« AnteriorContinuar »
full reward is yet in reversion for them. Theirs is kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world,” a crown of glory laid up in heaven, a seat reserved by the side of Him who sits “ a Priest upon His throne;" for, being joint-workers with Christ in labouring to promote the interests of His kingdom, they are “joint-heirs" with Him of His heavenly glory.
“Ye see your calling, 'brethren;" “ Let us walk worthy of our high vocation.” “Receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved,” who would stoop to the fleeting trifles of a day, to the ignoble aims and sordid cravings, the profitless cares and fugitive joys, of the serfs of this present world ? With royal aims and sympathies, let our hearts beat responsive to the lofty purposes of the Divine goodness and wisdom. Since for us is a “ kingdom prepared,” let it be our ceaseless care to accumulate treasure there ; not being satisfied to receive a less glorious inheritance than it is our“Father's good pleasure” to give us. Since for us is “laid up a crown,” be it our constant aim to gem it as richly as possible. Let but the service of the “royal priesthood” be thus our life's absorbing work, and then shall we "serve Him day and night in His temple,” to “go no more out for ever.” Now “unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
DISEASES OF OVERWORKED MEN.
Time was when the very phrase, “ diseases of overworked men,” would have been considered foolish, and out of the question. Now it conveys a truth of national importance, which the nation must consider. From being a comparatively idle world, we have of late become an insane world on the subject of labour. So long as the muscles merely were employed, so long little harm was done; we remained but men; now we aspire to be as gods, and we pay the forfeit of our ambition. From overwork we now get a class of diseases the most prolonged, the most fatal. The suns of our best men go down at noon, and so accustomed to the phenomenon are we that we cease to regard it as either strange or out of place. It is through the mind, now, that the body is destroyed by overwork; at all events, it is so mainly. The men of intense thought, men of letters, men of business who think and specnlate, men of the State who are ambitious to rule,-these men sacrifice themselves. With them, the brain has not merely to act on its own muscles, bidding them perform their necessary duties ; but the one brain must needs guide a hundred other brains, and all the muscles thereto appended. An electric battery works a single wire from the city to Brighton, and does its work well, and goes on for some months before it is dead or worn out. Can it do the work of a hundred wires ? O, yes, it can; but it must have more acid, must wear faster, and will ultimately die sooner. We may protect the plates, make the battery to an extent self-regenerate as the body is; but in the main the waste is in excess of the supply, and the wear is as certain
as the day. Men of letters, men who do their business through other hands and do it on a large scale, and men immersed in politics, suffer much the same kind of effects from overwork. They suffer more than other men from the effects of ordinary disorders. They bear pain indifferently, can tolerate no lowering measures, and acquire in some instances a morbid sensibility which is reflected in every direction; so that briskness of action becomes irritability; and quiet, seclusion and moroseness. They dislike themselves, and feel that they must be disliked ; and if they attempt to be joyous, they lapse into shame at having dissembled, and fall again into gloom.—Dr. Richardson.
NUMBERS IN SOCIETY-THE DECREASE. The present condition of Wesleyan Methodism is generally satisfactory and encouraging. Our numerous Societies enjoy the blessings of peace. Large and influential congregations regularly attend our sanctuaries. The truth is preached by a ministry never excelled at any former period of our history. A spirit of liberality is prompting thousands of generous hearts to costly sacrifices. Connexional collections are larger, and ministerial claims are being more satisfactorily met, than formerly. Beautiful churches are springing up among us. And in every part of our complicated system the work of consolidation is going on. But there is one fact which casts a sad gloom over all this splendid outward prosperity. This year we have s numerical decrease.
It is nine years since a similar calamity befell our churches. No conjecture was then needed to explain the cause. We were still suffering from that terrible shock by which unfaithful agitators, who had been nursed and trained in Methodism, had hoped to disable or annihilate the church their fathers loved. The last wave of the storm then passed over us; and we were left with reduced numbers, but an undaunted purpose to continue our great spiritual work; with what success is seen in the subsequent history of our church. A small increase was reported in 1856. This proved that the turning-point in our misfortunes was reached. The next two years witnessed the addition of more than 13,000 to our Societies ; whilst in 1859 and 1860 we rejoiced in the accession of 33,220 members in Great Britain alone. Those were years of gracious revival. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit was realized by the churches generally; and Methodism shared the wide-spread blessing. In 1861 the increase only slightly exceeded half that of the preceding year, although it was nearly equal to the united additions of 1862 and 1863. This year our returns show a net loss of thirty-six.
Before attempting to analyze this loss, it may be well to glance at the seventeen Districts reporting an increase. Of these, London, Cornwall, Swansea, Manchester, Halifax, York, and Whitby enjoy the enviable distinction of having shown a regular and steady improvement in numerical strength during the nine years succeeding 1855. These Districts alone have added 24,211 members in that time, which is considerably more than one
third of the entire Connexional increase for the period. This progress has been simultaneous with unprecedented local effort and liberality. In the five years beginning with 1859 these Districts have raised more than £60,000 for chapel debts alone; whilst the sum spent upon new erections considerably exceeds this amount. These facts destroy at least one illusion. It is not necessary that spiritual interests should suffer when the resources and energies of a Circuit are being employed upon its material advancement. The largest additions are reported where the greatest zeal and liberality prevail. And we believe a closer scrutiny would prove that in an inactive and indolent church there generally exists a corresponding spiritual stagnation.
The Norwich, Bristol, Birmingham, and Leeds Districts have each reported a decrease once during the period under review. The later increases in Norwich have been small. But the fact that this District has enjoyed eight years of continuous success will be very satisfactory to all who remember the desolations left there by our last disastrous agitation. If Edinburgh and Zetland are viewed together, in accordance with recent Conference legislation, another District must be classified with the four above-named. The steady growth of Methodism in Scotland in recent years is very gratifying. Our Societies there number one-third more than in 1855 ; almost the largest relative increase in any District. We attribute this mainly to the more adequate ministerial supply Conference has latterly given to this department of our work. Nothing special suggests itself in relation to the five remaining Districts.
Now in looking at the Districts reporting loss we are very thankful that the net decrease is so small. Some persons, indeed, have gone so far as to regard it as simply nominal. They have asserted that Methodist influence generally is increasing, and that our congregations were never so large and important as now. This, we believe, is quite true. But we hold, and surely every Methodist will here think with us, that if our congregations were ten times larger and more influential than they are, this could never be regarded as a satisfactory compensation for the slightest numerical decrease. On the other hand, it only aggravates the fact. Filling our sanctuaries is only a means to an end. A belief in the converting power of the preached Gospel has been our constant boast. Our illustrious fathers gloried in this. They preached to save. The conversion of souls was the grand ambition of their lives. Never were they satisfied without hearing the cry of the penitent, or the praise of the new-born child of God. And if their toil in this respect was fruitless, they were humbled, distressed, and self-condemned.
We cannot believe in the degeneracy of the present Methodist preaching. The deep yearning after souls, which our fathers felt, is inberited by their sons in the Gospel. But it may, perhaps, be a question meriting serious attention, whether the sermons of the present day give that prominence to the vital doctrines of Christianity which was so conspicuous an element in the preaching of our fathers. It is true the ages differ, but their needs are
the same. The grand remedial scheine of the Gospel remains unchanged; and it is the same truth which makes men free. Much could be said about the advantages of variety in preaching ; the more general education of our people ; and the importance of elegant and well-elaborated discourses. But is a legitimate attention to these considerations inconsistent with a constant setting forth of repentance, faith, and the Atonement,—those grand old doctrines which wrought such wonders in our fathers' hands? Indeed, ought a sermon ever to be preached by a Christian minister in which the plan of salvation is not clearly stated ? Now if any fault exists here, we feel that attention should at once be given to it. Every faithful Wesleyan is jealous for the thorough efficiency and success of his church. He wants to see every hindrance to her growth removed. Might it not be well, therefore, if this subject were taken into serious consideration ? Most certainly it ought to be, if it furnishes any clue to the solution of the problem, why we have a numerical decrease in the midst of our congregational prosperity. Happily, we have long known how to prize a ministry that exalts Christ. Our past history supplies ample proof of its power. And these are not the times when the most vital themes of the Christian religion should stand in abeyance, or occupy a position of secondary importance only.
But is this Connexional decrease simply nominal? Will not a minute analysis show the tendency to declension to be more widespread than we are willing to admit? The number of Districts reporting a decrease has gradually risen during the past few years. In 1861 only one District returned a diminution of members. In 1862 eight reported a similar misfortune. Last year the number grew to eleven; whilst fourteen, or nearly one half the Home Districts, now show a numerical loss. Had the decrease been confined to two or three places, we might have found satisfactory local causes to explain it. But this rapid extension of the evil forces the conviction upon our minds that the causes are general. Another fact confirms this view. In eight of the seventeen Districts showing an increase, the present additions are less than one-seventh of those reported by the same Districts in 1863. It must be remembered, also, that thirty-six is the net decrease. The prosperity of seventeen Districts has been nullified before any loss at all could be reported. And it is deplorable that the successes in our more influential Districts should be overbalanced by the declension in others, after the expenditure of twelve months' toil
. After this review, our numerical decrease can hardly be looked upon as nominal. It comes at a time when we might fairly have expected a large ingathering to the church. Like a dark cloud suddenly obscuring the morning sunlight, this calamity has come upon us when all appeared bright and hopeful. Perhaps our rapid material prosperity has been å snare. Churches, like individuals, are apt to become self-satisfied when enjoying temporal success. If this has been our fault, it now behoves us to be up and doi ng, lest the Master should chasten us yet again.
Of the fourteen Districts now reporting a decrease, Oxford, Bath, South Wales, North Wales, Macclesfield, and Hull were similarly situated last
year. The present loss in North Wales and Macclesfield amounts to more than the whole of our gross decrease. The returns of these two Districts are singularly unsatisfactory. North Wales reported two thousand six hundred and thirty-four additional members in 1860 and 1861. But twelve hundred and fifty-six, or nearly one half of these additions, have been lost again. In 1862 Macclesfield reported an increase of eight bundred and forty-one. Three fourths of this number have since declined. We pause here to ask if any and what explanations can be given of these losses. How does it transpire that these large proportions have left us? When the accessions were made to these Districts, à gracious religious work appeared to be going forward. And it is said the present deficiencies are the result of the reaction succeeding those special revivals.
It is not our intention to discredit this suggestion. Possibly it is correct. But, it being beyond our province to assert its truth, we leave it to the individuals immediately concerned to satisfy themselves in relation thereto. The fact that lamentable decreases have followed the large additions is painfully real; and many important questions are opened thereby. Must a revival always be followed by a reaction and loss? A falling away is possible when the excitement attending such occasions has subsided. But surely something is radically wrong when the declension is so widespread. Perhaps greater prudence should have been displayed in admitting members into Society; or more care should have been shown in selecting persons to conduct so important a movement. Methodist history proves that the most permanent benefits accrue to the church from those revivals which are carried on by the ordinary agency and in the most orderly way.
The decrease in the Liverpool District is comparatively small, but is the more remarkable, coming, as it does, after four years of very encouraging success. Perhaps this is owing to the influence of the cotton famine. Sheffield has hardly changed its numerical position for several years, and this fact is not redeemed by any general local activity. In some of the remaining Districts local causes might be referred to as having helped to diminish our numbers, but they are not of sufficient Connexional importance to call for special mention. Wherever a decrease happens, purely local elements must operate. But a general tendency must be explained by causes which are general also. We now proceed to specify and consider some alleged explanations.
It is asserted that one reason why our numbers do not multiply in a fair proportion with our congregations, is that a dislike to class-meetings is spreading among the families of our more wealthy people. If this suggested explanation be true, it demands immediate and the gravest consideration from our responsible authorities. That junior members of respectable Wesleyan families do shrink from joining Society, whilst they retain a nominal connexion with our church as hearers, may be true. But why? Can it be credited that any large number of young persons, educated in Methodism, and surrounded from early childhood with Methodist influences, have strong and unconquerable prejudices against class-meetings,