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Our London Letter,
135 Place the Threatening Aspects of
133 Divine Truth ought to Hold in Mo-
26, 204, 267, 387
396 Preparation of the Pew for the
206, 304 Recollections of the late Dr Russell
175 Responsibility of the Church in the
363 Admission of Members, The, 3
92 Russian Church, The, 209, 245, 285
60 Sabbath-School Teaching, Indirect
30, 304 Savings Banks as a Mission Agency,
56, 198, 230, 297, 432
191' Young, For the, 23, 203, 231, 265, 328
OUR TIMES AND OUR SELVES.
We wish all our readers a Happy New Year, and as active usefulness is one of the divinely appointed conditions of happiness, we trust and pray that the year we have entered upon will be more distinguished than any of its predecessors for earnest living and devoted service. Our future should be brighter and better than our past. Not only so, but we may emulate the most illustrious achievements which the memory of the past keeps before our minds. Do not say this is impossible. The importance of deeds is to be measured not so much by the results produced as by the spirit with which they are performed. Circumstances affect the quality and quantity of the consequences of our actions, but our spirits, our motives, and aims, are above such control.
The complaint is sometimes made that the times in which we live are tame and commonplace : and that the heights to which men ascend, in seasons of great excitement and at eventful periods, are to us unattainable. Well, if that is true, it is, to say the least, exceedingly unfortunate, for the present times are all that we are to have in this world. And it is to be deplored that we should have entered the world at a time when the conditions of a true and noble life are withheld.
But is it so ? Does God ever send any into this world without affording them an opportunity of doing their best to show that they are made in the Divine image ? In having made us men he has put within us the elements of truest greatness and supplied us with the conditions of loftiest achievement. We have not to sigh for opportunities ! they crowd upon us.
As long as we have a spirit within to govern, a world of sin and misery to ameliorate, a Sovereign above to whom we can be loyal, there is no lack of opportunity.
The times are what we, with God's blessing, make them. No times can be unimportant when those who live in them are trustful, resolute, and God-fearing. If we be full of life and energy our times cannot but
be eventful. Time is but the tablet, and it is for us to determine what is to be written thereupon.
It is a truism to say that our work cannot be better than ourselves ; but is this always remembered ? The stream of effort cannot rise higher or be of finer quality than the fount within whence it issued. Eloquence in the pulpit, careful preparation for the Sabbath school, effective organization in all the various schemes and agencies of the church, will be powerless if there be not a living, consecrated spirit behind and within them all.
The other day, in addressing a number of teachers about to set out on their honourable and arduous vocation, the head of an educational institution held out the great advantage of ideality in their work of teaching. He meant that they should avoid dull routine and spiritless, monotonous plodding in their work, viewing it not as an irksome task to be performed, a daily drudgery to be got through, a tale of bricks somehow furnished—but as a pleasure, a delight, and the gradual realization of a lofty ideal which they had formed for themselves and their work. This counsel addressed to teachers is suitable to all workers, particularly to those who seek to exert a moral influence over their fellows. Much good cannot be accomplished by him who preaches, teaches, or in any other way professes to be helping forward the cause of truth and righteousness, if he enters upon his work with the feeling described in the Scotch song of one who is
“Spinnin' his weary pun' o' tow." We have to work for Christ because we cannot do otherwise. Let every member of Christ's Church feel that this is his business. We are all doing our part in giving character to the times and making the history of the church. Every one is a factor, and the contribution of each gives a complexion to the whole. Every man at his post, looking up to heaven with that faith which humbles and yet elevates, and consecrated to Christ by an ever-deepening experience of Divine love and grace, what a memorable year this may become. We Congregationalists have need of faith, energy, and courage. We have much to contend with in Scotland. But we believe that we have a calling and a testimony. Let us not put our light under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and let difficulties not daunt, but incite to greater exertion. What Judson said of India every Christian worker can surely say of Scotland : “Our prospects are as bright as the promises of God.”
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH IN THE
ADMISSION OF MEMBERS.
BY REV. W. D. KNOWLES, B.A., PERTH. That none but sincere Christians should approach the Lord's table is now happily admitted on almost all hands, and there are few who would deny in theory that the members of Christian churches should be previously possessed of Christian qualifications. Nor is there any diversity of view as to what it is that constitutes a Christian, since all agree that every true believer has undergone, in point of fact, be the mode or time of it what it may, a change of heart and life which renders him, alike in inward experience and visible character, “ a new creature in Christ Jesus.” And upon these two admitted principles it might reasonably be expected, that Christian fellowship would be so modelled and maintained as to secure a fair practical separation between the church and the world. On consulting the actual results, however, nothing, in numerous instances, could be farther from the fact, for so almost universal is the profession of Christianity, that the great mass of church-goers are found to be members of Christian churches, and in regular attendance at the table of the Lord, including large numbers who, it is impossible to deny, have no sort of right to be there. It is willingly conceded, indeed, that of late years a decided improvement has been witnessed, in some quarters, in the standard of admission to Christian membership, but that the state of things, generally, is still far from being in practical accordance with the principles referred to, is painfully obvious. How comes this anomaly to pass? We believe it to be largely due to the defective views which prevail as to the extent of responsibility which rests upon the church, in dealing with those who desire to enter its fellowship. It appears to be widely held, that the question of spiritual fitness must be left almost entirely to the judgment and conscience of the applicant, and that the church has no duty to discharge beyond ascertaining his possession of adequate Scripture knowledge, and irreproachable moral character. These tests, it is assumed, are alone within her competence, and while she is entitled to demand a credible profession, all that is meant by this is a profession against which no tangible evidence can be adduced. On the other hand we, as Congregationalists, contend that the church is bound to require much more than this, and to see to it, by such means as are within her reach, that the applicant is possessed of those spiritual qualifications which are essential to a credible profession, because they are essential to true Christian discipleship.
That the latter is the true and only tenable theory may be shown, we think, on various grounds. Does it not appear, on the face of it, a strange and inconsistent proceeding, in determining the credibility of a man's profession, to leave out of view those evidences which enter directly into the essence of personal Christianity, and insist only on those which are confessedly secondary and superficial? No one will question that a man may possess a fair amount of religious knowledge and a respectable moral character, and yet be a total stranger to the power of godliness. Do not a thousand instances go to prove that between such qualifications and a real discipleship, no sort of connection necessarily exists? Why then adopt a test which, while professing to distinguish a Christian from an unbeliever, fixes only on such features as are, or may easily be, common to both? Surely this is about as rational a proceeding as to set about determining a man's fitness for engineering by testing his ability to read and write, a measure of attainment which any hundred of incompetent candidates might equally boast of. If a plan were deliberately devised which, as its almost certain effect, would serve to let in upon the church a flood of formalism and half-disguised worldliness, no surer policy could be pursued than this of applying a criterion which ignores the great facts of Christian experience, and sets up a standard of attainment far below the real requirements of the Christian life.
But it may be replied, that the possession of spiritual qualifications is. not really ignored, but is presumed to exist where no evidence appears to the contrary, and that it is left to the conscience of the applicant, as being a matter upon which the church is neither entitled nor required to pronounce a judgment. In opposition to this, we maintain that the existence of spiritual qualifications is a matter of far too serious moment to be lightly taken for granted, and that the church is under a solemn obligation to ascertain, as far as lies in her power, whether such qualifications are really possessed. The Christian Church, as an organized body, has been instituted for the express purpose of not only maintaining the truth in its purity, but of exhibiting its effects in the lives and characters of its members. By her Lord's command, and her own solemn profession, she is a holy spiritual community, distinct and separate from the world, and designed, through the purity and power of her living testimony, to operate as a “salt” to preserve it from corruption, and as a “light” to illuminate and save it. But how is she to maintain this character and fulfil this mission, unless she be clothed with all necessary powers to guard her purity from worldly admixtures, and so use these powers as to judge, as far as possible, of the spiritual fitness of those who aspire to join her fellowship. Without such safeguards, she must lie helplessly at the mercy of the unworthy and incompetent, and be continually liable to see her ordinances profaned and her character discredited before the world, by the presence of numbers who have no real title to the Christian name. In the precise degree in which the church is responsible for her own reputation and credit, and dependent for her influence and progress on the holy consistency of her members, is she entitled and bound, by all proper and reasonable means, to secure that those who join her ranks and share her privileges should be, not