Imágenes de páginas

after they are thoroughly broken down and made penitent on aceount of sin ? Objections might exist before genuine godly sorrow was felt. We can easily understand why the unconverted and worldly-disposed young, or persons only half awakened, should feel a strong repugnance to meeting in class. They fear this weekly self-scrutiny. But experience and observation only confirm our belief that this, or some similar means of grace, is the first thing sought after by a soul in deep trouble and anguish for sin. Natural dislike and timidity then give way. The terrors of an awakened conscience drive the sinner to seek the best help he can obtain in easing him of his load. He finds this assistance in the godly counsel and fervent prayers of the righteous. Athirst after God, he hails this season of spiritual communion with joy ; and the class-meeting becomes a holy delight, as well as a source of great religious strength.

We have no desire to conceal an objection sometimes urged against classmeetings with only too much truth. It is said members of Society have few distinctive and special privileges beyond those enjoyed by hearers in our congregations. Is it not true that in some places lovefeasts are free to persong never attending the weekly class, and the Lord's Supper is little better than "open" communion ? Are not Society-meetings gradually passing into diguse? And is not the most solemn service of the year, when we renew our covenant with God, joined in by persons who have simply received a note previous to the service ; whilst others are admitted by the stewards without even the briefest interview with the officiating minister?

We believe no church possesses such complete arrangements as our own. In theory they are admirable. Our wise predecessors have provided against the very misfortunes we deplore. And, to quote 8 saying repeatedly used by the retiring President, “ If we had kept our rules, our rules would have kept us." In early Methodist times the lovefeasts were for the church. Only members were admitted, and never without showing the quarterly ticket.* The good effect of this rule has often been recorded. The first serious impressions of more than one eminent minister date from his exclusion from the lovefeast. This led to thoughtfulness, then to conviction of sin, and finally to conversion. The modern custom, prevailing in the metropolis and many large towns, of holding these meetings after the Sanday-evening service has, doubtless, tended to the practical disregard of the rule obliging the showing of the ticket. The evil arising from this is very serious. Some persons go to the lovefeasts to pass criticisms upon the experience of simple-hearted individuals who know nothing of the refinements of education. This hampers the timid, irritates the devotional, and greatly detracts from the value and spirituality of these desirable gatherings. It is a question meriting careful attention, whether a return to the afternoon lovefeast, when admission by ticket could be enforced, would not

* We believe Mr. Wesley himself was once refused admission to a lovefeast because he had no ticket, and that he heartily commended the steward for his fidelity.

be far preferable, even at the cost of diminished attendance. It would at least show we placed some value upon the privileges of our members.

The celebration of the holy Communion after either morning or evening service presents a similar difficulty to the evening lovefeast. Unworthy persons partake the sacred elements without detection, especially when they are administered by strangers. In some Societies nothing guards the approach to the Lord's table. This evil has occupied the attention of high Connexional authorities, and been made a subject of grave discussion : but no effectual remedy has yet been found. Of course, it is far from our province to dictate on this vexed question. Still we venture to suggest whether existing machinery might not be adapted to meet this want. Suppose the stewards opening the pews for communicants to pass to the Lord's table were instructed to see the token of membership, or a note of admission, would not the end be answered ? A little explanation would be needed. But if this or some equally simple plan was adopted, it would do much towards raising the present value of the Ticket, which departed saints so highly prized.*

Society meetings + were formerly held every Sunday evening, except when the Lord's Supper was administered. Prayer-meetings are now substituted in their place. Against these means of grace we say not one word; we dare not deny that thousands have found spiritual life at such times ; convictions produced under the sermon have been deepened at the prayer-meeting. But what do we lose by the present arrangement ? Our fathers employed these occasions in instructing members about home duties, which could be more freely handled when the congregation was mainly composed of members of Society. General topics necessarily occupy attention in the public assembly; whereas a Society-meeting supplies a suitable opportunity for counselling Christian families. Passing events can be dwelt upon, and their religious bearing shown. The state of religion in the locality ; general customs which should be avoided; the faults of professors; influences impeding the work of God; openings for holy enterprise ; encouragements in relation to other fields of toil; and a vast

* It may be well to quote the Conference Rule on this subject. “ We particularly require...that the Societies shall be frequently met, apart from the congregation at large, and suitably addressed on the various relative duties, on the due sanctification of the Sabbath, and other appropriate topics ; and that when the Lord's Supper is administered, the communicants shall be previously required to produce their Society-tickets, or notes of admission, according to our established rules." (Min., vol. vi., p. 65.)

+ “Q. How often shall we permit strangers to be present at the meeting of the Society ?

“ A. Let every other meeting of the Society, in every place, be strictly private ; no one stranger being admitted, on any account or pretence whatsoever. On the other nights we may admit them with caution; but not the same persons above twice or thrice. In order to this, see that all, in every place, show their Tickets before they come in. If the stewards and leaders are not exact and impartial herein, employ others who have more resolution.” (Min., vol. i., pp. 10, 11, Old Edition.)

variety of subjects, might form ground of remark. Seldom are the Societies now informed on these topics. Many things which our predecessors thought vital to the success and spread of family religion are little regarded. Heads of families, failing to obtain that advice from their ministers, which would help them in training their children Methodistically, never get it at all

. And we are certainly not surprised if some pass away to other churches, and many into the world.

The renewal of the Covenant with God on the first Lord's day in the year ought to be kept free from the intrusion of strangers. No member, or leader even, should be admitted, however well known, without producing a ticket, or showing a note from the officiating minister. No admission should be allowed after the service is commenced. Notes might be given to “penitents” immediately after the morning service, instead of crowding it close upon that serious afternoon duty. These remarks may be viewed as too strict and severe : but they can be justified by the importance of the occasion. We have no desire to exclude right-minded persons from the privileges of Methodism. Still, in simple justice to our members, their privileges should be maintained in all their integrity. If they are not, what advantages can we offer those whom we are anxious to bind in closer union? When these are clearly defined and rigidly upheld, membership will be an object of desire rather than a matter of indifference.

The want of pastoral visitation will enter some minds as one among the many causes leading to our Connexional decrease. We have no wish to shrink from the responsibility legitimately belonging to ministers in this matter. A faithful discharge of duty obliges that proper attention should be paid to our people. But we fear too much is expected. The strictly secular duties, which have gradually surrounded the ministerial office, often compel a neglect of pastoral claims that would gladly be satisfied, if it were possible. The unnecessary trouble consequent upon making repeated calls for subscriptions consumes both a minister's time and strength ; and many little interruptions occur to break in upon the hours of the day, which often frustrate the most perfect plans, and disappoint the purest intentions. If our laymen would relieve ministers of secularities, more time might be given to pastoral oversight. Then no excuse could shield the negligent ; and the Societies might justly complain if not regularly visited.

The dissatisfaction existing on this subject has been caused partly by a misconception of the nature of pastoral visitation. A five minutes' call upon a member at his place of business, occupied in general gossip, woull satisfy many complainants. But this cannot be dignified into pastoral visitation. And yet ministers are sometimes said to dislike this duty, the truth being that they fear to waste their valuable time in this way. We have known some individuals grumble because not visited pastorally, when the fact was they had never invited their minister to call upon them, or, when he did happen to enter their shop, never asked him beyond their counter, or counting-house. Really this is unfair. There are social customs which a minister cannot break through with propriety. And let the truth

be spoken firmly and kindly : too little encouragement is given by heads of families in assembling their households together, when the minister does call as their pastor. We deeply lament this, but hope exposure of the fault will lead to its cure.

We believe no particular class of persons is specially blameworthy as causing this decrease. Every office-bearer and member is more or less concerned. It would not be generous to cast discredit upon either ministers or laity solely. Having referred, therefore, to causes more directly affecting ministers, we ask attention to others more immediately connected with the laity. The difficulty in finding suitable leaders to keep and cherish our classes, and willing to discharge the duties of that office, is very generally felt to be a serious barrier in our way. We cannot think this arises from a dearth of such persons. Surely hundreds among us are qualified for this work, It must be admitted, however, that there is a shrinking from this duty on the part of many respectable, intelligent, and influential laymen. The hurry of commercial life and its multitudinous obligations are pleaded in excuse. But we ask such men, whether the claims of the church are less weighty than those of the world ? If God has enriched them with gifts of intellect and heart, ought they not to undergo some little sacrifice, that they may employ these talents for His glory?

Probably the difficulty of finding leaders has arisen partly from an unwillingness to appoint youthful persons to this office. It is wiser to err on the side of prudence, than to bring injury upon the church by hasty appointments. But much can be said in favour of a return to John Wesley's practice of giving class-books to pious young men and women. He once gave a class-book to a youth of nineteen, promising him a few names to start with, and the first on the list was the young man's own mother. Now why should any hesitancy exist about youthful leaders? Do we not need this class of persons to work among the young in our congregations and Sunday-schools? These appear to be the very individuals around whom others of similar age would rally. Youth usually has few sympathies with age, or age with youth. Their feelings, temptations, trials, and hopes are distinct. We see young men holding important commercial positions : why should they be deemed unfit, when baptized by the Holy Spirit, for the serious service of the church? If we would prudently provide for the future, we should labour diligently to enlist youthful soldiers into Christ's spiritual army.

After a careful review of our decrease, we conclude that no radical change is needed to bring about more satisfactory numerical returns. The present appliances of Methodism are ample. A sphere of labour can be found suitable for every variety of talent. No one need remain idle. The calls are loud, the opportunities everywhere. In answering the Holy Spirits summons, let us resolve firmly and conscientiously to hold fast that form of doctrine and discipline we have received as a splendid heritage from our fathers. Innovators have always existed, who have been eager to try

or start new schemes, with a view to the more speedy

fresh machinery,

evangelization of the world. We reply to such, “ The old is better.” Dar present organization is the growth of a vast and varied experience. We have been slow in adopting, let us now be determined in practising, the wise regulations which adorn our Methodism, and which are amply suficient for the necessities of the present and the contingencies of the future.

But what the Church does need is more living, earnest, and energetic piety among her members. At a solemn time like the present, when selfexamination is forced upon us, there should be a personal dedication to God more complete than ever. This only will issue in any permanent success. If resolved upon, it will give to our Christian example a more direct influence, and arm us with a Diviner strength, before which our enemies shall be subdued. We should seek a quickening of our faith. Living faith is the source and strength of all aspiring and active piety. This alone can give such an impulse to Christian zeal as shall result in a grand harvest of souls for Christ. Unhappily, we have suffered much from spasmodie religion. We want no occasional, flighty, or boisterous zeal, that works by fits and starts ; but the constant, deep, full-streamed flow of religious life, ever impressing its benign power upon a needy world, and ever diffusing its hallowing influences among our race. Then our work will be truly aggressive, and our progress really permanent. It might also be well to consider how far & more regular observance of the quarterly fasts would assist in deepening religious feeling, and in obtaining a higher standard of personal piety.

A more ready lay co-operation would prove a great boon to our church. We cannot complain of any unwillingness to give on the part of our generous laymen. Their costly offerings may well astonish us. But sometimes labour is more precious than money. Often the church might say, “We want you more than yours.” Power to work is a talent equally with ability to give. Religion may languish when the church has ample resources st her command. Let the value of personal effort not be forgotten. We need men of position and piety to rally round and uphold the hands of the ministers. A great work may be done in this way. Cottage prayer-meetings might be multiplied as in former times. It is to be regretted this agebey has been so much overlooked. Why cannot bands of zealous prayer-leaders be employed in carrying salvation among the masses of our population op a Sunday evening? These were the feeders of the church in past times, and should be so still. Recent Home-Missionary efforts clearly mark the tendency of this work. Circuit returns, where Home-Missionary ministers are stationed, show a net increase this year of twelve hundred and thirty

Whilst we do not attribute this result solely to this special agency, it enters as an important element into the case. Much of the success of that movement is owing to the hearty lay co-operation it has brought into activity. And if every able Methodist would only become a willing worker with us, we should rejoice in unbounded prosperity.

A revived ministry is a necessary element in bringing about spiritual prosperity. Much depends upon the character and piety of our preachers.


« AnteriorContinuar »