Prophecy Nature Function And Interpretation by Patrick Fairbairn: 09. Chapter 9. Subsidiary Means and Agencies

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Prophecy Nature Function And Interpretation by Patrick Fairbairn: 09. Chapter 9. Subsidiary Means and Agencies

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Chapter 9. Subsidiary Means and Agencies

BY subsidiary means and agencies, I mean things not directly and strictly belonging to the pastoral office, but still so closely connected with it, that in most cases it will be both the interest and the duty of the pastor to encourage and promote their employment. For, aiming as they do at the reformation of existing abuses, or the bringing about of a more healthful state of society, they so far tend to subserve the objects which a minister of the gospel should have in view, and become handmaids to him in his work. They will, however, necessarily differ to some extent according to the nature of the locality in which his sphere of labour is cast, and the classes of society with which it brings him more especially into contact. Experience here, as in various other things which have come under our consideration, must be the great teacher and guide; and nothing more is needed, or would be proper in this outline, than to indicate quite briefly some of the leading points to which attention should be given. They fall into two divisions, those which have an incidental bearing on religion, and those which relate to social economics.

1. Under the first class may be mentioned efforts to promote a taste for religious and instructive reading. When such a taste is diffused, both itself and the habits associated with it prove among the best auxiliaries of the pulpit. For, if those who frequent the house of God are in any measure accustomed to the quiet and thoughtful occupation of the kind referred to, they will grow in intelligence, in their capacity for appreciating the discourses of the Sabbath, and also in their ability to profit by them. A certain dulness of apprehension, sluggishness of spirit, and consequent indisposition or incapacity to follow the train of thought in a well-digested discourse, are the usual characteristics of audiences which are utter or comparative strangers to reading of a cognate description during the week. And with such audiences the danger is, that when serious impressions are made upon them by what is addressed to them on the Lord’s day, these are apt to disappear again by the total withdrawal of the mind from similar lines of meditation during the week.

To some small extent the object in view may be attained by the circulation of tracts, but not very materially. These are more suited, as a whole, for originating right thought, and leading people’s minds into the way of truth, than for imparting much knowledge, or forming habits of thoughtfulness and attention. When judiciously selected, however, they have their use, and even in the way of directing and sustaining thought will sometimes profitably fill up a little spare time which would otherwise run to waste. But better adapted for the purpose more immediately contemplated are the monthly or weekly periodicals which are now issued in considerable variety, with special reference to private and family use on the Lord’s day. Though not to be indiscriminately recommended, as if all were equally adapted to promote their professed object, some of them are worthy of all praise. The stated circulation of such productions, and missionary records, containing accounts of evangelistic operations at home and abroad, is well deserving of attention. Associations might, at various localities, be with advantage formed for carrying it the more easily into effect; and for the more remote and isolated rural districts much may be done to promote the end in view by a judicious encouragement of the colportage system.

Sabbath-school, and, where possible, congregational libraries, belong also to this line of things, and should receive the considerate attention, and, when formed, the watchful superintendence of the pastor. It is one of the special advantages of present times, that books for the young exist in such numbers and variety. There is now a pretty extensive literature conducted expressly for them, and a literature predominantly religious in its tone, as also in the subjects of which it formally treats. Every pastor should use his influence with the young of his flock to induce them to form some acquaintance with this juvenile literature, which will also react on the older members of the family. In rural situations it may sometimes be needful, or at least expedient, for him to take the charge of such libraries, as otherwise there may be a danger of the books being badly kept, and the youthful applicants also may be apt to light upon books of a somewhat unsuitable kind. When the young grow up and join themselves to the communion of the Church, it may be well, if their numbers are not very great, to present each with a good practical treatise suited to their respective capacities, a treatise or manual of the kind of which Doddridge’s Rise and Progress may be cited as a favourable example; such a gift being fitted at once to form a pleasing memorial of that important period in their religious history, and also to exercise an influence for good on their further advancement.

I am quite disposed to reckon among the subsidiary means under consideration the practice which has of late become common in towns, and has been extending to villages, of lectures on week-day evenings, lectures perhaps sometimes having a directly religious interest, but more commonly on subjects of a historical, literary, or scientific nature, treated in a manner fitted to improve and elevate the minds of the people, as well as strengthen indirectly their religious convictions. Such lectures must be delivered chiefly by ministers of the gospel, though with occasional help from others; and the time and study necessary to take their part occasionally in such employment will be far from being misspent. But more directly bearing on their proper function is the promotion of prayer meetings among their people, and some perhaps would add, of fellowship meetings. But in regard to the latter, there is need for much caution on the part of a pastor. Fellowship meetings are formed with a view, not merely to engage in exercises of worship, but also to interchange thoughts among the members on matters pertaining to divine truth or religious experience; safe enough, probably, and improving if the membership is small, and composed of such as have much confidence and fellow-feeling one with another, so that they can really speak heart to heart; but when it is otherwise, they are extremely apt to become loquacious, disputative, and even to gender strifes. A prudent pastor will therefore rarely intermeddle with meetings of this description, and neither directly encourage nor discountenance them. But in respect to the establishment of prayer meetings he need have no scruple, if he can only find persons who have the requisite zeal and gifts for conducting them. Here for the most part lies the main difficulty, and it is of such a kind that no undue pressure should be made upon individuals with the view of overcoming it; for if there be a defect in the requisite intelligence, piety, or power of utterance, the meetings in question cannot be instituted with much prospect of continuance or success. The spirit of prayer, it should ever be remembered, is of more importance than any particular mode of exercising it.

2. Passing now to the other branch of subsidiary means, that relating to social economics, a pretty large field till lately lay open here for parish ministers in connection with the management of the poor, calling for the exercise of discretion, sagacity, and good feeling. It was in this field that Dr. Chalmers won for himself his first claim to distinction as a philanthropist; and to the discussion of topics connected with it one of his most elaborate works is devoted, his Parish Economics. The work may still be read with interest and profit, as it is pregnant with views and principles which admit of a certain application in every age; but as a guide-book for pastors in a specific department of official duty it may justly be said to be antiquated. This whole branch of social economics is now directed by an agency of its own, in which ministers of the gospel, whether of the Established Church or not, have but a subordinate part to perform. But, of course, it will never cease to be their duty to interest themselves in the state of the poor, and to be forward in devising liberal things in those more peculiar cases of want and distress which from time to time occur, and for which a legal machinery affords no adequate source of relief.

In the present circumstances of our country, it belongs more to the province of a minister of the gospel to concert, or lend his countenance and support to those who may be concerting, measures which have for their object the reduction of pauperism and other social evils; in particular, the repression of prostitution, and the diminution of that intemperance which is a fountain of innumerable disorders. For this purpose he will readily co-operate in the efforts made to curtail, in particular localities, the number of public- houses, to establish coffee-rooms and places of healthful refreshment and innocent resort, and to form where they are obviously needed temperance societies. For things of this description, lying outside, in a manner, the pastoral sphere, yet pressing closely on its border, no general rule can be prescribed, or any uniform practice recommended. If there be but high Christian principle first, then an enlightened Christian expediency, wisely considering the circumstances of the place and time with a view to the rectification of any flagrant social evils existing, there will be no need for special instructions and stereotyped modes of working.

Here also the love of benefiting one’s generation by the removal of what tends to minister to disease, slovenliness, and vice, will be a law to itself, and not only a law, but a well-spring of beneficent action, fruitful in resources, striving in every way possible to lessen the inducements to evil, and raise up bulwarks for the protection of the weaker elements in human nature against the stronger, the tempted against the tempting, the young and simple against the wiles of the profligate and the wicked. Thus will Christian love earn the blessing promised to those ‘who sow beside all waters.’