[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



So far I have said a great deal about myself perhaps a great deal too much. With great pleasure I turn to matters that will not be so egotistical. The Church in Myrtle Street was founded, I believe, in the last year of the last century; worshipping for a short time, first of all, in a room that still exists in Church Lane, Church Street. They then built a chapel in Lime Street, and the good folk worshipped in that building until 1834, when they removed to Myrtle Street. Mr. Lister, succeeding Mr. Aitken, became the pastor of the Church in the year 1803, and laboured for nearly four and forty years. Few churches have seen fewer changes in its ministry, a fact which, if it speaks well for the pastors, speaks equally well for the people themselves ; it shows that they have not been fickle, but that they have been very patient, forbearing, steadfast, and friendly. The Church when I assumed the pastorate consisted of exactly 241 persons, my own name being the last but one upon the list of these 241. There yet remain more perhaps than you will suppose after a lapse of twenty years; 75 are still with us; of the other 166 death has removed the greater part, and most of the remainder have been dismissed to other churches.[* These sentences were written in 1868]. Of those who then formed the Church I must first mention my worthy predecessor, Mr. Lister. When I came to Liverpool he was not a very old man, not more than sixty-eight, but he looked more like eighty-eight. He was, I think, about the sparest man I ever knew, little more than a skeleton. He had been all his life a most abstemious person, a man of very early habits, who retired to rest bcfore nine in the evening, and at five in the morning was to be found in his study. Ho was a hard headed Scotchman ; a man of well stored mind; an excellent Hebrew scholar; a sound, sensible, plain, and practical preacher of the gospel; a laborious and conscientious pastor; a man of irreproachable character; a gentleman of the old school; and much loved and honoured by his people ;—but I think I may add that many of them, while they loved and honoured him, were rather afraid of him too, for he could be pretty stern at times. For the long period of forty-four years, within a few months Mr. Lister performed the duties of his office, until finding the burden too great for his diminished strength, he resigned his charge in March 1847. After a little rest, he so far recovered as to be able to undertake ministerial work for a short time, until renewed prostration compelled him to desist. He lived until November1851, and then on a Sunday morning, I believe at the very moment when we were commending his departing soul to God, he was removed to a better world. Mr. Lister was supposed to be rather hard upon young ministers. He always dealt with me very kindly. On one occasion when some matters of business led me to call at his house at half-past eight in the evening, he rather warmly reproved me for disturbing him at that late hour of the night. On another occasion he thought I was not quite sound in doctrine; on another he expostulated with me on the impropriety of some expression I had used in a sermon. My only regret is that he let me off so easily. I should have been more pleased if he had more freely dissected in my presence and hearing a good many of my sayings and doings. Few old minis ters are so lenient and tolerant towards their young successors as good old Mr. Lister was towards me.

Fifty-two years within a few weeks have elapsed since our Sunday School was founded in Lime Street Chapel. This fact, deemed to be of such importance to the Church, does not seem to have been thought worthy of being recorded in the Church-books. There is not the slightest allusion to it. However, eighteen gentlemen and ten ladies volunteered therr services as teachers. Among them I perceive names still well known to us. I do not know that any of these first teachers now survive, with just one exception, Mr. Thos. Turner. But we have in the list a Rushton, a Slater, a Gibson, and two Mounseys. The children in attendance numbered fifty-four. Taking our branch schools into account it is now reckoned that we have fifteen times that number of children and young persons in attendance, while the teachers are six times as numerous as they were when the school began its career. It is curiously illustrative of the change of custom that in our first Sunday School treats, given more than forty years ago, the children were regaled with cake and wine.

In one respect the alterations made in 1859 placed us at a disadvantage. They robbed us of our old Lecture Hall, or at all events left it the dark and useless place that it now is. We must lecture now where we hold our prayer meetings. And I am bound to say that our prayer meetings were more numerously attended twenty years ago and fifteen years ago than they are now. The Church has nearly trebled in members, the congregation is fourfold what it was; but the prayer meeting, to say the very most we can for it, is not at all larger than in those days. Though this fact is not encouraging, I am not disposed to regard it as so discouraging as at first sight it seems to be. Twenty years ago the practice of having one a week was not so general as it is now; the town itself did not spread ever so vast a space; com paratively few dwelt at a distance of more than a mile from the chapel. The centrifugal force has become so great, and dissenters have got on so well in the world, that I could speak of many who once lived within ten minutes’ walk of the chapel who now reside far off in the suburbs. But there are other reasons for the compara tively stationary character of the attendance at prayer meeting. In those days there were fewer public meet ings in aid of religious objects ; some forms of Christian philanthropy were almost in their infancy. Ragged Schools were only commencing. And now when I think of the number of my friends who in Ragged Schools, evening classes, cottage meetings, and even in home visitation, spend so much of their leisure time, I am not surprised that the prayer meeting is not more numerously attended than it was, though I should rejoice to see a larger number than we generally do see. I cannot but think that in some respects the prayer meeting is improved. I can remember when two prayers pretty well filled up the time. We had among us some worthy old men who were always present, and who were at any time good for twenty-five minutes apiece. One of my good old friends, peace be to his memory! once prayed that I might be in the hands of the Lord what the jawbone was in the hands of Samson, which, considering of what creature the jawbone had been a part, was a hit at my plain speaking.

We had among us some rather singular characters. One old gentleman not remarkable for generosity thought that I preached a great deal more to sinners than to saints, and on one Sunday morning after the service he came into the vestry and told me that he did not pay his pew-rent to listen to sermons addressed to the unconverted. Another, feeling himself near death, and knowing that the end of the quarter was near, wrote to our treasurer that as he did not expect to live more than a few weeks, he should give up his pew. There was not a better person in the Church than old Mrs. ——; those who knew her will never forget her. I believe she was sometimes prone to rebuke Christian teachers for wearing jewellery or going in anything like sumptuous attire. She was thorough-going in her sentiments; she wou]d not hesitate to declare Moses a good-for-nothing old tyrant, and I have heard her say that "If he came into this house with his yoke of bondage, I should say to him, ‘Get out of this; who sent you here ?—you are not my master.’" And then she would clench her hand, stamp her foot, and storm until half the street was roused as she abused Moses, and told him to be off about his business. And yet, notwithstanding these occasional extravagances, a more thorough godly woman it would be hard to find. I believe that poor old woman worked like a slave, and literally lived on bread and water for twelve years that she might pay some debts that her husband had con tracted, and she did it, and to the last would have scorned to receive a shilling in the form of charity. I once hinted such a thing, and I thought she would have served me as she threatened to serve Moses. She once gave me a very good lesson when she came to my house one Sunday afternoon to say there was a word in my sermon she could not understand. As far as she could remember it was the word "locality," and she wanted me to explain it. For me there was a world of meaning in that fact. It enforced upon me the importance of using as far as possible words that everybody can under stand, and cannot but understand. I know I fall very short of this state of perfection still ; but you do not know, I hardly know myself, how much my style of discourse, if at all plain and clear, owes its plainness and its clearness to poor old Mrs. B—— finding herself unable to make out the meaning of that word "locality." What can poor folk make of preaching when men preach as I have heard of one who began his discourse by saying that "The executive power of mankind is not always equal to the volitional impulses?" She died, and as her husband said, she was buried in the most comfortable grave in the Necropolis.


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