« AnteriorContinuar »
of the Ministers' Conference, held at Herrnhut, May 25<A, 1853. (Continued from p. 103.)
Second Session, From 2 to 4 P. M.
After reading the names of the sixty-six ministers, candidates, and schoolmasters, present at this Conference, letters from various correspondents were communicated.
3. Letter from the Ministers of Bask.
Basle, May, 1853.
Dear Brethren,—In complying with the request of our Conference to draw up this year's letter to you, my secluded position in the country must necessarily prevent my giving expression to the interests and anxieties, the joys and hopes, of my brethren in the town. You will, however, not be averse to taking a peep at our situation as country pastors, a situation with which most of our number are familiar, either from their present or past experience.
It is a volcanic ground on which we stand in Basle-country. This character is stamped on all our relations, ecclesiastical as well as political. The generation now growing grey have borne arms in their prime, and shed blood and seen it flow. No matter whether they fought for Basle or against it, the furrows left by such a time are graven deep, not only on the brows but in the hearts of all who witnessed it. The generation that have now reached maturity, and form as heads of families the strength of our communities, have received their youthful impressions in those days of terror, when every passion was let loose and all order stamped under foot. They may not themselves be conscious of it; but the roots are there, and from the bramble we do not gather figs. The race now passing through our schools and preparing for confirmation, have been trained under the influences of the prevailing spirit of the times.
This spirit finds its expression and its constant nourishment in the leading feature of our existing laws and regulations. The people is the sovereign, and the duration of every office, from the village watchman to the president of the government, depends on the votes of the majority. Every office-bearer in church and state, is hired like a footman for such a time—five years in the case of a pastor—by his master, the people. In a word, the fruits of our revolution of 1830 have been very similar to those of the French revolution of 1789.
It is no easy task under such circumstances to set forth God's commandments as "an ordinance for ever," and to induce proud and haughty spirits to seek for mercy as lost sinners from God's free graoe. Yet, peculiar as our present position is, I do not know whether, on the whole, it is not preferable to the old state of things. In the first place, it has had this good effect on ourselves, that we are no longer masters. We feel the more sensibly that we are pilgrims, having no continuing city, servants and helpers of the faith of our congregations. We have had to come down from our elevation, and submit to many an humiliation; thus we are, on the one hand, reminded of the Scripture: "The servant is not above his lord," and, on the other, we are brought so much the nearer to our people. Under such circumstances, exposed to their close inspection and unrestrained judgments, we have the greater need to confirm our doctrine by our walk. The less support we derive from official respect, the more does it behove us to make up for it by the weight of personal character. And this again incites to greater faithfulness in watching and prayer. And the more we are thrown back upon ourselves, the more sensibly shall we feel our own insufficiency, and be driven to seek and to receive every thing from our only Helper, the Refuge and Shepherd of Israel.
The relation has become more personal;—this too has its advantages. It gives us a more personal hold upon our people. They have in their sovereign assembly chosen me again for five years. I take them at their word and say: "You have anew granted me your confidence; you have expressed your satisfaction with my past ministry , you agree, therefore, that I shall preach the Gospel to you in its purity. To this, then, we will adhere, I and you." —Here I have a firm footing, on which I can build further. Nor is it all a mere ceremony. Demoralizing in many respects as such elections are, many a sleeping conscience is roused thereby to a sense of its obligations; and many an individual feels new confidence in the pastor of his own choice. We should also bear in jnind that, under these circumstances, the commune has its right to a good pastor acknowledged and guaranteed. It is sad when a congregation must be saddled with an unworthy minister for life, because he has once been chosen; the greatest injury may thus be sustained; and, after all, the interest of the congregation must be regarded before that of the pastor.
It should also be noticed, that the effect of the revolution on men's minds is shown, not so much in open hostility to the Gospel, as in a passive, half unconscious opposition to it. Our villages, however, are very dissimilar in this respect. For small as our canton is, it presents a great diversity of character both in the country and its inhabitants. In the lower and more level district, and in the Liesthal, a bad and restless spirit prevails, and a bold vulgarity of manners is produced by the habitual resort to public houses, along with an avowed enmity to religion. But while this tendency predominates, there are also many good elements to be found, and it is here that the Basle Society has its most numerous eonnections, dating, it is true, from a former time, yet still, in part at least, maintained. In the upper Basle district, the villages in which the silk-ribbon manufacture is carried on, show a decided tendency to dissipation and laxity of morals. Those in which agriculture forms the chief occupation, or which lie high enough for pasturage, bear a more respectable character, accompanied, however, by a strong taint of covetousness and self-righteousness. The injurious effects of the stormy past are not so perceptible in this upper district, and the time of terror has here and there left a salutary fear behind.
In general, we may remark, that the ground thus violently convulsed yields a more vigorous harvest, both of good and bad. Opposing principles come forth more and more prominently, and the warning voice is heard most distinctly: "He that is not for me is against me." The tree of formal Christianity, though it has still large branches, feels the check of these relations, and the number of professors is diminished. But while the chaff flies away, not a grain of good corn is lost; on the contrary, those who confess Christ are the more decided in their faith. Thus the fire goes on sifting and refining; and though our pastors have a more difficult and humbling post in this period of general ferment, it is not without its joys.
It is a characteristic feature of the times, that we have absolutely no ecclesiastical constitution whatever. The secular concerns of the Church are administered by a Director, who is a member of the Supreme Council. As to matters of church discipline, every minister must manage as well as he can with the common council and the burghers. We have this advantage from it, that there is no one to interfere with us in our concientious efforts to promote the spread of the Gospel in our parishes; and this, under present circumstances, we cannot but esteem a special mercy.
Nor are we without the brotherly fellowship which is so needful. An arrangement has formed itself, suited to our wants, which, like a plant in its natural soil, already thrives apace. We have, it is true, occasional meetings of the whole body of pastors, which are much more interesting than the old formal synods, such as that in the canton of Zurich. But, besides that these meetings occur but seldom, they do not afford that spiritual fellowship which is desirable. A private meeting was therefore commenced by four neighboring pastors' which has gradually grown into a regular conference of fifteen members, who have met every month at each other's houses by turns. The common bond which has drawn and unites us together, is faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Access is open to all, but the spirit of simple and earnest Gospel faith, which reigns in our circle, is not attractive to every one. The forenoon is spent in prayer and singing, and the discussion of a chapter of the Bible, and after a social meal each returns home with a rich blessing for his heart. Those conferences are not in connection with the Brethren's Church, (except that all the country pastors which belong to the Brethren's Society naturally take part in them,) but the same spirit of cordial love to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the brethren prevails in them.
This imperfect sketch of our position as to ecclesiastical relations may, perhaps, suggest to you the idea that a Free Church may eventually be developed from them. The elements of such a change no doubt exist,—a slender thread of connection with the state—a government which employs and tolerates us as useful instruments, because it must—a more and more decided division of the people for or against Christ—a body of evangelical pastors gravitated to a common centre by a sort of involuntary attraction— and the general influence of the spirit of the age. It is scarcely possible to gay how things may turn out, and we shall take no steps to bring about such an issue. We must not, however, shut our eyes to the probabilitv of it. Enough that we know: "The Lord God omnipotent reigneth." May he grant us grace to live to his glory and be found faithful stewards of his mysteries both for ourselves and our congregations.
The state of things in Basle might supply many interesting notices, such as the beneficial influence exerted by the excellent Riggenbach, formerly pastor of Bennwyl, who has succeeded De Wette as professor in the university, the proceedings of the Irvingites, and the extension of the Alumneum under the superintendence of our brother William Le Grand; but. as I said before, I am too far off to report on these subjects.
Bear us, dear brethren, in your remembrance, as we too feel ourselves closely united with you, notwithstanding the difference in Our political situation, as companions in the saniie Warfare, and Supplicate for you, in your approaching Conference, new strength and rich blessing from the fulness that is in Christ.
Signed by Samuel Preiswerk, pastor of Langenbruck, Baslecountry, (the writer of this letter,) John Linder, archdeacon, and ten other ministers of Canton Basle-town, and six pastors of Canton Basle-country.
The Conference rejoiced to hear how the Lord changed into a blessing what men had meant for evil, the apparently unfavorable position of ministers in their congregations opening opportunities' of increased usefulness. That so many faithful ministers havd been chosen under the new electoral system, was justly regarded as a proof that the Lord has blessed the former preaching of the gospel; and this again will tend to encourage them to new labors, the fruit of which will appear in its time.
4. Letter from Pastor Bergman of WiAstoef, near Christianstad, in Sweden, April 2§th, 185$
The movement in the church is evidently on the increase. Not to speak of the annual meetings of friends of religious liberty as Helsingborg, mentioned in a former letter, Pastor Hammer's journal, "The Evangelical Friend of the Church," has entered on its second year. On the 17th of June, a large Ministers' Conference is to meet at Stockholm, to which the clergy of the whole kingdom are invited, and the deliberations of which will be exclusively directed to our ecclesiastical constitution. Immediately after this conference, the Society for the Promotion of Religious Liberty will hold a meeting. About the same time there will be a meeting held in Smaland, to which only evangelical ministers are invited, in order to consult together for the building up of the Church of Christ in our country. It appears, therefore, as if th* ensuing summer would be an important one for onr Swedish Zion. But it behoves to " take unto ourselves the whole armour of God, and to stand having our loins girt about with truth, and to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer."
It is not enough for the welfare of a people, to have the pure doctrine of the Gospel: a bad church constitution may, at least partially and for a time, suppress true Christian life. Many in our land are now beginning to see this. But, unfortunately, Gospel doctrine is not so clearly proclaimed as might be expected in a country which prides itself on being Lutheran. For Luther's doctrine has for more than a century been lost sight of as regards one essential point, and a door has thus been opened for soul-destroying error. Even our authorized church iBible always renders the GreeK Wrds