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It was this that staggered us. We had prepared ourselves for the song of thanksgiving which increase awakens, but had to sound the wail of disappointment. Wé “ camè seeking fruit,” which we fancied we had a right to expect, "but found none." If agencies and means, material resources and pecuniary generosity, could have commanded success, we should have had it: but we had it not. One lesson which comes to us is, that the best of human appointments and appliances do not, of necessity, ensure Divine Bency; that the number and strength of the chariots and horses” of the earth do not always enlist the effectual alliance of the “chariots and horse's of fire." But a worse thing may befall a communion, than the declension of its numbers, especially, if that declension can be attributed to the exer eise of a godly discipline, which watches, with jealous heart and eye, over the consistency and fair reputation of the oburch among them that are without. Gideon's army was none the less prepared to go down to the Midianites, and to do battle for the right, because the " fearful and afraid” went home, and the rest were subjected to scrutiny, till only three hundred were left. None who detect our hand in this page will suspect us of indifference to numbers, or of tempting people to be too sanguine : yet we think he would be a bold man, who should declare that the Methodist Societies are in a less hopeful state than they were at the beginning of last year; just as he would he equally bold, who, with a similar increase, should confidently say that iherefore the prospect was much the brighter for that: We can not safely appeal to numbers without some respect to the qualities they represent. No doubt, the butubers of our church may be considered, in the general, as fairly representing its condition and strength. A per: centage must be subtracted for the faithless ; but, on the other hand, there are some pot numbered, (on account of peculiar circumstances,) who yet make their contribution of spiritual life and moral strength to the church. So that, taking into account what they do and what they do not include, the numbers may be regarded as a fair index. True, they do not certainly deelare spiritual life, devotion, and growth. A church numbers so many thousands : but are they all good men and true? or are they like a Russian army on paper? We gratefully own our belief that the Methodist churches will favourably compare with others; that they have no more than their share, if so much, of “clouds without water," and "trees without fruit." But the qnestion does not refer so much to cases of gross inconsistency, or of palpable backsliding, as to the prevailing lone of faith and piety. Better bave one out-and-out Judas in the apostolic band, than a pervading spirit of fluctuating allegiance and servile fear. What is the inward state of the church? What are the spiritual averages? It is considered importa ant to take the financial averages: why not look at the spiritual also ? If this tendency to extol numbers be not wisely guarded, it will lead to mischief. No one can i nore the value of these ; but every one should feel that much more depends upon the quality, than upon the numbers thembelves. An armed rabble is vot an army, nor does the strength of the church of Christ in these lands lie in that vast majority of our country men which is composed of such as claim to be called Christians. History teaches, that, amid “confused noise, and garments rolled in blood,” numbers have weighed light as a feather in the scale against sturdy nanliness and true courage. The great battles of the world have been won by small but strong armies, while the cumbrous masses that men have collected, and paraded with all “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war," have been as stubble to the bow, as chaff before the wind. The parallel holds between the carnal and the spiritual warfares of earth. God says to His church, “When thou wast little in thine own sight,” I gave thee “power and strength to have victory.” On the day of Pentecost the apostles preached under the most unlikely conditions ; yet three thousand souls were awakened : a result this, which, we are bold to say, is not approached by the respectable numbers and vast machinery of the present day. Though it may be ohjected, that Pentecost was a special occasion, yet the comparison will serve to point the moral,
Our hope rests on a closer inspection of the church's spiritual state, and a more jealous concern for her moral discipline. Not that she should be indifferent to numbers, but that her care for their quality should be equal to her zeal for their increase. She should not make more haste to be numerous, than good speed to be holy and beautiful. There should be a godly, active, prayerful desire that all who are numbered may be not only consistent in the eyes of men, but devoted and pure in the sight of God. For thus only can the church become a field which the Lord delights to bless. Hence the question is pertinent, How can this be compassed ?pertinent, yet more easily asked than answered. We know of no machinery, no organization, no official action, by which it can be done. Nor can it be done by the formal exercise of discipline. This is available in cases of flagrant inconsistency, when that inconsistency is proved. And, by the way, would to God there were more fidelity among church-members, and that they would not "suffer sin ” upon each other! But we cannot command, by the exercise of even the strictest discipline, the spiritual devotion and vigour of professors. We may thus make the face of the church fair to look upon, from the outside of her pale ; but we cannot breathe into her the breath of faith, the life of God, the love of holiness, and of souls. There will ever be some correspondence between the inner life of the church and her outward reputation. But we must not make too much of this. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth : for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” The “outward appearance” may commend us to man, when our heart is far from being right in His account.
For the spiritual integrity and zeal of the church, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, not even ecclesiastical. Church authorities cannot command the spirituality of the members. This can be effectually done, only by stirring up their minds,-by awakening their conscience to the vast importance, both to themselves and to their fellow-men, of a more intense devotion of soul and life. All kindly appliances are to be used for this ;
the action of mind on mind, of heart on heart; the sharpening of a man by the countenance of his friend. For such action on the mind and conscience, Methodism has many peculiar facilities ; which, if wisely and zealously used, may be productive of glorious results. Class-meetings, Society-meetings, Leaders'-meetings, afford a medium of communication most effectual to this end. We have heard an objection against Methodism, to the effect that its organization is too compact ; that, if you touch the main-spring, the whole machine moves like clock-work; that the central authority has but to speak, and the whole body thrills with responsive animation, and moves toward the end prescribed. Even so let it be! Let these means of communication be intelligently and persistently employed to create or deepen the conviction that the spiritual life and steadfastness of her meinbers are the strength and victory of the church, the measure of her fruitfulness and success in winning souls. Let ministers tell it to leaders, and leaders to the classes. Let meetings of the Society be beld, and let it be told there. Press it home, to the conscience of every member, that not only his consistency before men, but his purity and zeal as God looks on him, will affect the strength and progress of the whole body ; that is, “if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.” Thus let the whole body thrill with a sense of responsibility and privilege; and, without doubt, it will be among the means of strengthening our aggressive power, as well as of quickening the souls that are ready to die.
One remark, here, on the Leaders’-meeting. But we make it modestly, in the form of a question. Has the Leaders’-meeting no spiritual functions ? Has it to do with fiscal matters only? Is it a weekly meeting simply for paying in to the Society Steward, and receiving, if need be, from the Steward of the Poor? Is not this an impression far too general ? and, as a consequence, does it not regulate very much the attendance? The Leaders'meeting should be used to some spiritual purpose and profit, -at least, occasionally.* Where is there a more suitable place for inquiry into the state of the classes, and for a free conversation on the duties and privileges of leaders ? Such a use would be in accordance with Mr. Wesley's instructions : " Let the Leaders converse with the Assistant frequently and freely." It would be in close conformity with the Liverpool Minutes of 1820; + and would tend to give a modern illustration of the scriptural doctrine : " Then had the churches rest...and were edified ; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts ix. 31.)
* Such is the case in our best Societies. The more of directly spiritual conversation, the better. But, in order to avoid what is commonplace and desultory, let time be given, beforehand, to careful thought on the topics which are fitting to the occasion.EDITORS.
+ * Let us regularly meet the Class-leaders, and examine their class-papers, both in the town and country; and do all we can to engage both them, and our respected brethren, the Local preachers, to co-operate with us, in their respective departments, in promoting vital godliness among our people, and extending the work of the Lord.” - Liverpool Minutes, 1820, section 18.
But that which we seek to urge, as the chief hope of the church, is a clearer apprehension of the Gospel as “the power of God unto salvation ;" and an implicit, unalloyed faith in the sovereignty and grace of our Savious Christ. It is much to be feared, that our sight of the truth has been obscured, and the exercise of our faith hampered, by a too fixed gaze upon the “ signs of the times,” and a real dependence upon fluctuating conditions. When the tide has been flowing, our hopes have been buoyant; when it has been ebbing, our hopes havě sunk with it. When we have seen, like Thomas we have believed, but have not attained to the blessedness of those who have not seen, and yet have believed. It is astonishing to mark how easily men's expectations are swayed by outward symptoms. A streak of red in the evening sky is the promise of fair weather to them; but if they find it there in the morning, they say, “ It will be foul weather to-day." An improved congregation on a clear moonlight night is as the dawn of brighter days; whereas the thinner congregation on the next night, which is dark and stormy, obscures the auspicious promise, and brings back the gloom of despondency. That Society is quite cheerful, because there is a small increase, though “received from other Circuits;" while this Society has lost heart, because some have "removed to other Circuits.” Now, it is too much to expect that we can be unaffected by these changes. But the action of such things tends to be excessive, and to paralyže the power of faith, which is “the evidence of things not seen,” and things eternal. Against this surpassing influence of what is temporal and changeable, we ought to guard. It is weakening to the strength, blighting to the prospects, of the church. We want a more influential tision of the things unseen, the things which “cannot be shaken” by the shifting winds and fluctuating tides of earth. Our foes are not all seen : we“wrestle against principalities and powers,...and spiritual wickedness in high places.” Let not our view of the church's warfare be so confined as to shut out either her spiritual foes or her spiritual friends. Ail hell is against us, as well as the wickedness of earth; all heaven is for us. And be this remembered, that Jesus is King of the ages; that “all power is given unto" Him “in heaven and in earth.” Let us not be driven from our moorings, or sunk into despair, by the storms that shake the earth. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” Let us not be too much elated when the light of friendly events beams upon us, so as to dream that it will never be night again. In particular, let us not trust to that which is passing without: for “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith ;”-our faith in the everlasting truth, the supreme reign, the glorious might, the unfailing grace, of our High-Priest and King. Unfavourable signs, adverse conditions, dispose us to retire and rest on deep, essential, eternal principles. Flattering indications, flourishing circumstances, (even though, in their complexion, more secular than spiritual,) tempt us to unfold the tender leaves of hope, and bask in the sunshine, as though it would last for ever. Now, there is no natural necessity for dark clouds, in order to the exercise of pure, strong faith in God, and in His
truth. The history of the church teaches that faith has been most vigor ously exercised under frowning skies; but, surely, these are not absolutely Decessary. It is quite true that the tendency is to trust to material resources in proportion to our possession of them : but we should not like so to reflect upon the champions of the truth, who have fought in the dark and cloudy day, as to affirm that they trusted in God because they had none else in sbom to trust,—that their faith was pure and strong because there was nothing with which it could be alloyed. We have been wont to honour their faith, which rose superior to all the troubles which beset them : let is not reflect upon it now. Nor should we like to think that the vigorous etion of faith in Christ and His Gospel is now rendered impossible, or unlikely, because of the social prestige, the ecclesiastical strength, or the financial ability, of our congregations. Yet, we are bound to say, this is the problem which the passing age has to solve.
That ample resources and effectual appliances may consist with pure faith in God, we most firmly believe. Yes, we accept the teaching, that we ought to work as though everything depended on us, yet to trust simply in God, knowing that He alone can prosper us. But all ecclesiastical history teaches us that this combination is rare. When the people of God were few and feeble, their faith has been strong, their eye single. As they increased and grew strong, proving that godliness hath the “promise of the life that now is,” their faith has becoine alloyed, their eye double-sighted. They have looked much at accretions of worldly prosperity, and built much on the sands of flourishing eircumstances, or the favourable opinions of Den. They have been drawn from their stronghold in “the munitions of hoeks.” Must it be always so? Will history repeat itself in this respect ? Will existing churches become respectable, easy, pleasure-loving, conventional, seclusive, till they lose the life of spiritual aggressiveness, and become cofit for the Divine purpose, so that another Luther, another Wesley, must be raised up? We trust in God, they will not. We are looking for a brighter era to dawn than has ever gladdened the eyes of godly men ;-an era in wbich all the wisdom, wealth, and might of earth shall be consecrated to the service of Christ ; in which “kings shall be thy pourishers,” (margin,) " and queens thy nursing-mothers,” while yet the pure simplicity of religion shall be preserved, and primitive faith in God, and in His truth, shall bring honour to His name. But it is a question, which all the righthearted should prayerfully consider, Whether, with our social advancement, our increase of learning, our financial accumulations, we are preserving simplicity of faith, of purpose, of effort? If, with the manna of Providence which our fathers knew not, we maintain their purity of zeal, their fervour of spirit, their oneness of pursuit, their humble dependence on God, their trust in His word and Spirit, then will He clothe us with garments of salvation, and we shall be for His praise unto the ends of the earth. But if, as the blessings of Providence multiply, spiritual gifts decrease, spiritual life decline, and faith be corrupted by confidence in men and in inoney; then shall we become weak as other men, and a new agency