« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
The Executive Committee of the
AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION.
In reviewing the last few months, my heart is filled with gratitude to God for the privileges of the ministry in which I have been engaged. Two years and a half ago, when I began this service, I had a very inadequate idea of the condition of the poor in a city. I had passed the preceding five and twenty years in a small parish in the country, where, as in all our country parishes, the poorest are equally objects of pastoral care and interest as the rich. I knew, indeed, that this could not be the case, to the same extent, in the city. But I had no conception that the number was so great as I have found it to be, of those who have no regular connexion with our churches; and who have lived, or are living, wholly without a ministry, except when they ask for the performance of a funeral service; or, it may be, when they send for a minister to assist them in their preparation for death. In passing from house to house, as I did / through the first six months of my ministry, to seek out this class of our population, and to offer to them my services as a christian pastor, I was encouraged, at almost every step of my way, by the gratitude and affection of those
whom I visited; and I soon received the most satisfactory evidence, how much this ministry was needed, and to what important good it might be conducive. I found that there were those, who required only this pastoral care to bring them into a connexion with our churches, from which would result the most important benefits to their characters and happiness. But I found also that there were very many, for whom it would be quite as practicable to build palaces for their residence, as to bring them into any permanent union with our religious societies. There are many widows who have young children, whom they cannot leave on Sunday. There are wives who are deserted by their husbands, and wives whose husbands are at sea, who are equally kept at home by the same cause. There are many also who cannot, or who, till they are brought to a greatly improved state of character, will not go to church, from a want of the decent attire in which they may appear in our congregations. And there are those whom the habit of remaining at home on Sunday has not only reconciled to the practice, but with whom the indulgences of Sunday, even more than of any other day of the week, are at war with all christian associations with the day, and with all christian employments on it. There are even those among us, with whom Sunday is, beyond comparison, the worst day of the week; the day of most outrageous offence against the laws both of God and man. For these, and for others that might be named, a ministry is required, by which our religion shall be carried from house to house : by which these classes of our poor shall have the gospel preached, in the only way in which it can possibly be preached to them, as individuals, or as
families, and in their homes ; by which its light can be carried into the darkest places, and into the darkest hearts; by which its consolations and its encouragements may be extended to those, who are most in need of them, and who cannot otherwise have them. I have no language in which to express the gratitude I feel, that when I was obliged to relinquish a pulpit, the labors of which I had not strength to perform, it pleased God to bring me into a service here, to the claims and interests of which, had I understood them thirty years ago, I would most gladly, and in preference to all other services, have consecrated the beginning of my energies, and the whole of my days.
I know that every object which either has in itself any considerable claims, or which, without these claims, has long engaged very close, and perhaps almost exclusive attention, gradually assumes in the mind which thus dwells upon it, an interest, which is very often disproportioned to its real importance; and that there is no small danger, in attempting to engage public sympathy in any cause, that we may be carried, by the strength of our own emotions, beyond the line to which others may be prepared to follow, and within which they may be willing to cooperate with us. But I think I am not extravagant in my views of the claims of the ministry which I wish to see established among us for the poor ; and I am certainly desirous, whatever may be my own convictions in regard to them, not to press these claims beyond the ground on which they may be supported by unquestionable facts. Nor, when I speak of the moral necessities of the poor, do I mean to imply that they are greater than those of the rich. They are not. Nor is
there any essential difference in the character of these necessities, in these great classes of the community. Among the richest, the most favored, there are the same weaknesses, the same evil propensities and passions, and often equal, though very different exposures to sin, and, sometimes, equal sin and misery, as are to be found among
poor. There are those among the rich, who, by their principles, and tempers, and habits, as effectually cut themselves off from the influences and interests, the supports and happiness of religion, as even the poorest and most debased are: cut off from them, by the degradation to which they have reduced both their bodies and their minds. But in comparing these great classes of society, in view of their moral necessities, who is not struck with the immense disproportion between them, in regard to the provision which is made for these deepest and strongest wants of our nature? Or who does not feel how much we are indebted for the virtue, and security, and order, and happiness of our social condition, to our ministers, and our churches ? When I consider, then, that it is not a matter of doubt with any who have thought seriously upon the subject, whether there are many hundreds of families, even in our highly favored city, who have no regular connexion with any of our religious societies, and who are not felt by any minister to be a part of his pastoral charge, to be regularly visited and taught, where alone they can be taught, at their homes ;-when I look at the fact, of which a little reflection will convince any one, that a city, as it grows, will certainly collect within itself a full proportion of that class, which must depend for subsistence upon their daily labors, and a large number of whom, either from in
dolence, or the failure of work, or sickness, or other causes, will be falling into a state of want, and dependence, and of moral exposures proportioned to these wants ;—and when I bring before my mind the consideration, which is equally obvious, that while much of the wretchedness of the poverty around us is attributable immediately to sin, and especially to intemperance, it is yet equally true that poverty, unaided, unbefriended, is in its turn the prolific parent of crime and misery ;and when I follow these poor to their houses, and the narrow space within which their families are confined, and the greatness of the suffering which is there endured in sickness; when I witness their peculiar difficulties in the exercise of domestic discipline, even when they are most strongly desirous to maintain it; when I see how bitter is the distress which is often felt under the pressure of their embarrasments, when they cannot earn the means of support; and when I see the greater trials, and far greater sufferings, which are brought upon many, by the vices to which they have abandoned themselves; the wretchedness occasioned to a virtuous family by the gross vice of one of its members; and when, in this connexion, I hear Jesus Christ saying, "the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor ; "* I canuot but feel that, in view both of these words of him whom we call Master and Lord, and of the moral condition of these multitudes of our fellow-beings who are so near to us, and to whom his gospel can be preached only by ministers peculiarly separated for this service, the claims of this ministry are as strong at least as are those of the ministry which belongs to our parishes, and our churches. These claims,
•Luke iv. 18.