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warned me against allowing myself to be influenced by him. I have found him, however, clear-headed, sagacious, and decided. He has mixed too much in the world and seen too much of men to allow himself to be trammelled by the traditions of any sect. He is too manly to indulge in the kind of cant which passes with men of the Crabtree class for a sign of exalted piety, and while he has the courage to express his views with decision, the position he holds and the arguments he employs, never fail to give them authority. The election of such a man to the deaconate may be quoted as an evidence of the power of wealth in our churches, and it is so to this extent that no poor man of a similar character would have had any chance of being chosen. Still in my judgment the church in choosing him gave a proof of its wisdom, for he is in many points better qualified for the post than most of those with whom he is associated. If he is not given to make a parade of his piety in looks and words he does what is far better, he carries out its principles both in his commercial and political life. He is too strong and pronounced in many of his views for those who believe that the highest achievement of a Christian is to say nothing which can offend the susceptibilities, and do nothing which can provoke the opposition of others, and who, forgetting how little there is in the Master's character of this tenderness towards wrong and wrong-doers, are, in direct contravention of His own declarations, inclined to think that it must be evil with a man when all men do not speak well of him. But he is an honest, straightforward man, who forms his own judgments and does not hesitate to express them, and who is not much troubled about the censures of the world so long as he has the approval of his own conscience.
Much as I rely on him, however, I have even stronger dependence on my friend Davenport, of whom I have spoken to you before. He is our oldest deacon, and has, therefore, a large amount of influence in the church which he is too single-minded and upright ever to abuse. His experience gives him weight, and yet his years have not soured or narrowed his spirit. Of a genial, hopeful, trusting nature, he carries this spirit out into the business of the church, and always inclines to the brighter and happier view of every subject that comes under consideration. To some the strength of his faith may savour of fanaticism, but to me it is always refreshing and encouraging, and though, perhaps, he is too impulsive to allow of implicit reliance being reposed in his judgment, yet his impulses are so generous and good that they may for the most part be safely trusted. He is a decided opponent of many articles of the Congregational creed, especially those relating to the constitution of the church and the mode of admission to its fellowship, and his opinions on these points necessarily carry more weight because of his own high character and long experience. It is here that his support is even more important than that of Mr. Lassell, who, on questions relating to the external movements of the church, would receive more deference.
Mr. Crabtree and his friend Mr. Richardson are of a very different order, and though they would not be willing to acknowledge that they are leaders of an opposing party, it cannot be doubted that this is the case. Of the two, Richardson is the better man, less severe in temper, less irritable, more generous, though not less narrow or obstinate than his ally. Crabtree has the misfortune to be an old bachelor, and bis temper, which can never have been very good, has become worse, as the result of a solitary and somewhat ascetic life, in which there has been nothing to call forth the kindlier side of his nature. Occasional manifestations of generosity I have seen,
and others I have heard of, which lead me to think that under different influences he might have developed into a nobler character. As it is we see in him all the evils of a narrow intellect under the control of a still narrower heart. He can talk of two subjects, and of two only, his business and the church ; but business men say that his commercial ideas are altogether behind the age, and I can testify that his ecclesiastical and religious views certainly are. In truth, most of his beliefs are merely traditional. He is a Liberal in politics—that is, he always votes for the two Liberal Members, because in Millport, where there is a hard and fast line between different parties, and where the Congregational Church has, since the passing of the Reform Bill, exercised a powerful influence in the choice of the representatives, a Dissenter is always supposed to be a Liberal; but of any grasp of the ideas which lie at the root of a Liberal policy and of any sympathy with them his worst enemies could not convict him. So in his ecclesiastical views he fancies himself a Protestant of the first water, but if Protestantism has any sympathy with independence and progress, he altogether mistakes his position. The Romanist does not believe in the infallibility of his Church more fully than he does. What the church at Abney Chapel, Millport, has been and is, that it ought ever to be. Its old practices he regards as of perpetual obligation, and as its decrees and decisions have not been reduced to writing or put in any authoritative shape, he claims for himself and his brother deacons the right of pronouncing what they are, and of invoking them on every occasion when he may find it necessary for the purpose of supporting any particular view of his own.
The confidence with which he lays down the law would be amusing were it not that the dogmatism is insufferable and the attempt to repress the free action of the church in the last degree
injurious. His manner, too, is intensely offensive, its pretentious arrogance being made all the worse by the wondrous air of sanctity with which it is blended. The most disagreeable things he brings out are said with an unctuousness which makes them excessively irritating, and the tone he adopts, implying a pity for those opposed to him as though they were on a lower spiritual level, is, to say the least, not calculated to contribute to the harmony of
discussions which may arise.
The remaining members of the deaconate are useful men; but they are not so prominent, nor do they exert so much influence as those I have named. Mr. Chapman is one of my most intimate friends, greatly valued by me for the perfect simplicity and transparency of his character, his unaffected but earnest goodness, his devotion to the interests and work of the church, and his personal affection. Mr. Sykes also is a well-meaning man, with a good many old-fashioned prejudices, which require to be very carefully handled, but still open to conviction, and disposed to listen to reason even when it challenges some of his favourite notions. Of Mr. Burgess I have seen little, and tbe little I have seen leads me to think that he is one of those who will never take up a strong position of antagonism unless absolutely compelled so to do. His feelings would incline him to side with the views of Crabtree and Richardson, for whom he appears to have conceived a high respect, but I do not fancy he would like strongly to oppose me, or do anything which might disturb the peace or peril the prosperity of the church. From this general view you may at all events see that
work as leader cannot always be a very pleasant one, and that it requires a good deal of discretion and tact, more than I venture to flatter myself that I possess, to make all things go straight.
It has always been my practice, partly because I found it had been that of my predecessor, and partly because its wisdom approved itself to my own mind, to mention the names of the candidates I intended to propose for church fellowship to the deacons before naming them to the church. I do not feel that the deacons have any actual right to demand this, but it appears to me so conducive to a proper understanding between us, and so calculated to prevent any unpleasant discussion at church meetings, that I have maintained, and, despite some inconvenience I have found, intend still to maintain it. Among others whom I named at the last deacons' meeting was a young man of the name of Farrar, in whose sincere piety I have perfect confidence, who is indeed far superior to the majority of those who present themselves, but who has notions of his own that clash with some of our usages that he will not abandon. After speaking therefore of his religious history, I added, “ he has not been educated as an Independent, and he objects to receive a
deputation from the church to inquire as to his experience. To me he has spoken freely, and has given me all the satisfaction I can require; but he is unwilling to do anything more. I trust that this will not stand in the way of his admission, especially since the fact of his seeking union with us is itself a proof of his conscientious
His friends all belong to the Established Church, and look upon the step he is taking with extreme displeasure. A young man would not lightly incur the odium he has to meet in his own circle, and as his life is in all respects that of a Christian I cannot think that we ought to hesitate as to his reception.”
My proposal was a surprise, and for a minute or two all were silent. At last Mr. Davenport spoke. "I quite agree” (he said) " with our pastor.
It is a new thing certainly for us to admit any one in this way, but our laws are not like those of the Medes and Persians, and I for one am not a believer in a hard uniformity, especially when it acts as a discouragement and barrier to those whom we believe to be real disciples of Christ. I should, therefore, move that he be proposed, and that the church be advised to dispense with the customary forms of visitation." “ But” (said Mr. Richardson, who had evidently been extremely uneasy under these remarks), “ we must have regard to the purity of the Church ; and how is that to be preserved if we thus break down the distinction between the Church and the world, and lend our sanction to an indiscriminate admission ? “That" (I ventured to suggest) “is not at all what is contemplated or proposed. I have as deep a sense of the reality of that distinction and of the necessity of maintaining it as our friend. If I bad not believed Mr. Farrar to be a sincere Christian I should not have asked the deacons to make this concession to what is with him a strong conscientious feeling." "That may be so ” (was the reply), “but I cannot look at the course suggested in this instance as standing alone. In my view it is another step in a wrong direction. Already we are by no means so particular as our fathers, and now it is proposed that we should become more lax.” “Not at all” (I said). Laxity depends on the conditions of church fellowship which we lay down rather than on the means we employ for giving them effect. We should be fairly chargeable with laxity if we did not lay the basis of our communion in a clear and intelligent profession of a personal trust in Christ as the Saviour, or, if accepting this as the law of the church, we admitted those whose lives proved that in their case such a profession was an act of hypocrisy. But we surely are not lax because we do not undertake to be judges of men's thoughts, but leave this in the hands of Him who knoweth the hearts."
This was too much for poor Mr. Crabtree, who fancied that the very foundations of the faith were threatened by such perilous innovations. "If I understand our minister right " (he began) "he would dispense with all those safeguards which the wisdom of those to whom Congregationalism owes all its power in the country has thought to be necessary for preserving our churches from the intrusion of ungodly men. As it is, we have too much reason to mourn over the admission of unworthy characters who are sure, sooner or later, to bring discredit upon the Church. We have only to look over the rolls of our own church and see this. I have just been running over in my ruind the names of some whom we have had to exclude during the last few years, and the list is a sad one. Our good Mr. Sainsbury was too kind and hopeful, and sometimes unfortunate mistakes were made.” “ It appears, then ” (said Mr. Lassell, interrupting the speaker), “ that the old plan has not been so perfect after all.” “That was our misfortune, not our fault. We are but fallible men, who have not the gift of discerning the spirits.” “But, then” (said Mr. Lassell), “why should we pretend to it? We are claiming a power and exercising a prerogative which really involves a skill in interpreting the thoughts of men's hearts; and if it be found by bitter experience that we have nothing of the kind, but are perpetually making mistakes, would it not seem as though there were a fundamental error, and that the sooner we rectify it by renouncing pretensions which have no validity the better for all parties concerned ?” “So you would abandon a system because of defects in the mode of working. Such an argument is a dangerous one, and might be applied with fatal effect in relation to Christianity itself.” “Excuse me” (said Mr. Lassell), " that is not my argument at all. If the system rested on a solid foundation, and could plead Scriptural authority in its favour, the faults in the application of it might be remedied. My doubt is as to the authority of a system which demands, in order to its proper development, the possession of gifts which God has not given to man." “Do you, then" (inquired Mr. Richardson), “believe that the church should open its gates to all who choose to enter ? Surely that is not the doctrine of the New Testament. It always describes churches as composed of saints-holy men—those who are sancti. fied in Christ Jesus.” “On that point” (I said), we are all agreed ; and, for myself, I am most anxious that my position in relation to it should not be mistaken. I know too well how those who advocate any alteration in our modes of admission are liable to be misrepresented.” “Do not think" (burst out Mr. Crabtree), “that we are going to misrepresent you. There is no need of that.” "Perhaps I should have said misunderstood” (I replied, endeavouring to speak as mildly as possible, though it was hard to repress my indignation at the insinuation, which was thrown out in the most irritating way), “and that I am to some extent misunderstood