"TO THE POOR THE GOSPEL IS PREACHED,"
(WITH A PREFACE),
ADVOCATING THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO FREEDOM OF
PUBLIC WORSHIP IN "THE CHURCH OF THE PEOPLE,"
REACHED IN THE PARISH CHURCH, SHEFFIELD,
REV. RICHARD W. ENRAGHT, B.A.,
ONE OF THE ASSISTANT CURATES OF THE
PARISH CHURCH, SHEFFIELD
ON SUNDAY MORNING, THE 23rd SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
PUBLISHED BY BELL AND DALDY, 186, FLEET STREET, LONDON
SOLD BY ALL BOOKSELLERS. (20 pp.)
Pawson and Brailsford, Printers, Church Gates, Sheffield.
transcribed by David and Norma Sharp
I have been asked to allow this Sermon to be published. It seems, at first sight, an invidious thing for a sermon by a young clergyman to get into print. But when certain friends come forward and say, "We earnestly desire to print your sermon, if you will allow us;" I do not know what any clergyman could do but let kind friends have their way.
I believe I have received some hearty abuse for having preached this sermon. Perhaps I may receive more for allowing it to be published. I can only say that I believe every clergyman who preaches the truth, will suffer more or less for preaching the truth; and that (to counterbalance the abuse) I have received warm thanks, from many persons, for the sermon. "To my own Master I stand or fall." Let me say, however, that nothing was further from my thoughts or wishes than the intention to say anything rashly, or anything which might unnecessarily wound the feelings of persons who might differ from me upon the subject of the sermon. For it seems to me that it ill becomes any minister, how much more a young minister, to attempt to scold the parishioners. No, we read, "the servant of God must not strive, but be gentle unto all men." Being desirous, as God might enable me, of saying nothing rashly, I wrote the substance of the sermon nearly a fortnight before it was preached, and there is not a word in it, which I now regret having uttered. It contains plain speaking, but ever since I have been ordained, I have spoken plainly, though I trust never with intentional disrespect; and, by Gods grace, I always shall speak plainly what I believe to be Gods truth.
Many objections may be raised against the positions put forward in the sermon; and many people think that if they are able to raise one objection against an argument, or against a hundred arguments, that therefore such argument or such hundred arguments, are overthrown by this one objection; but I hope I may be permitted to say that this appears very bad logic to think that one objection, even if it be a sound one, can upset a hundred arguments, or even one sound argument. But what if such objection be an unsound one! The main position put forward in my sermon is, I firmly believe, one to which no denial can be truthfully given, namely, that it is a melancholy fact that the poor are, as a body, virtually excluded from, at least, the greater number of our town churches. I say, "the poor as a body:" for I grant, of course, that a few stray poor find their way into our churches. Now it is, I believe, the innovation of the pew system which we have very mainly to thank for this state of things. The truth is, we call the Church of England, "The church of the people." Well, in theory, I grant that she is so; but in practice, alas! too many of her members have made her anything but "the church of the people."
Does not the very phrase"the church of the people" imply that in such church the people ought to have free and open access to go and worship their God, without the humiliation and annoyance of asking my leave, or any other mans leave to do so; and perhaps, after all, having such leave refused. What right, I ask respectfully, has any man to require from me that I should ask his leave before I kneel down beside him to say my prayers to my God in "the church of the people?"
The truth is, I repeat, that in theory we have "a church of the people." Common law and church law both declare the Church of England to be "the church of the people," in the sense, which is the only true sense of this phrase, that all parishioners have a right to go and worship God in their parish church. But in practice this law of church and state has been broken; and, as a consequence, the great mass of the people have lost confidence in the ancient national church. Not only the poor, but our shop hands, our respectable workmen and mechanics, our small shopkeepers; all these alike, it is too notoriously evident, have, as a body, lost confidence in the ancient national apostolic church; and drifted off, some into schism; many more into that which is much worse than even rending the body of Christ; into utter carelessness or open ungodliness.
Now, I say, I charge the glaring innovation of the pew system with being very mainly the cause of this sad state of things. But, alas! too many persons are ready to defend this wretched and unchristian pew system. Too many of the objections, however, which are urged against making all our churches free and open to all comers, arise, more or less, from selfishness. One person says, "he likes a seat appropriated to himself, and a cushion in it." Now this is, obviously, a selfish objection. This objector is not willing to suffer the least annoyance or inconvenience, if need be, to forward a good causethe cause which seeks to gain better access for the poor to our churches. Let me, however, answer this objector as follows: - "You cannot certainly have your cushion in a free church, seeing that a cushion or even a prayer-book left in a seat virtually appropriates it; inasmuch as persons when they see a cushion or a prayer-book in a seat are afraid of entering it, even after the service has commenced, for fear of intruding upon the domain of some one else to whom such seat seems to belong, and who has, accordingly, left his goods and chattels in it. You must, therefore, forego this luxury of a cushion. Remember how much privation and want your divine Lord endured to get your pardon for your sins. Remember how many whole nights he remained out on the lone mountains side praying for you, "not having where to lay his head." Remember this and just be willing to deny yourself a very little. But, let me tell you that if you go to a free and open church in proper time you will always find your usual seat left for you; and if you are not in proper time what right have you to expect that it should be left vacant for you?" Again, persons say"They do not like to have the members of their families separated." Now this objection would not be made (any more than the last) by those who have been accustomed to attend free and open churches, because it is found in such churches, as I have observed, that all persons who come to such churches in proper time have their usual places left vacant for them. Members of families are, therefore, we find, never, as a rule, separated one from another in free and open churches.
The result of my own inquiries and observation, and the result of the observation of others as to how free and open churches are found to work in practice, all go to prove that whereas the worries and heart-burnings and jealousies in pewed churches are well-nigh endless and interminable, no complaints whatever are, as a rule, found to arise in free and open churches, although many theoretical objections are brought against such churches by persons who theorize about thembut who show plainly by the very theories which they propoundthat they do not in the least know how excellently well the free church system works in practice.
In free and open churches, regular attendants who come in proper time are not changed about from one seat to another Sunday after Sunday. If this be so, then, we ought not to hear any more of this worn-out and unfounded objection. It will not be found, however, I grant, in free and open churches that numerous sittings and sometimes whole rows of seats (which in pewed churches would be called pews) are left unoccupied, as we weekly see to be the case in pewed churches where the sittings and the pews are appropriated to particular persons and families.
If in this matter any objection can be raised against free and open churches, I leave the objector at liberty to make what use he pleases of his objection.
But I have been asked several times lately, "What is proposed to be done in this matter of church accommodation in our old church? Is it proposed to turn the present congregation out of our old parish church in order to make room for all these people about whom you speak?" I answer, "By no means. Oh no. While we do not forget that the poor man has a soul, let us ever remember that the rich man also has a soul."
We do not want to turn the present congregation out of the old church. But I have never once seen that church much more than, at the very utmost, two-thirds full since I have been in the parish.
Some peopleespecially members of the gentler sexseem to think a pew full if there are two or three people in it; but I need hardly say that most people consider a pew to be full, only when as many people are seated in it as it was built to
Let then, either of two courses be adopted. Either let the whole floor of the Parish Church be declared free, and the galleries appropriatedseeing that the galleries will amply accommodate the present morning pew-holding congregation. Or, better still, let the whole church be declared free and open; and the congregation will find that the present regular attendants, if they only come in proper time, will always have whatever seats they may have tacitly selected, left for them. The surplus room might thenand I hope it wouldbe occupied by at least someI trust manyof the soul-perishing population around us
It will, I daresay, have appeared, from some of the foregoing remarks, that one great advantage of the free and open system is, that it makes people come to church in proper time, in order to secure their usual seats. Are we in no need, let me ask, in Sheffield, of some incentive of this kind to induce us to come to church in proper time? I leave this question in the hands of the congregation attending our Parish Church. I may also say that I believe there are many members of our present old church congregation who would most willingly and at once declare their pews free and open for ever, and take the doors off their pews to openly point them out as freeif a sufficient number of the other pew-holders would do the same, so that those who had thus given up their pews might not have to go and crave church-room from others who might have refused to make their pews also free and open. And these persons tell us, moreover, that they do not wish this giving up of their pews to be looked upon as any favour shown to the public upon their part, but simply as the peoples right. These persons think they have no more right to appropriate any part of "the church of the people,"the church, that is of rich as well as poor, and poor as well as richto their own peculiar and private use, then any man would have a right to appropriate to his own private use a square yard of the public street, and say that he would not permit any other person to walk or drive over it.
Let me say that I greatly fear that unless the abuses protested against in the following sermon are effectually remedied, the days of the connection between Church and State are numbered. I am aware, however, that any professing church-people who may happen to be, in reality, half Dissenters, would not feel much sorrow if this crisis were to arrive.
I earnestly warn all staunch Churchmen, however, of the imminent danger of this crisis. And if we are not to be permitted to make the Church of England once more in practice what she is in theory (and by divine right, as the first church planted in England in the first century, with her regular ministry), "the true mother Church of the people;"then, "all success," say I, "to the Liberation Society, if that Society will only do what we should, in that case, have failed to donamely, to supply the spiritual wants of the people." If "the Church of the people" does not meet the requirements of the people, then we cannot justly and honestly require that such church should be continued in her ancient and (if she does her duty) rightfulbecause most scriptural and primitiveconnection with the State. But, as things now are, the great mass of the people are afraid of coming to church, lest, as they think, they may intrude. For we shall neverI maintainget the poor, or the respectable workmen and mechanics, or the lower middle class to come to our churches in any numbers to sit in seats ticketed "free"or, "for the poor." No; we need not expect them to come in any numbers unless we can say to them; "I earnestly invite you to the house of prayer. There is free and open access for you. You will have to ask no mans leave to take a seat: but you are at liberty to enter and sit down where you please."
We of course want many more churches in this town of Sheffield. I feel sure ten or twelve more at leastto meet the wants of the present population alone; without taking into account that the population is fast increasing. I solemnly ask, when and how are we to get these churches? But, meanwhile, let us be up and doing with the church room which we now have.
Some members of our old church congregation may say that "they would have been willing to allow the poor to come into their seats if only the poor would come clean and decent." Now, I say firstIs this true? I do not say do these persons who thus speak (now that this subject has been once more publicly brought forward) think what they say is true. But I askIs this really the rule upon which the members of the Parish Church congregation have proceeded? For if it is, then I can only say there are no clean and decent poor to be found in Sheffield, seeing that we never either hear or see of any of the poor being allowed into the pews. But secondly, granting, for the sake of argument, that many of the Sheffield poor are dirty in their habits: I ask, "Have these poor no souls?" Are dirty habits to exclude the poor from being invited within sound of the Gospel, in order that its glad tidings may, with Gods blessing, cleanse their souls, and (which almost invariably follows the cleansing of the soul) give them clean bodily habits? But again, people say: "It is quite possible that a poor person might walk down the church and we not see it." Then I can only answer; "Our kind Vicar, when he is in church, very quickly sees when persons are in want of seats." I presume because he is desirous of providing them with accommodation.
The truth is, the one remedy for all these things istake the doors off the pews and make the church free and open, and the congregation will find room for itself as it pleases, without the poor annoying the rich in the least, or the rich excluding the poor.
I do not wish to conclude these preliminary observations without saying that I have excluded the case of the blind man from the sermon, and I apologise for having brought it forward, inasmuch as I have been told this blind man conducted himself in a way that was offensive to all around him. But this does not affect my general argument one iota.
I preached this sermon "not as pleasing man but God, who trieth the hearts;" and I now commend the cause which it advocates to Him of whom it has been said"I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor" (Ps. cxl. 12.)
It ought to be a great comfort to those who believe the prosperity of the national church depends, under God, very mainly upon the success of the cause which the following sermon advocates, to know that this good cause has won its way to such an extent as it has, and that it is still daily winning its way in places which once were most strenuously opposed to it. It was comforting indeed to read of the reception which it met with at the late church congress at Manchester, where amongst a very large body of churchmen, of various shades of opinion upon minor points, collected from all parts of England, there really seemed to be well nigh but one opinion upon the cause which this sermon advocates. It is, again, most cheering to see how much our Bishops are in favour of it: the Archbishop of Canterbury setting a most excellent example in the matter. It was most cheering to see the present Archbishop of York and Lord Wharncliffe lately come forward and publicly declare that they were warm supporters of the cause which is endeavouring to give back "the church of the people" to the people, the poor as well as the rich. Lastly, let me just add that if in certain exceptional cases the incomes of certain persons of limited means depend upon pew rents in the Parish Church, such pews could be bought up by public subscription.
I now, with prayer to God for His blessing, commend this sermon to the judgements, not of unreasonable, but of reasonable and common sense Englishmen and Englishwomen; and I trust the good cause which it advocates may not be injured by my having been so suddenly called upon to print it that I have not had time to answer objections either to the extent or in the way I should wish to have done had I had sufficient time. From unreasonable persons who are determined to raise objections, I cannot expect fair treatment, as I am fully aware that persons who are determined to do so may find objections to raise against any cause, however excellent. There are persons who raise objections even against Gods inspired Revelation. I cannot, likewise, expect fair treatment from any persons who, although wealthy, may even now be secretly making merchandise of lawful rights of the people, by selling or letting pews in our Parish Church; seeing that self-interest is always a first law with selfish people. Persons who thus make merchandise of the rights of the people are, of course, always found to be the loudest objectors against the scriptural and ancient free and open church system.
"To the poor the Gospel is preached,"
S. Luke 7, part of v. 22
Our Lord and Master, when on this our earth, directed His preaching and teaching and all His loving ministrations very especially to the poor; and he directed His apostles and ministers to do as He did. Whilst on earth He sent those apostles out "into the highways and hedges" of the country, and "into the streets and lanes of the city" to "compel," by every kind of moral force, poor sinners to come to Him and be saved (S. Luke 14: 21-23). And His Apostles forgot not His example and instructions after their Lords ascension. S. Paul tells us that the other Apostles gave him strict injunctions to "remember the poor," "the same which," says S. Paul, "I also was forward to do." And to follow S. Pauls and the Apostles example, and above all, the Apostles Masters example, every minister, however humble, is solemnly bound by his ordination vows.
Where, then, are my poorer brethren this Lords Day morning? The text says"To the poor the Gospel is preached." I do not sayWhere are the well-to-do workmen and mechanics, some of them earning two, three, and four pounds a week, I believe? These are able to assert their rights for themselves. But where are the struggling poor of this parish this morning? I do not see them. How, then, can I execute that commission which I have received from the Lord Jesusthe great Head of His Churchthrough those ministers who are now the successors of the Apostles, and "preach to the poor?" I see many persons around me in this church this morning. I see many persons who are my seniors, and to whom I owe the greatest respect. I see many persons of my own age. I see many dear children, the lambs of Christs flock, very dear to the heart of the Redeemer. But, I say, I do not see my poorer brethren. The well-off, well-clad looking persons whom I see around me cannot possibly be my poorer brethren, to whom the text says the Gospel was very especially sent. I say, then, againwhere are my poorer brethren?
Dear Friends, I will tell you in plain English where they are. They are down in the courts, and the lanes, and alleys of this parish and townsome, no doubt, smoking their pipes and reading their newspapers, conducting themselves decently, though godlessly; but far more of them reading vile and abominable penny trash, getting drunk (even at this early hour), quarrelling, fighting, swearing, and committing sins which I do not wish to even mention before this audience; but they are not here in the house of prayerthat is clear. Now, there must be something wrong here. Whatever, in doctrine, ceremony or practice, contradicts and is contrary to the Bible must be wrong. And the text does not say"To the well-to-do, to the well-dressed, to people in high and influential position the Gospel is preached," but, "To the poor the Gospel is preached."
The words of my text were spoken by Our Lord upon the memorable occasion when John Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with the question"Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" "Art thou the great Messiah, that is, whom we are all eagerly expecting and looking for?" "He that should come" being a phrase used among the Jews of that day with reference to the great expected Messiah. Jesus made answer to the two disciples of John Baptist"Go your way and tell John what things ye have seen and heard." This same Evangelist, S. Luke, informs us in verse 21 of this chapter, that at that very time Our Lord was performing mighty works. And Our Lord adds, quoting Isaiahs prophecy about himself, which we find in the 61 chapter of Isaiah"The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached." "Go your way," Our Lord means, "and tell your master, John Baptist, that you have heard words said by me, and seen works done by me, which words Isaiah has foretold the great Messiah should say, and which works Isaiah has foretold the Messiah should do, which words, moreover, could be said, and which works could be done by no one less than the great and long-expected Messiah."
Now, Brethren, we generally keep our most emphatic points and our most note-worthy observation to the last. Mark you, then, the point which Our Blessed Lord here reserves for the last. Even this"To the poor the Gospel is preached." Yes"the blind made to see," "the lame made to walk," "the lepers being cleansed," "the deaf being made to hear," and even "the dead being raised to life," these were indeed mightymost wonderful worksworks in truth worthy of the great Messiahworks which none less could perform; but a greater work than all these is reserved to be mentioned last"To the poor the Gospel is preached."
Now, why did Our Lord lay such emphasis upon this last great work, which was foretold to be performed, and which in due time was performed by Himthe great Messiah?
I feel quite sure the answer to this question is, 1st. Because it has ever been found that the poor are, under favourable circumstances, more ready to receive the Gospel than the rich. "The common people," we read, "heard Christ gladly" "were very attentive to him," as we read elsewhere; and, moreover, as we also find, repeatedly "glorified and praised their God" for the blessed message which the Lord Jesus brought to them from their Father in heaven (S. Luke 7: 16; 18: 43). Whereas, we find that the great majority of the rich and the noble and the honourable looked upon Our Blessed Lord and His religion coldly, and, too often, even with disdain. 2ndly. Because although this is so, yet, nevertheless, the rich, ever since Our Lords days, up to the present time, have been too prone, as S. James says, to "despise the poor," and either assign them the "footstool"the worst placeas a seat in public church; or, as too often, exclude the poor from church room and church accommodation altogether. Against this S. James loudly and boldly lifts up his voice. "My Brethren," he says, "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons;" respecting the richhe means, in church mattersmore than the poor, who are both alike, poor, undone, guilty sinners in the sight of God; "for if there come into your assemblyinto churcha man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man, in vile raiment, and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say to him, Sit thou here in a good place, and say to the poorStand thou there; or, Sit here, under my footstool. Are ye not, then, partial in yourselves and are become judges of evil thoughts."
Let not persons who feel and act thus, tell us that they are good Christians, and have a good hope of heaven. S. James says they are not good Christians. He says such persons "are partial in themselves and are become judges of evil thoughts"those wicked evil thoughtswhich make them decide judicially to pay court to the rich in the common public house of prayerand look coldly down upon Gods poor. But hear the apostle James further. He proceeds, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and (though poor in this world, yet,) heirs of the Kingdom which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him? But ye have (in Church assembly) despised the poor." "Yes, ye have given them the worst place in churchthe footstool. Ye have perhaps placed some of them in the middle aisle, but it is on the "footstool," upon seats purposely made to look different, and worse than the rich mans seat; or ye have treated them in a way which even this severe rebuke of S. James does not contemplate as possible to happen. Ye have virtually excluded them as a body from church assembly, from the house of prayer altogether. Ye have shut them out amidst their sorrows and lifes struggles, from the comfort of coming to that place of which God has said, "I will make them joyful in my house of prayer;" and ye have debarred them from at least one, and that the most important of those two especially Christian ordinances, which are necessary in general, to our finally reaching the right hand of God.
Now, let me compare this passage with one written by S. Paul, in Hebrews 10, 25-31."Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the (Judgement) Day (or the day of your death) approaching. For, if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; but a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses, of how much sorer punishmentsuppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord; and again, the Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Oh, if those who forsake "the assembly" of Gods people, and the public worship of Gods church, are "sinning wilfully, after having received a knowledge of the truth," are "treading under foot the Son of God, and counting the blood of the Covenant, an unholy thing"are, "doing despite unto the spirit of grace," and in danger of falling unforgiven and unpardoned into "the avenging hands of the living God;"what a fearful state must they be in, even the great mass of our poor, who as a body, never comes near the assembly of Gods people, the house of prayer, at all! And what a fearful reckoning against ourselves, must we, brethren, be adding up in Gods book of remembrance; we who have virtually excluded the poor, as a body, from our churches, by providing no adequate accommodation, whatever for them in the great mass of our churches, and otherwise putting so many obstacles in the way, that things have come to this pass, that the poor, as a body, will not now come to church at all. I have many times heard our poor people themselves say that "this is the most wicked and ungodly town in England." This, whether it be true or not, is the opinion of the poor themselves. I ask, then, how can we reconcile such an appalling state of things as this, with the recorded fact that in the days when our Lord was on earth "the common people," the poor people "heard Him gladly," "were very attentive to hear Him," and blessed and praised God for the message which He had sent to them by His Son? How is it that the "common people," the poor people, in this and other large towns, are so different from the poor people in the days when our Lord was on earth? I feel persuaded I can give the answer, or at all events, one main reason why this is so.
I believe it is because the poor in our large towns have, for the most part, been permitted to grow up with their souls neglected, and therefore in open ungodliness and sin. The poor in our large towns have grown up to manhood with the idea that they may find room in church while they are children and while they are at Sunday School, but that as soon as they leave Sunday School and become men and women, that then there is "no room for them" in the "assembly" of the Churchfor them, to whom very especially the Bible says the Gospel is sent.The poor, I say, feeland they have only too good reason to feelthat if they do find their way to the house of prayerto "the assembly" of the Churchit will only be to be looked coldly upon and disheartened, instead of having seats gladly and joyfully provided for them by persons who ought to be only too glad to see them come to church: - Or, worse still, it will only be to be permitted, perhaps, to walk the full length of the church aislethe gazing-stock, as they think, of the well-dressed people whom they see occupying the church. And if they do, one or other of them, find their way into one of those "close boroughs," called pews, it will only be, perhaps, as has too often happened, to be beckoned out again, or to have the well-dressed occupant retreat into the opposite corner of the pew, for fear of contamination.Or for the poor person to be informed after service by such well-dressed occupant "never to be guilty of such an unwarrantable intrusion again." Nothing on earth, I believe, has produced more exclusive selfishness than this same pew system; which is, moreover, a plain and manifest innovation upon the ancient Church system.
Oh, let us never forget that one of the causes why "woe" was eight times pronounced by our Lord upon the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees, in Matt. 23, was"their loving" and striving after "the chief seats in synagogues."
Brethren, we speak plainly, because we are weekly hearing of these things. If you would like one or two instances, - What do you think of a decent, clean, poor woman coming into this church one or two Sunday evenings ago, and, not finding a vacant seat upon the "footstool," being permitted by the congregation to walk down the church, and, it may be, to walk out again (for all the congregation seemed to care), had not your parish priestdespairing, apparently, of his congregation doing their dutykindly stepped forward and showed the poor women into one of the stalls set apart for the clergy? Or what, think you, must be the feelings of some half-reclaimed infidel, brought to church after weeks of entreaty, by a diligent Scripture Reader, when he finds no one, perhaps, willing to give him a seat, orif he gets a seatfinds himself summarily beckoned out of it, and no other found for him? Oh, what must he think of our much-vaunted Christianity as he sees it in practice?
What is the use, I ask you, dear brethren, of the clergy and Scripture Readers of this parish visiting the poor and earnestly inviting them to church; only to be turned out again, when some few of them respond to the invitation, and venture (timidly often, in the first instance,) to come to the House of Prayer. There is no use inviting the poor to our morning and evening services in any numbersin any number proportioned to the populationif this state of things is to continue.
If we are determined not to have our churches free and open for all comers, rich and poor, (which Scriptural plan of things was discontinued not so long time since,) then we must, at the peril of our souls, at the peril of the doom over and over again pronounced in Gods word upon the despisers and injurers of Gods poor, - we must, I say, provide seats in church for the poor, for whom the Gospel is expressly said to have been very especially provided and sent upon earth:
Parish priest, Scripture Readers, Bible women, district visitors, are all very well; but the crying want of all is, want of church room, want of places of worship to which to bring the half-reclaimed outcasta place of worship where such poor outcast will not be in danger of being turned out of his seat. This is the crying want; and till this is supplied we need never expect these just mentioned agents to do much good. These agents are now like workmen trying to work with blunt tools. And if we are not willing to try and do our bounded duty in supplying this sad and crying want, then I can only say the soul-blood of the poor will "crying against us for vengeance;" their "blood will be upon us."
Brethren, I cannot but feel that all of you, or the most of you, at all events, sympathize and are of one mind with me in all this. But, if so, why do we not act every Sunday in accordance with our convictions? It is only by each man, by "every man" and woman "doing his or her duty" that the whole country will do its duty. If "every man" waits to "do his duty" in any matter till his neighbour does his, then the country will never do its duty.
Some of us, perhaps, have tried to do our duty in the matter about what I am speaking.I am very much afraid few, if any, have. But, if some few have, how is it, I ask, that we are so pained almost weekly by the accounts which we hear? How is it that we, (as a congregation,) permit the state of things which I have described to continue any longer?
Brethren, this state of things badly wants to be shown up and exposed. I cannot think that our peopleif only they are made fully aware of such a state of thingswill permit this state of things to continue much longer. For, brethren, you must agree with me that such a state of things is a disgrace to our common Christianity and the great fundamental cause of weakness and in-efficiency in our church; - hampering effectually, as it does, the efforts of her warmest friends, whether laymen or clergymen, and thus doing the work of the Churchs enemies far more efficiently than 100 Liberation Societies. Something, believe me, must be done in this matter, and that promptly, unless our national ancient apostolic Church is to completely, and, perhaps, for ever, lose her hold upon the great mass of the population in our large towns. And if our ancient national Church (with her pure Scriptural, solemn, reverent, primitive, Christianity, her apostolic ministry, and her Scriptural and primitive system of Church government) does thus lose her hold upon the people, it will be through the faithlessness of her supposed but false friends. Let the Church only be able to work among the people untrammelledwith sharp instead of blunt toolsand she has absolutely nothing to fear.
We have, I am most thankful to say, made this church open and free to all, in every part, during the afternoon Sunday service. The state of this church, then, is not as bad as that of hundreds of others. I only wish all the poor knew this; I only wish those present would use their best efforts to make this better known. But why do we not more readily provide room for all comers at our morning and evening services? I believe there is no complete and radical remedy for the melancholy state of things I have described, but the perfectly free and open church system, which is the Scriptural system. I believe that until we have in our towns a sufficient numbers of churchesand those churches free as air to all those who desire to pray to and praise God in themthe abuses I have described will never be thoroughly done away. But, meantime, why should we not, as Christian men and Christian women, do what we can to provide church room for Gods poor?
The poor have, as I have said, grown up with the notion that our churches are all alike shut upon them as a mass. They have grown up with the idea that the house of Christian "assembly" is for the rich, and not for them; and therefore they have learnt to remain at homesome in quiet, respectable, but God-less seclusion; - far morealas! the greater numberreading vile trash, drinking, fighting, swearing, or worse. Now just let us for a moment trace the process by which such a state of things has come about. A poor parishioner of this parish, to-day, perhaps, feels a desire to go to church. He has been a Sunday scholar, it may be, it may be in his childhood, but has fallen into a course of sin. An inward, Heaven-sent longing, however, which he feels after better things than drunkenness and low vice, tells him that he will find his good resolutions strengthened if he goes to church. After his tea, he feels half inclined to put on his hat and sally forth to "the old church." But the thought suddenly strikes him (from reports which he has too often heard), that perhaps he may not get a seator, if he gets one, may be summarily beckoned out of it. He is discouraged. He sits down again with his newspaper and his pipe; - at all events with no fear of having his feelings wounded. Now, let a minister of Christ enter that mans house a year henceand what will he find? He will find that man, it is only too probable, embittered against the national Church. But worse still, hardened in his sin, his conscience seared and blunted. If such a poor man had only had good reason to know that if he were only in time he would be sure of a seatnot a seat ticketed "free," or "for the poor," but a seat like all the others in the churchif this had been so, brethren, the painful result I have described would most probably not have come about. Oh, how can we reasonably expect anything else than Chartism, rebellion, and riotor worseto be the offspring, if occasion offers, of such neglect, on our part, of the souls of the poor? But perhaps you will say, "you do not wish to be annoyed by sitting beside the poor." Brethren, I do not wish to speak of myself; but I may say that my experience in this matter is this. I have often sat in church with the poor. I much prefer sitting with the poor, in order to endeavour to remedy, as far as an humble example can, the miserable state of things against which I am protesting; and I have never once suffered the least annoyance from doing so. If, however, any annoyance be at any time found to arise from willingly and joyfully admitting the poor into our pews, then I can only say, we are bound for Christs sake to submit willingly to such trivial and temporary annoyancein order to help to bring about a great public good to them, to whom the Gospel is expressly said, in my text, to have been very especially sent by Almighty God. But if you will not do this, then let us have free and open churches in which the different classes in society can find their level and arrange themselves as they please. Build churches, open and free as Gods air to all comers, rich and pooras all churches used to be builtand what will you find? Will you find that the poor will come and sit down beside and among the richif the rich consider this annoyance? Is this what you will find? No, brethren. It is always found in such churches that the poor go and sit by themselves, and that in the worst part of the church. But how does the matter then stand? Why, first, no one can turn them out of the seat which they have chosen; and, secondlyif they do choose the worse seat it is a proof of their humilityan evidence that they do not wish to intrude, and no one sent them therethey chose such a part of the church for themselves. I say, the poor do not wish to sit beside the rich. If any annoyance, then arises in this matter, it arises in pewed churches, where the congregation are not at liberty to arrange themselves as they please. I have appealed, brethren, to your Christian feeling and love for the souls of your fellow men; but I do not wish to conclude without reminding you that the present state of most of our churches is a direct and manifest and open violation of the common law as well as of the church law of England; and, as a consequence, a manifest and open violation of the lawful rights of the people. And if the people were to rise in a mass and demand their right in this matter, which of us could justly blame them? Do what we may however, to remedy present abuses, I do not say we shall get the present generation of poor in our towns to come to church in any numbers, seeing that we have trained them by our neglect of their souls, into the confirmed habit of not coming, but we may at least hope that our Sunday School children will (if we do our duty in this matter), grow up with a different idea of the house of prayer, from that entertained at present by their parents, - grow up into the confirmed habit, not of shunning, but of attending, and loving "the assembly" of Christs church. Oh may we all learn to copy Him, who "though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through His poverty might be rich." Oh, if only the spirit of God, in mercy, teaches those of us who are not "poor in the things of this world," to be at the same time humble, "poor in spirit," having that gracious disposition of soul, by which we shall be emptied of self, in order to being filled with Jesus Christ, thinking others higher, better, nobler than ourselves, "lovely in our own eyes," but "making much of them that fear the Lord", willing to make ourselves mean and little, if only we can thereby do good; dependent altogether for salvation upon the mere undeserved mercy of God through Jesus Christ. If, my brethren, the Holy Spirit teaches us to be thus "poor in spirit," then, no doubt, care for Gods poornot only in body but also in soul; not only in earthly things, but also in spiritual thingswill be our especial care, as it was the especial care of our divine Lord and His holy apostles. Then the poor will not be prevented from coming to hear of a blessed Saviours love, His ready willingness to pardon all who come to him sincerelysave them from sinand give them a rest and peace which the world knoweth not and cannot give. Then the poor will not be virtually shut out from the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christthe symbol and test of true Church communionthe Churchs great act of homage and incorporation with her Lord, by which her Lord feeds and vivifies her with his own body and blood; which holy Sacrament is therefore "generally necessary to salvation." Oh, my friends, the souls of the poor around us are yearly and monthly and weekly and daily perishing for lack of that bread of life, of which we, by our selfish exclusiveness, are depriving them!
May God of His great and wholly undeserved mercy, for Christs sake, bless these words which have been spoken, I trust, in a spirit of prayer, and as in His sight and for the good of His Church. May we, brethren, seek to deserve the blessing spoken of in the 1st psalm for this evenings service"Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy; the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble; the Lord preserve him and keep him alive; that he may be blessed upon earth: and deliver not thou him into the will of his enemies. The Lord comfort him, when he lieth sick upon his bed: - make thou all his bed in his sickness."
Thus let us pray that a more truly humble and self-denying and blessed "poorness of spirit" upon the part of those who are not "poor in this world" may soon bring about in our churches a better realization than we see at present of that beautiful sentiment of Solomon"The rich and poor meet together" here on earth as a foretaste of their meeting in heaven; for "the Lord is the maker of them all!" Amen