know it; but let the Englishmen. answer.” I know that the Scotchmen can answer the questions, because they have been through the Shorter Catechism. I know that they have, as a rule, a wider and more thorough knowledge of the Scriptures than the mass of my own countrymen, and I believe this is greatly due to the practice of family worship and the use of this Assembly’s Catechism.
Female agency must not be forgotten. We have a class, in connection with the church, that is presided over by a sister, such a woman as I have scarcely ever met with, who has about eight hundred females under her charge. She throws herself thoroughly into the work; and last year that class yielded more than a hundred members to our church; to our College funds also they contributed about L200; for we make it a point that all, even the boys, shall contribute something as well as learn something. We have started a little plan of what we call “pleasant parties.” Sometimes a friend invites a few children to his house to talk of good things. They come, they sing, pray, and talk about Jesus. They have some nice stories; some lively hymns are sung; and I think on this plan you will readily get the children to come back again. Above all things, get hold of the children.
Their song is the sweetest of all. Never overlook the children. With regard to the other part of our church, — namely, the sisters, I hope we shall never hear them preach. Their lecturing is sometimes quite delightful; their preaching, I think, would be quite otherwise. But for the sisters of the church, what work there, is among their own sex! I suppose you have mothers’ meetings. These must not degenerate into mere talk; they must be real prayer meetings. I need not mention the Dorcas meetings or Bible women.
Then, the adults. We should employ all the adult members some way or other. I always ask my own congregation to preach Christ in the pews. Get hold of the people who come there and tell them about Christ. I know people are a little starched up about the matter sometimes — a little mahogany comes between them and their fellows, but in the church there should be cordiality — the feeling that a man may venture to speak to his neighbor; to say, at least, “How did you enjoy the sermon?” to start the conversation, and detain him for a little while. Somebody asked me how I got my congregation. I never got it at all. I did not think it my business to do so, but only to preach the gospel. Why, my congregation got my congregation. I had eighty, or scarcely a hundred., when I preached first.
The next time I had two hundred — every one who had heard me was saying to his neighbor, “You must go and hear this young man.” Next meeting we had four hundred, and in six weeks eight hundred. That was the way in which my people got my congregation. Now, my people are admitted by tickets. That does very well. A member can give his ticket to another person, and say, “I will stand in the aisle,” or “I will go in with the crowd.” Some persons, you know, will not go if they can get in easily, but they will go if you tell them that they cannot get in without a ticket. That is the way in which congregations ought to bring a congregation about a minister. A minister preaches all the better if he has a large congregation. It was once said by a gentleman that; the forming of a congregation was like the beating up of game, the minister being the sportsman. “ But,” he said, “there are some of our ministers that can’t shoot.” But I really think I could shoot a partridge if I fired into the middle of a. covey, and I might not do so if there were only one or two.
Now, once more. In the congregation there will be always some young men who are gifted; and I don’t know whether I should speak to the point here or not, but it seems to me to be essential to look to the ministry, and if you miss this you may miss a very important point. Now, every one should pray more for ministers to begin with. When Christ ascended up on high, he received gifts for men, and those gifts were men: for he gave some apostles — you know the passage. It is a part of Christ’s resurrection and ascended life to give ministers to you; when we look to the cross for salvation we should look to the ascended Savior for a further supply of ministers. Many and many a prayer meeting I have been at where I have never heard the students prayed for, and many others where no petition was sent up that God would send laborers into his vineyard. That is a prayer that Christ said we ought to pray. If you want ministers, pray for them. They are to be got for the asking. They are not to be got by schemes of collegiate education. These will fit them for preaching when you’ve got them. The next thing is, who is to find the minister? That was an excellent plan among the Vaudois, for every teacher to educate one other pastor, so that there was a young man associated with an older brother — one of nimbler foot, who could reach the more inaccessible points, and help him over the craggy rocks, so that the church there never lacked for men.
Without making a scheme, without making an overture to the general assembly, it will be perfectly right for you to say, I intend to look out from among my own people the likeliest and most spiritually minded and gifted young man, and I will put things in his way that may induce him to turn his attention to preaching the gospel. You will talk to him about the holy joys which come to the true servant of the Lord, and as soon as you see that he has some desire for it, you will encourage him to go forward. I spoke to a Baptist brother the other day, who said to me this — “ You do a world of mischief — you encourage lots of young fellows to come forward to the ministry. Whenever I meet those who have an itch for preaching, I get them by the throat and throttle them directly.” Well, I confess that I do love young men, and would encourage them to enter the service of the church of Christ, and if I do encourage one who is not fit for the ministry, it is my mistake, and yet it seems to me, if I assisted another who is made useful, I had almost condoned my offense. I would rather encourage a man than keep him back, and if ministers would try and do the same, they will find it an excellent way of finding students for the church. The more the student is kept in Christian life, and the more he is made to feel that as a student his spiritual life is quickened by constant service for Christ, the better, and the more will the church be blessed. You will never forget the day of the Disruption. It seems to come over you as a day of special remembrance, and the fathers of the Disruption, many of whose hoary heads are still among us, will always be had in honor; but are you sure that you will raise up such another race of men unless you pray continually that God would send you as staunch and as generous men, who not only know the truth, but can suffer for it, and will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine, but who wilt stand firm as a bulwark against many rising heresies, and stand there until the Lord himself shall come?
The outlying masses are to be got at by all the agencies so well taken up in your excellent report. There are several reasons why many of us Christians must be more earnest in this work of home evagelization. No church can possibly be happy when it ceases to be aggressive. No church can possibly be united when it ceases to progress. The question has been asked, if a cannon ball in full career should suddenly be stopped in space without striking any obstruction, what would be the result? It is said, and I suppose it is known to be a fact, that it would fall into infinitesimally small particles at once, its force of motion overcoming the force of cohesion. Now, if that should happen to the Free Church — now so happily united that you have no right hand and no left in this house, and in that sense I suppose you know not your right hand from your left — (may your right hand and your left always know what they are doing) — and if you could be stopped in your aggressive action, the result would be you would split up into innumerable parties. Your unity must cease. Such a thing cannot be. What became of the manna when it was not eaten? No church can stay where it is. If a church does not advance, it must recede. That was a grand saying of Napoleon’s, though applied to a very questionable thing — “ Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” Conquest has made the Free Church, and every Christian church; conquest has maintained them; conquest may stop the war, but you cease from victory, and the banner is trailed in the street at once. Every boy in the street knows that his hoop falls when it does not run; and every one of us knows that our spiritual life will stop when it ceases to go onward. No church is worthy of the name of a church that does not make aggression. O, that word church.
I almost wish we had another for it, because it has become perverted. In England it means a heap of bricks and a spire, and many people attach no other meaning to it. There was a church that fell on Paul’s neck. It could scarcely be one of that sort. Some think we mean the clergy by the term; but no church is worthy of the name that is not making advances upon the kingdom of evil. You may call it so, but it is only a barren title. It is not really a church that is not making advances, but it is a nuisance. Some of you, brethren, if dead, might cause far less inconvenience than some of us who are more portly — as a lean, thin, starving church, which has learned to pick up the crumbs under the king’s table, will not make such an offensive nuisance in the land as the church that has sat at the table of the king and learned to live upon nobler fare. If it die, the nuisance it would cause would be intolerable. “Bury my dead out of my sight” would be the command, not only of Abraham, but of God himself. If the salt has lost its seasoning, wherewith shall it be salted? If you would be useful and prosperous as Christians, you must work for Christ.
We have all the strongest reasons for working in the churches while we can. Oh, that we could all live in, the light of our last hour. The old scholars, as we read sometimes, put their candles in a strange candlestick — in a death’s head, where it was held in that memorial of mortality. It might serve for a very beneficial purpose. What will money do for us when we lie at the gate of death? What will fame or learning do? What reward can we have but souls we have won for Christ? They cannot pave the way to heaven, but they can be goodly company on the road. When the judgment comes, when we rise from our graves, in what light shall we then look upon our lives? Oh, sirs, some even of our recreations may not bear to be thought of. Certainly, if we have been unfaithful in our ministry — if, as rich men, we have held to our wealth instead of following the mind of God — if we have lived contrary to his mind and will the light of the day of judgment will reveal these things to us. Another General Assembly, more general than this, and larger far, will then be held, and you and I shall there appear. Let us then live earnestly, live fast, live hard, live thoroughly, live prayerfully, live like Christ, for no other sort of life will bear inspection in that last great day. There is another argument. Our Savior has said — “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” I beseech you, men and brethren, fathers and sisters in Christ, work hard for him. If he stood here, and asked you to help him, your purse-strings would be loosened, because your hearts would be loosened by his glorious presence. But I need not say that spiritual minds do not need eyes to see Jesus. In your loving hearts you hear him speak to you. “If ye love me, keep my commandments; and one of my commandments is, ‘Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ If ye love me, you will reply by obeying; if you do not love me, you will not help and obey.” There is a story told by a gifted authoress, with which I shall conclude. It is this: — A certain merchant had been waited upon during the day by some one for a subscription for a society. He replied, as some merchants do, “I cannot, for I have so many calls.” At night, when he got home, and his wife and family had retired to rest, he drew a chair in front of the fire and sat down, and as he sat looking into the fire he thought thus: — I refused that good man a subscription to-day. I have refused subscriptions before, and told the people I had so many calls. There was a time when I gave more than I do now. The reason was, because I built this new house. The other house was very good. still, my wife thought it was not quite the thing. We went to the new house, had to get new furniture, and then got into a new circle. The girls want more for dress, and the boys want more. My expenses have risen, and I am afraid I am entrenching upon what I have been giving to the cause of God. He is then supposed to fall asleep; whether he did so or not I am not here to say, but as he sat by the fire in came a stranger, a singularly mild and majestic-looking man. He came up to the merchant and said to him presenting a paper, “I am come asking a subscription for Foreign Missions.” He asked it very tenderly, and the merchant, with a good deal of hesitancy, said, “Really you must excuse me, I cannot, I have so many calls.” The stranger looked very sad. There was no anger in his face, but there seemed great grief. He took out another paper, and said, “You do not give anything to foreign missions; will you give something toward home evangelization? There are many heathens at home.” The merchant again said, “I can’t afford it; besides, I think there is more said about home heathenism than is necessary.” “Well,” said the stranger, who seemed to look more sad than ever, “there is the Bible Society; will you give something to it?” He was a little vexed, and said, “I really do not like to be pressed in this way, I can’t give.” The stranger looked sadder than ever, but in a moment seemed to change, and there stood before the merchant one like unto the Son of man. And he said to him — “Five years ago your little child lay sick, near unto death. You went upstairs into your chamber.
Your heart was bowed down with bitterness, and you prayed that that dear one might live, your soul being bound up in the life of that child. Who raised your darling to life, and spared her to your house?” The merchant covered his face with his hands. “Ten years ago,” said the same soft, tender voice, “you lay upon what seemed to be your dying bed. Your affairs were then in a bad state, and if you died you left your children penniless. You turned your face to the wall, and prayed that you might be spared until, at least, you might leave your children something. Who heard your bitter cry, and raised you up?” The merchant was more confused than ever. “Fifteen years ago, in a certain chamber, you knelt, a broken-hearted sinner, with a weight of sin on your conscience and soul. Filled with bitterness, you cried for mercy. Who came to you and said, ‘I have blotted out your sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud your iniquities,’ and opened his heart to wash you from your iniquities?” There was no reply except a sob. “If thou wilt never ask anything of me again I will never ask anything of thee. Thou shalt not be troubled with my many calls if I am not troubled with thine.”
The merchant fell on his face before the stranger, “My God, my Lord, forgive me, and take all that I have.” And lo! it was a dream, — but not a dream, for his life was changed thereby. May you and I have such a vision, and henceforth live unto Christ as those who are alive from the dead.