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All social and Church organizations are, generally speaking, selfgoverned by stringent regulations, the severity of the social law thus balancing, as it were, the comparative laxity or weakness of the national one. I cannot refuse to believe that the character of the legislation of the American Convention is an example of this tendency. But thoughtful New Churchmen will observe with regret, that while the Convention offers a splendid external testimony to the spread of the truths of the Lord's New Church, it has not succeeded in doing what the English Conference as yet has done; it has not ranged all the New Church societies in the same nation under its own banner. There are in the United States seceded societies and separated societies, and these things lead us to hope that in time broader counsels will prevail, and that the New Church in America, rising as it is so nobly, will yet come forth and gather all her children into her bosom, clad only in the garments of simplicity and truth.
To show that the tendency of the English Conference has been what I have stated, I need only refer to the session held in August 1815, nearly sixty-two years ago. There we find in ecclesiastical regulations a close parallel of those of the American Convention of to-day. At that Conference regulations were adopted to have a trine or threefold order in the ministry. 1. The ordained ministers. 2. The ordaining ministers, answering to the bishops of the American Convention. 3. A minister-superintendent, answering to a similar dignitary in the American system. More than this, it was contemplated in these resolutions that the ordaining ministers should be empowered to form a sort of committee, "and should regulate the general affairs of the Church.” This is the exact parallel in embryo of the Committee on ecclesiastical affairs, which is the great stronghold of the present system in the American Convention. But what, has sixty-two years done for us in England to increase this tendency? Nothing ! But much has been done in the opposite direction. The minister-superintendent is unknown; the idea of a trine in the ministry is altogether abandoned here; the ecclesiastical Committee, as a legislative committee of ministers only, does not exist, and no ordaining minister has any more power in Conference than a lay representative, except such personal power as his moral and intellectual qualities may give. More than this, the very word.“ priest” has been removed from the ordination service revised by the Conference, and the rebaptism of a candidate for the ministry who comes from another denomination, is a subject for individual choice.
It cannot be denied that as New Church members become wealthy and fashionable there is a spreading tendency in the societies where such members are numerous to increased form and display in the services. The desire of imitation seems to become stronger with many worthy people as their material gains increase. Therefore the wealthy establishment of the Church of England has a fascination for those to whom external surroundings have become necessary adjuncts to religious ceremonial; and there is a slavery of fashion in this, as in other matters. But while universal suffrage and the equal vote of members is the rule in all New Church societies I have no fear of the ultimate issue. The majority will never be the wealthy; and the keen intellects of thoughtful members, true to themselves, not so rich to be captivated by luxury, not too poor to be able to express their honest convictions, will in the end cause truth, even in affairs of ritual, to prevail. While we all do our several duties, we are conscious also that we are instruments in the hands of Him who said, “Behold, I make all things new.” We must prove all things, test all customs, try all new suggestions by the touchstone of use to the neighbour, not of pleasure to ourselves, and as we do so, without any slavish adherence to what has been done in the past, without any fear to adopt whatever is right for the necessities of the present, we shall see our New Church organization and ritual rising into a sweetness, significance, and beauty peculiarly its own.
I now come to what I ventured to call the positive work of Conference. This will not require so much discussion as the former, because nearly all are agreed as to the positive work to be performed, while the negative work is the subject of the keenest controversy. The positive and negative poles of the magnet are equally necessary : so it is with these classes of work in Conference. The negative force is requisite to repel whatever is evil, improper, or unwise; the positive force to attract whatever is good, orderly, and judicious. And the policy of the New Church consists in taking care that while the negative work is done the positive duties shall not be left undone, that no dissensions shall prevent our best energies being devoted to the cause of truth and righteousness. That necessity I will briefly show. Let us follow the positive work of the Committees referred to before. (a) On Education. What a field of duty is here opened before us! When we look round on society and find how the schools of the upper and middle classes have been gradually secularized, how the schools of the nation are being gradually secularized, does not the duty of the Church become every day more urgent lest the mind of the nation should become secularized too? Does not the Old Church theory that the human mind requires no religious truth to be imparted until it has arrived at a certain stage of development, does not this require to be practically disproved? Does not the New Church at large require to be awakened from that lethargy which allows so many of its otherwise bright and promising children to grow up destitute of any principles of true religion worth the name? There is a field of positive work which almost awes us as we gaze.
(6) On Addresses to the Members. As we regard this matter, and know the importance of the written or spoken word in kindling our dormant energies, in giving us practical aims, in leading the Church forward by a noble watchword, we must confess how much might be done, and ought to be done, in the way of manly, outspoken, loving addresses.
(c) On Applications for Ordinations, Licences, Pensions, etc. This work in reference to the ministry and the preparation for it is one of the vital matters for Conference consideration. The fact that the worthiest and ablest ministers of the Church are one by one passing from among us, and that their places are not supplied in sufficient numbers by the young and rising talent of the Church, is a sad reflection on the societies themselves. Conference has the right and the requisite influence to put these questions to the societies. 1. Have you made the position and the status of the ministers in your midst so desirable and honourable as to induce the
and earnest intellects to look to such service as a worthy sphere for their action ? 2. Have your members, as a rule, decided to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a good minister, or have they usually held that their minister should sacrifice himself for them? 3. Have
members realized the fact that while a minister is liable to be frail and fallible like other mortals, yet that a good ministry can only be secured by being ardently desired, and by every teacher, once chosen, being constantly helped by the goodwill and loving forethought of the members? Having thus asked these questions where they should be asked, the policy of the New Church demands that a true ideal of what a good minister is should be set up before the candidates themselves. Learning will be useful to them; it is necessary; but learning is not enough. The student or the bibliopole is often ill fitted for the ministry. Their angular modes tell of the closet; their abstract propositions often miss the wants of the everyday world. Clear and
strong speech is desirable, but speech is not enough. A man may talk fluently, and teach clearly, but never touch the heart; he may inflame the passions, yet kindle no true spark of nobleness within the hearer's breast. An earnest love of humanity is more than all these, and when to this intense and active sympathy is added a genuine tact, springing from true sensibility of character, a real study of human nature, a certain force of will, and a thirst for spiritual knowledge, then the elements in the character of a candidate for the ministry should be happily combined. How to obtain such, how to cultivate them, how to cherish them, how to place them before the Church as the servants of the Lord, how to sustain them in their arduous task when living, how to support them when their strength faileth, how to relieve their widows or families from distress, should they be removed into another world, and leave the former unprovided for-here is much of the positive work of the Church. It needs to be done at once, and the doing of it is practical Christianity.
(d) Church Statistics, and (e) Letters, do not call for much remark, as the former applies to routine work which, though valuable, is a matter only of method and care. The latter class of work is only important when a number of members or societies are earnestly moved in some new direction and address the Conference thereon.
(f) The Magazine. In regard to the supplying of suitable periodical literature for the members there is a great work yet to be done. Useful as the Intellectual Repository may be in some respects, profound and well written as may be a number of its articles, it is hardly pretended yet, even by its warmest advocates, that it has done what it might and ought to do. Its very limited circulation is sufficient to prove this without any argument; and when we know how many the younger members of the Church cannot be persuaded to read it, or to take any interest in it, this fact bespeaks a want which it is very desirable to supply. A magazine is only useful in so far as it reaches, attracts, and influences a large circle of readers, and it is not enough to plead that we live in a superficial age if we print a book which few can be induced to read. Those who leave their mark upon an age are those who speak to the people living in that age in a manner which at once strikes attention, awakens interest, and leads to the object the speaker has in view. So it is with our literature. And this is one branch of the positive work of the Church which cannot be neglected without disaster. In these days every body reads, and therefore if we are to reach the world it must be through the
press, as one of the great media of instruction. Doubtless we have improved even in these respects, and while the Intellectual has lost none of its depth and comprehensiveness in some articles, it even now offers a variety and interest in its scope of matter and treatment quite a contrast with its contents even of three or four years ago. But the New Church, if at all worthy its name, must be a Missionary Church; and it is to the Magazine as an important means of its usefulness that the constant care and attention of Conference should be directed.
In all the remarks offered I have striven to keep close to actuał work of Conference. I have not mentioned the Swedenborg Society, and those missionary institutions which yet have a close relation to it. But in these, as in all other New Church works, the policy of Conference should be to arouse enthusiasm ; to rekindle the faint embers of flagging hopes; to suggest greater consistency of labour; to systematise exertion, and to direct to the highest ends. The few hints ventured on here may not be endorsed by all. They may run counter to many prejudices and to some settled convictions. They may seem occasionally to deal summarily with things generally taken for granted, and to condemn what is believed to be good. But they are offered as suggestions only, and if they help others to think closely on some points before passed over; if they tend to awaken any friends to ponder upon some question of policy in a way to lead to its solution, then my object will have been attained. I have endeavoured to state openly, and not unfairly, my genuine opinion as far as I have gone, and I only trust that we may see hereafter a wise and noble policy adopted by Conference in the conduct of the affairs of the external organization which is known by the name of the Lord's New Church.
J. W. T.
(LEO GRINDON.) Flax (Linum usitatissimum, Nat. Ord. Linacece.) The flax-plant, the fibre of the stems, and the cloth manufactured from it, hold a place in Scripture almost as conspicuous as that of the fruit-trees and the cerealia, and for. obvious reasons.
In ancient times, with civilized nations, flax, next to the hair and wool shorn from animals, supplied the material for woven dress. The culture of