EPISCOPAL CHURCH ROOMS,
President, George C. Shattuck, M. D.; Vice-President, The Rev. George P. Huntington; Secretary, The Rev. William C. Winslow; Treasurer, I. Wells Clarke; Directors, Joseph Burnett, The Rev. Reginald H. Howe, J. D. W. French, A. J. C. Sowdon, The Rev. Sumner U. Shearman.
The objects of the Association are (1) to advocate the freedom of all seats in Churches; (2) to promote the abandonment of the sale and rental of pews and sittings, and in place thereof, the adoption of the principle of systematic free-will offerings by all the worshipers in our Churches, according to their ability; (3) to promote the recognition of the Offertory as an act of Christian Worship, and as a Scriptural means of raising money for pious and charitable uses.
The members of this Association consist of--
1st. Such persons as assent, in writing, to one or more of the objects of the Association, and pay not less than one dollar annually into the treasury of the Association,--connection with a pewed Church, or the fact of deriving income from pew rents, not being inconsistent with membership.
2d. Life Members, who may become so by the payment of not less than twenty dollars at one time into the treasury.
The Annual Meeting for the election of officers and transaction of other business, is held on the Monday following All Saints' Day.
*** The Association being entirely free from party character, the support of all is earnestly asked for on its behalf.
Address Rev. W. C. Winslow, 429 Beacon Street, Boston, for tracts, circulars and other documents.
Money should be sent to I. W. Clarke, 13 Exchange Street, Boston, who can furnish a form of subscription, pledging a certain sum annually, or conditionally, for the support of the Association.
GOD'S HOUSE OPEN TO GOD'S CHILDREN. PSALM CX. 3:
"IN THE DAY OF THY POWER SHALL THE PEOPLE OFFER THEE FREE-WILL OFFERINGS WITH AN HOLY WORSHIP."--Prayer-book version.
THIS Service is held by a Society for advocating and promoting Free or Open Churches. Notice, first, what relation "Churches" bear to the Church, and that will carry us some way into the subject. It is an instrumental relation. As a living Body, the Church is on the earth to bring Christ and mankind together, and to hold them together. The Lord, dwelling in it, is its Life. Outwardly its threefold office is Divine Worship, Sacramental Help, and Charitable Work. Inwardly it is the building of personal character by heavenly grace, distributed through its own channels, applied by its own ministries. This is the Church's errand all over the world, in every age, irrespective of any changes of time and place, by virtue of its supernatural endowment, and in behalf of its ascended Lord.
Churches, as we use the term now, material buildings, make no necessary part of this supernatural economy. They are not named in its charter, or indispensable to its operation. There have been states of society, exigencies in history--and there may be again--where the heavenly business could be done without them. But they are none the less a part of the external apparatus which the religious convenience and the regenerate common-sense of Christian people have made tributary to the same three ends of the Kingdom,--Worship, Sacraments, Edification. In all ordinary circumstances they are required for an orderly, reverent, effectual action of that Kingdom.
But let this be observed: as they are an instrument of the Lord's Body they must follow its law, the original, unchangeable, everlasting law. The Kingdom cannot act by one rule, and its agencies by another. Hence it comes that, believing in the openness of Churches, we appear before the public judgment claiming to represent and urge forward not a policy but a [1/2] principle. It may not be essential that consecrated structures should be put up in particular spots; it is essential that if the Church puts them up, and puts her signet on their use, they should conform to her constitution, obey her order, and not offend her spirit. Without the least disrespect for those who differ we wish it to be understood that our position is not that of men who, seeing several ways of managing the finances of the Lord's House, conclude, on grounds of expediency, that this Free-Church plan is, on the whole, the preferable one. We go rather on the conviction that for ourselves we are held to this plan by the genius of the Gospel, by the mind of our Master, Christ, and by logical consistency in interpreting the primitive workings of the organized life of His Family.
What is the one grand central fact which makes the Christian system the supreme and gracious "Power" that it is? It is God giving Himself to men. The movement begins not here but in Heaven. It is Infinite Love stirring itself and reaching out to our race, voluntary, unprompted, unsought, unbought, un-bargained for. Love never bestows itself by contract. Connect with the idea of the Incarnation, with Bethlehem, with Calvary, with the Saviour's three-and-thirty years, with the going forth of the twelve Apostles, any thought of stipulation, or of pecuniary conditions precedent, or of financial limits set to the sweep of that benignant wave of light flowing from on high, and you not only strip this Religion of its distinctive and singular glory as a revelation, but you seem to us to alter its character radically as a redemption. You put into it another and alien element which, if it prevails far enough, leaves it a "Gospel" no more. History is dislocated. Even human love, in all our common habitations, has this for the secret charm, the mystical beauty of its blessing, that it gives itself. Love takes of its own and puts it away, parting with it at whatever cost or pain to itself for the good of some other soul. Even the poor imitation-Gospel of the nineteenth-century Positivists must borrow this splendor to crown its faithless philosophy, and calls it by the Pagan name of Altruism. All the interchanges of unselfish affection and friendly sacrifice which play to and fro between one heart and another, ranging down in their celestial order from the archangel to the slave, have the "Word made flesh," and crucified, for their source and pattern. That was the fountain-gift--unpurchased grace. The coarse cradle, the [2/3] homeless years in Galilee, the Sermon on that mount which became the pulpit of all centuries, the Parables which illuminated the whole natural world with supernatural significations, the miracles of patient gentleness which sought to break open by acts of mercy to men's bodies a pathway to a better healing for their disordered souls, the august agonies of the Garden, the opening of the gates of the everlasting Morning on the third day,--these are only the magnificent particulars of the one inestimable Free Gift. Christianity is gratuity, through and through.
How is it after the Ascension? "When He ascended up on high, He gave gifts unto men." He gives them still. "From whom the whole Body," here on earth, "according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the Body unto the edifying of itself in love." The streams of that Love of God, given in Christ, running in the Church, are to run without interruption and without end.
And the water is one water. Unity is necessary to the purity. We are told of "manifold gifts of grace," of diversities of operation, of differences of administration, but always of "one Spirit," and "the same Lord." No matter how many outlets, ordinances, Apostles, Ministers, Sisters of Charity there are, leading out the rivers to the foulest sinks of mire, or farthest patches of desert in the world, "all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will." So the Gift of Life is conferred. If you stop it anywhere by any secular arrangement, any unevangelical tests or bars, or tickets of admission, or choke it by any un-catholic parochialism, you so far deny the Faith and play into the hands of another master, who is Antichrist.
So much for the organic law and the life-blood of the Kingdom. Again, there was one age when the Lord, the Founder, permitted all after ages to see how He would have His Church behave and do its work. We look thither, and, behold, what strikes us first is that the Gospel is invariably given away. There are absolutely no terms of price, outside the breasts of those who speak and hear, on which the message is to be delivered. Christ is to be preached, the Church is to gather its converts, train its children, and do all its work. No tax is laid on the privilege of being converted. Why should a Samaritan at Sychar, a Jew at Alexandria, a Greek at Lystra, a Roman at Philippi, a [3/4] heathen anywhere, pay money to get a religion for which he cares nothing, but which he disbelieves and dislikes? Why should a doubting, or indifferent, or worldly man do that in any village or city of America? In the Apostolic time there is no financial policy whatever. God gives the Gospel; Christ gives Himself. Ministers give the message, and live on what believers give them; if sanctuaries are wanted, believers will build them and set their doors open. The door was always open. Nobody was so ragged, so dirty, so dark with despair, fallen so far down, lost in a wilderness so wild, nobody skulking, ashamed, or afraid, coming from any corner of a wicked world, but he could come if he would, and be welcome. The object is not to get something, not even an equivalent, but to impart something. The moment the Church says to any community, "You can have me by paying for me--you can share my feast for a ticket at the door," it blocks its own path, because it speaks to those who at that moment neither desire what the Church offers nor know what the feast is. Hence the Primitive Church is both a Missionary Church and a Free Church. The motive for Church propagation is within the Christian heart. The love of Him whose name is on the disciples' lips constrains them in every ecclesiastical step. The Bride appears only in the character of her unseen Bridegroom--a Giver of Life.
Is there then no sight or sound of money?
Certainly there is, but it is money not in the worldly form of tax or price, but in the Christian form of a bounty. You read often, in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, of money sent, collections made, contributions to poor saints and struggling young Churches here and there; but they are always voluntary offerings. They are the fruits of faith, not a fee paid for getting a faith,--which is logically fallacious, and an anomaly in fact. When believers become believers they begin to kindle into the sympathy of the Cross, and then they are straightway ready to part with what God has lent them in benefactions for His sake. In that way the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus takes effect in them. It is the spontaneous joy of their discipleship. Deepest and richest of all is their rejoicing when the gift goes to publish to others the Gospel of that Grace which has transformed their own life, and to extend that Kingdom of righteousness and peace which is now more to them than everything in the world besides,
 I think it becomes plain, my friends, by what step we derive the doctrine of Free Churches from a larger doctrine,--the most comprehensive and fundamental in Christianity,--viz., the doctrine of the Love of the Father in the Mediation of the Saviour, having its sign in the Cross.
I am anxious in this argument to do no wrong either to what is known as the l'ew-system in Churches, or to its conscientious advocates. Have the conditions of society so changed with time, then, that the doctrine or the duty is changed? This is what the pew-advocate alleges.
It came about, as a fact, that Churches in many parts of Christendom ceased to be free. The process of the change might be traced if there were time. Some congregations, banding themselves together with a common object, would naturally build sanctuaries with a view to their private accommodation. Sometimes it will appear to be the surest way of securing the edifice to follow the analogy of secular enterprises and reserve to each contributor his own family right, with an exclusive title-deed; a little comfortable territory there, within the walls of a House still called God's, where he and his should never be liable to intrusion or dispossession, and where the immunities of personal ownership could be guaranteed against all comers. In many cases, a tax on this property would seem to be the safer expedient for raising the salary of the clergyman, and the most convenient provision for giving permanency to the Parish. In older places, where a majority of the people had become nominally Christian, less and less thought would be given to any ungathered souls outside; they would be forgotten, or turned over to some Chapel for the poor, apart by themselves. Gradually the more selfish aspects of the scheme would be overlooked; this would perhaps become the rule, and the primitive way the exception. Social distinctions would go on rearing the partition-walls higher and higher--even in the Family and Brotherhood of Christ. The rich or well-provided classes would find it more agreeable to their senses and their pride to have the less favored well out of the way, or in poorer seats; the same pride, working in another form, on the other side, would make the poor prefer to escape the contrast with the finer dress and fastidious manners of the rich. So the widening of the separation would go on, till the Free Church idea would be well nigh lost. We will admit in justice that meantime, partly from [5/6] ignorance of the "more excellent way" and partly from the inherent power of the Truth which conquers all disadvantages, and calls out sweet graces under the worst abuses, thousands of humble-hearted, disinterested Christians have continued to live and die under this pew-property system.
Nevertheless, we are not to be deceived; it is not the way of Christ and His Church. I shall frankly mention some of the evils that seem to me to cling to it, and to be inseparable from it.
One of these evils is that the system virtually cuts off from the sound of the Gospel, and from all the heavenly helps of the Church, a portion of every population. Whatever the impression may be on the part of those who seldom come into contact with the neglected classes, the further you go into the investigation of the facts as they are, the more you will be convinced that, by this and kindred causes, men who are our brothers, men for whom Christ died, both foreign and native-born, are alienated from the Christian Faith, and are lapsing back into a practical Paganism in the very centres of our civilization. Providence has put in the way of some of us the means of gathering many proofs on that precise point, and they are such as to make any Christian heart heavy. Taking city and country together, not more than two thirds, probably not more than one half, of the adult people in health, will be found to be attendants on any kind of Public Worship, or tendering their Maker any thanks for His mercies.
Why should I point you to any city but your own? You see them yourselves every Sunday if your eyes are open, You see wanderers on the pavements, with listless faces, strolling, lounging men, unharnessed from their weekly toil, who saunter or doze away the sacred hours, unvisited by any refreshing thoughts of their hard life, or one bright interpretation of it from the Prophet of Nazareth. You see wives and mothers, not unmindful of the deep mystery of life, who yearn for the consolations of God's House, yet have not courage to penetrate the array of unknown forms that flow in and out at the sanctuary door. Think of eleven hundred juvenile offenders arrested for crime in one city in a single year! Read the reports of the Chiefs of Police, sounding so much like the gloomy bulletins of some desperate disease. Children innumerable are growing up who can repeat neither the Lord's Prayer nor His Commandments, who can give no account of the Person of Jesus Christ, and have not the faintest sense of their relations to a spiritual world.
 I am not pretending that the only explanation of all this is the pew-tax. But the Pew-system is one part of the explanation, and a part which lies within the power of Christians to meet if they will. Just count up, for a moment, the succession of obstacles that any laboring family coming to live in this city must encounter before getting settled in a pewed Church. First, there is the natural procrastination in setting about it; then a timidity at going the first time into any Church where the seats are private, among strange and uninviting faces, to see whether the place is desirable, with some likelihood of being baffled in the attempt; then the easy putting off from week to week of the effort needed to look up the proper parochial officer for hiring or buying sittings; then the possibilities of there being none unengaged, or the slight delays that almost always occur in closing such agreements;--all these before you come to the chief difficulty, which is that a formidable sum of money must be paid, out of scanty earnings, perhaps before any employment has been secured in the place with any earnings at all, and very probably by a man who has no strong religious principles to urge him on. Consider at the same moment how much wiser the children of this world are than the children of light. See how cordially and invitingly the ministers of another master are waiting for this man, with their free sittings and free songs and free fellowships, at the corners of every street;--consider how easily a discouraged mind sinks back into a habit of passive unconcern, blaming the Church, perhaps, for her slow sympathy and her handsome inhospitality, till the smoking flax is quenched, and the recollection and the desire of the Lord's House are perished together. Now, over against this elaborate arrangement, so ingeniously adapted to paganizing our people, suppose attractive Free Churches, with animating services, planted at convenient intervals all over such a city as this, with all the traditional distinctions between classes and conditions abolished;--every child of God, however sudden the impulse that prompts him to turn into His Father's House, conscious of having an equal right there with the most affluent or the most saintly;--his heart warmed with the voices of a responsive Service and a Common Praise, and, perhaps, by a friendly recognition, such as Free-Church fellow-worshippers soon learn how to give;--see how all this poor man's impediments are simplified. As soon as he is within the doors he is in his own place; [7/8] the Offertory takes his free-will gift, and unless he chooses to go elsewhere, there is his Church home thenceforth. To build and throw open Houses of Prayer on such terms as these,--is it not to continue precisely, in spirit and in method, the work done by the Apostolic Church at the beginning? It is the giving freely of the Gospel to men, for Christ's sake and theirs, by those who freely receive it.
Again, taxed seats alienate the sympathies of undecided minds, and furnish the skeptic with a sneer. I have before me a lucid statement of just this wrong from a citizen of one of our large towns. He says: "Here are a multitude of young men and young women, in stores and offices, constituting the hope of the country, not able to rent a pew, but able and willing to pay in weekly offerings;" the real cost of a single seat; we virtually close our doors against them; we not only deny to them the blessing of consecrating to God a portion of their daily and weekly gains, the very habit of which would alone be sufficient to protect them against the temptations of vice and irreligion, but we compel them to feel that the Church of God has no sympathy for them or with them, and no disinterested, generous, unbought and unselfish concern for their salvation. Here is a father, a member of the Vestry, loving the Church, contributing liberally for her support, and providing liberally by the rent of seats for all the members of his household; and so long as he lives and is prosperous in worldly business, the family are kept together in the Parish. The moment the father dies the children are lost to the Church, not because they have no attachment to her and no delight in her Services, but because in their present altered condition they cannot afford to keep up the rents." No "practical sense" can make this system appear to the world either Christ-like or consistent.
There is still another class of men, especially in western cities, who control in no small degree the financial interests of the country, but whose business keeps them constantly moving--in this sense and in other senses railroad men--having no time for the long negotiations often required for the renting of a seat; the consequence is that they and their families, and all that they could and would give, are lost to the Church.
Then there is all that class of persons who in this generation are servants and laborers, but whose children in the next [8/9] generation will be the 'Lords and Ladies of the land,' all of whom, under the Pew-system, are just as completely and effectually excluded from the House of God as though it was written upon the door, No admittance for servants and laborers here; and by excluding them you not only exclude from the Treasury of the Lord the vast sums which might be gathered in rivulets to swell the stream of Christian benevolence, but you exclude the richer and costlier offering of their children and children's children. And so the policy in the long run becomes as shortsighted as the piety is pharisaical.
Now the Church wants not only energy and health within; she wants at least the respect and good-will of the world around her. We are very stupid, it seems to me, my dear friends, if, while we sit snugly in our decorated sanctuaries, we never think or care for what thousands of our lost brothers and sisters, in city and village alike, in their dens of sensual appetite at one end of the town, or in their club-rooms of fastidious self-complacency at the other end,--for in God's sight it can matter very little which kind of atheism it is,--are not only whispering to each other, but saying out louder and louder every year, till you begin to hear it in your lectures and read it in your morning papers. This is somewhat the fashion of their doubt:--
'What is it that you Christian people mean by your "Gospel"? What is the upshot of it? We hear that you have got a fine set of arguments to prove it, and that you call them "Evidences of Christianity." What they are we never knew, for you and we were never together long enough for us to find them out. But some things we can see. We see your equipages roll by to the Church on Sunday morning. If we follow and look in, we see a building that you put up for your own accommodation; no places made there for such as some of us are, or, if any, only a loft in some untidy corner. And when you have hidden us well out of your way,--our wives from your wives, and our daughters from your daughters,--then you rise up and call us all "Dearly beloved Brethren." We get confused about these things. We hear you read sometimes of a marvellous kind Shepherd of long ago, who went out into the mountains seeking His sheep,--His own feet torn very often with the rocks, His hands bleeding with the briers, when He rescued the perishing. That is your text, and you preach about it beautifully. But is that your way with us? When you ask us in, is it because you [9/10] heartily love us as you love yourselves, or is it that you want to count us in with your number over against the rival religious establishment across the way? On the whole, we will do without your Christianity.' We here can see, I hope, the exaggeration in these rough questions, and where the line runs in them between truth and anger. But the difficulty is that--run the line where you will--the fact stands out that most of the sheep-folds are virtually private property. Let us be brave enough to own that, unless we right that wrong, it will not be very long after your lifetime and mine before Pantheism and its academies, Atheism and its play-houses, Infidelity and its beer-shops, will have hung out their flaring signals along these streets, where open Churches ought to have gained the people's heart to the Shepherd who does really care for them. We shall cry in vain to the unbeliever, to the publicans and sinners, unless we cry with the old Prophet:--"Come ye to the waters without money and without price; Whosoever will, let him come."
I have spoken of the damage done by a taxed Gospel to those that stand without, and are prevented from coming in. Other evils fall to those within. Not only does it, too often, in its practical operation "shut Lazarus out and let Dives in," but it comforts Dives in his luxurious isolation, and separates him still further from Lazarus lying at the gate. It is well-nigh impossible, when property is the controlling element, as between a pew-holding parish and a pew-paid clergyman, that the spiritual interest should not suffer. It does suffer. The question how costly a pew or how high a tax the parishioner can afford will obscure, very often, those simple merits of a meek and lowly heart which in God's sight are of the greater worth. Parish prosperity is measured more by income, architecture and music than by holiness; and the awful profanation of what is called a "fashionable congregation" travesties the Brotherhood in Christ. It is a fatal day for the spiritualities of the Church when a minister's qualifications for his office are tested by auction sales and appraisals.
If it could be known openly in how many Parishes, at this moment, some influential and managing men are secretly discussing the question how they shall contrive to get rid of the minister they have, because he is not paying well in pew-rents, or how they shall find one that will do that, an appeal of alarm would go up to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, In a sense even more [10/11] sacrilegious than the Saviour meant it, the Father's House is made a house of merchandise.
We all know very well that the cause of Open Churches encounters opposition. An incredulous majority makes its progress slow. The objections are not unfamiliar. They rise against every reform. "It is impracticable," the men of calculation say; "your unpledged offerings will not support the worship and the minister." We answer with the text of the Psalmist,--"In the day of Thy power shall Thy people offer Thee free-will offerings with an holy worship." The day of power will be simply the day of faith.
In the original, this great Messianic Psalm, filled with the anticipated spirit and glory of the Kingdom of Christ, represents the very worshippers themselves as an offering, offered freely. They and all they have belong to God. The idea of a taxed Temple is alien even from Judaism. Gifts are required as a part of the religion; but no Gentile is expected to pay for being a proselyte. When the day of power arrives it brings with it what to other eyes than the eye of faith is impossible.
The business of heroes, says a French epigram, is turning impracticabilities into facts. When men believe in making a loving gratitude to their Lord the motive for adoring Him, there will be as much money for the Offertory as for the treasurer's bill; as much money for thanksgiving for a salvation wrought and grace received as for private rights fenced in by rent-rolls or title-deeds. "Slow steps," you say. Yes, the steps of Truth have been slow six thousand years, but they have never halted. Eighteen centuries have Christianized less than half the race; but who believes that heathendom holds the throne of the future?
The Open Churches we have, it is said, are not all financially very prosperous. But are the others? The Church-debts of pewed Churches in the United States amount to a sum that would give the Gospel to the Continent of Africa. Besides, the Free-Church congregations are made up partly of men and women reared in another habit, half persuaded, and perhaps half sanctified.
It is true that a few wealthy members of Open Churches have to make up deficiencies. Yes; and I notice that somehow in these Churches these men are apt to be found, being inspired with the enthusiasm and kindled with the charity to fulfill the trust of a cheerful stewardship for an idea which has to them [11/12] almost the sanctity and certainty of a Creed. If a small number have, for the time, to bear the chief weight, all the more praise to the system which trains men who are ready to bear the weight without feeling it a burden.
There will be nothing left in the alms-basin, you say, after Parish expenses are paid, for Foreign Missions and external charities. That is not true. In England, where the system is long tried, the Open Churches give as much for Missions as any. In the city where I live, the congregation which gives most, and most regularly for missions, in proportion to its means, is made up of the poor, and the sittings are absolutely free.
"Families ought not to be separated in worship." With a very little tact and no great experience free seats do not separate them, and the whole flock learn what it is to be one family.
"It costs self-denial of various kinds, to the senses, to ease, to taste, to pride." Undoubtedly it does. Heaven costs self-denial. Good Friday continues to be kept. Sermons are preached about the Cross. Where is it, in modern piety? Would you have it visible only on the steeple-top, or painted on the window? Sacrifice is strength, in character, in a Church. What softens and emasculates the popular Religion is the luxurious service of a Crucified King.
I sum up, finally and shortly, some advantages of a worship maintained by free-will offerings, consecrated at the altar with the reverent prayers of the worshippers.
First of all, it is the method of the New Testament, and therefore it is of Divine appointment. We are always strong when we are with God. Next, the principle of uncalculating, offered love is inwrought, as we saw, into the primal motive and power of the mediation of our Lord. What right have we to talk of difficulties?
This method, and this only, preserves the true connection between the Service of prayer and praise, and the Service of oblation. In Collect and Psalm the heart worships through the lips; in the Offertory the heart worships just as truly through the hand. Adoration and Sacrament are not half spiritual and half commercial. Contributions to high and sacred undertakings for the Master are not meant to be wrung out of the people's fingers by rhetoric and declamation, by agents, by fairs and lotteries, by a sense of respectability, by amiable deference to the Pastor's expostulations, or by fitful impulses, but by steady, [12/13] voluntary, principled habit. The rule of ministerial support is definitely laid down in Scripture. "They that wait at the altar shall live of the sacrifice." A free giving on the part of the worshipper answers to the free gift of Christ and His Eternal Life. One law of freedom or the liberty in Christ governs the whole baptized and consecrated life, and this unity is comforting. The Church of Christ, rising to the rule of God in the Hebrew theocracy, regains its lost honor with its duty, and the day of spiritual simplicity, which is the day of power, returns.
This system brings along with it, as by a natural relationship, other features of a thorough Church-vitality. Wherever it is well carried out you are apt to see a certain marked and happy type of Christian fraternity; mutual confidence and sympathy; common praise, or animated and Churchly singing hearty responses; uniform attendance; frequent Communions; very often Daily Service, and what we may call a tone of reality in the whole Parish-work; a common Christian life in the people, which is primitive; and a note of joyousness in the worship, such as rings through so many of David's Psalms. A special blessing falls on the children. There is a promise to the small hand that drops Sunday by Sunday its own personal gift,--a promise fulfilled in the stronger and holier character of the manhood or womanhood that comes after. Rich child and poor child meet together side by side; their offerings mingle in one on the altar; passions that divide classes, embittering society with pride and suspicion and envying, are not fostered and aggravated in the Lord's House; perhaps they are killed at the root. A Member of Parliament, a layman, rose in his place the other day, and earnestly protested that by the neglect of the weekly Offertory the laity were defrauded of their due. Every Englishman has it for his right, he said, to go to his Parish Church and make there his offering for God's altar. If the Church was to be merely a means of providing comfortable incomes for Sunday orators, and cosy seats for wealthy listeners, the pew-rent system might be a success. But as the Church is for a common salvation of rich and poor alike, no system that shuts out the poor, or puts the rich into a fashionable house with a saint's name at one end of the town, and the poor into a bare Chapel by themselves at the other end, can ever be a system that God will prosper.
Success is in something better than architecture or coin, The [13/14] Cross is the banner of a Christian Republic. Sometimes it will turn out as it did in a Church in Old Cambridge, where the rent-plan gave three hundred pounds a year, and was abandoned, and the voluntary plan was tried and gave six hundred. But that will not be everywhere, and perhaps not anywhere without long instruction and patient preparation. When disease has been insidious in any body, and the decline slow, the remedy must generally proceed by gradual steps. We do not expect Free Churches to be proved to be right because they are successful, but that by-and-by they will be successful because they are right. God will bless them if lie approves them; and if He blesses them they will succeed. There is just as much prospect of success in open worship as there is of our growing into the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
At any rate, let any candid man ask himself this question: What other system can possibly call back and gather into the Fold of the Great Shepherd, or within the sound of the Gospel, the lost multitudes, especially in our cities, who are now alienated from all positive Christianity? The other method has been tried fairly. Whatever else it has succeeded in doing--and it is a great deal--it has failed to gain on the hard mass of indifference and unbelief. I see no reason to expect that with that kind of machinery the future will be better than the past. Yet are we ready to believe--you and I--that these brothers and sisters of ours are never to be shepherded,--never to come themselves, when love and truth together have gone after them, bringing a free-will offering, in the day of the Lord's power?
No doubt Socialism,--French, German, American,--captivates the working-classes. I shall not, for one, call it by any disreputable name; for, as more than one wise mind has seen and said, Socialism is only a blind yearning after liberty and equality. It is the unsteady and brilliant dream of an earthly republic, which can be realized only in the Church of God. "Crush the poor with wrong, and Socialism becomes the devil's counterfeit of Christ's Kingdom to them." Show them that they have the hearty and practical sympathy of the Church, because Christ ennobled poverty by being poor Himself, and you can "defy all the restless agitators of the world." And so I am with the Bishop of Carlisle, who said at a workingman's meeting in Leicester, "If you want liberty, fraternity, equality, seek it in the Church of Christ. If you want a good exposition of what [14/15] those things really mean, and if you want a good chapter on the rights of man, read that democratic Epistle of St. James, where he describes the Church of God meeting together, with Christ among them,--where he speaks of it as a profanation that the man with the gold ring and the goodly apparel should have a place higher than that of the poor man in vile raiment. Is it worth while now, Socialists, thinking men, with wives and children, to upset a great republican system amongst you like that?"
The last reason I have to give now for a rational faith in Open Churches is that they provide at least a breakwater to the frightful incoming tide of worldliness which threatens more and more to secularize our Parishes. As long as the world assails the Spiritual Kingdom from without, wearing its own colors, it is never irresistible. But in prosperous times like ours, and in affluent communities, Antichrist goes himself to Church, patronizes preaching, buys a pew, gets elected to the Vestry, and takes a hand in shaping the policy of the establishment, and, by blandishment or bluster, in pitching the key of the pulpit. All that you may hear said of the misery and the mischief of this secular corruption, in disordering Christ's Family, vitiating doctrine, emasculating the manhood of the Ministry, lowering the standard of personal righteousness, crippling missions, and widening the infidel breach between the strong and the weak, rather understates than exaggerates the facts. It is not Scientific doubt, not Atheism, not Pantheism, not Agnosticism, not Romanism, that, in our day and this land, is likely to quench the light of the Gospel or re-crucify Christ. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, Church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity. The door by which it gets official entrance to the Church is the temporal economy of your Parish system. Coming in by that door it will entrench itself on the very hill of Zion, debase her altars, and degrade her Priests. The Church has it in her power, I think she has it for a foremost duty, to arrest that invasion. Open your Churches to all God's children; support and adorn and enlarge them by the gifts of the worshippers, and you shut them, so far as in this mixed estate of our mortality they can be shut, against the world, the flesh and the devil.
My dear friends, it is on such grounds as these that I have come cheerfully, at the call of your Society, to make this confession of belief. And it is for these reasons that I, for one, see with cordial thanksgiving multiplying signs of a great general [15/16] movement for your cause. It seems to me little less than another Reformation, and a new revival of religion, because it takes us back to the simplicity that is in Christ, and up to the hills whence cometh our help. In the Eastern Church almost universally, largely in the Roman, and among a majority, it is said, of the Parishes of the Church of England, the principle is established. If there is one spot in Christendom brightened above all others by the holy light of Christ-like labor in our time it is the cities and large towns of England and Wales. Go through Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, London, and everywhere you will see marks of a splendid regeneration wrought within twenty-five years past. Where there were whole crowded acres of reeking debauchery, filth, blasphemy, pestilence, and riot, you find clean homes, order, industry, education, virtue, and a cheerful religion. What agencies have accomplished it? Chiefly Parish Missions and Missionaries, Lay Readers, Bible Women, Night Schools, Church Reading-rooms, all directed by Bishops and Priests. But what strikes us most of all is the testimony, distinctly and repeatedly given, that wherever this blessed transformation has gone on, there Free and Open Churches and Chapels have been built. In one city alone, and not one of the largest, fifty thousand dollars were lately given at one time for the building of them. Open-Church Associations, like yours, with statesmen and noblemen among their officers, are formed all over the realm.
In 1841, forty years ago, both Houses of the General Legislature of our Church in the United States declared that "in view of the rapid increase in the population, it is the opinion of this Convention that the Church should call the attention of her members to the duty of providing more ample free sittings." The coming Centennial Convention, please God, Who holds the gates of the morning, will show that this flash of catholic and prophetic light is widening over the continent from ocean to ocean--the Day of His power, with free-will offerings and an holy worship
"My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all People."