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Observer, April 1, 71
HENRY VARLEY IN NEWCASTLE.
DURING our visit to Newcastle an advertisement set forth that “Mr. Henry Varley, of Notting Hill, London, a man honoured of God in preaching the Gospel to many thousands of working men in London and other large towns, intends visiting Newcastle, and earnestly desires to meet the working men at the following services." The announcement provided for preaching every day, for seven days, using for that purpose five large chapels, two rooms, and the Tyne Theatre. Mr. Varley was brought by the Young Man's Christian Association, and, in like manner, has visited other large towns. Mr. Varley is somewhat of a Revivalist, but not at all of the clap-trap, Hallelujah Band class. He is evidently an earnest, Christloving man, filled with love for perishing sinners. He was a London tradesman, and took to preaching, not for a living, but for love. His success was such that he gathered around him a congregation, chiefly of working men, only second to that of Mr. Spurgeon. The requirements of the Church have impelled him to relinquish a prosperous business and devote himself wholly to the work of the Lord. The church has its several elders, and both faith and immersion are preached, but without any right understanding of the design of baptism.
Our engagements enabled us to devote one evening to Mr. Varley's services, and we went, trusting to obtain a lift upward and heavenward; nor were we disappointed. Many things said were highly calculated to advantage both saints and sinners, to which a crowded house listened with marked attention and responded by hearty manifestations of feeling. He addressed himself largely to the young, in a manner calculated to win them to Christ; but there was, with all, a mixture of error calculated to puzzle the truly thoughtful and intelligent, and, we are sorry to say, with à certain class, more calculated to repel them from Christianity (by reason of their intellectual difficulties) than to bring them to it. The sermon was announced as an exposition of the parable of the householder who went out to hire labourers. We were informed that Christ is the householder, and His going out early in the morning, at the third hour, and so on till the eleventh, was applied to His desire to save the young in the very morning of life; to His seeking to save the youthful, just entering into manhood, and so on to the aged, ending with an account of a woman of eighty. Many of the things said and the appeals to his hearers were excellent, but, as an exposition of the parable, wholly aside.
. Now, certainly this kind of treatment of the Bible does not tend to give doubters confidence in the Book, but rather leads to the conclusion that Christians make it say and mean anything that suits them. We have heard Mr. Varley before, and rather think, that though he reads and “ expounds ” a chapter before his sermon, true, contextual exposition is not much in his line. We regret it, and entreat him to see to it. He may depend that his appeals will not be less effective, nor his illustrations less powerful in association with a contextual, inductive, and, therefore, a true and scientific interpretation of Scripture, than when the Sacred Page is made a sort of rubber-face, to be pulled into any shape that may suit the occasion.
Then, too, there was a strange admixture of true and erroneous doctrine. Parents were made responsible for the conversion of their children at an early age,—“ They need not wait till twelve years of age.” Now, we believe in early conversion, and doubt not that children rightly trained would turn early to the Lord. But correct training was not urged the thing wanting was faith in the parents conversion would take place very early had
the parents faith, because it is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. This may do for the Irvingites, who contend that infants are regenerated solely by the Holy Spirit (in baptism) but not without faith, which, though not possessed by the infant, is by its sponsors; but such teaching is not of the apostles of Christ. Then we were told that Christ desires to enter into the heart of every sinner. But here comes in the confusion, so distressing to many enquirers, and so tending to produce a rejection of the Bible. The logical mind cannot fail to connect the things thus-Christ desires to convert every sinner, conversion is solely and alone the work of the Holy Spirit, then why is not every sinner converted ? That such is not the case, can only be accounted for by the supposition that Christ and the Holy Spirit are not of one mind concering the conversion of all sinners, or, by concluding that Mr. Varley's statement is not correct, He may reply that the reason is found in the fact that sinners are not willing to receive Christ, and that the Holy Spirit will not force them, but that when they are willing the Spirit does the whole work. But this answer fails, because the “making willing" is just part and parcel of the conversion. The truth is, that the word conversion is never in the New Testament found coupled with the phrase Holy Spirit. On the contrary, men are spoken of as converting one another, and sinners are called upon to convert themselves. If escape is attempted by substituting other words, as begotten or born, the attempt fails, because though we are said to be begotten of God, and of the Spirit, it is never said that this is accomplished solely and alone by the Spirit. We are said to be begotten by the Gospel, and by the preacher of the Gospel. We deny not that the result is attributed to the Spirit, but that is widely different from the Spirit solely and alone. It is by the Spirit, because it is by the Gospel, through faith, which Gospel the Spirit has made known and revealed by inspiration, authenticated by miracles, and providentially brought down to us. But where there is no faith, there is no conversion. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by preaching. Were it not so, friend Varley might have continued in his trade and have left the Spirit to do His own work of conversion. Now we know that confused teaching, such as here objected to, does drive men from the truth. We deeply regret that so good a man should, while doing much good on the one hand, do also harm on the other. We shall send these words to him, and meanwhile pray, God bless Bro. Varley, and help him to a more perfect understanding of the good old way.
PRESENT DAY HERESIES. The Rev. W. Adamson delivered a discourse in the new Waverley Hall, Edinburgh, on the evening of Sunday, the 19th February, on Present Day Heresies, which, whether it be held merely as setting forth some of the things connected with the progress of religious thought and utterance, which are now occurring among the Churches, or whether it be taken on its own intrinsic merit as the embodiment of his own thoughts on the rights of Christians in respect of liberty of judgment as to what is true or false in those accepted standards of the churches which are entirely of human arrangement, and of appeal therefrom to the Word of God itself, was, certainly, not only a remarkable discourse, but one of a nature calculated to do much good in the way of leading men's minds by straight tracks right back to the “old paths," which after all are the only safe paths Godward.
Mr. Adamson introduced his discourse by reading from 1 Tim. iv., “ Now the spirit speaketh expressley, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith," and proceeded to say that the most noticeable thing in the religious aspect of the times was the number of prosecutions which were occupying the attention of the Church Courts, and which were coming prominently into view everywhere. Heresy had not been without existense in any age, there having been those even in the lifetime of the Apostles themselves, who set themselves in opposition to their teaching, as might readily be gathered from the epistles of their writing; but in these “latter times" the accusations of heresy had very largely increased. One peculiarity in the history of our times was, that it was not now as it was some five hundred years ago, when only the men living in Monasteries, or other religious establishments, thought carefully or definitely on religious subjects,-nor as it was some three hundred years ago, when religious thought was held to be confined to what we might call profes. sional men, as it were, stirred to religious thought by the influences coming in upon their lives—were active in their criticism of what was brought before them as truth, and were making themselves heard where they had an opportunity of utterance.
After referring more pointedly to some of the cases of heresy, so called, at present before the churches in Scotland, the speaker proceeded in an endeavour to trace some of the causes producing this large accession to the number: foremost amongst which he placed the fact above stated, viz., the largely increasing difficulty men felt in putting their own thoughts in other than their own words, most of all in clothing their ideas in phrases which had ceased to bear the same relations to the truths they held in men's minds as they possibly held in a former age.
He remarked that there was a great temptation to men whose living was dependent on their acceptance as professional Christian teachers, being less honest than they ought to be in the utterance of their sentiments, when these happened to be opposed to the Church standard, and he mentioned cases as known to himself in which men of good capabilities and great powers of usefulness had succumbed to the temptation, with the fatal result of destroying their own energy and usefulness by making shipwreck of a good conscience. He was inclined to regard as hopeful
. features, such indications of increased honesty and fearlessness as were afforded by those writings and utterances which have called forth accusations of heresy against the men making them.
He also referred at considerable length to the folly of regarding such interpretations of Scripture as were set forth in the “ Confession of Faith," and the “Shorter Catechism," as of equal value with the statements of Scripture. With regard to many of the doctrines mentioned in the “Confession " he had no difficulty in accepting them as truths, but even where he could accept them in that sense he could not accept the form in which the matter was stated without doing violence to his conscience.
The doctrine of human depravity was one of the doctrines he believed in; but the doctrine of human depravity as formulated in the Confession of Faith he could by no means accept. One other of the hopeful features of the present day heresies, therefore, was that they were indications of departure-not from the Word of God-but from standards of human construction, which were, from the nature of the case, unsuited to be other than partial interpretations. The Word of God being many-sided, and the mind of man being capable of taking only one stand-point at a time, no one had a
right to hold any one man's interpretation of a truth as con
Observer, April 1, 71,
veying all that the truth may hold. One of the evils of making given interpretation stand in place of ultimate truth, appeared to have a remarkable illustration in the fact that much of the avowed infidelity consisted in the rejection of truths as contained in certain formulæ only; this resulting from those who have become sceptical, viewing the standards of the churches in the same way as the churches have themselves done.
The speaker concluded with the practical exhortation to love the Bibleto study the Bible--which was indeed a “lamp to the feet and a light to the path" of those who did study it reverently. He commended this specially to the young men, in view of transitions of mind through which all pass more or less, where for a season darkness and doubt may prevail, but through which the divine light, once perceived, will lead them safely. Such an experience had the poet who sang
“Once on the raging seas I rode,
The storm was loud,—the night was dark ;
The Star! the Star of Bethlehem." Writing as I do from memory I may have omitted a good deal of the discourse, but I hope I have written sufficient to show that among religious men there is a hopeful tendency to the pure fountains of knowledge, where only are to be had the truly refreshing draughts of the “Water of Life,” and that in all the Churches called Christian there are rising up men who are conscious of a divergence from the old paths, and who claim fearlessly the right to seek the older and better way, and to lead others thereinto to the best of their ability. May none of them be blind guides, and may many be led into the way of life.
THE NEW ERA OF SUNDAY SCHOCLS. Such is the heading of an article in a recent issue of the Freeman. According to the Bishop of London the effect of the Elementary Education Act will be to diminish the sectarianism of denominational schools. This, no doubt, will ultimately prove true, but in proportion as the day schools are thus affected the Sunday schools will move in the opposite direction; that is to say—they will be devoted more fully, if not solely, to the teaching of the doctrines of the Churches which sustain them. To this there can be no objection. Those parents who wish their children taught Methodism will send them to a Methodist Sunday School, and those persons only who wish Methodism taught will contribute to the support of that school; and so on with each denomination. Some of our readers are somewhat earnest and anxious as to the future of Sunday schools. Two notes are to hand which may help to awaken prayerful attention
Observer, April 1, '71.
To the Editor of the E. 0.-Dear Sir,-As disciples of Christ, pleading for progress in the religious education of the day, we are in many respects behind the times in the carrying on of Sunday schools, as a means to the training of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The Churches in most of our large towns, it is true, have their schools; still, after all, there is amongst us, as a religious community, a want of sympathy for the work and united action in it, which can only be accounted for on the ground that we take a narrow view of the gracious influences for temporal and spiritual good, which those institutions, properly conducted, are calculated to exercise upon both the old and young in and out of our Churches. I believe that in certain Churches the want of Sunday schools, with the attendant Bible classes, as a means of interesting the young mind far superior to the most excellent platform exhortation, is the cause why parents can see their once hopeful children either mingling among the “sects,” or in the world living a godless life. On the other hand many things can doubtless be said against them. “ They are unscriptural; the Apostle Paul never taught a Sunday school; they usurp the province of parental instruction, &c., &c.” To this we reply, that the law for Sunday schools is not to be found in the mere letter of the book, but, with the authority for other expediences, such as tea meetings, libraries and visiting or other committees, in the spirit or genius of our religion, which is that of love to God and man. Paul lays down the law for the regulation of expediences in such ample terms as to fully cover the whole ground of Sunday schools. * Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; if there be any virtue and any praise think on these things." Again, there is an educational influence in the Sunday school, as every old scholar knows, which can never be so well exercised in the private circle of parental instruction. The spirit of generous and healthy emulation is stirred up and allowed to exert itself in a wider field than that of home. Young hopeful sees far more of human nature in the school than in the family; and thus the sympathies of the heart and aspirations of the soul gain a breadth, height, and beauty often unknown to the subject of mere parental tuition. By all means then let the parents and teachers combine their influence, and thus a double benefit will be secured. In the majority of cases, however, it is found that the fathers and mothers of our children have neither the time nor ability to impart Bible instruction so well as a duly qualified Sunday school teacher. Look at it again on the broad ground of Christian philanthropy. You would save souls. Remember then the power which has been and can still be brought to bear through the medium of the children upon ungodly parents in bringing them under religious influence. All souls are alike, we say, still it is true in ethics as well as in physics, that "prevention is better than cure." Better, then, of the two, make a young and hopeful Christian, than convert an old and used up sinner. Wisdom and true economy in labour thus plead for Sunday schools, and the teacher rising to a full understanding of his noble vocation will be an able auxiliary to the evangelist. But we need not argue upon the mere philosophy of a scheme, which we are sure that most of the brethren feel to be near to their hearts as the only means of supplying known wants amongst us. My desire in the present paper is rather to stir up, by way of remembrance, all our superintendents, Sunday school and Bible class teachers, throughout the country, wbo profess the faith as at first delivered to the Saints, to a united and sympathetic expression of opinion from their knowledge and experience, in the pages of the Observer, upon the work lying to their hands. Why not have a Sunday School Conference either separately or with our Annual Evangelistic Meeting? Brethren, let us come to know one another in relation to our Sunday school work, so that unitedly we may advance with the times to larger usefulness in this direction. We find fault with other schools in their management and literature, and yet recognize the necessity for such institutions. As reformers, and not mere fault finders, it is surely then our duty, to the best of our ability, to embody in word and deed our ideal of the proper method of training the young for the Lord. Let us have the subject freely ventilated and thus come to know where we stand on this important question. English Churchmen, Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, and Methodists are alive to their duty in it, and are working heart and hand together in the religious education of the young, and necessarily moulding the minds of thousands of children to their peculiar tenets. Let us also be up and doing as a people, and show that the principles of Primitive Christianity are dear to our hearts and identified with the welfare of the rising generation.
As a means to this end and that we may have a more united and loving fellowship in the good work, I now suggest to all whom it may concern, who are able and willing for the task, that a series of short articles upon Sunday school work be written for insertion in the Observer, from month to month. There are brethren who can do this from their own knowledge and experience of Sunday schools. The syllabus of topics might embrace :Sunday schools and their relations to the Church; superintendent's duties, or how to manage the school; teacher's duties and difficulties; the best way of interesting scholars; when to send them to school; the proper use of class books; our juvenile