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362 GENERAL BAPTISTS IN 1883.
One thing is as certain as it is gratifying—“we are in the faith;” in the faith of the New Testament, and are as much attached to it and to our federation which expresses it and works for it as ever. We are not in the faith of Augustine; we never were. Nor in that of Calvin, and never shall be. But we are in the faith as it stands developed in the writings of James and Peter, Paul and John, and is found in the Greek fathers, men nearer to the apostolic faith than Augustine or Calvin, and, if we may say so, is summarized in our “Articles of Religion;” and we hold it as tenaciously, and practise it as earnestly, and in the same large charity, as our fathers. We are not, as they were not (and we never shall be), rigid systematizers; for it does not seem to us that Christ Jesus came into the world to make a dead machine, and to make it most abundantly mechanical; but to give life, and to give it so abundantly that it will (to talk after the manner of Spencer) “continuously adjust” itself to its “external relations.”
“We are a “peculiar people,” akin to the Church of England in our Protestantism, to Particular Baptists in our conception of Baptism, to Congregationalists in our church polity, and yet with more than a “dash of Presbyterianism” in the temper of our church relations; similar to the Quakers in our preference for simplicity and the thoroughness of our dependence on the Spirit, and as broad as the Wesleyans in our exposition of the sacrifice of Christ, and yet in our traditions and spirit we are (if we may borrow a word from politics) Christian Radicals. Our eyes are in the future. We have been pioneers. Our ancestors were the first to claim, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, full and absolute “liberty of conscience;” and we cling not only to the capital doctrine, but also to the pioneer position. What is being called “New Theology” in some quarters is largely an adoption of the cautious temper of our fathers as to all creeds, an acceptance of their emphasis in doctrine, and a fresh expression of the “three great universalities” of our brief and broad creed.
But though we are in the faith, the figures representing our condition and progress declare that our faith ought to prove itself by better and greater works than those we are now doing. In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the United States, General Baptists are making cheering progress (and together with those in India and England number not less than 180,000), but at home our rate of increase is painfully slow. The facts cited in Mr. March's letter, together with the Church “Reports,” reveal a mournful condition. We seem to be in the agonies of an erasure fever. One church has “ somewhat” revised its list; a second promises to do it “thoroughly;” a third is keeping a “strict hand and a firm eye” on its church list; others have resolved, at all costs, to be true; others have paid the full price, and are rejoicing in the truth. We are not alone in this fever. I see in the lists of the London Baptist Association, “erasures” for 104, 119, 163, 204, besides others running far towards three figures; and it is to be feared that the same features mark the condition of other churches.
Brothers, let us make a “clean breast of it” in this year of justice 1883, and start 1884 with justice for a line, and righteousness for a plummet. But we shall only do this when (1) we keep a non-resident or “irregular” list of church members who are not reported in our
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returns to the Association; (2) deduct at least three per cent. for those who are on the point of falling out of the lists; and (3) make a conscience of understating rather than overstating our church strength.* Literal accuracy runs greater risk of being false than a numerical understatement. But supposing we have “squared our accounts,” the question recurs —What is the exact meaning of these erasures 2 We must not take a false alarm. There is no doubt the loss is mainly one of figures, and rarely one of souls. It is a change in book-keeping, and not in the drift and trend of the Christian life. Mr. Spurgeon's erasure list is typical. Compiled on the same plan as others it would contain 122 names; but forty-five are set down as having joined other churches without letters, and fifteen have emigrated, and may have joined churches abroad. These facts suggest a way of accounting for about one half of the erasures. They join other churches without “letters.” Again, these large erasures are chiefly in the town churches, and are generally found associated with a change of pastorate. The fact is, denominationalism, though not dead, is “sleeping;” and in our busy towns few persons, I fear, elect their religious home on the grounds of identity with the church in its view of baptism, or its creed on the “Atonement.” It is the preacher who fills the vision. Moral and social affinities sway the choice, and not doctrine. Of course all this is very bad. Men and women ought to support their “views” by attending a chapel whose seats are a penance, the singing an affliction, the atmosphere below zero, and the preacher a-well—not one of the best. But “ought,” in this case, stands for nothing. The preacher determines the audience, and when the preacher goes the “erasure” list, sooner or later, witnesses to the change. And this without any blame whatever to the new preacher. For many have attended his predecessor from the force of old associations, travelling a considerable distance to have the impulse of hallowed friendships, and the force of continued spiritual impact from the same centre; but that is all changed; and though the new be also the abler man, and has many advantages springing from his later advent amongst men, yet he must be an altogether exceptional preacher if he is able to foreclose a large exodus of those members who reside at a distance from his place of ministry, or who have risen during the period, partly by the aid of his forerunner, into a “higher social grade.” While, then, we bear the fires of our erasure fever bravely, and resolve to be accurate for evermore, yet as it does not improve a man's digestion to tell his age to the minute, nor add tone and vigour to his body to get his exact height and weight, so correct statistics will not save mankind, or add fresh life to our churches. We must fairly face the fact that we are not doing the work God has set us, and for the doing of which He has saved us by His Son. Neither in village nor in town are we advancing. It is regarded as inevitable that we should be stagnant in the villages. The “promising young people” still seek the busier scenes of life, and the social forces play against us with terrific energy; and so for a long time we have been grateful if we could hold our ground. But, just now, we are failing in the towns as well. Take twenty of those in which we are planted, and in seven of them the
* Cf. G. B. Magazine, 1882, pp. 107,148.
864 GENERAL BAPTISTS IN 1883.
advance of the year is represented by units, and only in thirteen have we made any numerical headway at all, and that not much. We are spending large sums of money, and rendering great service to the spiritual well-being of those towns in many ways, but we are not increasing our working forces, although in all of them the population is rapidly mounting up. This ought not to be, and must not be.
What, then, must be done? (1.) It goes without saying, that we need more spiritual life, a stronger love of souls, a clearer vision of truth, a heartier devotion to Christ and His kingdom, and a spirit of thoroughgoing self-sacrifice. O that God would pour out His Spirit abundantly upon us!
(2.) But our needs are in other respects not all alike. In some directions we require a little more self-restraint in the management of church affairs; greater courtesy and forbearance; a winning gentleness and conquering meekness; less dictation from men of strength ; more consideration for the weak; kinder speech, and a greater willingness to be anything for the sake of “edifying the church.”
(3.) Some churches would begin a new and better career by uniting together and inviting a man to direct their spiritual activities, and nourish their spiritual fervour. What they cannot do alone, or only do miserably, they might do effectively together.
(4.) Special Services might be introduced into some churches with great advantage. The Year Book bears witness to the advantage of “Services for the Young,” conducted in different parts of the denomination by our friend Mr. S. D. Rickards. There are towns and villages that should not let November close without a “special effort,” preceded by special prayer, and pervaded by a pure and living spirit.
(5.) In other quarters it is necessary to recollect that spiritual progress has material limits. We are still in the body: and the “body” of a church is the edifice in which it worships. Mr. Spurgeon's numbers will not go much higher than they are now, save as they embrace worshippers in other buildings than the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The capacity of the building fixes the limit for the numerical growth of the churches. We have more than a dozen churches in sight of that limit; and unless they create off-shoots, or build larger chapels, they will add nothing to the figures of the denomination. This requires immediate and practical attention.
(6.) Would not a little more freeness in giving money be the beginning of a spiritual revival in some cases? The machinery is clogged for want of this golden oil. Workers are fettered. The minister is chafed and hindered. Efforts are dwarfed because the outflow of generosity is so pinched and narrow. “Freely ye have received, freely give,” saith the Spirit to the churches. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
(7.) Suffer me to say again, we need more interest in our organic life. Secretaries of Conferences should not be mere recording clerks; but along with the President, Vice-President, and Committee, should exercise an affectionate episcopal care over all the churches in the district, encouraging the feeble, aiding the tempted and tried with counsel and sympathy, and rejoicing with the prosperous. Specially should the nonreporting churches be kindly visited. Silence is suspicious. Co-opera
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ting with the Local Preachers' Association in this work, the Conferences might save churches from suffering, and from peril of extinction.
Might not the Conferences also more nourishingly feed the denominational enthusiasm for the Building Fund, the College, and the Home and Foreign Missions. The Building Fund might easily be increased. Certain persons give as they are asked, feeling sure that they are not likely to be allowed to forget any good work, and all you have to do is to ask often enough. The Building Fund should be placed on the list of the Church's Agent for denominational work, and these waiting friends have the opportünity of aiding one of our most valuable societies. Reinforcements to our working staff in Orissa and Rome are urgently needed, the College never had a stronger plea, and our Home Mission work ought to be extended a hundredfold. All along the line we require more giving: larger gifts from those who give, and the number of givers greatly increased. The wealth of the nation has increased immensely, and we cannot believe it has gone to every other Christian body, and left the General Baptists without its benediction. When will our churches reap their full share of the nation's prosperity ?
(8.) Another and final point I will mention. We must pay more attention to preaching. The best preaching has the golden key to the immediate future. Phillipps Brooks says, “The better men will always conquer the better cause. I suppose no cause could be so good that sustained by bad men, and opposed by any error whose champions were men of spotless lives, it would not fall. The truth must conquer; but it must first embody itself in goodness.” The best preaching can only be given by the BEST MEN. Robert Collyer, one of the ablest of the preachers of America, was asked the other day what he believed to be the key to success in the ministry; and he answered promptly and heartily, “Live, live s” Indeed it is the key to any real human or divine success. “Live, live” a large life, full and quick in its sympathies, ever going deeper and deeper in its contact with men, and soaring higher and higher in its communion with God; rich and cultured, active and growing, receiving and giving out, well-read in the past, alert in eye for the present, large in hope of the future; steeped in love, strong in grip, clear in vision, and brave in deed; a Christ-like life, noble, pure, helpful, self-sacrificing, magnetizing lost souls. Even Lord Carnarvon, and no one will imagine him forgetful of the dignities, says, “any modification which would infuse new life into the too conventional and formal character of our sermons is desirable.”
May the Lord Himself give us of His fulness, and grace for grace, so that from end to end of our General Baptist churches, abroad and at home, we may have His life, and have it more abundantly
THE CHRISTIAN TEMPER—“A readiness to part with our dearest comforts, when required for the sake of Christ, is that temper which the Lord requires of all His disciples, and which the gospel effectually produceth in all those in whom it savingly takes place.”—Dan Taylor.
“Unkind expressions injure rather than serve the cause of truth.”—Dan Taylor.
The Value of a Capable and Competent Ministry.*
BY REV. THOMAS GOADBY, B.A.
OWING to our entering next Session, at Nottingham, in connexion with an important centre of University teaching, upon a new era in the history of the College, the matter of ways and means has become increasingly important, and calls for a preliminary remark. Our income from ordinary sources during the past year has been less than the expenditure, and our treasury shows a considerable, if diminished, deficit. In my visits to the churches I have frequently to ask for liberal congregational collections: once in my Report I dwelt upon the desirability of strengthening our subscription list, in which the larger sums are conspicnously few. Allow me now to urge upon our friends the importance and need of endowments for college purposes. All the greater and more influential colleges of the world are endowed, some of them heavily. There are Lectureships, and Fellowships, and Scholarships, and liberal investments for Professors chairs. The training of medical men, of soldiers, of civil servants, of bishops and clergy, and even of noblemen and princes is in part dependent upon endowments. The reason is obvious. Trade fluctuates, supply and demand waver uncertainly, liberality is to some extent an unknown and always a variable quantity; but education is the slow process of years, and should be calmly, steadily, uninterruptedly pursued. The principle of endowments is, I venture to think, sometimes repudiated by us to our disadvantage, and with no apparent consistency. We lose much; and we do not save our logic, our rhetoric, or our conscience. We build chapels and pay for them, and they are endowments. We build schools and pay for them, and they are endowments. We build ministers houses and secure college premises, and pay for them, and they are endowments. It is well known that some of us would never have had a University training at all but for endowments, and in any case that training would not have been possible in the form in which it actually fell to our lot but for endowments. The whole educational system of the country is now based in large measure upon the principle, or what is equivalent to the principle, of endowments, and "private venture” schools are going to the wall. The conditions under which education is conducted, and the standard of efficiency in teaching—and I may say this with gratitude and emphasis in Bradford-have been very considerably improved and raised by the judicious use of subsidies and endowments. Let us, then, allow it to be well understood in the right quarter, let us make it widely known amongst our friends, that we welcome, that we seek, that we need, that we will endeavour, as we obtain them, wisely to use endowments for purposes connected with the education of the Christian ministry. There can surely be no better, more patriotic, more philanthropic, more religious employment of wealth than to aid the training and promote the efficiency of the ministry of the gospel of Christ.
With the growing needs of our churches and of the world, our people have always enough to do to keep all their agencies at work.
Address at Bradford at the Public Meeting on behalf of the College.