[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]
IN the year 188o I had a very decided inclination to retire from the pastorate of Myrtle Street Chapel.
I had felt the pressure of the work severely for three or four years previously; and in 1878 I obtained, with the full accord of the Church, the assistance of Mr. H. F. Lapham, one of the most promising students at Regents Park College.
This arrangement did not cost the Church anything, as the whole of his stipend was provided by a reduction of my own. The plan, however, did not succeed. Mr. Lapham was all I could desire as a gentleman, a friend, and a pastor, and many of my Church and congregation agreed with me, and prized him and his work highly. Still, on the whole, they have not taken kindly to the arrangement. In 1880, after two years service as my assistant, Mr. Lapham resigned, and I agreed with him, that for his own sake it was better for him to go than to stay. I determined that it would not be wise to repeat the experiment. I felt, however, as I did before he came, that the efficient performance of the duties of the pastorate of so large a Church was more than I could efficiently render, and that it would be wrong to continue performing them inefficiently.
I had then entered upon the 34th year of my ministry in Myrtle Street. It had been a very peaceful and happy ministry, and not without success, the Church and the congregation being fully fourfold what they were when I came. I think I may say it had been a laborious ministry also, and I have been laid aside from it by sickness once only; and that but for six weeks. I have never been absent for any long period, excepting once, when I went to America. I think that six Sundays a year would cover my absence from the pulpit, and on most of these I preached elsewhere. I have spent in Myrtle Street during these 34 years of my ministry about 1500 Sundays, and taking my Wednesday evening addresses into account I have preached in the place about 4000 sermons.
On most Sundays I have paid an afternoon visit to one of the Sunday schools, and have attended perhaps 1000 Monday evening prayer meetings, besides a great variety of work connected with so large a Church, almost equal in strain to the work for the pulpit.
The Church was in a most healthy and prosperous condition. It was out of debt; it had considerable funds for charitable purposes; there were no signs of dissension or disaffection towards myself. Looking at it all round, in influence, funds, membership, diaconate, and schools, the concern was in good order and condition, and I felt it was fit to be handed over to a successor free from everything that might be considered a trouble or disadvantage.
Gradually the extension of the town, and the prevailing fashion of going to live in the suburbs, had made it increasingly difficult to obtain a large congregation; but I felt justified in believing that for many years to come the place might fairly hold its own as one of the best positions in Liverpool.
Though it may savour of conceit to say so, I felt well assured that the present congregation consists largely of persons who attend simply because they prefer my ministry to any other they can find, and I could not but suppose that if I persevered in my intention of resigning there might be a moving away which would largely diminish the attendance, and consequently the revenue. Though I regarded this prospect with much anxiety, I felt also that, in any case, the man who comes after me will have to keep and gather his own people, and if he be the right man for the place he will do so.
I further felt the weight of increasing years. I had completed my 54th year, and the work of the place, to be efficiently carried on, required more energy than I possessed, and indeed demanded the energies of two or three men instead of one. A clergyman with a far smaller charge would have at least two curates.
Even if I were not to give up the pastorate entirely, I felt that after 34 years of brain work such as mine has been, the mind needs a long repose, at least for a full year. I felt that I had pretty well preached myself out; and could no longer do justice to myself, to the Church, or to the Master whom I serve. The mind ought to have the recreation of some other kind of reading, thinking, and working, instead of going round with a horse in a mill as mine had done.
It was not my intention to leave Liverpool. I felt I could be happier and more useful there than elsewhere. I thought of resuming my old work of delivering addresses on Sunday afternoons. Addresses of the old sort, quite free from dogma,humane, natural, having to do with daily life, and secular in the best and truest sense of the word. I would occupy myself during the winter months by preaching in various churches morning and evening; while in the summer I would find pleasant and useful occupation in travelling about the country, preaching gratis to poor churches, and working for the Association, and Baptist Missionary Society.
Well, I carried out my intentions, and at the largest Church meeting ever held in Myrtle Street, on August 13th, 1880, I tendered my resignation of the pastorate, to take effect in the following March. In my address, I stated I was willing, if the Church and my successor wished, to continue to preach in the morning for some time longer.
In this step I had the approval of my old friend, Mr. C. M. Birrell, whose advice I took throughout; but I had neither the sympathy or approval of any one of my children. It is better perhaps that they should have been rather with the Church than with me at such a crisis. No one can ascribe the course I took to them, and I hope to see them stay by and help the Church as long as any of them remain in Liverpool.
A few weeks later I received a memorial signed by over 1000 members of my Church and congregation, entreating me to continue; and after much thought and prayer I undertook to do so on condition that they secured a colleague who would do the work of the pastorate, and be content to let me take only my share of the preaching.
With singular unanimity, the Church resolved to invite Mr. Lewis of Rochdale, now pastor of Princes Road Church, Liverpool. The invitation was given to Mr. Lewis in Jan., 1881 ; but he finally declined it, and it was not found possible to secure the agreement of the Church to any other invitation. At this time my health was exceptionally good, as if to fit me for the task of resuming the work as before, so I determined to thank God and take courage, and to struggle on with the work as He might give me strength, and to say nothing more about the question of resignation.
In taking this determination, I think it worth while to note in my diary the following summary of the records of the Church, with which I have now (1885) been associated as pastor for 37 years; I pray God, that when ever the time arrives, when in His good pleasure I lay down the lifes work which He has graciously entrusted to my hands, there may be no diminution found in the prosperity with which He has blessed that work through out. To Him be all the honour and the glory!