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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

V.—report of Committee on State of Religion and Sabbath Observance

V.—report of Committee on State of Religion and Sabbath Observance.

Your Committee have endeavoured to prosecute the work entrusted to them as far as possible during the past year. That work embraced special services for the conversion of the young, and their dedication to God, evangelistic services for the revival of vital religion in the congregations of our Church, petitions to the Houses of Legislature with the view of securing the cessation of unnecessary traffic on railways and highways on the Lord's Day.

Your Committee are happy to report that the state of religion generally throughout the bounds of our Synod is improved, and matters are in a more healthy condition than for years past. The means of grace are, on the whole, well attended, while in some places spiritual fruits are being gathered, and our Church is exercising an influence for good throughout the laud. Whilst no decided revival, or marked work of God, has taken place, there appears to be a growing interest in spiritual and divine things in several districts in connection with our Church. The corresponding members of this Committee speak hopefully of the spiritual condition of the congregations within the bounds of their respective Presbyteries. One Minister thus writes:—"I have no hesitation in saying that, whilst there is much indifference to spiritual concerns, and a small residuum of our population that are characterised by open ungodliness and profanity, yet there are a considerable number of people that are known by me to be truly godly, in whose houses the incense of praise regularly arises, and that are to a large extent a leaven for good amongst the population."

Evangelistic services have been held during the past year within the bounds of all the Presbyteries of our Church, though not in all the congregations, and in some places with gratifying results. The experience of all the Ministers in whose parishes these meetings have been held is, that the attendance and interest increase when the meetings are continued for five or six evenings in the same place. Your Committee believe that the sermon on Sabbath observance enjoined by last Synod was generally preached by the Ministers, and the day of prayer appointed for the conversion of the young, was observed by all the congregations of our Church. What fruit these services have produced, the great day alone will reveal; but one thing is certain that in connection with the faithful use of God's own appointed means for bringing the young to the Saviour in the morning of their days, the Divine blessing will be given sooner or later. Your Committee are glad to learn that a union prayer meeting has been established in Dunedin by Ministers of various denominations, and is well attended. The week of prayer appointed by the Evangelical Alliance at the beginning of this year was observed in this city and in several other places throughout the Province. The corresponding member of the Dunedin Presbytery called the attention of your Committee to a matter of very great importance to the cause of vital religion in this city. We give the following extract from his communication, which will explain itself:—"Perhaps it should be stated that what is termed the social evil exists here to a large extent, about fifty women habitually and openly seeking a livelihood by vice, besides others following the same course more secretly. Repressive measures have recently been adopted, and a number of them lodged in jail under sentences of about two months. I am informed that the want of some refuge to which those women might betake themselves who desire to return to the paths of virtue, has been keenly felt, but no steps, so far as is known to my informant, have been taken." Your Committee would cherish the hope that the Christian ladies of Dunedin will take an interest in these poor unfortunate women referred to in the above extract, and that soon there will be a refuge established to which those may flee who wish to recover themselves out of the snare of the devil.

Sabbath Observance.

The present aspect of the Sabbath question is one of great practical importance and growing interest, and it is one for which your Committee would humbly solicit page 24 the careful and prayerful consideration of this Synod and the Church generally.

With the proper sanctification of the Lord's Day is bound up the moral and spiritual welfare alike of individuals, families, the Church, and the nation. The manner in which the observance of the Sabbath is regarded, whether as a day of pleasure or drudgery, as a matter of conscience or of worldly enjoyment, as a means of religious improvement or as a source of social recreation—will determine the character at once of a Church, a nation, or an individual. In the present day not less than in the time of old, the Sabbath is a sign between God and men, and its scriptural dedication to the Lord's service and glory is an indication of the inner life; a test of our love and loyalty to heaven.

Your Committee, in accordance with instructions given, prepared petitions for the House of Representatives and Legislative Council. The time at their disposal being too limited, no petition was sent to the Provincial Council. A copy of these petitions, with an accompanying note explanatory of the object contemplated, was sent to each Protestant Minister in Otago and Southland. The result was not so satisfactory as might have been expected, considering the paramount importance of the subject. About twenty congregations sent in returns. When the various lists of names were added together, the aggregate of signatures amounted only to 2,250. The petitions were presented by the Rev. Mr. M'Gillivray and the Hon. Dr. Menzies. in the House of Representatives and Legislative Council respectively, but nothing definite was decided on. The Committee on Public Petitions recommended the prayer of the petitioners to the favourable consideration of the House, but there was no one to take up the matter and bring it to a final issue. While no direct result has followed this effort of our Church to pat down what all right-thinking men must regard as an open and flagrant violation of the fourth commandment, your Committee are convinced that much indirect good will result from the public testimony which has thus been borne to the Divine appointment of the Christian Sabbath, and the open exposure thus made of the conduct of those who set pleasure and profit before them as the great end of their existence, as the only goal they are to reach; regardless of whose feelings they may outrage, or whose interests they may cause to suffer. In this connection your Committee are happy to report that an order has been issued by the Postmaster General putting a stop to all labour in post offices on the Lord's Day throughout the Colony, and it is earnestly hoped that the necessary additional assistance will be given, so that this instruction will be carried out in every branch of the post office department in New Zealand. It is gratifying to know that there are many members of the community who realise the preciousness of the weekly Sabbath, and hail its return not merely on account of the rest it brings to the physical frame, but for the opportunity it affords of attending to the requirements of their higher nature, and preparing for the rest and services of that eternal Sabbath the Lord has promised to those that love Him. But whilst these friends of order and religion know their privileges, and regard correctly the Sabbath as God's gracious gift to a working world, and seek to improve it for the high and holy ends for which it was intended, your Committee are sorry to inform the Synod that the restless and rebellious spirit of irreligion is busily engaged in every part of the Province, and increasing efforts are made for setting aside the sacred and religious character of the Christian Sabbath, and for making it more and more a day of business or pleasure.

Judging from the tone of the press, and the determined opposition manifested not only to the scriptural authority of the Lord's Day, but to many other relative subjects, it would seem that Dunedin shares largely in this spirit. The Harbour Company's steamers still ply between Dunedin and Port Chalmers on the Sabbath, when sufficient inducement offers; and it is with profound regret your Committee observe that the Railway Company advertise three trains to run each way between this City and the Port, on that blessed day. This is a new source of Sabbath desecration, at least in this Province, and a fresh insult is thereby offered to the Lord of the Sabbath, and to the moral sense and religious feelings of the community; while the officials connected with the railway are deprived of rest and religious worship. Their liberty, their Christian privileges, and their domestic enjoyment are all interfered with in order to increase the profits of the Company, and to meet the wishes of (it is to be hoped) a small class of the community, who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers either of God or man. It is a public scandal that one class of men should be enslaved for the pleasure or gain of another class, and every true Christian should set his face against it.

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Notwithstanding the resolution of the Provincial Council, carried by a majority of one at a recent session, the friends of the Sabbath in Southland have prevented the running of trains, and the loading and unloading of steamers at the Bluff on the Lord's Day, up to the present time. Your Committee would wish these brethren God speed in every effort they put forth for continuing this happy state of things in their midst. Dray traffic on the Sabbath is still prevalent in many parts of the country; not only are the draymen deprived of the Sabbath, but through them many men are engaged all that day on the different lines of transit. Shops are also kept open in Dunedin and other places throughout the Province, for the sale of liquor and other goods.

Your Committee look to the pulpit for a clear and oftrepeated testimony on behalf of the Sabbath, and against every encroachment on its sacred hours. Let the Church gird herself to the great work of creating and maintaining a public opinion on the subject of the Sabbath in accordance with the word of God and the best interests of the community, assured that her labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. In conclusion, your Committee would venture to make the following suggestions to the Synod:—1. That there be a conference of the Synod before its rising, on the state of religion throughout the congregations of our Church. 2 That the first Sabbath of November next be set apart as a day of special prayer for the young. 3. That a deputation be appointed to visit the outlying districts of our Church during the year. 4. That evangelistic services be held in as many congregations as possible. 5. That a sermon on Sabbath observance be preached on the first Sabbath in March by all the Mimisters in our Church.

John Ryley

, Convener.