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They are forced into a condition which has a consciousness of self-degradation in it. Their growth is hindered, and their families are denied the means of education, and often stung into an intense disgust for the ministry, and the church that allows such wrong. The loss of power to the ministry from an inadequate support, can be known only when the evil shall be generously removed, or the day of judgment shall make its revelation of the history of the race. The other is that in many of our churches the sittings are so expensive that large classes of the people are practically excluded. These two facts, with their dire and far reaching consequences, make the subject, put at the head of this paper, one of vital interest.
In the early history of New England the expenses of public worship were paid by the towns in which the worship was held. It was believed then, that religious worship was for the profit of all, and that its burdens should be borne by all, according to their ability. In the progress of dissent and democracy the laws were changed, and for a generation, these expenses were borne by men voluntarily belonging to parish corporations, by a. tax on their property.
The prevalent mode of meeting parish expenses is by pew rentals. This is a very convenient, and often a very successful mode of raising necessary funds. Is it the best? If the great ends of religious institutions were material, we might more easily answer this question. If a full treasury and a large and popular congregation are the ultimate results sought, there might, perhaps, in many cases, be little doubt. But we suppose all our readers believe that the great end is spiritual. There are various lesser benefits, intellectual, civilizing, social and esthetic influences, that make our religious institutions above all price, but the end is the salvation of human souls. All other results are only as the verdure and blossoms that minister to fruit, as the spray
that floats in rainbow beauties over the torrent. We suppose that none of our readers doubt that God's great instrumentality in the salvation of men is the preaching of the Gospel in connection with Christian worship. “It hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” All religious organizations and policies, then, must be tried by this test. Are they bringing the vital truths of the Gospel to
bear on men with the greatest possible power and saving efficacy? Are they lifting as many lost souls as possible to eternal communion with God?
There is a subject of infinite importance now stirring a great deal of Christian thought, called in somewhat cumbrous phrase “Home Evangelization.” How shall we save large masses of our population from infidelity or heathenism? How shall we bring neglectors of divine things to Christ? We think the matter of this paper has very close relations to these questions, and demands the thorough study of those who are pondering them. Very elaborate plans of labor are proposed to our churches, but we have no expectation of great results from any influences which do not emanate from the sanctuary, and bring men under the power of a preached Gospel. Can any mapping and visiting of “Outlying Districts” or any gathering of statistics, do any thing more than skim the surface of the dark tide of ruin that is coming in upon us, so long as men are not brought under permanent and God-appointed Gospel influences ? Must not the voice which shall say to that tide “thitherto shalt thou come but no further,” come out of the sanctuary of God? We do not believe that any true progress can be made in that work till the church grapples earnestly with the difficulties that underlie it, of which we speak. Never in the history of the world have classes of men been Christianized, except through the preaching and ordinances of the Gospel. We fear that the financial management of parishes now prevalent, debars many from all Christian worship.
The taste of our age runs to costly church edifices, requiring large annual expenditures. In many towns there is but one place of religious worship, and when the old building is removed it must give place to a costly structure, and when it is finished, the expense of maintaining public worship in it, and perhaps the interest on a heavy debt, must be met by a sale of seats. They are assessed to meet the expense, and an opportunity for competition at a public auction, is given. The sale is brisk; the money is easily raised. The people are in high spirits, but where are the poor saints, the unfortunate ones rich only in faith, and those who, in a measure indifferent, might have been attracted by other management? They have no homes in the sanctuary. Men with small incomes and helpless families, can not pay sixty dollars a year for a pew in a costly church. The aged widow and the penniless young man or woman feel excluded. We hear continually of instances in which families cease to go, or go to churches of other denominations where the seats are free, because of cost. Many who might go, will not for this reason. We must remember that while the spiritual necessities of men are their greatest necessities, they are not consciously so. The problem is, How shall we draw men to a holiness and a heaven for which they have little relish ?
We are not decrying costly churches. We love to see neat and even grand and time enduring structures for the worship of him whom the heaven of heavens can not contain, provided they can be secured and give room for all; but in many of our cities and large towns there are not sittings enough for all, or half, the population ; and from many of these the poor are utterly excluded. We are pleading for a Gospel free as heaven's air, like him who first preached to the poor and lowly. A shrewd business transaction may not be a wise one. We read with no pleasure such announcements as this : “The annual sale of pews in Rev. Mr. —'s church, in
-, amounted to eight thousand dollars.” It says to us the worship may be imposing and the preaching eloquent, but to the poor the Gospel is not preached there.
We strongly suspect that there are churches that do not desire to see the poor in their sanctuaries. They are willing to give something, as a charity, to procure the preaching of the Gospel in halls where the poor may assemble, but they wish to have their Sabbath luxuries free from such associations. They would have no tramp of heavy clogs on their sacred floors. They would not see any coarse garment in their consecrated temples. Do they forget that the most regal worshipper, in the grandest cathedral, must bow low at the name of him who was a homeless wanderer over the earth? Do they forget that the daintiest daughter of luxury, in her silken robes, must beg mercy as a lost sinner of one who never owned, by any human enactment, one foot of the earth he sanctified with his blood; whose only attendants at he walked the earth, were poor fisher
men? If she gets audience at the heavenly gate, she must come in garments, the gift of compassion to utter want. Do they forget that in that regal city of gold, and pearls, and coronets, and eternal radiance in which no temple is, “the rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is the maker of them all”? Oh ye reputed children of Him who said : “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” who listened to the glad hosannas of the children, and likened the proud Pharisees to whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful unto men, but within are full of dead men's bones and uncleanness, do ye not know that words and attitudes and show are not worship, that God is no respecter of persons, that no glitter of ornament makes any human soul of any more value in his sight, that his piercing eye goes to the depths of all souls, and that no man truly represents Christ who is not full of love to all men, and earnestly seeking to save all men from eternal ruin ? Do you not know that all show will burn as chaff in the brightness of his coming, who can not be deceived, who will not be mocked ?
If the exclusion of many from the house of God and the hope of heaven is in any measure the result of our present financial policy, what is the remedy? Not free seats in some particular portion of a church. Men will not advertise themselves as poor by going there. Did the negro pew of a past age minister to the spiritual good of the colored population ? Our missionaries tell us that caste is one of the great hindrances to the success of the Gospel among the heathen. We must not introduce it into the sanctuary of God. Not in mission chapels and Sunday schools. These have a mighty work to do, and are doing a mighty work in their sphere. They are evangelistic, and may furnish the germs of church organizations that shall be permanent and full of power. But there are vast masses of our population that will not acknowledge their own degradation, as they would think they were doing, by seeking any such privileges. Their self-respect, as they would term it, builds a wall heaven high against any approach in that direction. No wise fisher of men would think of trying to take them in such a net.
The remedy, if there is one, must be in harmony with the essential principles of human nature. We have no specific to offer, but as it is our object to bring this matter before the Christian mind, we make some suggestions.
We think that the principle of taxation is right. We think that those who have received the highest benefit of the Gospel, the gift of divine grace, who are representatives of Christ, should have pecuniary burdens according to their ability. We think that the abler men in most of our congregations might assume a portion of the parish expenses, and thus bring the assessments of pews within the reach of most, and by a courteous and delicate offer of vacant places to the poor, the great mass might be attracted to the sanctuary. Or, men of wealth might purchase a portion of the pews in the ordinary way, and give them into the hands of the parish treasurer to be disposed of on such terms as might suit the circumstances of all.
We are glad to see the experiment in some of our cities of public worship in some large hall, with seats free, by pastors of churches and their congregations. We should be glad to see the experiment of free churches thoroughly tried. Let the seats be free to all, and a voluntary collection be taken in some form. Many could, and would willingly, give a small sum every Sabbath, who never have a large amount to give. Families might give a quarter of a dollar every week, who could never pay twelve dollars at one time. If men of wealth would stand behind such an experiment with a pledge to supply deficiencies, it might be a great blessing in some localities.
We would urge upon the wealthy members of the churches in our cities, who truly love the cause, the investing of a few thousands in church edifices with seats free, with regular organizations and ordinances. Would it not be more acceptable to the Master than if put into architecture, expensive organs, and operatic singing? Will it not be likely to give more satisfaction in death, and amid the glorified throng which is to be saved from all ranks as well as from all the tribes and families of the earth ?
We know a parish that is now building one of the finest, and one of the most costly edifices in New England, with a determination, as their pastor informs us, that there shall be in