“Seek, that ye may abound unto the edifying of the Church” (1 Cor. xiv. 12).
“Desire earnestly the greater gifts” (1 Cor. xii. 31).
“Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. ii. 15).
In entering upon subjects which have been reserved for my second category – namely, those measures for the improvement of our ministerial service which are capable of being employed by ministers themselves – I must again disclaim any thought of addressing my fellow-labourers, as one who has himself attained, or who has any title to speak as one having authority.
Receiving only the plain education which was available at ordinary Friends’ school sixty years ago; leaving school at the age of fifteen, and entering immediately upon a business career in a country banking house, called to the ministry at thirty-five years of age, when I had become responsible for the official management of a growing life assurance institution; I have had little leisure for study, and much engrossment with the cares of a business life, which made large demands on the mental and intellectual faculties. My history may, therefore, probably be looked upon as affording a fair average example of the life of a middle-class Friend, whose best thoughts and aims, apart from business and family responsibilities, have been turned, under a sense of religious duty, away from political and municipal engagements, to the service of the Church in the ministry of the Gospel. In the course of such a life, much must have been learned from the hindrances to higher service, arising from causes both within and without; much also of the daily needs of such a position; and it would be deeply ungrateful not to add, much of the joy and privilege of serving so loving, so condescending, and so wise a Divine Master.
These considerations, and an earnest desire to see the Society of Friends occupying more fully that place amongst the Evangelical Churches to which I believe it is called, constitute my only justification for the course I am now taking.
It will not be denied that Friends have been to a very large extent successful in the enterprizes they have undertaken. They have admittedly borne a foremost part in efforts for the relief of suffering, and the moral elevation of mankind. In the field of commerce and manufacture, members of the Society have made for themselves world-wide reputations for the supply of genuine articles for domestic use. In the management of municipal affairs they have taken prominent places, to the advantage of their fellow-citizens. The number of Friends occupying seats in Parliament is much greater in proportion to the size of their denomination than in the case of any other Nonconformist body. In the legal and medical professions Friends have attained considerable eminence. They have given to the present generation some prominent statesmen; and one of the greatest orators of the nineteenth century was a Friend. Would it not be natural to expect that the same qualities that have produced these results would, if employed in the direct advocacy of Christian truth, have borne corresponding fruit? But where are our eminent preachers? To say nothing of the Spurgeons and the Moodys, where are the ministers amongst us so well-known and esteemed that their names placarded on the walls would draw together a public audience of a thousand persons? And why not? Is not the simple spiritual faith which we hold the very essence of the Gospel message which C. H. Spurgeon and D. L. Moody, and others like them, have delivered? Have we not held for centuries the very substance and marrow of that truth which is now the staple teaching of the apostles of the “higher Christian life,” and of “Scriptural holiness”? And yet what account can we render of this great stewardship?
Is it possible that our Heavenly Father who has bestowed upon us so many good natural gifts, has omitted to call for the dedication of some of them to His service? Or has the call been heard and not obeyed? Is it our Church system that has made us good tradesmen, good citizens, clever professional men, earnest philanthropists, but indifferent gospellers?
No doubt our system has laid some restraints upon us, as preceding letters have shown; but even the most perfect system without willing and competent labourers would be worthless. God is above all systems; and earnest men put forth and qualified by Him will cause even straightened systems to expand.
Fox and Penn, Burrough and their fellow-labourers, in spite of existing systems, and of cruel persecutions to boot, gathered in the course of a few years out of a population not more than one sixth of the number now occupying the British Isles, a body of adherents four times as numerous as the members of the Society of Friends in the present day. We have the same message to deliver as they had. The demand for it now is at least as great as it was then. It comes from the followers of other Churches, hungering after something more satisfying than a religion of ritual and ordinance; from multitudes weary and heavy laden for want of being directed to Him who alone gives rest to souls; from thousands, stumbled at the inconsistencies of empty profession, or entangled in the snares of a shallow scepticism. It is the cry of souls in the agony of spiritual famine, the tortures of the bond of iniquity, the rage and despair of ruined hopes. Were every adult member of our little body a diligent preacher of the word, we could hardly overtake the work that is lying undone – waiting for our attention.
Whatever shortcomings may be chargeable to the Church collectively in this matter, we may be sure that the chief responsibility lies with individual members. It is only personal devotion that will do the work now, as it did in the early days. Whatever improved arrangements may be provided in the shape of educational privileges, for instance, would be useless unless we had men and women willing to avail themselves of them. And that portion of a minister’s training which consists of improving his general knowledge of men and things, of the choice of his ordinary reading, and the regulation of his pursuits, with a view to the promotion of his efficiency in ministerial work, must obviously rest with himself.
If we have been content to regulate service for God to the place of something merely casual and incidental, to make it subordinate to the pursuit of our worldly interests or personal enjoyments, is it any wonder if our ministry is dwarfed, and its fruit scanty and imperfect?
May these thoughts lead us into searching of heart, with sincere and humble prayer to be taught what is the will of God for us as individuals.
And if it should be that any dear brother or sister reads these lines conscious of a neglected call to Gospel labour, or of a gentle intimation of duty in that direction, which has been turned aside by the substitution of some subsidiary work, even in the cause of philanthropy or national morality, may I entreat them to ponder anew the inspired words which stand at the head of this letter; to yield themselves faithfully to Him who gave Himself for them; and to follow simply where He leads. Though such a course may involve humiliation and self-denial, or even the sacrifice of some cherished plans, there are joys and privileges attending it far beyond what the natural mind can perceive, or words describe – pleasures that shall endure at God’s right hand for evermore.
And if there be amongst us brethren in the service who have not heretofore taken such a view of their calling as is indicated by those stirring Apostolic exhortations, may they be stimulated to press onward, to give the Lord their very best, to place themselves at His feet for a renewed anointing, to labour for souls, in the light of a coming eternity.
Ilkley, August 1892
Joseph John Dymond
Note.– Lest I should be at all misunderstood, I wish to say that, whilst keeping closely to my theme, which is that of Gospel ministry, I am by no means forgetful of the invaluable work of so many dear Friends in First-day Schools, and in the mission meetings connected with them. I regard that work as of very great importance, and as having in fact been the means of saving the Society from impending disintegration. Whilst touching one stratum of the population, however, it leaves other portions, to whom we have a special message, pretty much untouched. Is it not possible too that it may have even absorbed some of that energy and skill which might properly have been devoted to the other branch of the Lord’s great work?
J. J. D.
Part 11 of this series is here.