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



OUR Church has enjoyed an almost uninterrupted peace. On one or two occasions differences have arisen, and brethren whom we honoured, and whom we honour still, in the unquestioned exercise of their rights as members of the Church, expressed dissatisfaction, and in some cases withdrew from us. But I believe that whatever unhappy feeling existed at the time, it has entirely subsided, and the brethren who found them selves in a minority, had far too much of a Christian and a manly spirit not to accept the decision that was adverse to them. Much is often said about the diffi culty, not to say the impracticability, of a congrega tional form of Church policy and government; and there have been in our Churches disturbances calcu lated to bring our system into discredit. It is with a peculiar satisfaction that, looking back upon these many years, during the whole of which time any one of from three hundred to six hundred persons has once every month been at perfect liberty to propose anything, or to oppose anything, there has scarcely been a single instance in which at a Church meeting one unkind word has been uttered, or one transaction of an unbecoming character has taken place. I cannot suppose that in any Church, of however hierarchical a constitution, and with however rigorous a rule, there has been more peace, or a more peaceable or more gentlemanly settlement of disputed points, than in this thoroughly republican institution—our Myrtle Street Chapel. I might speak of churches which are supposed to have for everything the authority of law and the control of the executive of the country. I might speak of these churches carrying their disputed questions into the Law Courts; I might speak of scenes violent and disgraceful which have taken place in their services. I once myself saw a man in one of the churches at a Sunday evening service tear the vestments off the back of the officiating priest, and stand in his dirty boots upon the communion-table, giving out the hundredth psalm to the three hundred ruffians of whom he was the leader, and who were all the time roaring and swearing that they would revive the purity of their Protestant Church. But I say no more, excepting this, that if such things had occurred here; if the deacons, who are also our churchwardens, had locked up the chapel, and I had got a blacksmith to break it open; if some members of the congregation, not agreeing with my doctrine, had hissed and hooted and groaned all through the service; if we had been obliged to call in forty policemen to drive our rowdies out of the place; if those of our congregation, and there are or have been some, who disapproved of instrumental music, had smashed the organ; or if I, quarrelling with our worthy organist, Mr. Sanders, had attacked him, and been brought before Mr. Raffles for a breach of the peace ;—if any such things had occurred here, we should never have heard the last of them, and the facts would have been adduced as demonstrative of the undesirableness of congregational policy! But with pleasure, and I could almost say with pride, I find that in so many years of perfect freedom on the part of some hundreds of persons to speak and to act, this liberty has hardly ever been abused, and there is hardly word or deed of which any of us have reason to be ashamed, or which needs the slightest apology. "Let all things be done to edification; let all things be done decently, and in order." These only were the standards of the Primitive Church; this is our ritualism, and we have, I think, been faithful to it. I wish I could say more of the liberality which as a congregation we have manifested, for I must bear the burden, whatever it be, of the proverb, "Like priest, like people." After so many years of ministration here, the congregation worshipping within these walls must be in this, as in many other matters, to a great extent what I have taught and trained them to be. But I am not ashamed of the results. Without a penny of endowment, or of public help in any shape, this congregation has cheerfully sustained its own religious ordinances; it has built and kept in repair a large and worthy edifice; it has found the pastor, and paid him well; the Church has made provision for its own poor members, and never suffered them to sink into a state of abject want, and in this way I have no doubt that the ratepayers of Liverpool have been saved during these many years some thousands of pounds. Whatever has been needed to carry on our Sunday and Ragged Schools, our many Mission Halls, our Bible Women’s Union, and other institutions connected with the place, has been promptly supplied. We have done something for missions both at home and abroad; we have not been unmindful of the charities of our own town. I reckon that, apart from what has been given by members of the congregation as subscribers to various philanthropic institutions, the congregation has always given in charity an average of £iooo a year, and I do not think it was ever doing more useful work of Christian kindness than it is doing now. It is one of the greatest satisfactions of my life that when I have any charitable object in view I have only to appeal to my hearers, and there is a cheerful and in many instances a large response, which usually consists not of a few very great gifts, but of gifts fairly proportional to the circumstances of the givers.

Side by side with this substantial help rendered to charities, and distributed to a great number and variety of those institutions which are the glory of our country, I am happy to be able to place a large amount of earnest Christian work. I ought to be the most zealous man among this people. I do not know if I am. Many of my friends set me quite as good an example as I set them. There are perhaps two hundred men and women upon whose cordial and constant and hard-working co operation I can depend; and not only so, their zeal is a stimulus to my own, and I feel that were I removed the work would still go on. I may have had something to do with setting these forces for good into motion, and with regulating and directing their movements, but I am not the moving power; and my power, as I firmly believe, is. the Spirit of God enlightening the minds and influencing the hearts of my friends around me. Many of the best modes of usefulness among us have been suggested, not by me, but by them. I have given credit to Mr. Caine for originating the Concert Hall services. I believe Mr. Mounsey ought to have the credit of originating our Workman’s Bank. It was not I, but Mr. Isaac Miller, who urged that some of us should go and speak a few words of cheer and comfort to the poor, jaded, footsore tramps at the Workhouse Sheds. To my glad surprise I discovered that some of my friends had been doing noble work without any hint from me! As long as I may be permitted to cherish the hope that such manifold manifestations of Christian activity are in some measure the results of my teaching I am thankful, and feel that I have not lived in vain. Of course these years have been to me a season of much study of Christianity, and much observation of its effects. In saying this I am taking no credit to myself. It would simply be disgraceful to me if that time I have been reviewing had not been spent by me very largely in such occupa tions, and I beg to state most earnestly that the result of this study and observation is, that I am far more than ever convinced of the truth, the glory, and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been a time of great intellectual activity in this and in other parts of the world ; of intellectual activity directed very much to questions relating to the nature of the evidences of the Christian religion ; some of the ablest works in existence on both sides, and on all sides, of these questions having either been produced during this period, or have during this period become widely known. When I think of the works of Alford, of Stanley, of Robertson, of Mansell, of French, of Conybeare, of Howson, of Elliott, of Ellicott, of Donaldson, of Robinson, of Bucknell, of Maurice, of Kingsley, of Hare, of Buckle, Lecky, Renan, and Colenso; when I think of "Ecce Homo," "The Essays and Reviews," Kitto’s "Biblical Encyclopaedia" Smith’s "Dictionary of the Bible," and of the many great German works which the Messrs. Clark have given us in an English form, I cannot but feel that these last twenty or thirty years have been a time of most intense thought upon all religious subjects.

I hope that I have tried to do justice to truth, to myself, and to my friends by a careful, honest, unpre judiced perusal of such of these works as I have been able to obtain. This I can truly say, that such of these works as have been written, if not in the interests of scepticism, yet certainly from a sceptical point of view, and in a sceptical spirit, do not seem to me to have shaken in the least any of the grand principles of the Gospel of Christ, while such of them as have been written in the interests of Christianity have thrown glorious light upon Scripture, cleared up my obscurities removed my difficulties, answered my objections, and caused the character, life, and work of Christ to appear nobler, more beautiful, and more precious than ever! And so, with some old Opinions abandoned and some others modified, I can declare after these many years, which have of course in my case included much reading and study upon religious questions, I can declare with all sincerity that the only difference in my faith in Christianity as a revelation from God, and in Christ as the Saviour of the world, is this—that it has become deeper and stronger year by year. I hope my spirit is broader and more Catholic than it was, but it is not a whit less in sympathy with what we understand by the phrase, "Evangelical religion." Of course I have seen men make shipwreck of the faith. I have had to deal with cases in which members of the Church have been guilty of gross and shameful sin, though I am thankful to say that such cases have been very few. Not once a-year, not once in two years, have we found it necessary to separate any from our number for immorality.

But I have seen Christianity tested in too many ways to stand in doubt of its effectual power over the wills and affections of the wickedest of men. I have seen it tested by poverty, by many painful reverses of fortune; I have seen it tested also by what is a more formidable trial—great wealth, or a sudden rise from humble cir cumstances to circumstances of affluence; I have seen it tested by the most awful domestic bereavement, and what is worse, the shameful misconduct of a Christian man’s family; I have seen it tested by the most painful, wearisome illness extending over many years; I have seen it many and many a time tested in the hour of death, and the prospect of another world; and it has not failed in life, and in death it has given the guidance, the support, and the consolation of its Promises. I speak of what I know, and testify of what I have seen, and though well satisfied with the critical and historical evidences of Christianity, I feel that people may wrangle about them as they choose. The religion that does what I have so often seen this do; the religion that not only enables a man to die with a heart full of joy and hope, but what really is far more an evidence of its truth and power; the religion that can guide men and bring them in life; the religion that can take a sin-practising, sin-enslaved man, and change his heart, change his language, change his conduct, and his whole moral nature, make him right and keep him right, leading him to fulfil with something like decent fidelity his duties to God and man—a religion that can do that is its own head witness, carries with it its own credentials, proves its own Divine origin, and compels the conviction that it has come from God !



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