Address from the Sustentation Fund Committee,1872.
Dunedin: Printed by John Mackay, Princes St.page break
The following address was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Black, of Inverness, at the last meeting of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, on the subject of the Sustentation Fund of that Church. The address is such an excellent one, that our Sustentation Fund Committee has decided on circulating it among our congregations, with the view of exciting a greater interest in the Sustentation Fund of our Church, and of placing before our congregations the great claims which it has on their sympathy and assistance. It is feared that the objects of the Fund are not so generally understood by our members and adherents as they ought to be, and it is hoped that this full and clear statement will have the effect of making these better known, and of exciting greater interest in support of this great Fund of our Church, on which the maintenance of the means of grace throughout our Province almost entirely depends.
W. Thomson, Convener.Dunedin, October, 1872.
Dr. Black, Inverness, said:—Moderator, Fathers, and Brethren—It is with no small amount of reluctance that I occupy my present position. I have, however, an advantage over most of those present in this, that I have two countries and two Churches that I can call my own. Ireland and the Irish Presbyterian Church, the land and Church of my birth and early years; and Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland, now the land and Church of my adoption. It is because of this that I am here. Our most excellent convener believed that some of the experience we have lately had in Ireland might be made available in imparting a fresh interest to this noble Free Church scheme of sustentation. With your own successes before you, it is not necessary that I should tell the story of the difficulties and triumphs of the Irish Presbyterian Church, in order to prove that a people can maintain the ordinances they love independently of extraneous help or State patronage. It may not, however, be uninteresting to mention a few points of similarity, and draw a few contrasts between the schemes of these two Churches. But, before doing so, I must say how deeply thankful to God we were, through all our struggles, for the noble example you set us. When timid ones said, "We shall never succeed—our Church will go down," our answer was, "Look to Scotland." When a few ministers doubted and delayed, they were reminded of the Free Church and 1843, with its present equal dividend of £150 as the minimum stipend for every minister. Dr. Buchanan's name was then a household word among the Protestants of Ireland; the fund with which his name is connected the subject of many a protracted discussion. Few can estimate page 6 the moral influence that your fight and your conquest exercised both in the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches of my native land.
It was in 1843 that what I would call the Church of Scotland became free, disendowed and disestablished by her own act. By this act she was thrown on her own resources. It was in 1869 the always free Presbyterian Church of Ireland, by Act of Parliament, lost her State endowments, and thus too was cast upon her people's bounty. Both Churches, placed thus under similar circumstances, guided, we believe, by that wisdom which cometh from above, resolved to pursue a similar course of action—namely, at once, and with all the energy at their command, to organise a Sustentation Fund. The motives in both cases were the same. It was felt that the very existence of the Churches depended, under God, upon the success of their individual schemes. The ministry, hitherto either wholly or in part supported by the State, must be maintained in its integrity and efficiency. For how shall the sheep be fed and folded if the shepherds are impoverished? Our people, though resolving to love, and live, and work together as brethren, were not prepared to plunge into Plymouth proclivities. The cry was rather "Send us more watchmen for the towers, more shepherds for the flock." When, on the 29th of September, 1869, the laymen of the Irish Presbyterian Church met in conference, they resolved to go even a step further than this. With one voice they said—"We will prove ourselves better paymasters than the State. Government paid by the score of pounds (three score and ten), but we will pay by the hundred. As regularly as before you will receive your £69 4s. 6d., and, at the end of our year, we will forward you your supplemental dividend besides."
Illiberal fault-finders said—"You will spoil the ministers by this; you will secularise them." The time is past, however, for grumblings such as these to have any effect on thinking men. The day is gone when it would be thought that a shabby coat and a poverty-pinched face would add to the respectability of a minister. Once it seemed as if the people thought that the minister could not prepare good sermons unless the light of his study was subdued by dark shadows of difficulties and liabilities that he knew not how to meet. But happier times, thank God, have come. The eyes of Christian men have been opened to see the grandeur and the dignity of the office of the ministry. The teaching of the page 7 Spirit by Moses and by Paul is beginning to take effect. Christians are learning how reasonable it is, that as we sow to them spiritual things, we should also reap of their carnal things. Still, Moderator, I fear we have even yet too low a standard in both the Churches. It is resolved in both that the ministry must be educated—expensively, thoroughly. Is it fair, I ask, that a young man should be required to spend his money time, and energy for seven long years, to fit himself for an office in which he will be kept only a little above starvation point all his days? "But it was not for money," I am told, "that he entered the ministry." No, we know that too well; for often we have seen ministers existing on their L150 or L200 at most, while the men that they beat, from whom they carried off prizes at college, have their thousands a year in India or the colonies. And is the minister to suffer, I ask, for this noble dedication of himself to the Church's work? Should not the Church seek to show herself worthy of self-sacrifice by at least placing him out of the reach of embarassment and need.
Then, again, the minister should be a leader of thought among his people. He should be as far as possible abreast of the times. He should be fit to take his place in any society of his neighborhood. But how is this to be done with stinted stipends? A man who has not seen a new book or a new coat for a year or two, can scarcely converse or sit with the refined and educated.
Perhaps one reason why there is so much difficulty in the matter of the support of the ministry is this—that men do not estimate aright the value received from the gospel ministry. We live in a bargaining age, and we are apt to set side by side what we are to give and what we are to get, and to weigh them in material balances. But how can we ever adjust the balances here? If we offered our people earthly things, they might weigh us out their value; but when we come with spiritual merchandise, and offer our people eternal things, who shall weigh us the silver and gold for these? Here is a minister who has been the means, in God's hands, of bringing that man to Christ; he has now got the new heart, the light spirit, the wedding garment, his title-deed to heaven. What so-called precious things of earth can recompense for these? I heard of a family circle the other day where there had been discord. Bad temper and selfishness separated the various members, and arrangements were made for a breaking up of the household; but, through page 8 the instrumentality of a minister, the grace of God found an entrance there, hearts were touched, and wills were broken. Now there is peace, where a little ago there was contention. There is no talk of the break-up now, for there is the union of love. Surely no coin of the realm can adequately represent this value received. Oh, if all of us could realise it more that we ministers are "ambassadors for Christ," the chosen channels of blessing to men, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the instruments of God's own appointment for the ingathering of His elect, surely, Moderator, there would be no difficulty in maintaining and increasing our Sustentation Fund.
There was an idea, common to both Churches also—namely, that the Sustentation Fund would interfere with other good works. "Our mission efforts will be cramped; our Church extension will be crushed." But, Sir, experience has taught us that the very opposite is true. The mission funds were never in such a flourishing condition since the establishment of these schemes. In the Irish Presbyterian Church the other contributions have increased by at least L3000 a year. The Orphan Society, the Bible and Colportage Society, the Connaught Schools, have all increased their field of usefulness. The fact is, we are only learning the first principles of giving. Men have barely put to their lips or tasted the sweet cup of liberality. You have watched the child as for the first time it toddles across the floor to its mother's knee, and then looks back in merriment as much as to say, "I never thought I could have done it," and then the next time takes a longer course, and walks with firmer step. So with us; while we make merry and are glad as we look back, let us feel that we are only learning to walk, and let us brace ourselves for further effort, and under God for further self-reliance. But, again, we are told that we are going too far, that we will overtax the people; that they will be annoyed by such frequent calls; that by drawing the bow too tight it will surely snap. In answer, we say that we ministers cannot but speak of this grace, for we believe that liberality is a grace. Among other things, we are thankful for disendowment for this, that thus we have an opportunity of cultivating this one department of spiritual life. Giving is one way that God has of glorifying Himself; and is it not a rising into the likeness of his Father when the child of God learns to abound in this grace? Oh, there is a beauty, a radiance, a heavenliness, about page 9 this fruit of the Spirit that marks its possessor as a subject of the kingdom. Woe to the Church, then, that fails in the culture of this fruit. Show me a Church that has not been taught to give, and we will see that it is a dead, stunted, unlovely tree. Said Dr. Duff, some years ago, when moving the adoption of a similar report:—"Therefore, I am bound to urge upon the people to part with their substance for holy and worthy ends, to the utmost of their power; to give primarily, in the intention and purpose of their hearts, as an act of homage to God, and in receiving it back for the support of their ministers they gain a direct benefit to their own souls, raising them up in a spirit of love, disinterestedness, holiness, and purity. It is, in fact, one of the grandest means connected with the process of carrying forward the sanctification of the soul." Let our people think, also, how much they owe to God. He is always giving. The bounties of his providence, how rich they are; and yet what are they to the riches of His grace? Shall we retrain our paltry pittances, when He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all? Shall we think we can ever give too much to Him who gives us—both for body and soul—each day our daily bread? We may fairly promise, Moderator, that we shall give up asking when our people cease receiving, and our people should only be weary giving when their God is weary bestowing. "For your own sakes, then," we say, to our congregations, "see that ye abound in this grace also."
In the organisation of such a scheme, of course, great care must be taken not only that all things should be done decently and in order, but also, if I might use the expression, that the fund might get fair play. In the arrangements of the Free Church scheme, two ideas seem to have been kept in view, and these also were prominently before the minds of my Irish brethren. The first of these was the popularising of the fund. The second was the receiving the subscriptions by frequent instalments. In both countries these principles have worked well. And might not this have been expected? When the fund was given to the people, and they were told, "It is yours, you are responsible for it," we appealed to what I might call an instinct of the man. We backed the loaded waggon of the Church's sustenance to him, and bade him put his shoulder to the wheel. Oh! it is a great tiling when a man feels, "I have something to do with this; there is a share of the responsibility lying at my door." I heard the other day of page 10 a child that attended the services of a "Children's Church" in the north. One Sabbath day his mother was lying ill, unable to attend worship in the ordinary church. When the boy was ready for his own service, he asked his mother for a penny for the collection. She told him she could not get one for him that day, that he must go without it; but no, the boy refused. "Why," said the mother, "many a time I have to go to church without money." "Ah! but mither," was the reply, "you ken you get your church for nothing, but we have to pay for our churchie." Now, there was this principle of that child's nature. He felt his responsibility and rose to it. His mother, he thought, had nothing to do with the maintenance of her church. It was all done for her, and so she might go or stay, bring her money or leave it behind as she pleased. But he must go and bring his money with him, for "we pay for our churchie." And so with the men and women of our self-supporting churches. We ask them, to feel that this financial movement is theirs, that they are identified with it, that its prosperity and success depend on them. Most interesting illustrations have been given us of how the people are answering to this call. Even in some cases we are told of persons who had not attended the house of God for years, now attending regularly and giving of their means to God. When thus we lay the burden on the people, we surely take the safest plan. If we depended on our rich men only, why then, sir, we would have no security for our amount. Death might come in, and two or three of our largest subscribers might be carried off in the year; their places would be vacant, their spaces blank in the subscription list. Then, where should we find our equal dividend? But when our fund is amassing of littles, the vacant places can be easily supplied. As it has been said, "The king never dies," so we can say, "The people never die." If one falls, another springs forward and fills the gap, and so the work goes on.
The other idea is one of almost equal importance—that is, payment by frequent instalments. It makes it easy and possible for every man to give. It startles a man to find that he can give so much with so little effort. It makes him ashamed of himself because of his want of self-denial. Ask a man for £1 6s; and he will stare you in the face and say, "I cannot afford it; you ask an impossibility." Ask the same man for 6d. a week, and he will blush and say, "Well, I cannot refuse that—I give that to my page 11 newsboy every week; I must give you more than that, for I spend far more on my whisky and my pipe." I go to the poorest man on my list and ask him for 4s. 4d., and he answers, with too much truth, "I cannot, for it is many a day since I had half of it that I could really call my own." But ask him for a penny a week, and his heart will leap with joy. "O yes," he says, "I can do that! Will a penny a week make me a subscriber to the Sustentation Fund? Will my name be in the list? Will I be one of the supporters of the Church?" "Yes, my man, your name will be there along with your master's." I well remember a servant girl coming to me when we were starting the fund. Modestly she told me that she wished to have her name down for a certain sum. Knowing that her wages were but small, I said—"But are you sure that you could afford so much?" The tears started to her eyes as she said—"Oh, sir, I want to have a share in it; I am sure I can save that much; and when I bring it once a month I shall never feel it." No man can give better evidence on this point than Mr. J. P. Corry, who appeared before you yesterday. Speaking in the Irish Assembly of 1870, he says:—"I have become a great advocate for the collecting of the Sustentation Fund money weekly, or, at farthest, monthly. People don't look at small amounts as they do at large ones. I confess to you that, though it does not make much matter to me whether I write a cheque for a year's subscription to the Sustentation fund, or pay it monthly, I feel that it is a more just thing to hand in £8 6s. 8d. per month than £100 at once annually; and I intend to adopt the plan, and urge all I can influence to make monthly payments."
The Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church mentioned yesterday one point of difference in the method of ingathering of the two Churches. Perhaps I look through the coloured glasses of my old love, when I confess that I believe the Irish method is superior. Perhaps I may go further, and say that I believe it is God's own plan, and therefore, must be best. "Bring an offering," says the Word. Not wait till it is called for, but be your own collector. If there had been a system of collectors in Jerusalem in the olden time, the poor widow would never perhaps have met the eye of Christ, and that blessed story would never have been told throughout all the world. You say that Jesus sanctions marriage by his presence, after the marriage of Cana in Galilee. You say he sanctions social intercourse by sitting at the rich man's page 12 table, and so I say he sanctioned the bringing the offering to the house of God, the worshipping of Jehovah in His own temple with our means, by standing that day over against the treasury. It is no mere sentiment this. The plan has been tried in Ireland, and has been eminently successful. There is no trouble, no confusion, no expense about it. The subscriber is supplied with an envelope, on which he may place his name or prearranged number, as he pleases. On the last Sabbath of the month, the minister reminds his people that, on the next Sabbath, their monthly instalment will be due. At each door a box is fixed for this special fund, and into this treasury, on the first Sabbath of the month, the contribution is cast. Some, of their abundance, cast in much; but some, it may be of poverty, cast in all that they have. Facts are worth hosts of assertions, and so I give last year's results. The congregational subscriptions for the past year amount to L23, 235 19s. Id.; the private subscriptions, L 100 13s.; the donations, L152 13s. 11d.; the donations for investment, L250. The total expense of envelopes supplied, proportion of office expenses, deputation expenses, printing, &c., &c., amounts to L375 5s. 8d., and after payment of all claims to ministers of weak congregations, successors to country ministers, transfer of over L14,000 to pay annuities, and the supplemental dividend of L16 (against L10 last year), we carry forward a balance of L11,383 19s. 6d. to meet our quarterly payment due on 30th June next.
"Is thy cruise of comfort wasting? rise and share it with another,
And through all the years of famine it shall serve thee and thy brother:
Love divine will fill thy storehouse, or thy handful still renew;
Scanty fare for one will often make a royal feast for two.
"For the heart grows rich in giving; all its wealth is living grain;
Seeds, which mildew in the garner, scattered, fill with gold the plain.
Is thy burden hard and heavy? Do thy steps drag wearily?
Help to bear thy brother's burden; God will bear both it and thee.'