Churches are Heaven’s appointed agencies for the salvation of men. For, though it would be false and profane to say that men could not be saved outside the churches, and without their aid, yet, as a matter of fact, but few are converted and saved aside from associated Christian effort, as represented by the churches, or the zeal of personal piety, as nourished and stimulated by them.
The mission of a Christian Church, therefore, is to a “world lying in wickedness,” to men “dead in trespasses and sins,” as the bearer of glad tidings to “prisoners of hope,” and herald of the great salvation to lost men. In order to accomplish this, the Church must sustain a suitable spiritual condition, and maintain itself in the faith and discipline, the order and ordinances of the Gospel. Indeed, for this cause Christ gave Himself for the Church, ”that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”—Eph. 5:27. A carnal, selfish, worldly minded Church can never perform this holy mission; indeed, is neither worthy of it, nor fitted for it.
The responsibility of a Church is both corporate and personal. As a body it is bound to make its influence felt far and near. But the body is what the individual units which compose it make it to be. Each member, therefore, should strive to be and to do what the entire Church ought to be and to do, “the light of the world and the salt of the earth,” “a city set on a hill, that cannot be hid.” There is work for all, and work adapted to the condition and ability and capacity of each, however weak and humble. Old and young, great and small, male and female, have something to do, and something that each can do—if there be a heart to do it. The efficiency and usefulness of a Church depend on each member’s filling his own place, and doing his own work, so as neither to attempt the work of others, nor yet to stand idly by while others serve. In nothing, perhaps, are the wisdom and skill of the pastor and officers more apparent than in finding work for all, and giving something fit and adapted for each to do.
It is a sad and somewhat humiliating reflection that so many churches clustered together in communities with all the appointments and means of grace at their command, and yet that they exert so small an influence on these communities—make such trifling inroads on the domain of sin, and win so few—trophies for the truth. The moral influence of these institutions of Christianity ought to do more to repress iniquity, and to increase righteousness. The results of Church life and action are often more apparent in heathen than in Christian lands. Doubtless the explanation of this is to be found in a lack of vital godliness, and for want of a higher standard of Christian living among us.
The common and ordinary means of doing good, and the methods of Christian work as now usually organized, are as follows:
I. Gospel Ministrations.
The preaching of the Gospel, the proclamation of pardon and eternal life through faith in Christ, is the foremost and the most effective instrumentality for the salvation of the world.
It is divinely ordained, and divinely sanctioned and sustained. The command is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. And lo, I am with you alway, unto the end of the world.”—Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:20. The promise is, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11. Though an apparently feeble, even an obnoxious agency, vet it is “mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.” “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”—1 Cor. 1:23,24.
1. It is taken for granted, as a matter of course, that every Church will support a faithful and an evangelical ministry among them, for ordinary service in the house of God. This is for the edification of the Church itself, and for the instruction and conversion of all, old and young, who may be attracted to it. A home ministry should be able and faithful, and generously sustained. If the nations are to be fed, the family at home must be built up and instructed in the purposes of grace. The more the saints know and taste of the word of life, the more liberally and earnestly will they send living bread to the perishing nations.
2. But there come times in the history of every Church, when extraordinary services seem demanded, special occasions indicated by the Spirit’s movement, and an unusual disposition on the part of the people to give heed to spiritual and eternal concerns. While all times are times of favor from the Lord, and truly times of need with men, yet it is clearly manifest that there are times which are more hopeful for sowing, and more abundant in reaping than others. Such should be specially improved.
3. Within the range of every Church, and within the parish lines of every pastor’s field, there are certain peculiarly destitute places, which are generally very much neglected, and to which few, if any, means of grace are furnished. The people cannot, or do not attend the churches. If they have the Gospel it must be carried to them. And often they are more ready and eager hearers of the word than stated congregations, surfeited with its abundance. Under faithful spiritual cultivation such destitute communities often become fruitful as the garden of the Lord.
4. But the world is the field, whose bounds extend beyond home, and country and kindred. Begin at Jerusalem, but do not stop till all nations are reached, and every creature taught the way of life through Christ crucified. Each Church and each individual should feel his obligation to aid in sending the Gospel to the destitute the world over. That was Christ’s purpose and design. For that He died. And those who have His spirit will strive to carry forward the work He began; and ” if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
Note 1.—In some of these destitute fields, pastors will find some of their most pleasant hours of labor, and some of their richest rewards. In such services there will be sincerity and a simplicity hardly expected in the more formal, and often perfunctory services of the sanctuary. The hearty welcome given to simple truth, instead of cool reserve, or critical hesitancy, is quite refreshing to the spirit of a true minister of Christ.
Note 2.—Some churches do, and many more might—and ought—sustain a colporteur, or missionary, to labor a part, or all of the time in such destitute neighborhoods. Not a few able churches support a pastor’s assistant to aid in work too large and laborious for one man to do in addition to pulpit ministrations. Most churches could accomplish tenfold more in such ways than they do.
Note 3.—Great good has been effected by a few churches, in developing and putting to use lay-preaching. In almost every Church are brethren who possess more than ordinary gifts for exhortation, expounding the Scriptures, addressing congregations, and conducting religious meetings. Why should such abilities lie dormant, and find no appropriate exercise? They will not push themselves to the front; but they can be encouraged to assume responsibilities. It would be a great blessing to the churches themselves if such capable members should be called into requisition for holding meetings in destitute places, and bearing the gospel to those beyond the ordinary means of grace.
II. Sunday School Work.
In their spirit and purpose, Sunday-schools are in harmony with gospel methods of doing good; though, unlike the Church, there is no scriptural precept or precedent for their separate and independent organization.
The churches should provide religious instruction for the children and youth of their own families, and for the children and youth of other families who may be disposed to avail themselves of the privilege, quite as much. Particularly should this instruction make prominent a study of the Bible. This is the one text-book for, and the one purpose of, Sunday-school and Bible-class study. It is likely that, so far as the local congregation is concerned, next to the preaching of the Gospel, the Sunday-school is to be ranked in importance as an evangelical agency. To what extent its object is realized depends largely on the course pursued by the superintendent, officers and teachers.
The influence of Sunday-school work is threefold: The direct influence on the pupils in storing their minds with religious knowledge, forming their characters to virtue and moulding their hearts to good morals. The indirect influence on the homes of the pupils, to which they carry their impressions from the school; their books and papers to be read, and the songs they had learned to sing, to be repeated in their own families. The reflex influence on officers and teachers, and all who are interested in, and work or make effort for, the school. Those who are engaged in doing good are benefited as much by the effort as those to whom the good is done. Hence, those who stand aloof from any Christian service are the chief losers.
The religious training of the young, both in the household and in the Church, is undervalued, and too much neglected. The character of men and women, and their influence for good or evil in subsequent life, depend largely on their moral and religious training in childhood. Divine wisdom has foreseen and provided for this, and has enjoined that: “These words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest in the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”—Deut. 6:6,7. Aside from the direct beneficial influence on the young themselves, no greater boon can be conferred on posterity than to train the rising generation to virtue, honor and integrity; and this is most effectually done by Christian culture. In accomplishing this, the Sunday-school is a potent agency.
1. The Relation of the School to the Church.
There are in the main three prevailing theories of Sunday-school control, somewhat diverse, and not a little at variance with each other, each of which for the greater part works smoothly, because of the good disposition of those concerned in the work.
First—That the school is created by, dependent on, and controlled by the Church, as a part of its legitimate work. In this case the Church appoints its officers, with or without instructions, as it would appoint a committee for any other service. Of course these appointments would be on consultation with the workers, and not in an arbitrary manner. The Church is responsible for all expenses incurred, and for the general management of the body. The pastor is the official head of this, as of all other Church work, even though not practically engaged in its details. Undoubtedly this is the true normal relation of the school to the Church.
Second—That the school is a benevolent association, like any other organized for a specific purpose, not created by, dependent on, or subject to the authority of the Church. On this theory, individuals interested in the work, from the same or from different churches, form themselves into a society, appoint their own officers, make their own laws, meet their own expenses, and manage their own affairs. The Church sympathizes in the work, aids it, if so disposed, but assumes no responsibility in connection with it.
Third—That the school adopt its methods, appoint its officers, and administer its government, subject to the approval of the Church, which holds a veto power, and the right of ultimate control in all matters of authority. The school is allowed independence with non interference, so long as its management meets the approval of the Church, but when they differ, the Church rules. This method is a modification of the two preceding.
Note 1.—In the case of a “home school”—that is, one growing out of a given Church, and occupying the Church’s premises for its service, the first of these plans is the only consistent one; although many home schools are organized on the second plan, where the pastor and Church have no more authority or control than if it were a temperance society or a literary club. This is all wrong, and the wonder is that troubles do not more frequently arise.
Note 2.—Where schools are organized in destitute regions, and sustained by persons from different churches, constituting distinctively mission schools, the second method is perhaps the only practicable one, since they are the outgrowth not of Church activity, but of individual zeal.
Note 3.—Every Church should feel obligated to provide religious instruction, under its own inspection, for its own children, and should know what kind of instructors they have, and what kind of instructions they receive, in this most important part of their education. In such a service the pastor should lead the way, and insist on its being done, and being properly done.
2. The Continuance of School Service.
In city schools, formerly, two sessions were commonly or frequently held on Sunday. In a few instances this practice is continued, but is of doubtful expediency. Certainly it is of doubtful expediency in home schools, whatever may be said of mission schools. In many thinly populated neighborhood; and frontier settlements school exercises are wholly intermitted during the rigors of winter weather. In not a few this is inevitable, but in many others, no doubt, with a little more energy and perseverance, they might be continued throughout the year, though possibly with a diminished attendance.
3. Character of the Government.
A Sunday-school cannot be governed quite like other schools. The government must be paternual and kind. Corporeal punishments and ordinary penalties are not resorted to, but moral forces and the power of love must rule. Neither should the promise of rewards be too freely used. Presents, picnics and festivals, held out to the pupils as an inducement to attend, present a wrong and selfish motive. Once in awhile these have a good effect, not as a promise beforehand made, but as a pleasant enjoyment afterward granted.
4. Exercises Should be Diversified.
The exercises should be greatly diversified, in which singing should have a large place. Singing pleases children, and they readily learn to unite in it. It instructs and elevates the sentiments, while it softens and subdues the ruder traits and rougher passions. Children soon weary of protracted application, therefore the exercises should not be long continued in any one direction. It requires all the versatility of superintendent and teachers to sustain the interest of the school and the classes. Of course this should not be carried to any such an extent as to dissipate serious interest, and make the school seem a play resort instead of a place for learning.
5. Books for the Library.
The books furnished for the children to read and take to their homes deserve very special attention. It is no easy task to make a judicious selection of books for such a use. Good books are one of the best appliances for Sunday-school work. But the practice of admitting to these libraries so large a portion of fiction, even if it have a weak flavor of religion, is to be severely condemned. The sickly, sentimental love stories, with a little prayer-meeting talk interspersed, fifth or sixth rate in literary quality, will counteract a large part of the good the school will otherwise accomplish. But good books are greatly to be commended. For some years past periodicals adapted to this use have come largely into vogue, and to a considerable extent have displaced the libraries. Papers are cheap, and being pictorial, are attractive and pleasing. Good, sound books will, however, hold their places.
6. Bible-Class Study.
This is a similar, not a separate, department of religious instruction. These classes contain the older and more advanced portions of the youth, together with adults, associated for mutual study of the Word of God. The formation and support of such classes should be encouraged for the great advantage to those who compose them, and also as a place for the members of lower classes when they suppose they have outgrown the proper dimensions of their own.
As this is not a manual on methods of study and plans of management, the subject need here be no further pursued.
Note 4.—Since the study of the word of God is the one specific object of Bible-school work, the one thing which justifies its existence and gives it importance, therefore nothing should be allowed to obscure that one thing, or interfere with its successful prosecution. All the arrangements of the school should make prominent the lesson, illustrate its meaning, and enforce its teaching.
Note 5.—Nor is it enough that the letter of the lesson be comprehended. Teachers should never be satisfied until the spirit and power of the truth shall savingly affect the hearts of the pupils. An intellectual mastery of the Bible will effect but little unless the salvation of the soul be secured. To this result should all the labor tend.
Note 6.—In this field of Christian endeavor the pastor has great responsibility and great opportunity. He should exercise a constant, watchful care and guardianship over it. He may, or he may not, become statedly identified with its exercises, but he should often visit it, speaking such words of cheer and making such suggestions as may seem wise. It will make him familiar with the children, and give him influence with all.
Note 7.—Very little should be said in the school, even by way of notices, calculated to divert the minds from the one purpose for which they are assembled. And the custom in some schools, of circulating tickets for fairs, festivals, picnics, suppers, with elaborate notices and explanations, cannot be too severely condemned. All religious impressions are prevented or obliterated by these captivating devices. They should not be permitted; other opportunities may be allowed for them.
Note 8.—It is to be feared that the Bible itself is becoming too much a stranger in the Sunday-school classes. So much dependence is had on “lesson leaves” and other “helps,” while the Bible is overlooked as the constant hand-book and text-book of the service. In a study of the Scriptures there is a vast advantage in each teacher and each pupil having his own Bible, in searching that, and becoming familiar with it. It serves a purpose, but not the same purpose nor one equally important, to read a text or a lesson from a slip of paper as from the book itself.
Note 9.—The school deserves and should receive the prayers, sympathies, and sustaining help of the entire Church. Parents and other members, not engaged in it, should often visit it, and thereby show their interest. It is the least they can do, and workers will be cheered by their presence.
Note 10.—A school may be full of vital activity, while all the Church besides may be very dull or very dead. And yet, it is very foolish and very absurd to say the school is as important as the Church, and doing more good. A Church may be degenerate, and false to its mission, but still it is a divine institution. Even the life of the school is the Church’s life transferred to, and centered in, that particular department of service. Unreasoning enthusiasts make a great mistake when they exalt the school at the expense of the Church.
III. Religious Visitation.
Religious visitation is an effective means by which the churches can further their mission among the families of their own immediate field of Christian work; at least, such families as are supposed to have no Church relations, and to be under no definite religious influence.
It is presumed the minister will visit such house-holds, and afford them religious instruction and consolation. But the point here is, that the Church, under the leadership of the pastor, should adopt some plan for systematic religious visitation carried on by private members. The purpose is to hold religious conversation with the inmates, read the Scriptures, and have prayer; invite them to the house of God, and bring the children into the Sunday-school. If in sickness, want, or other misfortune, report them to the Church, and furnish such relief as may be practicable; especially, as in more needy homes, suitable raiment may not be possessed, to furnish it. And in any other way that maybe open, to relieve temporal necessities to those found to be really deserving.
In no other way can Christians more effectually imitate their Lord and Master, who “went about doing good,” mitigating and removing the temporal sufferings of men, that He might the more effectually reach their souls with spiritual food. There is no more Christly mission for the churches than this, (and every member can bear some part in it, if there only be a willing and ready mind. Hearts oppressed with sorrow hunger for sympathy, and welcome the counsels of those who will give it.
This ministry of Christian faith and love cannot well be overestimated in its value, both to those who perform it, and to those who receive it. James was right: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”—James 1:27. And yet how few of God’s people appreciate this work, or are anxious to imitate this most notable feature of the life and character of Jesus?
As to the method for this service:
1. Let the whole field, which the Church is supposed to occupy, be divided into districts, and a certain number of families be apportioned to each member, male or female, who is willing to undertake the service; or, let them go “two and two,” which is better, and according to the apostolic plan. Let these visitors report the results of their mission, from time to time, in the social meetings of the Church, or at specially designated times, and at the end of the year make a full report of the work done, and the realized results. Such reports will not only be interesting, but cannot fail to stimulate Christian activity through the entire body.
2. But if the Church as a whole cannot be moved to such a service, then let the few who are willing, agree among themselves to attempt it. The Lord will bless the endeavor, and their success will stimulate others. Should there be but one or two who are willing to make so noble an endeavor, let them try the blessed service, and spread the result before the Church. The Lord can work by few, as well as by many, “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal.”—John 4:36.
Note 1.—Such visits, to serve their purpose, should be strictly religious, and not merely social and friendly. Conversation should be had, so far as practicable, with the various members of the family, as to their personal religious welfare, with reading a brief portion of the Scriptures, and prayer, unless circumstances make these exercises inconsistent or impracticable.
Note 2.—The distribution of tracts and other religious reading should accompany such visits, and will prove greatly beneficial, providing such reading be wisely selected, and adapted to their conditions. Bibles should be furnished for homes destitute of them. A tract or book left at one visit, to be replaced by another at the next, will both interest and profit those disposed to read. This is substantially the work which tract missionaries, Bible readers, and colporteurs perform with so much success.
Note 3.—The most needy and the most hopeful subjects for such a ministry are the afflicted—the sick, the bereaved, those in want, and otherwise the children of misfortune. To such, sympathy and help are no empty compliments, but blessed realities, and those who bring them will be welcomed as ministers of mercy. Temporal mercies bestowed open the heart for the reception of spiritual grace to be welcomed.
Note 4.—Since so large a part of poverty, affliction, and distress in social life arises directly or indirectly from intemperance, constant endeavors should be made in all Christian work to suppress this fearful evil, and to promote temperance; to win the inebriate from his destructive habits, and save his home and household from this terrible curse—a curse which falls on women and children with fearful and appalling severity.
Note 5.—Cases of sickness and want should be reported to the Church, both to stir them to sympathetic cooperation, and to secure the means of relief, and the Church should, according to its ability, furnish temporal aid and relief, thus conferring blessings on both the bodies and souls of the unfortunate.
Note 6.—Such visitation should aim to secure the habitual attendance of adults on Church services, and of the children at Sunday-school, wherever the preferences of the people may lead them; most naturally, though not necessarily, where the visitors themselves worship.
Note 7.—These visits are most profitable if made statedly, usually once each month. Then they will be expected, and probably will be more impressive. In cases of sickness, destitution, or religious seriousness, or for other reasons, where special need demands, or special good is promised, more frequent calls will be required. When Christians with devout spirits become interested in such a work, they will find great pleasure, and an abundant reward in it.
IV. Christian Literature.
Another practicable and effective means for bringing religious truth in contact with human minds is in the use of the printed page; by disseminating a sound and salutary Christian literature in the houses of the people. Both for the quickening and edification of Christians, and for the profiting of the unconverted, religious reading is of the greatest importance. Every good book or periodical put into circulation is a personal and a public blessing. And this means of grace is so accessible that none need be without it. Aside from the periodical religious press, there are numerous societies with abundant capital for the purpose, whose only business is the publication and circulation of religious reading; and that, too, at prices so low as to bring it within the reach of all. Our own, as well as other Christian denominations, has its publication society, doing nobly and well this work, and deserving the utmost confidence and the largest patronage.
1. A few good books should be in every home. Many are not needed, and a few can be obtained. A few, read over and over until the mind is thoroughly imbued with their spirit, are better than many carelessly read, or not read at all. Many families, and many Christian families, it is a pity to say, have masses of romances, novels, light and injurious reading, to pervert the taste and poison the minds of the children, and few or none of an instructive and devotional character.
2. Church libraries, composed of sound and substantial works of general as well as of religious literature, are an excellent means for intellectual and religious instruction. These serve for adults what Sunday-school libraries do for the young. They can be entirely free to the congregation, or used at a trifling fee, which may go to replenish the list.
3. Religious periodicals are, if possible, still more important than books, not in their intrinsic worth indeed, but because they are so much more easily obtained, and so much more likely to be read. The cost of a weekly religious paper is so small that few are too poor to obtain one, while its value in the family is very great. Few things could become so efficient an auxiliary to a pastor in his pulpit and pastoral work as a really good religious paper in every family. And a wise pastor will see to it that his people are well supplied with such helpers; helpers both for them and him. A reliable denominational paper should be in the home of every Church family. It is certainly a shame for Baptists not to know what is going on among their own people.
Note 1.—An easy and effective method of scattering religious truth in a community is by lending good books and periodicals from house to house, among those destitute of them. Few persons would refuse, or neglect to read what was kindly loaned, though they did not care to purchase, or even to read, if it were their own.
Note 2.—If churches, or benevolent individuals would pay for copies of papers to be sent gratuitously to those unable to buy—as some do—they would do a good service, and one becoming Christian philanthropy. A small fund could be raised for this purpose. Such seed-sowing would be blessed.
Note 3.—Denominational periodicals should be generously sustained, and widely circulated. They are maintained as the advocates of evangelical truth in general, but especially of those distinctive truths, which are denominationally cherished, and held as vitally important, and which in this way are effectually defended and propagated.
V. Distinctive Mission Work.
Christianity is the most emphatic missionary force in the world, and every Christian Church is a divinely appointed missionary society, of the primitive type. If every Church were instinct with the life of its Divine Head, and true to the purpose for which it was instituted, no other missionary organizations would be needed to send the Gospel of the blessed God to the ends of the earth. In apostolic history, no others were known, and yet they went everywhere preaching Christ, and filled the world with the Gospel of His salvation.
What has thus far been said as to the mission of the churches, has had principal reference to their specific but limited work, in the fields where they are located. Every Church and every disciple, however, is under bonds to Christ to aid in carrying out, and fulfilling the great commission, “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature!” No Church can hope for prosperity at home unless it strives to give the means of salvation to all men. He that waters others shall himself be watered. And they that withhold more than is meet will find it tending to poverty.
It is a fallacy with which many curse themselves, to say that they have hard work to sustain their own Church, and therefore cannot help others. They that withhold from others who need, dry up the fountains of their benevolence, and have less for themselves, instead of more. He who alone can give the increase, prospers those who trust and honor Him. The churches that do not sympathize with, and aid missionary endeavor, are never very flourishing or prosperous. The missionary churches are uniformly the most honored and useful, whether rich or poor, large or small.
We have our missionary societies, for both home and foreign Christian service, in their various departments doing grand and most effective work, having a long and honorable history of good deeds, and noble successes. They possess all the appliances for the most effective and economical prosecution of their gracious enterprises. Their service commands our confidence, and we know their work is in harmony with gospel purposes. The churches are bound to give these societies their sympathies, their prayers, and their generous pecuniary support. Thereby they help to give the knowledge of salvation to those beyond the reach of their individual endeavors. The success which has attended the missionary work of American Baptists, through these societies, both in our own country, and in foreign lands, is most amazing, and testifies unmistakably to God’s blessing on the work, and the favor with which He regards the methods pursued.
In all that is said or may be said it must be constantly borne in mind that a very large responsibility does and necessarily must rest on the pastors. For such purposes is the pastor made overseer of the flock, to instruct in duty as well as in privilege, and lead on to the discharge of every obligation. Few churches will be missionary churches if the pastors feel no interest in such work, and do not stimulate them, propose plans, impart information, and lead the people forward. With a pastor to do this faithfully, few churches would fail or fall short of a good degree of effectiveness.
Note 1.—In most of our churches there are missionaries and other benevolent societies of various kinds, acting in concert with larger external societies. The wisdom and expediency of this course may well be questioned. Indeed, it is a humiliating confession that it is the apathy of the churches touching the objects contemplated, which at all justifies the existence of such organization within them. They, at times, accomplish great good, and their intention is always good. But the Church was instituted by Divine Wisdom for these very purposes, and is an organization better fitted for their accomplishment than any other can be.
Note 2.—It is to be feared that the churches find relief from a sense of their legitimate obligation, and throw the responsibility of benevolent action on supplementary organizations. This should not be done. In such a case, “let every man bear his own burden.” A Church cannot alienate its duties any more than its privileges, nor transfer to others its obligations, and still be guiltless.
Note 3.—In some churches there are so many interior organizations that the Church proper is well-nigh lost sight of, covered up and submerged by these secondary circles. This cannot be wise, nor according to the Founder’s plan. They abstract the vitality of the parent body, and concentrate the active energy of the whole around their specific parts; they, therefore, leave the remainder of the Church in apathetic inactivity, as but the segments of a circle, of which these societies are the vital centre.
Note 4.—Another difficulty, possible in such circumstances, is that these specific circles tend to restrict and localize benevolence, by confining all their endeavors each to one special department, overlooking for the time all others. It makes specialists in good works of the members of each separate society. No doubt more work is done, and more money is raised for that one object by making it special. But whether that is the best training, particularly for young Christians, is a question. The benevolence of the gospel, and the impulses of the new life are as broad and varied as the wants of humanity, and the opportunities offered for doing good. The including whole should be regarded, while the included parts may be held in special remembrance.
Note 5.—Is there not, for all this energy and working, power—which certainly should not be repressed nor discouraged—a better way? If a Church will do nothing for missions, or any other Christian work, except poorly to sustain its own languid life, let those who feel impelled to do more, instead of forming a separate organization for the purpose, labor to inspire the pastor and other members with their own enthusiasm, and if they cannot be moved, then let them go to work personally, with agreement but without organization; do what they can to stimulate others; raise what money they can for the purpose; make a report of their doings, at the close of a prayer-meeting; seek the cooperation of others, and continue this course for awhile. It would not be long before the whole body, instead of a fraction of it, would be interested and moved to recognize the need, and work for it.
VI. Moral Reform Societies.
What relation does a Church sustain to the various reformatory movements, supported by organizations which contemplate the suppression of specific vices, and the confirmation of specific virtues, but which are not expressly religious in their purpose? Such societies exist for the suppression of intemperance, Sabbath-breaking, gambling, licentiousness, and other vicious and corrupting practices.
A Church is a society emphatically for the suppression of all vice and for the encouragement of all virtue. And no person should be admitted to, or retained in, its fellowship who will not both agree to, and walk by, this rule. If the churches were loyal to their duty, and true to their mission, they could do more for the suppression of immoralities than any other organization. But, as it is, no doubt some forms of moral evil can be better antagonized by distinct organizations, where all are of one mind concerning the object to be accomplished. The confession must be made, however mortifying, that in some churches there are members, who, for personal reasons, do not like to hear much said on the temperance question, and some ministers there are who lack courage to say much on it; while the souls of others burn with zeal to do something to suppress the fearful evils of intemperance.
Since churches, as such, cannot identify themselves organically with other societies, they should in every consistent way give their moral support to encourage such endeavors, as well as pray for their success. All that any moral society professes, the Church professes; and the Church professes more—not only to conserve the morals of society, but to save the souls of men. Only let them be true to their profession. They can well give their “God speed” to every individual, and to every organization which honestly strives to do good in the world.
Note 1.—It is often a serious question, how far a Church member may consistently identify himself with societies whose object is the suppression of prevailing moral evils. Certain it is that every Christian should encourage, and, so far as practicable, aid every good enterprise. It is equally certain that no Church member should favor any alliance with outside associations, however good their intent, which will interfere with his most faithful performance of duty in the Church. There his first service is due. The claims of the Church are paramount and imperative. The man who can be false to his Church, while he is faithful to other fraternities, shows how unworthy he is to bear the Christian name.
Note 2.—The moral reform societies are not inimical to Christianity or to the churches; certainly not so far as their objects are concerned, whatever unwise and fanatical members may sometimes affect to be. With many mistakes they have done great good, and will do much more. With the prevailing indifference, on the part of churches, to these moral issues, Christian men can often work more hopefully through them, than in any other way.
Note 3.—As to the propriety of Church members connecting themselves with secret societies, this is to be said: that whether such societies be good or bad in themselves, all the advantages they propose can be obtained in less objectionable ways, since on the part of many there are strong objections to them. It is not a Christian act to grieve brethren for the sake of some slight personal gratification. To ministers of Christ this reason applies with double force. Why they should wish to be identified with secret organizations it is impossible to see. Such a step seems quite beneath the dignity of the high office of the heralds of salvation. Their company is, of course, earnestly sought for to grace these secret conclaves, but why should men in such positions desire to hold offices with high-sounding titles though with empty honors, or with childish vanity wish to be decked out with tinsel and showy trappings? Christian ministers should possess a holier ambition. Oath-bound societies of all kinds should be greatly deprecated by Christian men.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).