This is the time, as you are doubtless aware, when Exeter Hall is in all its glory. All the religious and philanthropic societies of the land are now holding their anniversary meetings there. There is, accordingly, a large influx of strangers, not only from the country but also from America and the neighboring continent, representing all the shades of belief and of unbelief by which mankind are comforted or distracted. What a babel it is! How confounding are the utterances with which its walls are made to reverberate. But it is a sort of festive time with us all. It is a time when we are sure almost to meet and interchange greetings with old friends and acquaintances, whom but for this casual visit to London and the "May meetings," we perhaps should never have seen again. But I incline to think that Elder Hale and the "Religious anniversaries" are in their decadence, and at no very remote day will have an historic existence only. Something less frothy and more substantial it is to be hoped may supervene.
The Baptist Missionary Society held its meeting on the evening of the 23d, Commencing at half past six o'clock. Heretofore it has always been held in the morning, but of late the attendance has been rather slim, and so a night meeting was determined on, and so far the change has answered, for a much larger number of the sterner sex, as they call us, was present, and quite as many of the "fairer portion of creation," than had been wont to attend for some years past.
The chairman for the occasion was J. Candlish, Esq., M. P. for Sunderland, and a member of a Baptist church.
The Secretary, Elder F. Trestrail, having read the annual report, stated that at the annual members' meeting, a resolution expressive of sympathy with Sir Morton Peto, and unabated confidence in his christian character was passed, and the chairman, W. H. Watson, Esq., Elder Dr. Gotch and C. M. Birrell were appointed a deputation to wait on Sir Morton and present the resolution to him. The resolution had been moved by Elder Dr. Steane and seconded by Elder W. Brock, and on its being submitted for adoption, the whole assembly rose enmasse to testify their acquiescence.
The chairman said he would ask this meeting to do the same. The meeting rose accordingly and cheered.
Now it strikes me this was a very silly proceeding. Sir Morton Peto, there is no doubt, is a keen, money-making man, and withal generous and public-spirited. He went into some heavy speculations and at last had to face an indebtedness of about $20,000,000 (twenty million dollars) which he could not pay. This is the embarrissment [sic] against which he is still struggling. But the Times and some other of the London papers have given expression again and again to innuendoes that seem to impugn his integrity. It is intimated that he is responsible for the disastrous state of the finances of the London, Chatham and Dover Railroad, which has entailed heavy and perhaps in some instances ruinous losses on the shareholders of that concern. The committee of the Baptist Missionary Society are naturally and properly enough jealous of the honor and good name of one with whom they had been long and intimately associated in that society, and who had been one of its most liberal and generous supporters. All this I say was right and proper; and it was right enough for them if they were conversant with the matter and familiar its details, to give expression to their confidence in his character and the rectitude of his proceedings, but what did one in a hundred of the three or four thousand people present at the meeting know about it? Just nothing at all. Besides, if Sir Morton Peto is in the right, he can very well afford to hide his time with the full assurance that the sequel will vindicate his integrity; and surely his friends need not be anxious to antedate that auspicious consummation by any such puerility as that to which I have alluded.
Besides, it is not denied, I believe, that it was by extensive speculative operations that he brought himself into this difficulty. He was worth, I suppose, at least five million dollars, and 1 doubt whether a man has a right to imperil his own and his creditors' money for the sake of augmenting a collousal [sic] fortune - for such his was, considering that he started in life as a common mechanic working at the carpenter's bench.
But it is the bane of English dissenters to worship wealth and distinction, and I sometimes think that the Baptists are addicted to this vice or weakness even more than Methodists or Congregationalists are. "Leading men" are the curse both of our churches and our religious societies. It is a great mistake however, for what we get out of them in the way of pecuniary support is as nothing in comparison with what we lose through the blighting and depressing influences which these overshadowing colossuses [sic] exert on the masses.
The income of the Society this year is about $150,000 (one hundred and fifty thousand dollars). But a debt of twenty-five thousand dollars has been incurred within the last two years, the larger half of which has been contracted within the past year. A resolution referring to this circumstance was submitted to the meeting in the following terms:That this meeting, encouraged by the success of missionary societies in past years, and the many tokens of the Divine favor vouchsafed to them in times of severe and unexpected trial, cherishes the expectation that this society will not only be relieved from present pecuniary difficulty, but shortly be enabled to enter, with renewed strength, on its future labors, particularly in China and India, where such remarkable changes are taking place among the more intelligent and educated classes in their views of the native superstitions and of Christianity. Sympathizing with the spirit of enterprise so commonly evinced by men engaged in commercial and scientific pursuits, this meeting regards with feelings of peculiar interest the young men in our colleges and churches, and would devoutly pray that God in his great mercy would enkindle in their hearts the yet loftier spirit of self-denial and holy ardor required for missionary labor, especially in those who, endowed with great natural gifts combined with high culture and superior social position, seem eminently qualified to take a foremost place in this sacred and glorious work.Now I wish to call your attention to the concluding part of that resolution. It will tend to illustrate that contemptible spirit of snobbishness and flunkeyism to which I have already referred as so inveterate in that dominant clique that manages Baptist affairs in London, or perhaps I should say for England.
For a society that owed its origin to the faith and devotedness of two rustics, a Fuller and a Carey, the one a farm laborer and the other a cobbler, to call on "God in his great mercy" to give them young men out of the colleges, especially "those who endowed with great natural gifts, combined with high culture and superior social position, seem eminently qualified to take a foremost place in this sacred and glorious work," seems to me a most reprehensible and fatuitous proceeding. Let these men instead of allowing themselves to be controlled by their "sympathies with the spirit of enterprise so commonly evinced by men engaged in commercial and scientific pursuits," turn away from these "beggarly elements" and become enamored rather of that wonder-working power by which the foolish things, the weak things of the world, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, yea and things which are not are made mighty through God "to bring to naught things which are."
That resolution was seconded by one of the noblest specimens of the genus homo that can be found in the ranks of the Baptist ministry in all England, Elder Hugh Stowell Brown of Liverpool. I wish I could incorporate his speech in expression this letter but it would make it too long, I however will inclose it. Mr. Brown is one of the very best preachers in our denomination and I suppose has the largest congregation of any Baptist minister in England except Spurgeon. His congregation numbers between two and three thousand. Mr. Brown is not a gentleman after the type that finds favor among the elite of Baptist society. There is nothing of the French dancing-master about him. But I will venture to say that it would be exceedingly difficult to find among the Baptist ministry of this country one who would pass muster half as well in the [blurred] of the aristocracy. He has just those traits that mark our gentry; ease, self-possession, dignity and intellectual culture. There is scarcely one out of ten of our preachers but what drops his h's, and this at once stamps them with vulgarity. No English gentleman or man of breeding ever falls into this habit. Mr. Brown's enunciation is remarkably correct and distinct and utterly free from the vulgarity, and his acquirements are evidently of a highly respectable character. And yet I have heard him spoken of as rough and vulgar by these inquisitors of gentility. There is a good deal of bonhomnie [sic] and out-spoken frankness about him, and this does not comport with their canons of propriety and decorum; for the truth is these parties themselves are destitute alike of culture and good-breeding.
Well Mr. Brown handled the question of the debt in good style, and as I judge from all I hear, gave offence to the dignitaries of the Society. The Freeman, which is understood to speak by official inspiration, characterizes the speech as a mistake and his remarks as out of place, and gives his speech in nonpareil type.
Mr. Brown had nothing to say about the desirableness of getting young men of liberal culture and high social position to engage in missionary labors. He is not the man to indorse that sort of shoddyism. He merely counted his audience and the society to get out of debt as soon as they could and then to keep out, this formed the staple of his speech.
Quite a number of familiar faces were prominent this year by their absence From the meetings of the society. Among others, I may mention Mr. Spurgeon. He, however, was present and made a speech at the "Young Men's Missionary Society," held at his own chapel, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he gave expression to some sentiment that I must say were both common-place and quite ungenteel. In fact, he made no more account of "high social position" as one of the qualifications for a missionary to the heathen, than did Christ himself when he called Simon Peter and Andrew his brother who were "fishers," and likewise James the son of Zebedee and John his brother who followed the same occupation, and commanded them to follow him and become "fishers of men." Nay, he even urged that young men of ability, going out as missionaries, should learn "handicraft," and then, after working all day to get their living, go and preach to the Godless sons of heathens at night, and not so much as send the hat round when they had got through!
The following is an abstract of his speech:
Rev. C. H Spurgeon said he would not exactly say to the churches - Send out missionaries, but be yourselves missionary churches; and as for the place, whether it be here or abroad, why let it be a matter of circumstances. Subscribe towards the work, but do not be content until you are missionaries yourself. This he increasingly felt must be done. No supporting of missionary societies could deliver a man from his individual responsibility to make known the truth of Christ. It struck him that some modes of missionary preaching were wrong, If missionary operations are supposed to be solely conducted by paid agency, then the work became feeble. He would urge that men of disinterested feeling and love for the souls of heathen should go forth, as they do at home, to preach in foreign lands the Gospel of Christ, supporting themselves by their own hands and labor. Altogether, the lay element, as it had been wickedly called, had a most potent influence in the Christian church. He confessed he was not satisfied with present missionary results. The want of the lay element was a weak point in many parts of the mission field. You would never, so long as there was a farthing of money payment, make such a people as the Hindoos see that the preaching of Christ amongst them was out of love to their souls. This had been, and must be, one of greatest embargos on the success of missions. There must always be men supported; else how could they, as honest men, at home receive salaries; and yet if the major part of those laboring at home were so sustained it would become an element of weakness, and it always had been so abroad. Our missionaries deserved all they got and a great deal more; but when it should please God to raise up at home and abroad free laborers, then, and he did not think until then, should we thoroughly convince the heathen mind of our singleness of purpose and possess one grand element of spiritual power by which to get at the minds of men. He did not depreciate any agency now in action, but he prayed God to send ns something more; for it would be easy to show that at our present rate of progress the kingdoms of this world never could become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Indeed, many in the church were giving up the idea of it except on the occasion of the advent of Christ, which, as it chimed in with our own idleness, was likely to be a popular doctrine. He himself believed that King Jesus would reign, and the idols be utterly abolished; but he expected the same power which turned the world upside down once would still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that He was not able to convert the world. He wished we could always repeat, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." He did not believe much in certain organizations, but he believed in the Holy Ghost, and he believed the Holy Ghost, working through the church, would subdue the nations to the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed that some other agency would have to be employed, perhaps alongside with their own, before the world would be converted to Christ. (Applause.) He strongly urged that young men of ability should learn a handicraft, and go out to heathen countries and preach the Gospel after their work was done, just as they did at home. If two thousand young men would do this, there was room in the wide world for them all. It had been done, it was being done even now, and he believed they would not have to complain of the comparatively small missionary results if such a plan were carried out on a large scale. In concluding his earnest address, Mr. Spurgeon said they ought to pray to God that He would send some leaders for our societies, who would, like Andrew Fuller, be useful in stirring up the country on behalf of missionary work - men who, like [William] Knibb, would plead for the cause of the heathen, so that the interest of the churches in this subject might be deepened.
London, May 29th, 1867.
[From The Baptist, Memphis, July 13, 1867, p. 3. From the CD copy. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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